Sunday, April 29, 2018

Composing Greatness: #40. John Williams - "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2003)

Scene from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Finding Neverland (Jan A. P. Kaczmarek)*winner
-Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (Thomas Newman)
-The Passion of the Christ (John Debney)
-The Village (James Newton Howard)

Additional Information
This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 43
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Lumos!"
2. "Aunt Marge's Waltz"
3. "The Knight Bus"
4. "Apparition on the Train"
5. "Double Trouble"
6. "Buckbeak's Flight"
7. "A Window to the Past"
8. "Whomping Willow and Snowball Fight"
9. "The Portrait Gallery"
10. "Secrets of the Castle"
11. "Hagrid the Professor"
12. "Monster Books and Boggarts!"
13. "Quidditch, Third Year"
14. "Lupin's Transformation Chasing Scabbers"
15. "The Patronus Light"
16. "The Werewolf Scene"
17. "Saving Buckbeak"
18. "Forward to Time Past"
19. "The Dementors Converge"
20. "Finale"
21. "Mischief Managed!"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:

Here we are once again at the start of another Harry Potter score. It only feels right to have a little bit of that iconic melody to kick things off. There isn't anything necessarily exciting about John Williams' take this time around. It's the third score that he's done, and it has evolved to sense memory. You can't help but feel the awe when those notes kick in. You know what the experience is going to be. With that said, I love how much more ambitious this score is, challenging the history of Williams' style while incorporating motifs and styles he's done before, possibly better than he's really been doing in recent entries.

Interesting Standout:
"The Knight Bus"

What has been possibly the most surprising thing about Composing Greatness this time around is how much of John Williams actually reminds me of Danny Elfman. Both have that bombastic energy that pulsates like a manic drum. Everything about this particular track is manic, and I can't help but appreciate how strange Williams makes it, often recalling an energy that he hasn't really brought to music scores since the 70's. Here, he has fun making one bus ride into one of the craziest adventures in his composing history. Again, it is very reminiscent of the work that Elfman did with Tim Burton, but one could argue that Williams is the master who did it first, and better.

Best Moment:
"Whomping Willow and Snowball Fight"

As much as I enjoy the other styles that John Williams has incorporated into the Harry Potter universe, what is probably the most exciting is how he managed to expand on what exists. This is a grandiose production that captures the awe of melodies we know well. The back half in particular is some of his best upbeat work in quite some time. It has such a polished effect to it that I can't help but feel the glee that he intends us to feel as those notes play. For as spontaneous as this soundtrack is, it does have a nice grounded sense that I can't help but love, if just a little. This is one of the few times that I feel like a sequel score from him is not only good, but possibly better than what's come before without relying too heavily on what we already know. 

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I know that the easy complaint is that it does use "Hedwig's Theme" at the start of the film, and I would disqualify the film for that. However, what is more impressive in ways that aren't so with Indiana Jones or Star Wars is that he doesn't rely too heavily on existing motifs for the rest of the score. In its place is something far more interesting, such as a very folksy vibe recalling Medieval melodies, along with some of his most ribald and fun action pieces in quite some time - even recalling a Danny Elfman-like quality. As familiar as this score is, it's just incredible to think that he has gone bigger in the best ways here. As much as I give The Academy flack for nominating stuff that reuses existing music, this is one of those examples that doesn't entirely rely on something you already know. 

Up Next: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) for Best Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" - Schindler's List (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Superman (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Prologue" - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
10. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
11. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
12. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
13. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
14. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
15. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
16. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
17. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
18. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
19. "Catch Me If You Can" - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
20. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
21. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
22. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
23. "Lumos!" - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
24. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
25. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
26. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
27. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
28. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
29. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
30. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
31. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
32. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
33. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
34. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
35. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
36. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
37. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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