Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Full disclosure: you are about to go backward in time and peer into the soul of a young kid who grew up loving all things dinosaurs. But most especially Jurassic Park. I am not in the habit of offering anecdotes in my reviews, but I think in this case it is called for, because Jurassic Park is how I came to know film music. I watched it for the first time with my aunt when I was eleven years old. Then I watched it again, and again, and again, and then twenty more times. After a few more I sat in front of the television and listened as the end credits rolled by. What I heard was essentially the musical suite for Jurassic Park playing through each theme in its turn. Few times since have I felt so contented as I had been during what seemed an endless, uninterrupted supply of wondrous music. The soundtrack album for the film, remarkably, was released May 20th, 1993, the same day I was born. I asked for it at my twelfth birthday. Needless to say, Jurassic Park holds a very special place in my heart. It may not be the greatest score ever written - though I believe it is among the best - but it has long been my favourite in light of the role it played for my emergence into the world of film music. Before reading on I would like to give you an idea of what to expect. This is a lengthy review, and so to make things easier I have separated it into two sections. Section one is a summary of the musical history for the series, examining composer styles and thematic material from the first four films, and the second section actually focuses on the new score for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (abbreviated hereafter as Fallen Kingdom). Enjoy!
Based on the book series by Michael Crichton, the man from whom Spielberg got most of his best ideas, Jurassic Park was the highest grossing film of 1993, using groundbreaking CGI and animatronic technology, and exhibiting a unanimously praised score by John Williams with one of the finest themes ever written for film. More than 'good as movie themes go', the theme for Jurassic Park may be one of the most extraordinary themes to exist in the known repertoire. But before we get into that we can discuss the instrumentation used for the score. Williams adapted a standard orchestra with exotic, breathy woodwinds such as the shakuhachi and the E-flat piccolo oboe, adding to the sound design of the film with an effect similar to air rustling through grass; a reinforced percussion section, led by timpani and joined by congas, bongos, tam-tams, a cog rattle (ratchet), and a number of other instruments besides to add a jungle flare; baritone horns in the brass, two harps, piano, celeste, and synthesizer. Each instrument brought its own unique timbre that was inspired and further influenced viscerally by the DTS sound company studio next door, whose occupation was creating the noises produced by the dinosaurs. Consciously using sound design in this way subliminally embedded the score in the minds of audience members, making the musical impression of the film all the more involved. More climactic elements deeper in the film were characterized by booming timpani, screaming flutes, and dangerous brass when - in classic Michael Crichton theme park style - all hell breaks loose. The score was orchestrated by John Neufeld and Alexander Courage, and recorded in California with Williams conducting. After Williams suffered a back injury Artie Kane stepped in to conduct a number of cues in completing the recording process. Now, the theme. To actually notate the theme for Jurassic Park was difficult for me. Not because the complexity of its form or musicality is beyond me, but because to bottle it down to a series of black and white notes on a page, though fascinating, is so far from what the music really is. In a way it ruins the awe and wonder about it. Yet, the life of the themes we know and love are bound and tethered by the fate of what is written. This is the true gift of a composer; to be able to hear and know exactly what they want and ask that of a company of musicians. The ability to convert a page of notation into pure emotion and evoke splendor enough to rile the masses is truly remarkable. Paradoxically, though the structure of music is artificial, the best source of reference to understand what we perceive aurally in breaking down shapes and colours is through visual cues, and so... Williams said of the theme for Jurassic Park that it was an attempt "to capture the awesome beauty and sublimity of the dinosaurs in nature[, full of] gentle religioso cantilena lines" (Dyer, B1). I think it is unlikely that this impression has not been well apprehended of any viewer to come across the film in their lifetime. The melody is soothing, contemplative, and has a transfixing nature in its gentle sway that makes it affectionately a lullaby. It moves slowly, carrying an enormous, powerful grandeur to match the sweeping majesty of the dinosaurs (the word "majestically" is in fact written into the score). Taken up most prominently on the strings, the warm timbres within stable harmonies offer consolation on a reverential scale. Though major harmonies in of themselves are emotionally suggestive the rhythmic alignment between melody and harmony, creating chordal structures, is evocative of a hymn (talk about 'playing God'), and even the repeated use of neighbour figures in the melody fit a vocal line near perfectly; what many might call 'hummable'. The B section carries on with an equally timeless quality - I can practically hear my friend Chris singing "there's a di-no-saur, there's a di-no-saur..." to it this very moment. What is startling to look at though is how simple the building blocks of the theme are. It uses age-old music techniques, a forthright, gradual climb with step-wise motion in the melody, and occasional jumps and chromatic points of interest that bring the viewer further into the 'otherness' the dinosaurs perpetuate. Just as simple and, when put together, just as complex as a strand of DNA. Since its inception the Jurassic Park theme has grown to be one of the most memorable of all time, having inherited classical roots and disseminated far and wide thanks to the Hollywood machine. It exists now as a part of the pop culture tradition, performed at wedding ceremonies, played by parents to their children, and enduring forever in the hearts of Jurassic Park fans everywhere. In fact, if you are reading this right now I encourage you to do yourself a favour: stop reading, put the screen down, go listen to the theme, and come back when you are done.
Back? Great. So let us continue on to the fanfare, which Williams often remarked was in a way an extension of the theme, using both as a composite whole to represent the park and its inhabitants. The fanfare is very active, maintaining the use of dotted rhythms as heard in the theme while incorporating fifths and octave leaps atop a stolid harmonic foundation. The melody uses offbeats to introduce a strident and mighty French horn - for Williams loves his French horn - infused with minor harmonies that employ modal mixture, such as the major II and III chords (see below). The fanfare is the thrilling pursuit of discovery, grand and superior in its breadth; in a way carrying the promise of greatness for the park's potential that was never fully realized until Jurassic World. The second film in the franchise, The Lost World, was again scored by Williams, only this time orchestrated by Conrad Pope in place of Alexander Courage. Williams revived his themes and introduced a new theme specific to the film. This 'Lost World' theme has only been used once outside of the film for which it was written, reappearing in Jurassic World during the final confrontation between the Tyrannosaurus and Indominus Rex ("Our Rex Is Bigger Than Yours"). The sequel score was darker and more action oriented than the original, devoid of the awe and wonder from the first and using a wider range of percussion instruments that included gourds, log drums, and tabla. Jurassic Park III looked back to its musical roots, only the score was taken up by a new composer. Don Davis stepped in for the next film when it was discovered Williams would have a scoring conflict. The new composer was given sketches of the first two films from Williams and put them to good use, bringing back the Jurassic Park theme, the fanfare, and the carnivore motif, writing his own themes for the family and the Spinosaurus, and integrating it all with his signature techniques. The brass in particular was written as a tribute to the 1933 King Kong style of brass, regularly using stacked, swelling clusters, interesting counterpoint between motifs, a militant band, and other self-contained patterns throughout. The vocals experienced a slight change here as well, receiving more prominence from their nominal role in representing new life, or more accurately the mystery of life. The final film score to recount before getting into Fallen Kingdom is of course Jurassic World. It should not be underestimated how big a gap there was between films here. The Jurassic Park trilogy, like a host of other legacies from the '90s, was thought by the general public to be finished. Only a very few held out for a sequel, and when it was announced that a new film would come out in 2015 to carry on the franchise there was a great deal of excitement about who would be hired to compose. I am not sure how many people saw Michael Giacchino coming - perhaps those better acquainted with the Jurassic Park video game scores had a better idea - but he arrived on scene as the new composer nonetheless. What he did with the score was similarly unforeseeable. He took the existing material and developed it with near mystical abilities to make it inexorably his own. Where films two and three in the series were fallout from the original, Jurassic World was the restored vision of what had always been intended, with tourists finally on the island enjoying rides and exhibits. It was a perfect opportunity to escape the long shadow cast by the earlier scores, and Giacchino did just that in a way that was satisfying and graceful. He brought back virtually the same orchestra with slightly different voicings, causing a modest balance shift, and made a handsome showing of the original theme for fans that was both minimal and in good taste. His new theme for Jurassic World suited the film particularly well, representing the advent of the park and using more than a few melodic and harmonic ideas from the original themes. The melody for example restores the aforementioned neighbour figure in the penultimate bar, offering a point of arrival not only recognizable for the cadential IV - V - I formula but also as a melodic signifier for the spectacular feelings the dinosaurs evoke. On top of this and other great thematic material Giacchino imported a really big choral sound to supersede anything we had experienced in the franchise vocally so far. Even though he chose not to exhaust the early thematic material the musical continuity felt fluid because Giacchino knows it is about more than just themes; musical continuity means paying attention to orchestration techniques, voice leading, styles and textures, keys and colours, rhythms and tempos... it all matters. Many label him as a good imitator of those composers whose works he has inherited, but I am inclined to think his technique is so refined as to be able to adapt to any situation. To attribute his success to repeated guesswork wherein he correctly 'estimates' the quality of sound he is after time and again is utter nonsense. That said, it is possible his music may deceive listeners into thinking it is initially plain. But as one grows an ear for the intricacies of what he composes and the consistency with which he writes, all soon becomes plain just how complex and sumptuous it is. One last thing I am going to look at before getting into the new score is the evolution of the carnivore motifs. It is interesting to see that over the course of four films there has been a growing repertory of themes specific to the antagonistic, carnivorous dinosaurs of the series. In Jurassic Park Williams wrote a motif used primarily for the raptors but also for the T-Rex. The motif opens with a semitone in the same key as the theme, eliciting an expectation to hear the neighbour figure as the onset of the melody, but instead it descends a major third and ends on a falling tritone. The carnivore motif was revived in Jurassic Park III with a supplementary motif for the Spinosaurus, and for Jurassic World, Giacchino wrote a separate motif for the Indominus Rex. The two consistent features between all three motives are (1) they are each comprised of four pitches and (2) they all contain a tritone; almost like an unintentional use of musical primitivism.
The Spinosaurus motif is in a way the most simplistic, opening with a tritone and bouncing back and forth before landing on a B. I say this because it is only relatable to the other two insofar as it has four pitches and a tritone. Its genesis is a little more intricate however, as Davis derived it from the opening four pitches of the fanfare, transforming the succession of perfect fifths into tritones. The Indominus motif is just as interesting, because not only does it end with a tritone as the carnivore motif did, but there is actually a fully fleshed out neighbour figure in the motif itself. It is as though the motif is ridiculing the original theme by deconstructing it; a blasphemous affront to the natural order much like the Indominus itself. The neighbour figure was a seminal melodic crux for Giacchino in Jurassic World. He used it in the Jurassic World theme and in the Indominus motif, and one can even hear an apocalyptic rendition of it in the trailer for Fallen Kingdom, relating back to the Jurassic Park theme every time. It would be a surprise not to find it hidden somewhere in Fallen Kingdom, but now is the time to explore just such lines of inquiry.
In case the evidence thus far has failed to convince you of this little known secret, I love the music of Jurassic Park. On account of this music which I love so much I went in to Fallen Kingdom afraid. Afraid I would come out of it feeling tired. Worried the themes I adore would be overworked and yearning for a reprieve. I do not know what led me to become so fearful, but my anxiety was misplaced. For the score that is since the film was subpar. The cinematography was easily the best element, but when you choose to rehash the same narrative lesson a fifth time, undermine the charismatic strength of your actors with purportedly serious subject matter, and ignore the same philosophical lines of thought that your film raises in the first place, well... it is a wonder it was received poorly. What a way to beat the dinosaur dead. Not to mention the derivative plot of introducing a new 'dinosaur' that was genetically bred as a weapon. They continue to make the series feel less like dinosaur films and more like monster flicks. But I digress. As I was saying, the score for Fallen Kingdom is spectacular. With both Jurassic World films now Giacchino has taken on a different approach to these sequels than you might expect. He does not use the old themes ad nauseam, nor does he completely abandon musical continuity in favour of an entirely new composition. Instead he rides a thin line right down the centre, prudently bringing back old themes while writing an incredibly strong and durable bedrock of new material. Having the temperament and sensitivity, not to mention the stones, to see this through puts the score for Fallen Kingdom in second place in the series as a whole for me. And make no mistake, Fallen Kingdom was composed with a sensitivity bereft since the original Jurassic Park. Some moments come off as cheesy fan service, to be sure, but others are uncommonly effective. And even those that felt lame were very clearly well-intentioned, such as the four-note horn prelude to the Jurassic Park theme in "The Theropod Preservation Society" when Claire views the portrait of Hammond. Early in the film we experience several older themes such as the short-lived Indominus motif when a research team recovers its DNA ("This Title Makes Me Jurassic"), the family theme as Claire seeks out Owen - more a series of arpeggiations than a theme, though this one struck me as little odd since the Jurassic World family theme was usually reserved for the rest of Claire's family - and the Jurassic World theme itself, appearing twice in diametrically different forms. The first hearing is a harmonic bare-bone structure absent of the melody as Claire optimistically journey's to the Lockwood estate ("The Theropod Preservation Society"), and the second displays an unprecedentedly poignant vocal variation as the crew returns to the park, taken up in the minor mode ("March of the Wheatley Cavalcade"). A final appearance of the theme in its standard form is experienced at the end of the film when the new series makes good on its title in establishing a truly 'Jurassic' world. Of the new themes there are three: a theme to represent the militant expedition recovering the animals, defined by triplet rhythms in a minor key and joined by snares and a commanding ostinato ("March of the Wheatley Cavalcade" and "Raiders of the Lost Isla Nublar"); a compassionate, elegiac theme for the doomed dinosaurs; and an overarching theme for Fallen Kingdom. The compassion theme features harp arpeggiations below cool, agonizing vocals ("The Theropod Preservation Society", "Jurassic Pillow Talk", "Operation Blue Blood", and "To Free or Not to Free"). A truly emotional outburst of the lament brings back a likewise poignant sensation when a Brachiosaurus is consumed by the devastation ("Valcano to Death").
The Fallen Kingdom theme, as film themes go, is exceptional. In the time I have been reviewing film scores it is easily the most harmonically sophisticated theme I have come across, and it works beautifully within film. The idea of genetic power is prevalent throughout the whole feature, and the theme embodies this idea, pervading just about every corner of the score. Genetic power; the power to create life; the power of God... Giacchino used this unstoppable force to galvanize a theme that makes most compositions deemed 'epic' pale by comparison. And thanks largely to the combined efforts of choir and organ there is a raw, divine power to be heard in the music that few themes ever achieve. A celeste also leads the theme from time to time, repurposed from its "Remembering Petticoat Lane" origins to fit a haunted house sequence. Just as Williams has always done with his themes, Giacchino used musical form, writing a binary (AB) section theme supported by proper harmonic context where melody and harmony are made nigh inseparable. Giacchino moreover takes his harmonies further than Williams ever did in Jurassic Park, adopting modal mixture to the extreme. Though the harmonic ideas involved (I, IV, and V) are the same as ever, Giacchino has severely interfered with their natural minor state, pulling entire chords flat with chromatic intervention, much as resurrecting dinosaurs went against the natural order. As a result the theme has an uncomfortable quality about it that one might accurately describe as apocalyptic, as if the day of judgement has arrived. Whether that judgement is for the dinosaurs or the human race has yet to be seen. There are many other unique features to the score - slippery strings as the Gyro sinks in "Gyro Can You Go?" and sharp cries ending with abrupt cut-offs from the choir in "Go With the Pyroclastic Flow" among them. The onset of this latter cue contains a total Batman-esque cathedral moment with organ as the volcano completely erupts. "Shock and Auction" too takes place during an intense montage as dinosaurs are auctioned off to dangerous business dealers, using a building ostinato that evokes more power-hungry, reckless disgust than we have encountered in the past. As the credits don the screen the audience gets a brief taste of the Jurassic Park fanfare, which unlike the original theme is not heard in the film. This past month I was privileged to participate in a debate about Giacchino where I played devil's advocate, calling out the composer for taking up too much of the limelight. Though I was quite critical of the composer in that venture it gave me a reason to seriously consider what I think of him, and the verdict is that I love Giacchino. He is the most gifted musician working in Hollywood today, and though I could stand to see other composers taking the spotlight more often I will never tire of him. The fact that he was able to elevate the fifth film of a franchise far beyond what was called for is testament enough of his prowess. Watching Fallen Kingdom I do not get the same feelings I had watching Jurassic Park as a kid. Instead I get whole new ones, and that is all I could ask for. Dyer, Richard. "The Williams Whirlwind." Boston Globe. May 9, 1993, B1 #MichaelGiacchino