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Soundtrack Review: Legends of Metru Nui


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#1 Offline TheSkeletonMan939

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Posted Feb 16 2018 - 09:55 PM

Spoiler
 
Can you believe that, after over a decade of making do with the end credits and menu music, we finally have a thorough representation of the music to the Bionicle trilogy?? You may recall how last year I did a little inspection at Mask of Light’s score; I described the score as possessing a blend of orchestral and tribal/ethnic elements. As we move away from the tropical, mysterious island of Mata Nui, and to the far more advanced world of Metru Nui, this ethnic flavor is replaced with a decidedly more “techno” one.
 
Watch any recent movie trailer and you may find that many are the same: the music “creeps in” to establish some sort of mysterious atmosphere. Listen particularly for single piano notes. It’s as if asserting real mood is something to be avoided, that real presence is uninvited. Monotony is favored more and more by tin-eared executives who are very concerned with the expressiveness of music in their pictures. So in comparison it’s a breath of fresh air when Furst starts off the film with big percussion hits over the logos, presenting the film with gravitas right from the start (if the comparison is not too extravagant: it’s like the first bombastic note of Star Wars pushing you down in your seat for the adventure). Right afterwards we get that familiar tune of what I consider the Matoran’s theme. In this movie we leave behind Mata Nui and most of the characters we became familiar with in the previous film, and combined with the big drum hits, this all seem intimidating; but bringing in that familiar theme placates the audience’s nerves. This is how you establish atmosphere! Not by creating “mystery” through musical dearth but by using those opening few measures to really do something more wholesome. It’s worth noting that the ‘techno’ sensibility of this movie is also conveyed; as we close in on the suva a rhythmic, percussive clicking like machinery is at the forefront of the sound mix (it’s very much dialed down on the official release). Compare this to the percussion starting off Mask of Light. In both cases you immediately, albeit subconsciously, understand the vastly different settings of the respective films. I think that’s almost incredible!
 
As Turaga Vakama sets the story in motion, the Toa theme is reintroduced to us, filled with the energy it garnered in the previous film plus a little extra techno twist! Following behind it is Makuta’s thumping theme, crushing anything in its path. As Vakama says: “unrelenting”. The Toa theme manages to squeeze in one last defiant quotation before this prelude snaps shuts. Another thing that is very fun to take notice of in film scores is not only what situations themes are used for but how they can play against each other, and that’s something Furst knows how to do. Pay attention, for instance, to whenever Lhikan delivers a Toa stone to a Matoran: the melody somehow feels incomplete, as if Lhikan is urging them to discover the last few notes for themselves. Themes can have meaning more than just appearing alongside the appropriate character, and can do a whole lot for communicating the character’s current disposition.
 
Incidentally, whenever some sort of mystery is being musically conveyed (as there is when Lhikan exposes the Toa stones), there’s a shrill, hard-to-place sound emitted. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were an intentionally hard-to-recognize instrument, since that’s a mystery in and of itself! I believe it is a waterphone.
 
A music cue can, for better or for worse, go through a slew of revisions before being locked; thus sometimes a composer releases a different/preferred version of the cue than what it heard in film. In the film, when Lhikan imbues one of the stones with his energy, a choir conveys that this is supernatural energy. On the soundtrack we hear instead a solid announcement of the movie's new Toa motif. In this case though, perhaps Furst simply didn’t find the files to the “film version” of this bit as opposed to necessarily preferring the quotation. Another instance is when Lhikan dives off the bridge and hoverboards down. In the film and soundtrack release, Lhikan’s theme is briefly introduced with conviction but is brushed away by incidental dramatic underscoring. In a YouTube track Furst posted in 2015, the Lhikan theme goes on for another phrase before Nidhiki nearly shoots him out of the sky.
 
And this is all in the first track! In five minutes Furst has established the mood of the film, and not only has introduced the themes but shown their malleability. I’m not going to go through each track and point out how themes are altered and why I think that might be, but I encourage you to really listen to the soundtrack (or even better, watch the film with special attention towards the music) with an ear for catching the themes and how they’re used and changed. It’ll be really rewarding.
 
Other elements to consider are how the music reacts to the events onscreen. One of the coolest moments is when – I don’t know anything about music theory, so I’ll try to describe this best I can – Makuta uses his shadow hand against Vakama, and time slows down. At that point, the choir chants in a sort of staccato fashion, detached from each other, like the second hand on a clock. The way the notes are presented seems very measured… tick tick tick, the same phrase over and over, with a bit of subtle dramatic variation, to give the impression that time seems to be looping back on itself. If I’m not making myself clear, Elliot Goldenthal did something similar a few years earlier in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The same basic melody looped over and over, with some alternating registration, conveys a very gripping “time is of the essence” sensibility. This of course is something you’re not necessarily meant to notice while watching the film; it’s called underscore for a reason. But just consider the heightened sense of temporal wonkiness this music provides, it’s simply incredible effect on the scene and the audience. Can you see now, if you didn’t before, why music in film is so critical? How music can completely sell the drama, which seems very real and raw in the moment, of two computerized robots in a slow-motion standoff? Can you see why Hollywood executives are literally terrified of music’s sway over you? It honestly blows my mind how effectively the music “tricks” us.
 
Moving away from the compositions themselves to the album presentation: I mentioned in my MoL review that the mix felt clogged; this release breathes much better. Stereo separation is more detectable and everything in general just feels less compressed. I’m not sure if he only had those stuffy stereo mixes for MoL and not the multitrack, or if he just did a more thorough job of spacing everything out here, but either way I like this manner of mastering much much more than MoL’s. Despite the score being, as far as I can tell, 100% samples (maybe the piano is real), you’re seldom going to notice it. Usually you only notice the inauthenticity of something when it bores you (like movies, for instance) and I am happy to say that I find Furst’s score so magnetic that I barely notice while listening that none of it is performed by a live musician. Good music sounds good in any competent presentation!
 
Some people have noticed that it isn’t the “complete” score. In this time of unlimited hard drive space and quick Internet, with music albums freed from the 80-minute constraint of CDs, many question why stuff is left out at all. This runs under an hour; why doesn’t it have everything? The reason is that as good a job Furst did on the score, it still was just a job. Some cues he wrote because he had to, and because he had a deadline to meet. He did not feel as though every single cue was beaming with worth and ingenuity. He has presented what he believes to be the “meat” of the score and what a listener needs in order to “understand” it. I prefer this honesty much more than just carelessly sending out everything and shrugging, “Well, they wanted everything!” It’s his work; I don’t see why he ought not present it in what he deems the most suitable way.
 
Nevertheless he did include two ‘bonus tracks’: a discarded idea for the desert/Kikanalo sequence and a presentation of the bare-bones Lhikan theme, the latter being used on the DVD menu. There are several additional music tracks heard on the menus, not presented on this release, which I assume are demos that never were evolved into full pieces. Or perhaps they were specifically commissioned for the DVD. The discarded Kikanalo cue does seem to have had a sliver of its material retained in the tail end of track 8. That might be my imagination though.
 
Film music today is thriving, and at the same time it seems like creativity and expression in the field is at an all-time low. James Newton Howard spoke at a concert last year about his score to the 1991 film Prince of Tides. He said, and I quote: “This is a score that I probably couldn’t do anymore -- I mean, you wouldn’t be allowed to do anymore. It’s sort of from another era; probably from the end of a period of time when it was okay to be slightly sentimental and wear your heart on your sleeve, which is pretty much what I do.” The turn of the century brought a sort of gothic sensibility to Hollywood, and since then things have stayed a little grimdark for the most part. The sharpness of music to pierce the audience’s heart has been thoroughly dulled. Better to be mediocre and not alienate anyone than to have your picture convey real sentiment. I’m sure you all saw that YouTube video about how feeble most Marvel movies sound. It’s not something, fortunately, that is going under people’s radars. And it’s interesting that a 2004 animated toy movie has a stronger underscore than a lot of today’s big-budget stuff. I bet this is why David Newman sticks to animation and light comedies for the most part. Overall the music, and the enthusiasm upon its long-awaited release, speaks for itself. Next time you watch the movie, pay attention to the music - it has a lot more to say about characters and narrative than you might originally have perceived!
 
(Did you like this little write-up? Did it suck? Should I have focused more, or less, on one aspect or another? There's only one soundtrack left for me to inspect so you'd better help me get that one right!)

You can find the score on Amazon, iTunes, and probably other online stores I'm not thinking of.

Edited by TheSkeletonMan939, Feb 17 2018 - 09:24 AM.

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#2 Offline Toa of Gallifrey

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Posted Feb 17 2018 - 08:06 AM

It is a shame that film scores are given such little attention, because they can easily make or break a movie. My two favorite movies of last year, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water; and my favorite film series, Kara no Kyoukai, are all in my favorites in large part because of the music. I don't analyze the score in a very detailed manner (impressive write-up, by the way; gonna go read the MoL one as soon as I'm done writing this), but I really appreciate when scenes are enhanced by rich music. So many key scenes in the Star Wars original trilogy would only be half as memorable with a lesser OST. I think one of my favorite scenes in all of Star Wars is the escape pod scene at the very beginning, when C3PO says the damage doesn't look so bad from out there. The reason that scene works so well for me is equal parts how it's shot and how it sounds. The music of the Bionicle trilogy is the reason I remember them fondly and go back to them. It's why scenes like the Rahaga rescue in WoS stick with me. LoMN is definitely my favorite of the bunch, though I couldn't justify my reasons anywhere close to the level of what you did.


Edited by Toa of Gallifrey, Feb 17 2018 - 08:06 AM.

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#3 Offline Tyrion Archer

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Posted Feb 17 2018 - 12:13 PM

And this is all in the first track! In five minutes Furst has established the mood of the film, and not only has introduced the themes but shown their malleability. I’m not going to go through each track and point out how themes are altered and why I think that might be, but I encourage you to really listen to the soundtrack (or even better, watch the film with special attention towards the music) with an ear for catching the themes and how they’re used and changed. It’ll be really rewarding.

It's really fun to notice all those little differences. I especially love hearing the bits of music that were muted completely in the film, such as the first few seconds of "Escaping Dark Hunters", that menacing sound towards the end of "Follow the Light / Mask of Time" that was seemingly meant to be heard while Lhikan is violently thrown by the Makuta's shadow hand, and at least one part of "Lhikan's Death / Vakama's Power Found" during Vakama's "duel" with Teridax. You can even hear some of those parts fading out if you listen closely to the film mix, including that instance of the Toa's motif in the opening track before it's more or less replaced by that choir (which sounds like it was reused from some part of the "Toa Stones" segment of the track anyway). The techno elements do seem to take a bit more of a backseat in the OST release, but I feel like this movie and a lot of other movies tend to exaggerate the electronic aspects of their scores beyond what the composer intended. There are a few tracks which, in the movie, have some electronic beats played over them that are not present in the OST version at all. For example, there's a techno beat at a certain point in the film version of "Follow the Light / Mask of Time" which sounds really out of place (it would be around the two-and-a-half minute mark on the official track).

 

I'm just speculating, but I feel like most of the film-exclusive changes were made by the movie's editors with little or no involvement from Furst himself (with the exception of any alterations brought about by the remastering process, which I assume are minimal outside of quality/clarity enhancement) and this is how he originally intended the tracks to be heard.

 

Some people have noticed that it isn’t the “complete” score. In this time of unlimited hard drive space and quick Internet, with music albums freed from the 80-minute constraint of CDs, many question why stuff is left out at all. This runs under an hour; why doesn’t it have everything? The reason is that as good a job Furst did on the score, it still was just a job. Some cues he wrote because he had to, and because he had a deadline to meet. He did not feel as though every single cue was beaming with worth and ingenuity. He has presented what he believes to be the “meat” of the score and what a listener needs in order to “understand” it. I prefer this honesty much more than just carelessly sending out everything and shrugging, “Well, they wanted everything!” It’s his work; I don’t see why he ought not present it in what he deems the most suitable way.

Since LoMN is Furst's crowning jewel in my opinion, I too am glad that he released the album he wanted to release instead of throwing everything in as a fan service. I would have loved to hear more simply because I'm obsessed with this soundtrack, but I'll take the composer's vision of their own music over the studio's version any day. And at the end of the day, we're lucky this one was released in any capacity after that hard drive crash where the entire score was reportedly lost for years. Thank Mata Nui for Nathan, his assistant, and anyone else who contributed to getting this masterpiece recovered!

 

Regardless, Furst seems open to the idea of distributing the two tracks he said were excluded from the final album. He even responded to one of my tweets saying that he's working on how best to go about doing that.

 

Great review, Skeleton! You put the reasons why this score is so outstanding in better words than I ever could. I agree it triumphs over the vast majority of today's film scores, even though there are still a lot of amazing ones out there like James Newton Howard's Fantastic Beasts, much of Hans Zimmer's work, John Williams' newer Star Wars scores, and even (in my personal opinion) most of the MCU soundtracks. There's definitely a sense of genuine emotion and creativity that's missing from a lot of modern scores, but I feel there are many that manage to recapture it.

 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the Web of Shadows release!


Edited by Tyrion Archer, Feb 17 2018 - 12:28 PM.

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#4 Offline TheSkeletonMan939

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Posted Feb 18 2018 - 01:22 PM

Thanks for the comments! Glad you enjoyed it.

 

It is a shame that film scores are given such little attention, because they can easily make or break a movie. My two favorite movies of last year, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water; and my favorite film series, Kara no Kyoukai, are all in my favorites in large part because of the music. I don't analyze the score in a very detailed manner (impressive write-up, by the way; gonna go read the MoL one as soon as I'm done writing this), but I really appreciate when scenes are enhanced by rich music. So many key scenes in the Star Wars original trilogy would only be half as memorable with a lesser OST. I think one of my favorite scenes in all of Star Wars is the escape pod scene at the very beginning, when C3PO says the damage doesn't look so bad from out there.

 

Haven't seen Dunkirk or heard any of Kaijura's work (yet), but I'm with you on The Shape of Water! I think its strength comes from that Desplat was allowed to make his theme prominent and present it in a genuinely inventive fashion. The way the music is made to sound slightly muffled, as if it's coming from underwater, leaves an impression on audiences... people notice these things. Even people who were not enthused by the film itself always seem quick to add that the music was very enjoyable. Between the public and professional recognition of the score, I hope people become more aware of Desplat's work, and that by this success the strong thematic score becomes a little more welcome in Hollywood as it once was.

 

And I think you're right on the mark with John Williams's music being invaluable to Star Wars. Mark Hamill was effusive with praise in an interview a while ago about Williams, and how for older viewers it was really a transportation back to the days of Herrmann, Korngold, Steiner, Rozsa, all those guys. For kids, with the movie not hitting VHS for a few more years, getting the record was the closest thing you had to being able to replay the movie. The strong melodic identification kept the characters alive in their heads and shot their imagination vividly back to the adventure; that transporting power of music is really awesome. I've looked at lots of interviews with today's composers and they tend to point to two sources of inspiration: Silvestri's Back to the Future and Williams's Star Wars. My favorite bit of Star Wars is when Luke and Leia grapple over that chasm, and Leia's theme dissolves into this sublime Korngold-esque string figure.

 

I agree that LoMN may be the strongest score of the trilogy - he builds off of what he did in MoL very naturally and also develops very distinct ideas of his own. Plus, with the Toa as the focus, there's not as much slapstick stuff as there is with MoL's infantilized Matoran, and more of a focus on inner doubts and all that introspective stuff that music can augment very well.

 

I'm just speculating, but I feel like most of the film-exclusive changes were made by the movie's editors with little or no involvement from Furst himself (with the exception of any alterations brought about by the remastering process, which I assume are minimal outside of quality/clarity enhancement) and this is how he originally intended the tracks to be heard.

 

The composer being kept out of the loop is probably what happens more often than not. Jerry Goldsmith was horribly frustrated with Ridley Scott during Alien because the director rarely ever spoke to Goldsmith about pretty much any musical decisions, and the score in-film is, editorially, considerably different from what Goldsmith delivered. And for low-budget DTV films like Bionicle it can be easy to imagine a situation where the composer is hired, delivers his music on time, gets his pay check, and that's the last interaction they have. Maybe that's what happened; or maybe many discussions about musical decisions were had with Furst during the editing process. I don't know. But the crew of Bionicle certainly had considerable respect for Furst's work in general (in Mask of Light the Koli sequence was edited around the beats of Furst's underscore), so I'm sure he wasn't too burnt by any musical mutilations. ;)

 

For some film composers, actually seeing the final product can be a depressing experience because the music may not even be audible, or the way the music is mixed isn't the way he necessarily wishes it would sound, or the music was all chopped up and used in places it wasn't meant to be in. If I spent all day writing two minutes of music which I really think captures the essence of the scene, and really plays off the dialogue well and elevates the dispositions of the characters... and then the cue is used in the wrong place entirely, that's probably a frustrating turn of events for anyone. But that's the nature of collaboration for better or for worse. 

 

Since LoMN is Furst's crowning jewel in my opinion, I too am glad that he released the album he wanted to release instead of throwing everything in as a fan service. I would have loved to hear more simply because I'm obsessed with this soundtrack, but I'll take the composer's vision of their own music over the studio's version any day. And at the end of the day, we're lucky this one was released in any capacity after that hard drive crash where the entire score was reportedly lost for years. Thank Mata Nui for Nathan, his assistant, and anyone else who contributed to getting this masterpiece recovered!

 

Regardless, Furst seems open to the idea of distributing the two tracks he said were excluded from the final album. He even responded to one of my tweets saying that he's working on how best to go about doing that.

 

Yeah, I can understand the desire to have everything in a score; it's kind of a "every note counts" mentality. Every month, 2-disc "expanded" versions of film scores are being released featuring every note. Between those, and bootlegs which have stuff not officially released, it's getting easier and easier to overlook the originally released soundtrack, often produced by the composer himself with hand-picked edits and all that. John Williams for years refused to sanction those sorts of multi-disk expansions; to him the original release which he oversaw was the "definitive" score and that was that. I kind of agree with his mentality, but of course there's going to be some great stuff you hear in the movie you won't otherwise be able to hear. Maybe some critical thematic stuff, even. It's an interesting question, which presentation is "better" for the consumer and whether the OST should trump all since it can have an element of "authorial intent" to it.

 

But nevertheless I'm glad Furst is considering releasing the other tracks too I always enjoyed the cue when they're hopping onto the Vahki transport (which I don't think was on this release, but was on his website). You mentioned techno elements being more pronounced in the movie than on the soundtrack - I think that's one of those cases! So it'll be interesting to see which mix he chooses, assuming he still has those techno overlays.

 

I agree it triumphs over the vast majority of today's film scores, even though there are still a lot of amazing ones out there like James Newton Howard's Fantastic Beasts, much of Hans Zimmer's work, John Williams' newer Star Wars scores, and even (in my personal opinion) most of the MCU soundtracks. There's definitely a sense of genuine emotion and creativity that's missing from a lot of modern scores, but I feel there are many that manage to recapture it.

 

 

Yep, it's not all doom and gloom. There's still a lot of talent in Hollywood, but it's definitely dumbed down. One example I use a lot is Brian Tyler - I used to think he was one of the most abrasive, annoying composers who somehow stumbled into Hollywood with a monopoly on nasty brass mixing. But then I listened to some of his non-blockbuster work like Lego Universe and Standing Up - and WOW!! It's like night and day with the guy. That was an important lesson to me.

 

Newton Howard - he's someone everyone tells me is great but I'm a bit ashamed to admit I haven't heard too much from him. I listened to parts of Peter Pan and completely melted, so he is definitely someone I'd like to discover in the near future.

 

Zimmer - the reasons he's loathed are as numerous as the reasons he's loved. I fall in the middle. He definitely knows how to capture your sense of awe with score like Interstellar - he knows how to musically present pure spectacle like that. Great sense of scale with movies like Pirates of the Caribbean too. I don't quite appreciate certain business ventures of his but the man himself has no shortage of talent and ingenuity. I'm always curious to hear what his next project will sound like, because you never truly can know.

 

Williams - I'm so glad he continues to write for the movies. His friends in the concert world pressured him for years to leave Hollywood behind and join them - they said he was just too good for movies - but he just loves working with guys like Spielberg and helping movies shine in any way he can. He's literally incapable of writing bad music, but in the new SW movies, I can almost hear the Disney executive breathing down his neck, reminding him to stick to what he wrote 35 years ago rather than develop something new (as he did with Duel of the Fates in TPM, for instance). He's such a remarkable artist though, Disney is lucky he agreed to write for them.

MCU - it's fun to be crotchety and say that all their music sucks, but I think they've gotten a few hits along the way. Craig Armstrong's understated Hulk for instance, with that love theme commenting on the pitiful love between Bruce and Betty. Thor had a great main theme but the rest of it was a lot of muck. Silvestri gave us gold with Captain America; that score really knocks it out of the park and is as forward about its patriotism as Steve is. Jackman's Winter Soldier theme has sweet momentum, and every cue in that film feels propulsive to the highest degree. The wailing sound for Bucky is masterfully incorporated into the film. Tyler Bates was able to get away with some overtly emotion strings (I love strings!) to give the comedic character of Guardians of the Galaxy more emotional weight. Mothersbaugh got to do a little '80s jamming out on Thor Ragnarok which I enjoyed. Some might call that a nostalgia-bait gimmick but I thought the synth design was fun to listen to. And most recently Goransson had some great African instrumentation in Black Panther and was able to even get away with a few moments of orchestral complexity.

 

For my part I can say that I don't really look forward to very many new Hollywood scores, and spend more time trying to learn about gems from the past, or listen to the stuff coming out of Japan right now (Oshima never lets me down!). But I always am anxious to hear the experimentation in Marco Beltrami's projects, at least the ones where he's allowed to shine (Logan, most recently). Creed 2 is coming out sometime this year, and I hope Goransson returns for that, his new training montage theme was just fantastic. Oh and I can't forget Matthew Margeson, with his infectious synth. Austin Wintory is an orchestral writer who I've heard a little bit from and whose work completely floors me - check out ABZU sometime.

 

So yeah, that's my long-winded evaluation of where things stand in Hollywood. I don't think Furst would be allowed to write a score like Bionicle for a blockbuster. Instead of bemoaning that though I think it's more important, and rewarding, to find out what and where the good stuff is and champion it.


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