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Warning: This post does contain a few spoilers for Thor: The Dark World. They’re individually labeled with a red-font spoiler-ville warning, but if you haven’t seen it and are really trying to avoid spoilers, I wouldn’t read this.

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen much online chatter about the TDW soundtrack, but I guess that’s because most of the online chatter is either about how much we fans love Loki, or what everyone thinks of the plot. I’m also into music — more than the average person, less than a professional. (Same goes for my knowledge of music — more than the average, [far, far] less than a professional.) Just enough to be interested and want to make some comparisons between Brian Tyler’s TDW soundtrack and Patrick Doyle’s Thor soundtrack.

First off, I love both. I’m actually not much of a soundtrack person, generally speaking. That music was written to accompany a movie, not so much to be listened to on its own. (Plus I like to sing along ; I’m more of a singer than a musician.) I have 16 soundtracks in my collection (4 Marvel ones), split among movies, a TV show, and Broadway plays. If it sounds like a lot, it’s not, my whole collection is pretty big.

I resisted buying the Thor soundtrack for quite a while, but when I gave in I didn’t regret it. There are some really great tracks on it.

“Ride to Observatory” (5) was my early favorite, specifically the part that kicks off around 1:10. I can feel the excitement and eagerness that Thor’s feeling as he and his brother and friends race down the bifrost on their horses. I wish I were better at picking out instruments from an orchestra (maybe someone can correct me!) but in addition to the melody going on, I love what I think are low-pitched violins kind of just racing back and forth in the background, almost like wind whipping through their hair. There’s a similar theme running through “Sons of Odin” (2), “A New King” (3), and this track, that I also quite like. There’s a certain solemnity and hopefulness, and then when you hit that “let it loose” or “Thor just walked in the door” moment, as in “Sons of Odin” at 0:32, there’s just a lot of fun and energy (and sounds of a hammer striking).

Soon I also began to love “Banishment” (9). Solemnity and sorrow that builds and builds until about 1:20 where it breaks loose, when Thor’s tossed into the pull of the bifrost to Earth. It would break my heart just a bit.

Another favorite soon became “Letting Go” (22). It’s sad without being too sad at first, because Loki still has hope, he’s still trying to convince his father he’s worthy, to earn the love he thinks he doesn’t have through his entrapment of Laufey and his attempt to destroy Jotunheim. And then…”No, Loki.” At around 0:38 you can occasionally hear me saying out loud, “Don’t do it, Loki!” as the music shifts and Loki gives up, lets go, and (literally and figuratively) turns his back on his family, presumably forever. (I would not suggest a career in psychological counseling to Odin.)

Then my love shifted to (or grew to) “Odin Confesses” (11). It really makes me feel the sadness and kind of despair of this moment for Loki (and I would argue for Odin as well). Then it shifts at 1:58 (I really wish I knew the proper musical terms for these things!) as Odin falls, and the gravity of it all hits me so hard I really feel the weight of it, and that moment where Loki oh-so-hesitantly reaches for his father’s hand.

At the same time, “Brothers Fight” (21) became my other favorite. At around 1:15 I can hear Loki saying, “And your death came by the son of Odin.” And my absolute favorite is the part that begins building at around 1:28 with violins, really picking up at 1:48, falling silent at 1:50 (“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to destroy Jotunheim.”), building strong again at 1:51, and really taking off at 1:58, just killing me, through about 2:55, when it quietens again for a bit, I think for some dialog. But this part beginning at 1:58…wow. So emotional. Sad, dark, angry, energetic, tragic. Loki has shown his dark side for real now, in person (blasting Thor out the side of Odin’s naptime room — the other bad stuff he’s done this far has been in secret, or via the Destroyer), and let’s face it, he’s on his way to commit genocide. These are the depths of his anger and — as most Loki fans believe, including me — self-hatred.

I enjoy all the tracks, though it’s true some of them, for me, are “just music,” and don’t particularly grab me. “Earth to Asgard” (24) is a fine piece of music that you can just sit back and enjoy listening to; it’s the song playing over the initial credits at the end, the journey through the universe, and it draws on elements found elsewhere in the soundtrack, I think mostly “Prologue” (2).

The strength of this soundtrack as a soundtrack, to me, is that it tells a story right alongside the movie. Nearly every track is distinct enough that you can very quickly realize just what moment in the movie that track goes with, even where specific lines of dialogue are delivered. Now obviously I’ve seen the movie and listened to the soundtrack more than once; I’m not saying you could do this with one viewing. But, as outlined with just a few examples above (I could give more), the tracks are distinct and very clearly keyed into the moments they underscore.

The weakness of this soundtrack, to me, is that it lacks a clear theme. I didn’t say it lacks a theme, I said it lacks a clear theme. You aren’t likely to be humming along to anything by the end, much less the next day. I’d seen it many times before I was humming along to anything, I’m pretty sure. (By contrast, by the end of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and TDW, I was definitely humming along with the theme.) There are definitely themes in the soundtrack, I already mentioned one. A second theme is actually my favorite part in “Brothers Fight,” the part beginning at 1:58. It’s what I call in my layman’s language an inverted theme (I wish someone with more correct terminology could explain to me exactly what’s going on there.) You can clearly hear the “non-inverted” version of it in the very beginning of “Can You See Jane” (23), played on what sounds like a solo violin. In reminds me, completely incorrectly, of what happens in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with the famous “duh duh duh dum” theme, that gets inverted in the coda. (And no, I didn’t know that on my own, I watched a conductor talking about it on PBS ages ago, though according to that linked article not everyone agrees Beethoven was intentionally repeating the theme.)

Let’s take a quick interlude to look at Alan Silvestri’s The Avengers soundtrack. I can still remember my first viewing, after that closeup on Samuel L. Jackson, when, at 2:19 of “Tunnel Chase” (3), we first get the Avengers theme. The movie takes a big cheat here in a sense by giving you the big silver “A” on the screen, but I remember that music kind of thrilling me, and I had no doubt it was the theme music, and already the next time I heard it (“Helicarrier,” though really it’s also found a bit in “Stark Goes Green”) I was humming along and the music brought a smile to my lips. The first part of “Stark Goes Green” (4) and the part beginning at 2:30 in “A Little Help” (15) (it’s the part where it looks like the Avengers are being overwhelmed, they’re all taking a bad beating — because the music does such a great job conveying that sense of heroes giving it their all but facing loss — are my two favorite cues in this soundtrack. And then there’s “The Avengers” (18), the track that plays over the initial credits, which is my overall without-a-doubt favorite track of the disk.

Now let’s take a brief interlude to look at Brian Tyler’s Iron Man 3 soundtrack. Let me preface it by saying I’m only a casual Iron Man fan. I wound up seeing it three times in the theater, though the third time was a fluke due to a visiting friend who wanted to go. I do own all three movies, but I don’t own the first two soundtracks. By 0:13 into the first track (“Iron Man 3”), we’re already getting a five-note taste of the theme, and at 0:36 we start up the theme in earnest. I swear at 0:48 we get a tiny bit of jingle-bells in the background (it’s Christmastime in the movie), and at 0:52 we begin to get Tony hammering out his iron (sort of). We hear this theme over and over and over. And over. And over. But that’s okay, because it’s an awesome theme, and we hear it of course in many variations. Listen to it in “Isolation” (4) and “New Beginning” (6) — it’s absolutely beautiful. Is that a harp it’s being plucked out on in “Isolation”? Or how heavy it feels in “Heat and Iron” (11), combined with the War Machine theme. This is a very coherent soundtrack. You can listen to the entire thing and you do feel you’re listening to something that makes a whole. And then there’s “Can You Dig It?” (20), also with the theme, but very jazzed up, and man I love this track, my favorite on this disk. Loved the initial credits it goes with, too, a walk down memory lane with Iron Man. And just so perfect for Tony Stark, sort of have-fun, care-free, exciting, live-life-to-the-fullest song. Feeling tired and need a pick-me-up to get through the rest of your day? Play this song. Better than caffeine. I can’t sit still listening to it.

So, because I enjoyed the IM3 soundtrack by Brian Tyler so much, I was extremely excited to find out the TDW soundtrack would be done by him, too. Marvel liked his IM3 work, as he confirms in this screendaily.com interview (which I’ll post some more of below:

It was because of Iron Man 3. Iron Man 3 had finished not too long before that. I talked to Marvel about it. I got a call that they were interested in talking to me about it. So I came down to Marvel and watched a rough cut of the film and I loved it. I’m a fan of Thor in the first place, and of most Marvel comics. I was really excited to do something that had a mythological angle to it that I could really get into the kinds of scoring that I love, which is a combination of science fiction and fantasy. In Thor, the weaponry is a combination of battleaxes and lasers. To me it’s merging the two kinds of films that I love into one. Musically it doesn’t get any better than that, from my perspective.

I mean, as I said, I also loved Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack, but I was very excited to see what Brian Tyler would bring to it. 0:15 into the first track (“Thor: The Dark World”) we get the theme. And we will get it over and over and over and over. And over. Do you see the pattern? Ha. Though to me the variations on the theme are less clear to me here than they are on IM3; in other words, I have a hard time telling some of the tracks apart. There is one major variation on the theme, where it’s used so differently that I suspect most people don’t realize it (spoiler-ville) — and that’s in the sad bits. So the theme is used for the rousing mythological thunder god’s music, but it’s also used at Frigga’s funeral, in the beautiful and so-mournful “Into Eternity” (7). Don’t listen to this song when depressed. Or when you don’t want to be depressed.

On this soundtrack my favorite track is “Legacy” (25), which starts out with (spoiler-ville) Thor’s conversation that he thinks is with Odin and has that nice sense of somberness, maturity, and gravity about it. This is a son giving up the role his father has raised him for, a prince turning his back on his expected destiny because he’s realized it’s not really where he belongs or what he’s meant to be. The music gets a bit lighter or brighter you might say, along with Odin accepting what Thor has told him, and bestowing his round-about words of acceptance and approval on him. Then at around 2:00 it starts getting a touch heavier, because Thor’s leaving. Oh, wait, is that why it gets a touch heavier? At around 2:18 it begins to transition…along with Odin transitioning into Loki, and Loki’s “No. Thank you.” (and my thrill of joy). Then around 2:40 or so we’re into the music with the initial credits, the main theme. Love it. Wasn’t a fan of the initial credits at first, with their artwork and slashes of color, but by the third viewing I loved them, and I’d pay good money for a print of the very last one, the one of Loki on the throne.

The “Marvel Studios Fanfare” is stuck on as track 26, and it’s a good one. It feels very at home on the TDW soundtrack. I hope it will on Captain America 2 and other films as well, given their different tones and so forth.

“Into Eternity” (7) and “Deliverance” (22) are beautiful and mournful. “A Universe from Nothing” (9) is another of my early favorites — it’s beautiful and has a bit of that air of mystery that fits the scene of Odin showing Thor and Jane the book and explaining the Dark Elves to them — at least I think that’s the scene it goes with! “Journey to Asgard” (16) is another main theme track that’s hard for me to distinguish from the others, but I particularly like a couple of elements in it: the drumbeat build from about 0:37, the cymbals that I think are more prominent here than in other versions, and the half-second or so of silence at 0:57, because it mirrors the brief moment of silence for Thor, when Thor and his brother and friends go through the bifrost to Jotunheim. (This is the track when Thor takes Jane to Asgard via bifrost.) “An Unlikely Alliance” (19) is fun and quite unique on this soundtrack, for working in different little themes as we go alongside Thor and Loki and Loki (spoiler-ville) is shifting himself and Thor into different shapes; notably the track also works in Alan Silvestri’s Captain America theme (2:55) at the obvious moment — the transition into and out of this theme are excellent.

The strength of this soundtrack, to me, is it’s fantastic theme that will likely quickly have you humming along, or at least giving you those subtle warm fuzzies that the familiar tends to give us. And because we hear variations of it throughout — even almost unrecognizably so in “Into Eternity” (and only so hard to recognize because it’s played with such a different mood — the tune is all there) — it’s an incredibly coherent soundtrack, just like Tyler’s IM3, and it’s really fun to just listen to.

The weakness of this soundtrack, to me, is that it lacks a clear “independent” story-telling ability. You might notice, also that the tracks on this disk are completely out of order (though “Legacy” thankfully is last, other than the short fanfare track). I do dislike this, and I haven’t been able to find anything online that gives me the correct order of the tracks. But, perhaps here it matters less, because you already have less of a sense of distinct music tied to specific moments in the movie. So, with Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack, it’s much easier for me to point to specific tracks I loved, and for me to associate those tracks with specific moments in the movie, whereas with Brian Tyler’s I can simply say, “yep, very very good.”

So I wonder, is it possible to have both? A really coherent soundtrack with a clear theme that gets you excited and humming along, AND a really good story-telling soundtrack with each track clearly and obviously pegged to specific moments? Or are they mutually exclusive? I don’t know. If you’ve read this far, perhaps you have an opinion on the matter.

In any event, here’s a few more quotes from Brian Tyler regarding the TDW soundtrack (see the link above for the full interview).

Did your work on Iron Man 3 have an effect on your approach to Thor: The Dark World, being that they’re from the same Marvel universe?

The fact is that Iron Man 3 was my first superhero movie. For me it was like a dream come true as well. The angle for Iron Man 3 was they wanted a theme to be connected with Iron Man/Tony Stark. The thing that was tricky was that you need to limit yourself in terms of the scope and epic size of a melodic theme: not just the sound but the literal melody. Because with Iron Man, he is Tony Stark – he’s a guy. He wasn’t born with special powers, he didn’t go through radiation and become someone different, he didn’t come from a different planet. There’s none of that. He’s just a really smart guy who built a kick-ass suit. There needed to be a real grounding of him that reflected his humanity.

With Thor, going into it, the really cool thing for me was there was no confusion between Iron Man and Thor; they’re just so different. Thor is the complete antithesis, he’s classic superhero. He’s born mythologically, he’s from a different planet, from Asgard. He’s heir to the throne so he’s got this whole regal quality about him. So there didn’t need to be any shackles put on the music because he’s so larger than life. He’s not even human. So the approach that connected the movies together is that Marvel really wanted themes that you could remember, that would mark the characters of Iron Man and Thor.

What determines your musical choices – plot or character, or both?

It’s both really. In this case the character was driven by the plot. You are talking about someone that has gone through this journey over the course of the three movies he’s appeared in. In the first film he hadn’t earned his title of Thor, Norse God. He was in that transition. In The Avengers he proved himself. By the time this film comes along, he is a fully realised superhero with a legitimate claim to the throne of Asgard. The fact is that all of that is character but also tied into plot. That’s why it’s so different from the original Thor music because neither score fits on their counterparts movie since the character has changed so much. We did a theme for a post-Avengers Thor. Also, it was the location itself. The fact that so much of the movie takes place on Asgard. It has a different look than Earth and a different feel. It’s regal; it didn’t have to be as Earthbound. I just went for it and I could do what it is that I always wanted to do, which was just take off the shackles.

What was your creative process like for scoring this film?

For me it was watching the film and getting a sense of where it was going. It was talking to the director, talking to the people at Marvel and certainly it was something that was done hand-in-hand with the process of the film-makers. The technical side of the process was just sitting down at the piano, like I always do, and just vibing out the themes and that was a process. I really wanted something that could work on many levels. A theme can work as something that can get you pumped up and motivated and give you the power of Thor. But if it was played differently, the exact same melody could be a lament – something that brought the melancholy nature of the story as well.