Before Solo: A Star Wars Story’s score by John Powell releases next week, I thought I would revisit one of his older yet amazing creations. This week I present to you a review of his best one, which just so happens to also be one of the finest film scores ever made;
How To Train Your Dragon.
In the past decade or so, it has been highly unusual for a score for an animated film to stand out (or at least, in my experience). Most of the so regarded “great ones” have been from high budget movies or at the very least attributed to very famous composers (John Williams and Hans Zimmer for example) However, there are a few exceptions to this, and How To Train Your Dragon is one of them. Not only does this score stand out, it is easily one of the best scores arond.
The album opens with This Is Berk, a wonderful introduction to the main themes of the movie. We hear excerpts from the main(or at least, I think it’s the main theme) and flying themes in here, all woven together in a fantastically adventurous action cue to kick-start this great score. Plenty of brass and percussion is utilised here, and it sounds insane. One thing I have seen mentioned before about Powell’s How To Train Your Dragon is that it is a great example of over the top scoring (overscoring); using a lot of music where it isn’t necessarily needed, but sounds great anyway. This Is Berk is a great showcase for this, being the loud, soaring, and amazing-sounding introduction track to an animated film where this type of score would not be expected at all.
Dragon Battle is the first major action cue of this album, and it kicks off the action immediately with heavy sounding brass and a very fast pace. Once again it sounds like the music to a high-budget action adventure film, and is all the better for it. Focus Hiccup! continues this pace in the second action track, and it just sounds amazing. Once again brass and percussion are utilised to make for an epic track.
Forbidden Friendship slows down the score just a tad, with a fantastically slow and emotional cue that perfectly symbolises Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship in the film. If my memory serves me well, this is the part in the film where they meet for the first time and gradually begin interacting in a cave. It was a beautiful moment in the film and it has been scored perfectly by John Powell here. It is also a welcome change of pace from the action (despite it being very good). Percussion is used a great deal here as well as woodwinds to create a slow-yet-still-amazing-sounding rendition of the flying theme. The cue then slowly builds up from basic woodwind to chorus-backed great-sounding music, and it is just an absolute joy to listen to it.
That then brings us onto the start of the pure magic of this soundtrack; Test Drive. Here John Powell really defines overscoring with a soaring rendition of the flying theme that really makes you feel like you are actually flying with Hiccup and Toothless. He also rather unusually utilises bagpipes here as well as his usual brass and percussion, but that initial doubt is swept away immediately as the bagpipes just work so well with the music.
Test Drive is so good a piece of music that it is actually quite hard to describe just how fantastic it is, and so the easiest and probably best way I can get you as the reader to understand it is to just let you listen to it. So here, enjoy:
Now that you have fallen in love with the score to How To Train Your Dragon, I shall move on to the next track; Astrid Goes For A Spin. Here we hear the main(?) theme of the film again in all its over the top brass glory, as Astrid rides a dragon. Like the previous tracks this cue is just amazing, and a wonderful example of Powell’s fantastic scoring.
Romantic Flight slows the album down again for a slow and beautiful rendition of the flying theme. This cue is as fantastic as it is dramatic, and the brass and percussion come out to shine once again as the music builds up the flying theme into another chorus-backed magical moment in How To Train Your Dragon.
We enter the more action-based final act of the film in the next standout cues; The Kill Ring and Battling The Green Death. Here John Powell brings out his action cue talents once again and boy does he not disappoint. The fast-pace returns in these edge-of-your-seat tracks that are fantastically dramatic, and just before you think it couldn’t get any better Powell breaks out another amazing-sounding rendition of the flying theme in Battling The Green Death as Hiccup turns up to save the day. These two tracks together represent some of the best action music on this score (and there is a lot of it).
The score then closes up with one final track; Coming Back Around. It starts off slowly, with a slow rendition of some elements of the flying theme fantastically crafted using percussion and some woodwinds. It sounds wonderfully medieval in style (as does most of the score, for that matter) and is just a nice piece of music. However, Powell isn’t done yet. He has one last amazing moment in store.
Just before the track sounds like it is about to end, we are treated to the most epic, soaring and frankly beautiful rendition of the full flying theme. The bagpipes return in full force along with loud brass to deliver a fantastic close to this wonderful score.
Overall, How To Train Your Dragon is just magical. It is slow and emotional when it needs to be but over the top and epic when it wants to be, and both ends of the musical spectrum are just as insanely scored and enjoyable as the other. While there are some slightly boring tracks dotted around here and there on this album, they are easily overshadowed and forgotten about while listening to the standout and truly incredible other cues here. This album will stand out for years to come as (in my opinion anyway) it is one of the finest soundtracks of all time.
The countdown to How To Train Your Dragon 3 begins.
Standout Cue: 23. Coming Back Around