James Newton Howard delivers a much darker Fantastic Beasts score in The Crimes Of Grindelwald, and while it isn’t quite as strong as the first one it still makes for a solid listening experience.
Having now listened to two Fantastic Beasts scores pretty much back to back, I honestly can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. I enjoyed the hell out of the first score, but found that the elements that made it enjoyable for me (mostly the fun action sequences and incredibly dramatic brass) are a little hard to come by in the sequel. The themes from the first score are present but in nowhere near the quantity, and the themes that replace them are to say the very least substandard (the only exception being Dumbledore’s).
The Crimes Of Grindelwald also has a much darker and frankly bleaker tone, which I feel has a pretty detrimental effect on the score given the fun of the first. Now Howard hasn’t done a bad job here by any means. The music sounds great, and it still has that James Newton Howard seal of quality that you will find with most of his compositions. Grindelwald is a highly enjoyable musical experience, but just doesn’t hit that high bar that the first score set.
The album opens with The Thestral Chase, and you’re hit with that much darker tone pretty much immediately with a very ominous take on the opening bars to Hedwig’s Theme. I covered this considerably in my review for the first Fantastic Beasts so I won’t go too much into it again here, but I have to say I was disappointed to hear Harry Potter again here. John Williams’ scores to that franchise are beyond iconic and (at least for me) the first is one of the best scores of all time, so by adding that theme here they’re raising the quality bar considerably for Howard, which is entirely unfair. His Fantastic Beasts albums are great but they’re not Harry Potter great, and by using Hedwig’s Theme they’re making us directly compare the two franchises, and the new one doesn’t hold up.
The first of the new themes for the sequel appears in Newt And Leta, and honestly it’s difficult to pick out. Unlike the first track this one is much lighter and softer in tone, with slow strings taking the forefront. The new theme itself I struggled with finding, and I only know it’s there at all because of the piano solos at the end of the score, one of which being Leta’s Theme. I think Howard here was trying to get emotions across rather than a specific recognisable motif, as the piano playthrough gives off quite a sad yet slightly hopeful feeling, and I latched onto that as a recognisable thematic element far more so than a set of repeating notes.
The second new theme then makes itself known in Dumbledore, so I think it’s pretty obvious who it’s for. The track starts off softly, with solemn yet dramatic strings that then slowly build up with vocals appearing in the background until we get a rather loud and epic set of notes, which honestly do a pretty great job of representing the famous Hogwarts headmaster. This dramatic moment doesn’t last long however before the strings then settle back down into the softer setting, which is a bit of a shame considering how much presence they had (and how little they appear in the rest of the score).
Newt’s Theme from the first Fantastic Beasts then makes a welcome return in The Kelpie, a sadly rather short action track that makes excellent use of brass, vocals and strings in rather epic fashion. This burst of action is only a minute and a half long, but it makes it’s mark on the album with pure James Newton Howard quality. Newt Tracks Tina then continues this gorgeous action style somewhat, this time with an excellent blend of classical sounding strings and rapid percussion that then switch up into another of the themes from the previous movie (I couldn’t say for sure which one, just that I definitely recognise it).
Matagots is the standout cue of the score, despite being just two minutes long. It starts off with some very dark and ominous sounding strings and brass before suddenly switching up into some loud and grand heroic brass that then sounds out an epic rendition of Newt’s Theme. This rapid and frankly wonderful action style is what I came to this album hoping to find, and even though the track is nowhere near as long as I wanted it to be it makes good use of its time with a highly enjoyable two minutes of pure Fantastic Beasts fun.
Leta’s Theme (or should I say mood) then returns in Leta’s Confession, a slow and dramatic strings-based piece that like the theme itself sets a rather bleak and sad tone for its slightly lengthy runtime. Spread The Word then continues this mood initially but then gradually moves into more exciting territory, slowly introducing brass, vocals and more backing strings until we get a rather inspirational and indeed epic piece of music. It would’ve been the standout cue of the album had it been just a tad more thematic, as it’s a pretty breathtaking track in terms of musical style but also not really memorable.
Wands Into The Earth and Restoring Your Name continue this very vocal and brass-based manner, and with all these tracks together we get a very enjoyable fifteen minutes of high quality James Newton Howard orchestra. It does suffer somewhat from not having much in the way of themes (mainly small snippets of the major ones) but the music still sounds amazing anyway. The score then draws to a close with a track entitled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald which serves as the end credits suite (though quite a short one) as it rapidly runs through each of the major themes from the album.
Overall, Howard’s score to this sequel is pretty good. He brings back a number of his wonderful themes from the previous film as well as introducing a couple of new ones, and as a listening experience the album is pretty enjoyable as it definitely has that James Newton Howard sound quality to it. Where his music does fall short however is in the use of the themes, as despite having them all in some form most have little more than a cameo appearance, and scores like these in particular need good, emphasised motifs that appear frequently. I also found there were far fewer standout musical moments here than in the previous score, which also lets it down.
The Crimes Of Grindelwald is good, but the first was better and the music overall still has a long way to go if it ever wants to get near Harry Potter’s high bar.
Standout Cue: 15. Matagots