John Powell’s score to How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is a pretty spectacular finale to his frankly mind-blowingly good musical trilogy. We truly are lucky to have him.
As you might have guessed if you’ve seen my previous reviews, I’m rather a big fan of John Powell’s musical work for the How To Train Your Dragon film series. The fantastic themes, swashbuckling tones and the composer’s uncanny ability to just go all out with the orchestra made the first score in the trilogy one of the best film scores of all time – in my opinion anyway. Powell’s subsequent second entry to the franchise didn’t quite hit those same highs, but it had its moments and overall made for a very enjoyable listen. With two amazing albums in hand, film score fans then looked to the third and final film in the How To Train Your Dragon franchise with one question on their minds; will Powell’s final score be just as mind-blowing as the first two? Having now listened to said score rather extensively over the past few days, I can now provide the answer to that age-old question.
Of course it is.
The album begins with Raiders Return To Busy, Busy Berk, and this score’s slightly darker and more complex tone (in comparison to the previous two films) can be felt pretty much right away as the opening notes sound out. Slow percussion takes the forefront initially, before then being overtaken by a few rather solemn string notes. This doesn’t last long either however before the loud and rather over-the-top brass that Powell is famous for then makes its entrance, and the score really starts to kick off as the composer’s action element shifts into gear. We are then treated to a good few minutes of this almost mindless action music before the main and flying theme from the first film arrive, making two rather dramatic and very welcome entrances before the track then sadly ends. Overall – as opening tracks go, John Powell is three for three with his How To Train Your Dragon scores. I’m blown away, every damn time.
Legend Has It/Cliffside Playtime then introduces the new main theme for this score – the Hidden World theme. It doesn’t get much of a showcase here mind you, only a short and rather sad woodwinds-based rendition at about the three minute mark. It is a rather nice introduction to the piece though, and it also plays quite nicely off a particularly melancholic playthrough of one of the themes from the first movie a few seconds later. The Hidden World theme appears pretty frequently throughout this album (as you would expect it to really) and it’s a rather dramatic yet sombre motif, with just a hint of sorrow. Having not seen the film yet I couldn’t for sure comment on what exactly happens when this theme plays (nor would I really want to here anyway – spoilers after all) but somehow I doubt they are happy moments.
Things then begin to look up a bit in Third Date, a comparatively upbeat and pretty peaceful piece of music. Powell makes excellent use of percussion, brass, strings and woodwinds here (although let’s be honest, when does he not?) and this combined with the track’s particularly intriguing tonal combination of romance and action makes for a highly enjoyable and wonderfully lengthy six and a half minutes of score. With Love Comes A Great Waterfall is another track that resides on the more amorous side of this album, and to my surprise it also treats us with a welcome cameo from the amazing Alpha’s theme, a motif that served as the semi-main theme for the second How To Train Your Dragon movie. It’s a sadly short cameo, but a gratifying one nonetheless.
The Hidden World is up next, and it’s here that we really see where this score differs from the previous entries to the franchise. Vocals are the main characters here, and rather interestingly they are actually led by Jonsi – the Icelandic vocalist who co-composed and then sang the songs for all of the How To Train Your Dragon movies. You can definitely tell there’s an additional voice here, as the vocals sound a bit more pronounced and dominant than usual. After a few very entertaining minutes, the Hidden World theme then shows up in rather spectactular and dramatic form; sounding out in a combination of Jonsi’s fantastic vocals, loud brass and epic percussion. The Hidden World is a truly amazing piece of music, and it so nearly won the standout cue award.
There’s always a lengthy battle cue in these scores, and Powell makes no exception for this third album, giving us nearly ten minutes of wall-to-wall action in Armada Battle. After a strings-based start to the track, the loud brass and epic percussion that we’re now so familiar with begin to take the forefront, and we get a rather powerful yet short rendition of the flying theme before things then really kick off with a fantastically dramatic playthrough of the main theme for the franchise. Rapid strings and vocals then appear in the background, and for the next six or so minutes we are treated to an incredible combination of Powell’s amazing action scoring and a pretty significant number of cameos from various themes from all across the How To Train Your Dragon musical franchise.
Things then start to wrap up with As Long As He’s Safe, and there’s a new sense of drama and desperation in the initial action music, but this rather rapidly dissipates as Powell then does something that we haven’t heard since the first film; a full playthrough of the flying theme in all its wonderful glory. This theme is easily my favourite of the franchise, so you can imagine how happy I was to hear it again. It’s made various cameos and appearances throughout the second and third scores but to my disappointment it never showed up again in full form – until now, and it’s simply breathtaking.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the same thing then happens again in Once There Were Dragons – the final track of the franchise. There’s so much emotion here – joy, sadness, hope, dramatic flair, melancholy – because we’re not just saying goodbye to the movies, we’re saying goodbye to John Powell’s fantastic music too. All the favourite themes get very emotional and spectacular farewells here, and it damn nearly brought a tear my eye. The only reason that this track is not the standout cue of the score is because the next one is; The Hidden World Suite. It’s a digital bonus track, a suite containing elements from tracks Exodus, Raider’s Return To Busy, Busy Berk, Furies In Love and The Hidden World (and those were just the ones I could pick out) and is essentially a collection of all the best new bits from this wonderful new score. It sadly doesn’t contain any of the older themes, but it is an excellent showcase of this album, and for that reason I award it standout cue – it is well deserved.
Overall then, John Powell’s score to How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is just marvelous. He introduces a number of amazing new themes as well as bringing back all your favourites from the previous movies, and intertwines them expertly with his frankly ridiculously over-the-top action scoring (but that’s why we love it). The album not only serves as a very solid third entry to the musical franchise but also as an epic and absolutely brilliant conclusion to his masterful trilogy. The first film’s score still just edges this one, but it’s got the second movie beaten, that’s for sure. It’s a superb soundtrack, and one that was most definitely worth the wait.
A round of thunderous applause for John Powell. Words cannot express how truly amazing you are, sir.
Standout Cue: 18. The Hidden World Suite