Henry Jackman’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu score features an enjoyable and rather unique blend of synth and orchestra, it’s just a shame that thematically he doesn’t put it to better use.
The album opens with Mewtwo Awakes, and a somewhat dark and tense tone is set near immediately with slow, high-pitched and horror-esque strings introducing the score in combination with low and lengthy Blade Runner 2049-style synth notes. It’s a somewhat eerie beginning to a score concerning Pokémon of all things, but I have to say I was rather intrigued at the cold opening. I’ve also always been a bit of a sucker for synth scores, so hearing those opening notes made me nearly jump from my seat in excitement. I’d had somewhat high hopes for this score already (as Henry Jackman is a great composer – see X-Men: First Class or Captain America: The Winter Soldier as evidence) and said hopes were nearly skyrocketed after the opening cue.
Things then settle down for Catching A Cubone, with traditional orchestra initially taking the place of the previously introduced synth as the track begins with slow and hopeful brass with happy-sounding strings. Intriguingly, the synth then makes its return, though this time in much more upbeat and videogame-esque fashion. I’m not quite sure if synth is actually the right word for this musical style, but if you take a moment to imagine the sound of classic videogame music; it’s that. Howard Clifford then continues in this same game-way, with the composer now expertly combining standard orchestral brass and strings with amazing-sounding synth. Gone now it seems is the Blade Runner, but in its place is something even better.
The standout cue of the score occurs somewhat early on (which in all honesty was my first clue as to how the rest of the album was going to be), being a track entitled Ryme City. As the track opens, it seems that the orchestra from previous tracks is completely absent from this one, with game-style synthetic beats and fast-paced percussive notes taking its empty seat and playing a series of repeating percussion-backed notes. It’s not quite what I’d call a traditional “theme” exactly, but it’s memorable and unique enough to be the most interesting track on the score, by quite a lot. Later on in the piece the orchestra then somewhat returns, with high-pitched brass notes and backing instruments making occasional appearances that last just long enough to let you know that this is still a film score.
Aipom Attack is the first action cue of Detective Pikachu, and it let’s you know exactly what Jackman has in store pretty much straight away, with rapid orchestral percussion and almost child-like videogame synth leading the musical charge. The remainder of this sadly short piece then takes the listener on a rollercoaster of action, as the score quite literally moves all over the place for a particularly wacky and very boss-battle-esque two minute runtime. It’s a weird track, but a cool-sounding one nonetheless. This scoring style is then picked up again in Pikachu vs. Charizard, a much more drum-and-bass-heavy piece that also plays heavily on the synth, making for an interesting high-intensity hybrid of two very different musical genres.
Things then slow right back down again for The Forest Of Healing, a track that brings back the Blade Runner 2049-esque slow and steady synth notes and combines them with rather sad-sounding strings for a good few solemn seconds (I’ve now run out of words beginning with “s”). The track overall is a welcome breather from the intense fast-paced percussive elements from previous cues, and part of me does wish that Jackman leaned a bit more on this slower scoring style than the faster videogame-y one, but that’s just me. I can see what he was going for by using game synth (nostalgia mainly) but I can’t help but feel that there’s more potential here, in the slower pieces.
Game On then returns to the same repeating notes of Ryme City, except this time with a particular emphasis on dramatic backing orchestra. Things have obviously gotten a lot more intense for the characters of the film, as if nothing else this sadly short track says “big battle incoming!”. Ditto Battle then leads the charge of the score’s final action sequence, and it’s a bit of a disappointing opener considering the build-up of Game On, sounding quite generic in the way of orchestra and also being rather short. Howard Unplugged then continues where it left off, though the musical style is now unfortunately relying heavily on traditional orchestra with only a select few hints towards the videogame-style synth established earlier in the album.
The score then draws to a close with two final tracks; Epiphany and Together. The former starts off slowly, with the battle tone of its predecessor having vanished completely in favour of a return to the musical style of the beginning of the album; namely game synth in combination with peaceful percussion and now rather rousing standard orchestra. It’s quite a beautiful piece, but it suffers from the same issue that much of the album has; it’s just too short. Together then wraps everything up on a high note, with hopeful orchestra and dramatic synth building to an almost superhero-style finale.
Overall, Henry Jackman’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is good. Just that though – not great, just good. The musical style and compositional choices are excellent, with Jackman’s intriguing combination of traditional film-score-style orchestra with classic videogame-esque synth being a particular highlight of the album. The issue however lies in the score’s themes; there aren’t any. With the album’s rather unique and interesting musical style it badly needed a solid main theme to rally behind, and sadly it just doesn’t get one here. All-in, Detective Pikachu is a good exhibition of standout compositional styles, but that’s all.
Standout Cue: 5. Ryme City