Tom Holkenborg’s lively, energetic score for Sonic The Hedgehog is a fun-filled and highly enjoyable musical experience from start to finish.
One aspect of Tom Holkenborg’s Sonic The Hedgehog score that you’ll notice pretty much immediately is how…different it is to a lot of his regular work (see Terminator: Dark Fate or The Dark Tower for some of his greats). Where much of Dark Fate for example lurks in dark, gritty action score, Sonic sits comfortably in the zone of vibrant, lighthearted and of course rather fast-paced score. That isn’t to say of course that either one of these two Holkenborg styles are bad (in fact, both are rather great) but they are different, and I must admit hearing Sonic the first few times the phrase is this really Tom Holkenborg? certainly crossed my mind on more than one occasion.
Meet Sonic kicks the album off, and straightaway you can tell that this is no ordinary Junkie XL film score. Lights strings open the piece before vibrant brass and some upbeat synth take over the foreground entirely, with somewhat epic vocals infrequently occupying the background. The pace is then kicked up considerably with rapid, frantic drums and electronics that then play out the first short rendition of Holkenborg’s new Sonic theme. It’s a light, catchy motif that sticks in your head pretty quickly, and while I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of the character (and so, I don’t know a whole lot about him) I’d still reckon as a theme it fits him rather well. It’s fast, epic and lighthearted – what else do you need?
After the titular character’s thematic debut, the track then finishes up as dramatically as it arrived. Welcome To Green Hills then brings the music right into videogame territory, with 16-bit-style synth and jovial electronic beats that overall make the cue sound just like one of those environment-representing pieces of music from games like Sonic and Mario. A Very Lonely Life then slows the score right down for a rather melancholic rendition of the Sonic motif, before then starting to regain speed with some quietly optimistic electronic percussion and shortly after then diving right into videogame-y action territory with synth and an epic performance from the Sonic theme to close out the piece.
Villainy shrouds the score with Dr. Robotnik, the theme for Sonic’s infamous enemy. The track begins with some loud and rather intimidating drums before brass then arrives to deliver the opening notes of the actual motif. Much like Sonic’s it’s a catchy theme but it leans much more into darker and more aggressive musical territory than the aforementioned hedgehog’s. It’s a very typically comic book/videogame-y theme for a bad guy, and so from the look of the trailers it probably fits the film absolutely perfectly. Deep electronic beats and some quietly ominous brass then open Is That A Drone, and before long rapid strings and much louder, intimidating brass arrive to kick the cue into action. Sonic’s theme makes sporadic appearances near the middle of the track, and Robotnik’s also appears briefly towards the end – on a side note, it is nice to see Holkenborg really taking advantage of his new themes, as he does have something of a history of making excellent new motifs and then severely underutilising them (see The Dark Tower, Mortal Engines).
Robotnik’s theme appears in quiet and yet quite intimidating form at the beginning of A Visit From The Doctor, where deep brass and high-pitched strings establish a very creepy-sounding atmosphere for the piece. The strings then dive right into rapid horror territory at the end of the track, further hammering home the villainous presence of Robotnik before the music draws to a particularly ominous close. But I Will Always Be Faster then begins with several quietly optimistic notes from Sonic’s theme before then exploding into brass-heavy action at the minute mark alongside frantic strings and fast-paced backing electronic beats. The music is quite tense in the first half of the cue before then rapidly accelerating into epic, heroic musical territory with Sonic’s motif and a fantastic-sounding stylistic blend of videogame-style synth and Holkenborg-esque orchestra.
The action continues in SF-Paris-Egypt-SF, where loud brass and worrisome strings play an anxious rendition of Sonic’s theme to open the cue before rapid percussion and dramatic synth take over at about a minute in, with the aforementioned character’s motif making short, sporadic and rather tense appearances throughout the rest of the cue. Skyscraper then starts off rather pensively, with quiet yet hopeful strings taking the foreground. This solemn optimism doesn’t last for long however before Robotnik’s theme arrives on some particularly loud and aggressive brass, and the back half of the piece is then occupied by quietly threatening strings and electronics before Robotnik’s motif returns right at the end for a loud and very ominous brass-heavy finish. Not A Baby Bigfoot opens quietly, building both in terms of instrumentation and atmosphere for the opening minute and then rapidly becoming louder and more confident towards the end with a few epic notes from Sonic’s theme.
The action finale of the album then arrives with He Is My Friend. Quietly threatening brass starts things off before things slow down briefly for a rather melancholic appearance from Sonic’s motif. Loud and rather epic brass then kicks in at about the minute mark to bring the score right into heroic territory, and for the cue’s final two minutes we get the grandiose thematic moment for Sonic that we’ve spent the entire album so far waiting for. It’s bold, it’s dramatic, and it sounds absolutely fantastic. The much shorter A New Home then brings the score almost to a close with light and optimistic strings, but Holkenborg’s not finished with us yet. To finish the album we are then treated to standout cue Sonic The Hedgehog, the three minute ending cue that like in many of the composer’s scores gives us a lengthy, upbeat and particularly epic reprise of the main theme. Here Sonic’s motif gets a thankfully long fleshing out, and all-in it’s a great way to finish things up.
Overall, Tom Holkenborg’s score for Sonic The Hedgehog is loud, vibrant, fun and honestly everything I would imagine a Sonic film score should be. Of particular note is the videogame-style electronics and Holkenborg-y orchestra compositional blend that features at various points across the album, as it is quite simply a joy to listen to. I would have perhaps liked it to feature just a little more though, as the action finale and main theme cue actually had rather little in the way of game-esque electronics, which for me was a bit of a missed opportunity. That’s not to say of course that those pieces aren’t good, it’s just that they were a bit too…orchestral. Welcome To Green Hills is a great example of orchestra/electronics done right, and also one of the best cues on the score. Moving into more positive territory, both Sonic’s and Dr. Robotnik’s motifs are great and rather memorable pieces that are thankfully present throughout the score, and Sonic’s in particular gets a fantastic fleshing out at the end. All-in, Sonic The Hedgehog is very different from Holkenborg’s usual work, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining, fun-filled work of art.
Standout Cue: 15. Sonic The Hedgehog