Michael Kamen’s stunningly orchestrated score for The Iron Giant weaves a wondrously compelling musical story from start to finish, proving that even pretty much without themes a film score can be a symphony all on its own. Varèse Sarabande’s deluxe edition then only adds to this, filling in the gaps for the already incredible work and pushing it all the way up to near perfection.
The Eye Of The Storm sets a rather mysterious opening tone for the score, with gentle strings playing initially before a rumble of dramatic brass then strikes a worrisome chord. It isn’t long before the full orchestra then joins the fray, with intense brass and the now rather tumultuous strings taking the forefront alongside deafening drums for two minutes of very edge-of-your-seat though thoroughly enjoyable action score. Things do then slow back down towards the end of the piece however, hinting at a lighter side to the score that then emerges fully in the rather short Hogarth Hughes; here we are introduced to one kinda sorta motif for the boy Hogarth. As you might expect, it’s a light-hearted and quite youthful piece, and while it doesn’t play for long in this twenty one second piece (nor to be honest all that much across the score), it leaves an upbeat impression all the same.
Creepy Music/Hogarth Investigates is one of the new pieces for the deluxe edition, and by it’s title you can probably guess it’s quite an ominous cue. Worrisome strings and unnerving electronics occupy much of its rather atmospheric runtime, setting a foreboding scene that then continues through the subsequent Into The Forest. This piece is actually a great example for my next point as well; I am absolutely, utterly in love with Kamen’s gorgeous compositional style here. Even in just this three minute cue, from the light flurries of strings to represent Hogarth exploring to the bursts of aggravated brass when he comes across the Giant, you can tell at all times what’s going on, and it’s just so captivating as a result. The orchestra just feels alive, and it’s used masterfully for musical storytelling here despite being pretty much sans-themes, and is an absolute joy to listen to.
The Giant Wakes opens almost playfully, with lighthearted woodwinds and strings briefly playing Hogarth’s motif before rumbles of brass start to signal danger, leading to a brief segment of action before the music then settles again at just over the one minute mark. Militaristic, marching drums then briefly hint toward the arrival of FBI agent Kent Mansley in the short Hogarth In Car/Sting For FBI Man, before gentle strings then return to Hogarth’s upbeat motif at the beginning of Come And Get It. Slowly the orchestra then builds over the course of this two minute track, until a burst of particularly frightening brass at the sixty second mark then leads straight into frantic action. This doesn’t last for long either though as the lighter, more playful side of the score returns in the subsequent Shut Off Switch/Rock Tree and Cat And Mouse, with the gently optimistic orchestra leading delightfully throughout.
The Train Wreck starts to hint toward the darker side of the score again, with low-pitched brass and worrisome strings setting a decidedly downtrodden tone. Magic Rebuild/Hand Underfoot then briefly interrupts with a light, almost wondrous change of pace as hopeful percussion and optimistic, kind of John Williams-y Superman-esque brass plays, hinting perhaps toward the heroism of the Iron Giant that occurs later on in the story. Amerika then furthers this idea, building with optimistic, grandiose brass before then fading quietly, gently out at just over a minute long. Hogarth’s motif reprises on some particularly playful strings in Great Ride, with the orchestra bursting loudly but briefly into the fray towards the end of the track for a highly enjoyable flurry of upbeatness and optimism.
Jazzy, blues-esque strings open His Name Is Dean, setting a soulful and quite 60s-esque mood which is then loudly interrupted a few seconds later by a burst of frenetic brass, swiftly followed by a mad dash into action as the full orchestra joins the fray. This appearance too however is quite brief, as the high volume then dies down almost as quickly as it arrived with the jazzy strings returning to close out the cue. The gentle hopefulness of earlier tracks then momentarily reprises in the thirty second strings-heavy He Can Stay, before the now rather mischievious-sounding jazzy instrumentation recurs in the similarly short Eating Art. The music then takes on a proud, almost superheroic quality in the subsequent Space Car, with triumphant brass taking centre stage backed by the now roaring orchestra. Sadly this doesn’t last for much time (literally just a few seconds), but not to worry, as it’s in the next track Souls Don’t Die where Kamen’s score here really starts to come into its own.
Slow, melancholic strings play a quietly withdrawn rendition of Hogarth’s motif to start off the piece, with tense brass building in the background until a loud, anguished burst of orchestra arrives, followed by quietly sorrowful strings. From here on the music then plays softly, burrowing into solemnity and melancholy with strings on centre stage and weaving a thoughtful, almost symphony-esque narrative for the remainder of the track. All-in it’s a particularly beautiful piece of music from Kamen, and one of the better cues on the whole album as a result. Loud, oppressive brass and marching drums however then shatter the solemnity as The Army Arrives, instigating a particularly militaristic tone just within the first few seconds of the piece. Things do slow back down in the back half though, then seguing into the subsequent and rather romantic Annie And Dean, where the jazzy strings return in a slower, gentler manner for the minute long setpiece.
The finale of the score however fast approaches in He’s A Weapon, with worrisome strings opening and then building over the course of the two minute track until a frighteningly loud volume is reached, cemented with a dramatic crash of drums. This in turn signals a return to action, with the militaristic percussion from earlier returning in Giant Discovered as the tone quickly shifts down into frantic, aggressive action with the full orchestra once again taking centre stage. A brief, brassy hint toward heroism plays at the two and a half minute mark, though this is then quickly squashed by the increasingly oppressive tone seeping back in. A crash of angry percussion then opens Trance Former, with the ever in-your-face brass then taking the lead for several further minutes of frenetic action score.
This slowly then starts to fade however at the two minute mark, with Hogarth’s motif briefly and solemnly reprising before the militaristic orchestra returns to deliver a foreboding finish to the overall pretty intense track. With the pace close to fever pitch, standout cues No Following and The Last Giant Piece then finally arrive to tell the end of the story, while also (and I don’t say this lightly) delivering one of the most incredible orchestral finales ever written for an animated film. The former track opens solemnly, playing Hogarth’s motif quietly and gently before the orchestra then starts to rise, with powerfully heroic brass leading a desperately grandiose charge until a terrible crash of drums then brings it all back down, with the music falling into mournful, strings-based melancholy for the rest of the sublime cue. The latter track however then reignites the flame of hope, with optimistic electronics opening the track that are then slowly joined by a building and increasingly excited orchestra. This build-up continues for about a minute or so until another crash of dramatic drums bursts in, delivering a dramatically triumphant finish to the already exquisite track.
To finish up properly however, Varèse Sarabande actually has one final treat in store for us; a happily lengthy end credits suite that wasn’t on the original album, and one that brings all the beautifully crafted musical elements of the composer’s work here together once more for a fitting end to the score. Overall then, I have to say Michael Kamen’s score for The Iron Giant is utterly magical, and an incredible listening experience from beginning to end as a result. It’s odd in that you wouldn’t really expect a film score like this to work in concept; it has barely any themes and works much more like a symphony than a score, and yet the orchestration tells the story of Hogarth and the Giant so brilliantly that it doesn’t even need themes to understand what’s going on. From the light flurries of strings for Hogarth’s adventures to the proudly hopeful brass for the heroism of the Giant, it works amazingly well. That combined with a really well-crafted, almost classical orchestral sound and many a wonderful new track as a result of Varèse Sarabande’s excellent new deluxe edition not only makes Kamen’s work here an incredible soundtrack, but also cements it as one of the better film scores for an animated film around.
Standout Cues: 28. No Following/29. The Last Giant Piece
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