John Carter – Soundtrack Review

Michael Giacchino’s John Carter score showcases the composer at his thematic best, with the rousingly heroic theme for Carter himself leading a proud orchestral charge throughout this wondrously fantastical soundtrack adventure together with excellent themes for Dejah Thoris, the Tharks and the Therns.

Poor old John Carter. The 2012 film was the subject of much criticism at the time of its release, not to mention a rather dismal box office performance. It should have been called ‘John Carter Of Mars’, they said. Well, maybe it should have been. And it’s a shame as well, because there were plans for sequels that were scrapped and I actually quite liked the first film, despite its flaws. It was fun, in a bad but still rather entertaining adventure movie with slightly odd-looking CGI kind-of-way. But, no matter how controversial the film was one thing that simply cannot be denied as high quality is Michael Giacchino’s utterly exquisite score. Featuring a wide array of memorable themes and a boundlessly adventurous orchestral style it is in my opinion the film’s greatest strength, and of course the reason why we are here today, in this review. So! With expectations set firmly high let’s not waste any further time, and dive straight in.

Now to get a good sense of the thematic structure of Giacchino’s score here we’re going to start with the end credits suite, which of course plays as the film closes and is aptly titled “John Carter Of Mars”. In typical Giacchino fashion, this suite features all the main themes of the score in lengthy individual playthroughs, and is the standout cue of the album as a result. The suite opens with the John Carter theme (timestamped from 00:00 to roughly 01:08), an eleven note and initially rather gentle motif for the great titular adventurer himself. The theme remains in this quietly hopeful form on optimistic strings for the first minute or so of the track (returning later on in the suite) before the music then builds and swells with chanting vocals and low brass joining the fray and introducing the second of the score’s themes; the Tharks of Barsoom (01:08 to 02:08), allies to Carter in the film. This piece is a simpler, three note motif that plays on low-pitched vocals and rumbling percussion in a rather oppressed, depressing manner in its minute-long debut here. The Therns are then up next (02:08 to 04:30), with a nine note and quietly imposing theme playing on moody vocals which all-in pretty accurately represents both the mystery and malevolence of the aforementioned antagonists. The motif gets a bit of a longer playthrough here than the other themes as well, with crashing brass and drums arriving a little later in its debut rendition for dramatic emphasis.

We’re at around the halfway point of the suite now, and it’s at this point where a rather gentle, romantic new theme is introduced in a happily lengthy debut; the love theme for John Carter and Dejah Thoris (04:30 to 07:32). It’s a six note motif and builds quietly throughout its starting performance here, opening on quietly hopeful strings before then rising slowly but surely with brass and other instruments also joining the fray. A powerful orchestral swell then occurs at just past the six minute mark, with the music holding the love theme enthusiastically high for what would probably be the most powerful moment of the suite, if not for its final section up next. At just before eight minutes in the John Carter theme returns, though now with a full orchestra and proudly heroic vocals at its back, unleashing a spellbindingly hopeful playthrough that then closes out this wonderful suite in as immense an orchestral crescendo as you can fathom. It’s brilliant, being both a perfect finale to the suite and my absolute favourite musical moment of the entire album, despite only being a minute long. Overall then, “John Carter Of Mars” is one of Giacchino’s finest end credits cues, and I’d highly recommend – if you listen to nothing else from this album – checking it out.

The score itself begins with “A Thern For The Worse”, with Giacchino at his punny title a-game as usual. To start, John Carter’s theme grandly greets us on noble brass before quiet, ominous strings and ghostly vocals then take over from the thirty second mark. As the track continues ferocious action then briefly erupts, with bursts of frenetic brass, crashing drums and panicked strings leading the orchestral charge for a minute or so before the track then quietens down again with the ethereally malevolent Therns motif making itself known on pensive vocals. At the 04:30 mark though another new theme is introduced (well, more of a sub-theme really given it only appears twice on the score); a hurried flurry of a motif meant to accompany Carter’s comings and goings on Earth, with the titular character’s brazen theme also intermittently weaving inbetween until the track then ends at just under eight minutes long. Action then kicks off pretty much immediately in “Get Carter”, with the main theme blasting through on thunderously heroic brass followed by swiftly aggressive strings. At the two minute mark however the music quietens, with worrisome strings and ominous vocals building the track to a loudly dramatic finishing crescendo.

The love theme returns in “Thark Side Of Barsoom”, playing softly and serenely on strings in the cue’s opening minute until the full orchestra then practically erupts with solemn vocals as the motif for the oppressed Tharks gets a loud rendition before the track then fades to a tense close. “Sab Than Pursues The Princess” is then the score’s first major action setpiece; frenetic percussion opens the track, with the ominous Therns theme playing tensely alongside for several loudly frantic orchestral minutes. It isn’t long though before John Carter then intervenes, with his theme arriving in thunderously heroic form at the two and a half minute mark with bursts of similarly grandiose brass following swiftly behind. From here the tide of the music then turns very much in Carter’s favour with his theme centre stage, and strings swirl, percussion pounds and brass blasts all the way to the very end of this highly entertaining five minute action extravaganza, with Carter’s theme then sounding through in triumphant finale fashion to close out the cue.

Ethereal vocals occupy the majority of “The Temple Of Issus”, with the ominous theme for the Therns sounding infrequently through. Percussive tensions then kick up in the subsequent “Zodanga Happened”, with infrequent brassy notes flaring up until the orchestra kicks up a dramatic storm at just over two minutes in. This doesn’t last for long though as the gentle love theme then enters the fray on quietly pensive strings, with the track overall coming to a loudly ominous crescendo a minute or so later. The typically malevolent Therns theme then reprises at the start of “The Blue Light Special”, with Carter’s more hopeful motif briefly cutting in on lighter, more upbeat strings until the aforementioned villainous theme then retakes the thematic reins on for much of the remainder of the cue. The Therns then properly dial up the tension in action setpiece “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall”, with their theme playing loudly and dramatically on shrill vocals and thunderous brass. The love theme however briefly interrupts this orchestral villainy a little later on with a happily lengthy and rather beautiful performance on strings, with the action then coming to an emphatic close a few seconds later.

Frenetic bursts of brass open “The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen This Month”, with similarly tense strings and pounding blasts of percussion also joining the fray and building emphatically until the orchestral thunder all comes to a particularly dramatic finish at the two and a half minute mark. “The Right Of Challenge” then continues the action with a triumphantly fist-pumping rendition of the John Carter theme on brass to start, and similarly frenetic brassy bursts to that of the previous track following with Carter’s theme weaving occasionally inbetween. Tensions then build almost to fever pitch in “The Prize Is Barsoom”, with the vocal Thark motif playing in particularly worrisome fashion toward the end of the cue. “The Fight For Helium” then continues where this leaves off, with frantic strings kicking off this four minute action setpiece. Loud brass crescendos and fast-paced percussive notes build for two minutes before Carter’s now thunderously heroic theme then sounds through, and the tide of the music starts to turn once again toward victory. It isn’t entirely over yet though as the Therns start to fight bitterly back at three minutes in, with their typically moody theme playing on ominous vocals until loud brass then crescendos the cue out.

As the score starts to tick towards its end, quietly serene strings open “Not Quite Finished” with the John Carter theme playing in unusually quiet, peaceful fashion. This is then joined by the love theme at the ninety second mark, with additional strings stirring in the background until the track overall then comes to a powerfully romantic close at just over two minutes long. The short “Thernabout” however then throws a thematic spanner into the works, with the nefarious Therns theme reprising on quietly downtrodden vocals throughout its minute long runtime and then into the subsequent “Ten Bitter Years”. Here the sub-theme for Carter’s movements on Earth reprises for the first time since the beginning of the score on typically flurrying strings, with the Therns theme also continuing to lurk ominously in the background. Intertwined, the two motifs then flurry dramatically together for much of the three minute track until crescendoing in worrisome brass-based form right at its end. This then leads straight into ending setpiece “John Carters Of Mars”, and the rest my friends, is history.

Overall, Michael Giacchino’s wondrously fantastical score for John Carter is just that; utterly fantastic. Its standout aspect, held at centre stage throughout the album and also very high indeed on my ‘best of Giacchino’ list is of course that impeccable main theme, which is not only a very catchy and applicably adventurous motif for Carter but also fits him just perfectly as a character, and that combined with the theme’s surprising structural adaptability throughout this seventy minute experience – slow and romantic in “Not Quite Finished” for instance but then thunderously heroic in “The Fight For Helium” – all showcases just how exquisite a main theme it is. The love theme for Carter and Dejah Thoris also simmers at similar quality, with its full renditions in “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall” and of course the standout “John Carter Of Mars” signifying this in happily lengthy and indeed spectacular fashion. All-in, this theme together with Carter’s, the warring motifs of the Tharks and the Therns, and of course the album’s impeccable orchestral style and excellent action structure all fit together like a grand musical tapestry, and simply make for one of Giacchino’s genuinely best scores as a result.

Still not quite sold? “John Carter Of Mars” is right there below. Hit play.

Score: 9/10

Standout Cue: 19. John Carter Of Mars


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3 thoughts on “John Carter – Soundtrack Review

  1. You did John Carter! Yes! One of my favorites. The main theme fits the subject matter so incredibly well it hurts. I just wish we got longer versions of it.
    I liked your review, excellent job once again. Hopefully more people will be introduced to this great score for the first time. It captures the adventure of the story in a way only Giacchino and perhaps John Powell can, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your reviews Zanobrad, can you do Stranger Things? I feel like there are a lot of themes and pretty cool instrumentation/composition in general that you can talk about


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