November 7, 2007

CD Review: Transformers The Score - Composed by Steve Jablonsky

Back in July the live-action Transformers movie rolled out to theaters. It was a film that could go either way in terms of its support. Sure, it was expected to do big business, and it did. I would suspect that it was bigger than anyone would have anticipated. It currently sits as the third biggest box office hit of the year, and has a sequel already penciled in to open June 26, 2009. Now we get to one of the problems with the promotion of the film. There was a soundtrack album released, but it was the one with all of the rock songs featuring bands like Linkin Park, Smashing Pumpkins, and Goo Goo Dolls. This is all well and good, but it is only half of the story. What many fans and music lovers wanted was the score by Steve Jablonsky, and there was no release in sight. It was a sad day for score lovers.

I remember watching the film and being slightly underwhelmed by the work, although it was still an exhilarating action film that deserved to be seen on the big screen (how's that for playing both sides of the coin?). Anyway, I do remember liking the music a good deal. I could not recall anything specific, but there was something big and epic about it that liked. It was akin to how I like the Pirates of the Caribbean scores. There was this big feel to them, recurring themes and just a really big sound. I recall whisperings that the score was coming around the time of the release. I remember looking for it, not finding it, and figuring that it would come a month or two down the line, as happens on occasion. Then I heard that it was not going to be coming at all.

My smile returned when I saw the press release announcing the score was coming after all. The release stated that there was a large demand from fans, including a petition requesting its release. Fans rejoiced and were rewarded with this score album.

The big question now is whether or not everything that went on to get the album released was worth it. In my opinion there is no question. Although I was not involved in the activity behind the release, I say without hesitation that it was most definitely worth it. This album works perfectly well as a separate work, or as a tool to reminisce on your favorite scenes. My biggest criteria when listening to a score album is how well it works as a stand-alone album. Some releases just don't quite cut it when it comes to listening apart from the film, regardless of how well the music worked within the film. Transformers - The Score works great apart from the movie.

Before listening to this album, I cannot say that I recall any of Steve Jablonsky's other work, although I am definitely curious to look for some more, particularly The Island. His work here is, simply put, excellent. I would not call it a great score, but what it does do it succeeds at wonderfully. Transformers is a big, epic film (whether you like it or not is a completely different question. The score is filled with big, expansive, soaring themes that return in different forms throughout adding to continuity. The string section is huge, the percussion booms, and there is even some electronic synth in the mix, a perfect addition considering the robotic nature of the film.

I think my main problem, and it is a minor one in the big picture, is that the tracks are not presented in the order they appeared in the film. I do not understand the logic behind this, though I am sure this is far from the first to do this. I only noticed it because as I read the track listing the titles were referring to moments in the film that were not sequential. Does that make sense? Perhaps this will help, I found another site that listed them in film sequence. Here are the track listing and the film order listing, side by side:

Album Listing

  1. Autobots
  2. Decepticons
  3. The All Spark
  4. Deciphering The Signal
  5. Frenzy
  6. Optimus
  7. Bumblebee
  8. SOCCENT Attack
  9. Sam At The Lake
  10. Scorponok
  11. Cybertron
  12. Arrival To Earth
  13. Witwicky
  14. Downtown Battle
  15. Sector 7
  16. Bumblebee Captured
  17. You're A Soldier Now
  18. Sam On The Roof
  19. Optimus vs. Megatron
  20. No Sacrifice, No Victory

Film Order

  1. Autobots
  2. SOCCENT Attack
  3. Sam At The Lake
  4. Frenzy
  5. Deciphering The Signal
  6. Scorponok
  7. Bumblebee
  8. Arrival To Earth
  9. Cybertron
  10. Witwicky
  11. Sector 7
  12. Bumblebee Captured
  13. Optimus
  14. Decepticons
  15. The All Spark
  16. Downtown Battle
  17. You're A Soldier Now
  18. Sam On The Roof
  19. Optimus Vs Megatron
  20. No Sacrifice, No Victory

Yes, some are in order, mainly toward the end, but you see what I mean about the reordering of tracks? It is sort of like those "best of" albums that are released that don't put the songs in the correct order. Maybe I am making too big a deal over this, it just strikes me as an odd practice with no real logic behind it.

The album opens with the Autobot and Decepticon themes. The former is a soaring, heroic them with horns and strings; it makes you want to cheer. It is immediately followed by the much more dark and menacing sound of the Decepticons. There is a bit more of an electronic touch, and it is highlighted by these deep chanting male voices, it is rather unsettling and is made even more unsettling by counterpoint female vocals that come in midway through the cue. In tandem, these two tracks set up much of what you will hear for the remainder of the album.

Next up is "The All Spark," the big MacGuffin. It is another heroic theme, a little softer but heroic nonetheless. It captures an almost reverential tone, appropriate considering what the All Spark means to the Transformer race.

There are a number of notable cues throughout the disk, although they all work together some are hard to ignore. Among my favorites are the immediacy of "Deciphering the Signal," the militaristic intensity of "Scorponok," the playfulness of "Sam at the Lake," the epic sorrow of "Cybertron," and "Optimus vs Megatron" that brings the Autobot and Decepticon themes together in the final battle.

Seriously though, it is hard to go wrong if you are looking for music that is as big as the films stars are. This may be my favorite kind of score. As much as I love and appreciate the quiter scores (like Notes on a Scandal), and the synth/non-traditional scores (like The Fountain), the ones I seem to come back to time and again are the bigger scores. You know, scores like Star Wars, Superman, and Pirates of the Caribbean. This fits right in with those big scores.

Bottomline. What are you waiting for? Go get it! It really is a fun score that fits in perfectly with the bombastic film. I am very glad that this score is seeing the light of day, as it works so much better than the pop/rock album that came out. I am fairly new to the score album game, but there is so much great music out there it is hard to ignore. This is one to add to the collection.

Highly Recommended.


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