One of the great joys of film music lies in discovering those unexpected surprises. On listening to Henry Jackman's sparkling effort for Jack Black's latest comedy, a modern take on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, it would seem the full-blooded, boisterous spirit of John Williams is very much alive in the world of modern film scoring; a heartening discovery as 2011 begins. In the film, Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver, a lowly print room clerk who pines after his magazine's travel editor (Amanda Peet). Unwittingly sent out on assignment to the Bermuda Triangle despite a lack of formal training, Gulliver ends up caught in a monstrous whirlpool; when he wakes, he finds himself towering over the diminutive citizens of Lilliput, among them Billy Connolly, Catherine Tate and Emily Blunt.
From the outset, Jackman's score is earmarked by a sense of delightful, rambunctious fun. Alive with a sense of adventure and a warm heart, it's a terrifically robust score from start to finish. Best known as a protégé of Hans Zimmer, having worked as an arranger and additional composer on the likes of The Holiday and The Dark Knight, Jackman also composed the score for Monsters vs. Aliens and also contributed to the Kick Ass soundtrack. On listening to such a well-bolstered soundtrack as this, it's apparent Jackman can give his mentor a run for his money.
Perhaps in deference to the scale and size issues that occupy many of the concerns of the film, Jackman deploys a large orchestra to terrific effect. Several themes and motifs are apparent, chiefly a grand, old fashioned brassy one for the spirit of adventure, first heard at the start of A Day in the Life of Lemuel Gulliver. Carrying with it more than a hint of the Superman theme, it's one of 2010's most enchantingly old-fashioned pieces. In the latter half of the track, the composer hints at the contemporary side of the story, fashioning a funky, guitar-led piece for Black himself. Both lead the way through the rest of the score, giving it a sense of backbone and structure.
What's most impressive about the score is the array of rich, thunderous action music that again carries a much-welcome hint of John Williams. The assembled timpani and snare drums suggest both the might of the Lilliputian militia (led by a preening Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd) and the gargantuan size of Gulliver. The Bermuda Triangle begins with a snazzy variation on Gulliver's Theme before leading into an impressively large-scale dramatic piece as he sinks down the whirlpool into Lilliput.
Furthermore, Behold the Beast, Nobody Save the Princess, The Blefuscian Armada and Persona Non Grata cleverly deploy the full range of the orchestra to suggest the capacity for heroism in both Gulliver and the Lilliputians, a neat reflection of the film's central ethos that a hero isn't determined by their height. Throughout these tracks and later ones, the adventure theme is deployed to magnificent effect, lending the score a wonderfully grandiose quality. Subtle instrumental textures such as a tinkling music box and harpsichord in The Island Where We Dare Not Go add humour and an appropriate sense of period, further proof of Jackman's compositional intelligence.
Strains of a beautiful love theme come in Dreaming of a Princess and Forlorn, where the emphasis very much goes on the strings to heighten the sense of romance. Stuttering, humorous variations on the above arrive in the overtly classical I Have Come to Court You and the surprisingly jazzy How to Woo a Princess, as Emily Blunt's character finds herself caught between two suitors. Jackman's tapestry of differing musical styles and emotions is quite delightful, reflecting all different facets of the story.
As the score moves towards its conclusion, it gains even more grandeur courtesy of a massive choir that adds further richness to the action sequences (occasionally, it calls to mind some of Hans Zimmer's best choral work). The standout action piece comes in the lengthy Ein Roboterleben, a simply massive, hugely exciting sequence where the brass, pounding anvils and expansive choir lend a potent sense of dramatic urgency to the film's final showdown. There's even time for the love theme to get a terrific send-off before its brief recap in the concluding Farewell to Lilliput, one which rounds off the score in thoroughly satisfying fashion.
It hardly needs to be said again but Gulliver's Travels is a delight; one of the best scores of 2010 and one which earmarks Henry Jackman as a real talent to watch. Its sense of fun and sheer old-fashioned heroism is a bracing joy in an era of commercially manufactured film music where sounds tend to blend together in a homogenous mass. It hasn't just got personality; it's got enough for 10 movie scores! A fabulous, fully orchestral treat.