John Carter

By • March 7, 2012

Composer: Michael Giacchino
Label: Walt Disney Records
Suggested Retail Price: $10.88
Grade: A

If Michael Giacchino’s fated to become the next John Williams, then it’s due to more than his ability to cosmically transport a carbon copy of the maestro’s orchestrally lush, theme-driven sound into his own baton. For the true reason behind Giacchino’s well-deserved wunderkind rep is his way of capturing the gee-whiz sense of wonder inherent in the movie going experience, then communicating that enthusiasm back to the audience with unabashed, melodic energy. When you listen to every Giacchino mega-multiplex score, you can hear the same kind of chill that went through John Williams’ mind when he was a kid, listening to Korngold and Raksin for the first time as the house lights went down- then replicating that enthusiasm years later with such scores as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Star Wars” and “Superman.” In much the same way that Williams took those pictures’ fun, popcorn spirit and helped turn them into mythically, and musically transformative experiences, Giacchino is boisterously bent on communicating his own genre geek appreciation for the next generation.

Judging by his success at Pixar, Giacchino’s melodies have no doubt made movies magic for a couple of million kids. So now it’s more than fitting that after Giacchino’s run with such Mouse House smashes as “The Incredibles,” his Academy-nominated score to “Ratatouille” and the Oscar-winning soundtrack for “Up” that the composer would be handed the reigns of the studio’s most gigantic film to date with “John Carter.” Subsequently, it’s no small wonder that a guy who worked in Disney’s P.R. department has blasted out a monumentally entertaining score that sells this picture’s spirit of adventure with more effectiveness than the studio’s marketing department has been able to do, once again shining the path for a Pixar stud to beam his talents into the live action mega-million dollar arena.

While Andrew Stanton doesn’t exactly hit the three bases loaded home run that “The Incredible”’s Brad Bird did with the Giacchino-scored “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” the auteur behind the animated sci-fi masterpiece “Wall-E” certainly finds powerfully imaginative footing in “John Carter”’s Martian Thunderdome. Its Thark-cheering combination of sci-fi swashbuckling, manly heroics, alien exoticism and ill-tempered behemoths also mark well-trod territory for Giacchino after the likes of “Lost”’s unfathomable island, “Star Trek”s bold space adventure, and the rampaging E.T. of “Super 8.” And much in the same way that David Arnold was inspired by his trip to “Stargate”’s desert planet, Giacchino’s sands for Barsoom are filled with the romantic, wind-swept Arabian-style adventure of Maurice Jarre’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”

But make no mistake. This bare-chested ex-Rebel with a heart of two-fisted gold is significantly less effete than that British officer. And Giacchino has a good-humored blast with this loveably goofy, he-man pulp material that “John Carter”’s creator Edgar Rice Burroughs would no doubt appreciate- even if Disney has thankfully made the author’s violent and sexist excessiveness far more PG-13 palatable. But if there’s one name here that rules them all in this score, then it’s John Williams, as Giacchino once again channels the maestro’s majestic symphonic touch into a score that pays wonderful tribute at his temple, yet thankfully in a voice that’s always this smashingly thematic soundtrack’s own.

Giacchino manages a great one-two punch for “John Carter”’s main melody, at once conveying a reluctant hero, and the sci-fi sweep of the brave new world he’ll make his own. There’s also a surprising emotional vulnerability in Giacchino’s approach for a guy who slaughters an uncountable horde of aliens, particularly in “Carter They Come, Carter They Fall.” He chooses to play the tragedy of the hero’s intercut origin sequence in the midst of a berserker battle, a decision that makes the scene far more powerful than if Giacchino had just gone for the expected big symphonic swirls and Thark tribal percussion. There’s definitely more than enough of these action stylings amidst the album’s copious 75 minutes, especially in such breathlessly exciting cues as “The Second Biggest Apes I’ve Seen this Month” and “The Fight for Helium.” When it comes to Carter’s interactions with warrior goddess Deja Thoris, Giacchino also takes the vulnerable high road, as does Stanton in making the character far more than adolescent boy eye candy. There’s a lovely sweetness to their melody in “Thark Side of Barsoom,” in much the same way that Giacchino accompanied “Super 8”’s star-crossed teen attraction in the face of a mighty alien threat.

Of course this is a landscape where awe-inspiring choruses abound, with the orchestra reveling in one spectacular visual effects revelation after the other, all as oddball ethnic instruments communicate the Thark culture. But for a score this big, some of “John Carter”’s best moments come from the smaller stuff. He’s no more ingenious than in “Gravity of the Situation,” as a wistful, chamber ensemble for violin and keyboard become a boisterous, fully thematic orchestral waltz for Carter’s first steps into Martian gravity, which the music tells us are anything but fleet-footed. The film’s behind-the-scenes villains receive a chilling voice and organ motif in “A Thern Warning,” music that’s as eerily confidant as Mars’ manipulators. And in the film’s end title “John Carter of Mars,” Giacchino plays the theme with dulcimer and strings, not only conveying Carter’s Southern background, but giving an almost touching wistfulness that plays well with the finale’s “Time Machine”-like feel of hero acknowledging his destiny.

But in the end, what Giacchino does so winningly with “John Carter,” as in much of his big-ticket scoring, is to flood us with the kind of magic that makes the kid in all of us want to grow up to duel with two-story aliens, fly spaceships and kiss the voluptuous girl. They’re all elements that made the properly called “John Carter of Mars” a progenitor of today’s way-familiar genre spectaculars. But when given the eye and ear-filling enthusiasm that Stanton and Giacchino bring to this hundred-year old hero, you can’t help but go with the rollicking charm that makes “John Carter” sound as vibrant as the first time that man set foot on another movie planet to kick some Saturday matinee ass. As a composer who’s been to plenty of those worlds during the formative years of his musical imagination, Giacchino continues to pay that tradition forward in wonderful style here.

Travel to Barsoom with Michael Giacchino of Mars HERE

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