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How to Train Your Dragon by John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon

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How to Train Your Dragon (Soundtrack) by John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon
Composed by John Powell
Varese Sarabande Records (2010)

Rating: 10/10

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Hands down, [HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON] is POWELL’s best score to date and stands as one of the best scores of 2010.

Buy the Dragon -- Just Buy It.
Review by Helen San


The first time JOHN POWELL caught my ear was in 1997 with his energetic music to Antz (co-composed with HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS). Two years later his score to FORCES OF NATURE put him on the map as a composer to watch, and listen to. We caught a glimpse of the kind of uncommon brilliance that makes us fans of film music—and bemoaned the fact that this awesomeness was not available commercially. Since then POWELL has released a string of solid hits, but FORCES OF NATURE was always, for me, the one that got away, as it were.

Finally, we get another chance to own and enjoy that sheer luminosity we know POWELL is capable of. How to Train Your Dragon has every bit of the effulgence of FORCES OF NATURE, and then some. We don’t get just a glimpse this time; this is virtuosity in all its glory. Hands down, HTTAD is POWELL’s best score to date and stands as one of the best scores of 2010. For me, it was an early contender for 2010’s Oscar-worthy elite and has remained so all year.

More often than not, a good soundtrack album will have a few good themes, nicely expressed in a handful of tracks. HTTAD is gold from beginning to end. That is not to say that some tracks don’t take a backseat to other tracks; the music has to journey, after all. But its magic is that the journey, like the story, flows flawlessly from one theme to the next, always taking the listener to new places, even with reoccurring ideas. While themes appear and reappear throughout the score, they are expressed with vastly different instruments and tempos, yet woven so seamlessly with one another that their variations seem infinite. This perfect teamwork, if you will, lends an extraordinary richness and sophistication to the composition, even as its familiarity connects intuitively with the audience.

Something I’ve noticed in this score, more than in others, is that POWELL seems to shine best when percussions take center stage, when the rhythm is the main brush painting the musical picture. His work reminds me of JAMES NEWTON HOWARD this way, another composer who is very strong in propulsive, percussive music. Melodies and cultural flavors (in this case, a sort of Medieval Celtic thing) help, but it is the dance of his instruments that gives us goosebumps.

By far, my favorite track is Forbidden Friendship (8), which soars with the same emotional depth we heard in FORCES OF NATURE. A slowly rousing romantic theme, it begins with a melodic rhythm on xylophone, joined by other mallet percussion instruments, and ends in a fervent full orchestra/choir crescendo. Coming Back Around (23) is another noteworthy cue with all the dramatic splendor that I like to give standing ovations to. This is Berk (1), the opening track, has a very nice medley of most of the main themes in the movie. If one had only $3 and could not possibly sell a kidney to get the entire album, I would start with these. Dragon’s Den (16) is an awe-inspiring dramatic action cue with a new theme not presented elsewhere, so it should come next if you should have $4. Test Drive (11) is also absolutely fantastic, but does reiterate some of the same gusto in the first three mentioned tracks. I know times are hard, but this is one case where you should just bite the bullet, get a second job or whatever it takes, and buy the album. This is not a score that should be listened to piecemeal.

The album is rounded out pleasantly with HTTAD’s original song, Sticks and Stones (24), performed by Jonsi, the Icelandic post-rock star. It is a surprisingly catchy alternative rock song in both English and Icelandic, a nod, no doubt, to the story’s Viking heritage.

I know that if this review glowed any brighter, you’d be able to read it from outer space. As a music critic, I worried about being too positive. But something this fun and moving and not at all boring only comes once in a blue moon. Ten out of 10’s are reserved for special occasions; for me, this is indeed one of them.
 

Rating: 10/10

 

 


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 This is Berk 4;10  *****
2 Dragon Battle 1:55  *****
3 The Downed Dragon 4:16  ****
4 Dragon Training 3:11  *****
5 Wounded 1:25  *****
6 The Dragon Book 2:22  *****
7 Focus, Hiccup! 2:05  *****
8 Forbidden Friendship 4:11  *****
9 New Trail 2:48  ****
10 See You Tomorrow 3:53  *****
11 Test Drive 3:36  *****
12 No So Fireproof 1:12  *****
13 This Time for Sure 0:44  *****
14 Astrid Goes for a Spin 0:43  *****
15 Romantic Flight 1:56  *****
16 Dragon's Den 2:29  *****
17 The Cove 1:11  ****
18 The Kill Ring 4:29  ****
19 Ready the Ships 5:14  ****
20 Battling the Green Death 6:18  *****
21 Counter Attack 3:05  *****
22 Where's Hiccup? 2:44  *****
23 Coming Back Around 2:51  *****
24 Sticks & Stones 4:18  ****
25 The Vikings Have Their Tea 2:03  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 72 minutes  

 

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