June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Ice Age 2: The Meltdown  
Score composed, arranged, and produced by John Powell
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Pete Anthony
Orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas, Brad Dechter, Bruce Fowler, Mark McKenzie and Randy Kerber
‘Sid’s Sing-along’ performed by John Leguizamo, Randy Crenshaw, Edie Boddicker, Emmeline Boddicker, Dorian Holly, Dan Navarro, Oren Waters and Monique Donnelly. Composed and produced by John Powell.
‘Food Glorious Food’ performed by Randy Crenshaw, Edie Boddicker, Emmeline Boddicker and Monique Donnelly. Written by Lionel Bart. Published by TRO – Hollis Music, Inc. Produced by John Powell
‘Pearly Gates’ (‘Adagio’ from Spartacus) written by Aram Khatchaturian. Published by G. Schirmer, Inc (ASCAP). Produced by John Powell.
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6725)
Running Time: 62:58
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Chicken Run
  • Evolution
  • Antz
  • To me, Ice Age was very much of the ilk of Shrek. It had the star vocal cameos, the hip-and-happening jokes about the imminent Ice Age, the story of the gooing human child that the mammal protagonists return to its parents through all manner of peril, the quaint family values these films were seemingly commissioned to set in amber. Clearly it wasn’t for me, though I did raise a few laughs over the fall of the Dodos and the unending efforts of one small mammal to possess an acorn that ever eludes him. Very impressive was the score by David Newman, at the time Fox’s in-house animation composer. As with his earlier score for Anastasia, Newman for the most part mixed approaches: sometimes underlining the action with mickey-mousing, sometimes approaching the film more as though it were a live action film with less reactive underscore, the model laid down by Elmer Bernstein (Heavy Metal) and Jerry Goldsmith (The Secret of Nimh). With the exception of a very catchy orchestral hoe-down at the start of the film, it kept a fairly straight face.

    The sequel (it seems nothing is too uninspiring to earn one these days) comes to us with John Powell attached as composer. Initially collaborating with Harry Gregson-Williams on Dreamworks Animation (Shrek, Antz, Chicken Run) and then pursuing a solo career with emphasis on screwball comedy (or what passes for it in the twenty-first century – Gigli, Rat Race, Evolution) and animation (Robots, George Miller’s forthcoming Happy Feet), Powell has established a popular and recognizable voice. His music never fails to be frenetic, hard to resist, and more than a little exhausting. (It’s no coincidence that two of the three reviews linked above describe the respective Powell albums as exhausting!)

    And his Ice Age 2 very much follows in those footsteps. It’s a deft mix of orchestral and electronic elements, usually alongside each other in impressive orchestrations from a team that included composer Mark McKenzie. The themes cover a range of moods – the main theme underscores the zany hijinks of the mammal adventurers. It first appears in ‘The Waterpark’, moving through orchestra in intensely catchy fashion. It’s never far away throughout the score – its simple memorable shape easily summoned as a closing cadence to many of the cues, as in the pizzicato close ‘Who will join me on the dung heap?’. ‘Into the Sunset’ is the expected finale rendition, and despite the fact that its been heard to death by that point, it has irresistible charm. Another catchy theme for the mischief at hand is turned into a song that’s more than a little irritating – ‘Sid’s Sing-a-long’ – presented not once but twice on Varese’s album.

    There’s also a theme for the mammoths, introduced in the flute in ‘Call of the Mammoth’ before a full orchestral introduction, later given woodwind variations in ‘12 Ton Mammoth and a 10 Ton Possum’ and a guitar rendition at the opening of ‘Into the Sunset’. Never moreso than in the climactic ‘Mammoths’ – where it appears in almost Elgarian pomp – this theme is reminiscent of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ There’s also a more dramatic theme heard throughout the score, notably in the sensitively-scored cues ‘Log Moving’ and ‘Ellie Remembers’. This theme is an inspirational hymn of sorts, growing in weight throughout the score until it is presented in playful orchestral variations in ‘The Meltdown’, followed by reprises of all the other themes.

    Mind you none of these themes are played for more than ten seconds. The cues are all very hyperactive – there’s hardly a one of them that doesn’t go through a number of significant cue changes. What is impressive is that there’s an arc to the scoring – the themes build throughout the work to pay-off in particular moments, and one wishes modern action scores embodied that kind of thinking. Still, it’s hard to list which cues are primarily comedic, which are dramatic, and which are action driven, because they’re very often all these things and more. Powell’s writing always impresses primarily because of how he deftly makes all these cue changes work for him – the main title alone is a study in making the frenetic entertaining rather than merely busy. He also manages to make even the shortest tracks engaging. Take ‘Who will join me on the dung heap?’ It opens on solo violin as though a tango approaches before a brief orchestral crescendo and a switch to a Gospel choir and organ for a few bars of a southern hoe-down (!), the cue closing neatly with a pizzicato rendition of the main theme.

    Still, in what seems to be my refrain for the month, the album could have been shorter. At sixty minutes of relatively short bursts it wears out even the sympathetic listener. There’s enough overlap that fifteen minutes could have been cut out for the betterment of the whole. Was the ‘Sing-a-long’ really necessary twice? The reference to ‘Food Glorious Food’ in the middle of the album also throws me off – there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a curiosity that could have served better at the end of the album. One musical joke that DOES work is the allusion to Kathchaturian’s ‘Adagio’ from Spartacus, with Powell showing a hint of Carl Stalling’s genius for interpolating the classics.

    There is one flaw that should be noted. The crash edit from track 8 to track 9 is either very bad music editing, or a flaw in the production of the album. It’s not a serious glitch – it had to be pointed out to me – but it’s worth being wary of it.

    I can’t say I’ve heard the whole Powell repetoire so I can’t comment on whether this is terribly new territory for him, but this album from Varese Sarabande proved to be very enjoying, and I’ve just gotten into the habit of programming a shorter version of the score for my own listening. I suggest purchasing tracks 26 through 28 and track 32 on iTunes for those who are inclined to sample full tracks. They give an idea of the range of the score, and will probably tell you if it’s your cup of tea. For my part I had a lot of fun here, even if it did wear me out.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 4

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