Perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise of Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D is its orchestral robustness, a lengthy, regal score that ought to be a major career boost for Andrew Lockington, a deft composer who's already scored a number of diverse films and teleplays, but only recently branched out on his own after orchestrating for a number of years for colleagues such as Jeff Danna.
The 3D film was designed with scope in mind, but Lockington has managed to capture a sound and style that's very classical, and hasn't really been mined since the family and fantasy films of the eighties – in particular, the eloquent works of Bruce Broughton, and John Williams.
The album, available digitally via New Line Records and in Europe via Silva Screen on CD, is a superb mix of cues that are refreshing for their thematic development, as well as sweeping melodic passages and lengthy, aggressive action writing.
Running over an hour, it's an engrossing narrative that begins with the film's main theme – a comforting piece that clearly reinforces family bonds and deep friendships – and after a series of cues evoking the group's preparations, hesitations, and nervous excitement, locks into a suspenseful groove where Lockington focuses on rhythms and darker colours.
“Rope Descent” launches the expedition, with subtle techno textures on the peripherals, and heavy brass writing emphasizing dangers, as well as evoking urgency as the group stick to a rigid plan. Lockington also switches to fluttering woodwinds, breaks the cue for brief, silent pauses, and eventually ends with a modern, aggressive orchestral crescendo.
The smooth integration of melody, harmony, and modern dissonance are what really anchor the score, and give the it so much emotional colour. Lockington also isn't afraid to include a few indiscrete injections of electronica, as well as an electric guitar strum in “Mine Car Adventure,” a cue that also reveals some very sharp and complex orchestrations. One advantage given to the composer was whole sequences designed as action cues and 3-D show-stoppers, allowing Lockington to develop cues with their own 3-act structure, but it's so refreshing to hear instrumental details that are so sharply organized.
The easy way out it to apply bombast, repeat whole chunks of a cue, and use busy rhythms as sonic distractions; it's not a lazy method, but it ensures a composer doesn't have to invest precious time in a compressed schedule, or gives him/her an out and skirt tough parts that require more concentration and a keen ear for organizing small sounds within a grand sonic palette. Lockington knows his craft, and his years as an orchestrator pay off in a three minute cue like “Mine Care Adventure,” where he slowly builds towards a frenetic finale while nodding to specific onscreen actions or performance reactions without disrupting the cue's flow or direction.
It sounds very basic, but it takes skill to avoid a mush of sounds, and make each subsequent action cue – like the furious “Water Drop” that demands being pumped through a stereo loud – unique.
Lockington also introduces a chorus and sailor jig in his thematic restatement “The Center of the Earth,” and there's the mournful “Mushroom House and Artifacts,” where a slow, almost elegiac melody is performed by strings and piano, and forms an appropriate bridge to the saddening “Goodbye Max.” The brassiness of “Building the Raft” captures the group's iron determination, whereas “The Magnetic Rocks” has spiraling chorals and varying orchestral dynamics to conjure wonderment, suspicion, menace, and lethal danger.
As a score, Journey is a major work, and one of the best fantasy/action scores in a long while, and fans shouldn't hesitate snapping up this album. New Line's been focusing a lot lately on the Lord of the Rings franchise (how many times can the music from 3 films be released?), and this is one album deserving not only a formal CD release in North America, but a 5.1 edition to preserve the nuances of this superb work.
Note: for an interview with composer Andrew Lockington, click HERE. Sequel: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island [M] (2012).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan