“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” Score Review

I know I’m late getting this post up, but it’s the end of the semester and between grading, writing tests, and other such sundry items, I’m very behind with my blogging duties.  That being said, let’s talk some Potter.

Composer Alexandre Desplat has joined the Potter crew for both part of the final adventure, much to the dismay of those wanting a return of John Williams, but also causing the rejoicing of those who disliked Nicholas Hooper’s less than stellar efforts.  I, for one, was greatly impressed by Desplat’s efforts here, not being overly familiar with his previous work, and liked the darker tone he invoked for the film.  Given the film’s dark tone in general, it would have been very disjointed if we were to return to the bright sounds of the first two films.

There has been one recurring critique of the score that I wish to address here, and that is the almost total lack of recognizable themes as were found in the previous films.  This is true, about the only returning melody I could hear was “Hedwig’s Theme” which was barely used at the beginning of the film.  I didn’t find this to be a knock against the score, though, as Desplat gave us a nice, tragic-tinged melody for Harry and Ginny early on (one that seems to be a distant cousin in some ways to Hedwig), and some wonderful musical material throughout the score.

The film and album both begin with an epic and sorrowful scene and cue setting the stage as the players of the film move to their places.  Hermione sends her parents away after wiping herself from their memory and Harry’s family gets the heck out-of-town while the getting is good.  The cue that acompanies this, “The Oblivation,” has a eight-note motive playing underneath and long melody, beautifully juxtaposing the two rhythmic tempi and getting the film off to an anxious and unsettling start.

Another nice addition to the score and instrumental pallate is the use of non-traditional instruments.  Williams did a similar thing with Prisoner of Azkeban by introducing musical colors akin to the Renaissance, but Desplat here takes us to the other side of the globe.  In the score Desplat makes good use of the Japanese Shakuhachi among others, using the breath sounds and timbre of it on a number of tracks, most noticeably “Bathilda Bagshot.”

In the pantheon of Potter scores, I would say this is definitely the best score we’ve had since Goblet of Fire by Patrick Doyle, and maybe even second best, behind only Williams’ Azkeban.  It’s hard to compare this score to the first two, though, because of the vastly different tenor of the films.  Just as Azkeban required a radical shift in mood because the darkness of the film, Deathly Hallows, Part I is miles away from the happy-just-to-be-out-of-the-cupboard Harry Potter of Sorcerer’s Stone.  It would strange to heard all the carefree and wonderful Hogwart’s themes in this film given that there is not a single scene in the film takes place at the school.

In the end, while Desplat is no John Williams, he does a great job on this score in using instrumental colors to paint a bleak and dark picture for our not-so-young-anymore triumvirate of heroes.  This film is dripping with sounds and energy that conveys to an audience just how bad things are and just how much worse they’re going to get before the final victory is won.

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