The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Harry Gregson-Williams

Rating: 6.5

Number two of the Chronicles of Narnia series is, stylistically, more of the same. Director Andrew Adamson knows how to create a fantasy, eye candy atmosphere, and Prince Caspian has even more of that feel. The computer generated animation in this film is used in the same near half-and half ratio with the live action, and in such a clean, non-gritty way, that a definite fantasy feel is attained. Many people disliked this aspect of the first film, and the Lord of the Rings comparisons were frequent and irrelevant. The fact that these were completely different films, just as the books were completely different books, didn't seem to matter. Folks wanted another Lord of the Rings, and it is a mercy that those in charge of the Narnia production had a different vision.

The original Narnia score received much the same useless comparisons with Lord of the Rings that the movie did. There can be no doubt that Howard Shore produced an impressively coherent score for The Lord of the Rings, but I am afraid that anyone who thinks that his scores would have fit the Narnia movies is, well, how can I say this? Wrong. Because of the comparisons, the first Narnia score did not receive especially high ratings, with many reviewers complaining about the odd mixture of orchestral and synthetic elements. For some, the soft pop-ish "Evacuating London" track was the problem, for others, the electric violin was like fingernails on a chalkboard, while still other turned their noses up at the epic, Media Ventures sounding "The Battle". For many it was a combination of all of these elements, adding up to a collective snobbery towards the soundtrack.

Trying not to, of course, pat myself on the back too much, I would like to say that my original review, while in no way raving, did not look down on the score stylistically. My main complaint was the lack of interest and thematic development in many of the middle tracks. In fact I ended the review by saying "It is not because Gregson-Williams didn't know that syncopation and the use of the synth are modern techniques, but because he chose to use them anyway. I think it was a good choice.". It seems many other listeners and reviewers have come to this opinion, and the reviews this time around are much more favorable.

Many themes find reprisals in this installment, and there is actually a general lack of new themes in the film. There is an excellent motif for Reepicheep (or the mice in generel, I am not sure which), which, very unfortunately, does not find its way into the album presentation at all until the last score track, "The Door in the Air", at 1:19 - 1:30, set against an end-of-the-story-ish backing. The non-inclusion of this theme really is a shame, as I think it might be the very best in the Narnia series to date, with its creative representation of mice. It gets its best presentation during the raid on the castle, but the track "Raid on the Castle" I believe, begins after this presentation.

"Prince Caspian Flees" really sets the tone for the entire elbum, with racing strings, and somewhat Media Ventures-ish textures. The entire album, in fact, is closest to the track "The Battle" from the previus installment stylistically, and Gregson-Williams has really started to perfect the style. "Raid on the Castle", despite the disappointing lack of Reepicheep's theme, also showcases some excellent battle music. "Miraz Crowned" shows Gregson-Williams' heretofore unused in this series talent for drawn out orchestral crescendos, and is actually quite impressive to listen to.

The White Witch music, most obviously shown on the track "The Stone Table" in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, gets a reprise on the track "Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance", and it is as disturbing as ever. One of the better tracks is "The Duel", and it contains my favorite moment on the album. At 2:18 - 2:24 Gregson-Williams turns a theme which had previously been used as a type of Wonder of Narnia theme into a rhythm-oriented march piece, underscoring Peter's duel with king Miraz. It really is a great musical representation of a line from the movie, used in at least one of the previews, where the dwarf Trumpkin tells the four children from London, "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember". The track which ends the score, "The Door in the Air", is very similar to "Only the Beginning of the Adventure", which ended The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. While many loved that track, neither it nor this one especially impressed me. But if you liked the ending of the first one, you are likely to enjoy this ending as well.

The inclusion of the four pop songs which end the album and play through the credits was inevitable, but I really do not understand how starting "The Call" while the movie is still playing can be termed in any way acceptable. For me, this is doing a major disservice to Gregson-Williams, by taking away what could be some of the most musically important moments of the movie. Instead of getting a chance to do something subtle, hinting at some theme or memory from Narnia, or who knows what he might do, we instead get an obvious "Ok, this is the wrap, the movie is over (even though it isn't yet) and we are prematurely ripping you from the story and placing you back in your theater seats. Also, you might as well leave now, because there is no musical reason to sit through the credits. Just more of the same". I know I am harsh on pop songs in movies, but the placement here really upset me. Other than these major gripes, "The Call" is actually not a bad a song, if one can separate it from the way it was used in the movie. The rest are nothing special.

As the series progresses, I must say that I am glad to see that both director Adamson and composer Gregson-Williams will not be returning for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, even though I have enjoyed their work for both Narnia films. It just seems that Prince Caspian was far to similar artistically to the first one, and, while it worked here, I think one more would be too much. Still, Prince Caspian is a very nice listen, and an improvement on the first score. Gregson-Williams, while using many of the same themes, seems to do much more with them this time, and they are more meaningful. There is less filler music, and most serves a purpose, working for the artistic whole. While it is good to have fresh writing on the way, Gregson-Williams really stepped up to the plate and delivered.

-Colin Thomson

Track list:

Prince Caspian Flees
The Kings and Queens of Narnia
Journey to the How
Arrival at Aslan's How
Raid on the Castle
Miraz Crowned
Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance
The Duel
The Armies Assemble
Battle at Aslan's How
Return of the Lion
The Door in the Air
The Call
A Dance 'Round the Memory Tree
This is Home


ste said...

I enjoyed reading your review. It is probably good that Harry Gregson-Williams is not returning for the next movie, as I think it could do with a fresh angle music wise. However, does this mean that we won't be getting any more reprises of familiar Narnia themes such as "The Battle"? If that's the case, I'd rather have Harry Gregson-Williams stick around because I think the re-use of themes provides excellent continuity in a series.

Colin Thomson said...

Unfortunately, I do not believe there is an answer to your question regarding returning themes in upcoming films. In an interview Harry Gregson-Williams did with "Aint It Cool News", he said that he did not know if themes would be returning or not. You can read the interview at this address:

ste said...

Thanks for the reply - very helpeful! From the sounds of it, it seems unlikely that any themes will be reprised again. What do you think about this?

Colin Thomson said...

I don't know if it sounds unlikely. I think there is still reason to hope.

But one of the main problems with these scores is their lack of memorable themes. The battle theme might be the best of the lot from the first movie, but the battle theme never seemed to be varied interestingly to its full potential, and I am not sure what sense it makes bringing it up in subsequent movies. I think that it probably should have been left as the set piece for the battle in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as it works very well stand-alone there, but doesn't make much sense when it comes up again in Prince Caspian. It begs the question, what, exactly, is it supposed to represent?

As for the other themes, I would not mind hearing them used, but I think that they could have been better to begin with. The wonder of Narnia theme was varied wonderfully in the Peter vs. Miraz duel in Prince Caspian, and becomes an effective representation. But the theme itself is not especially steller to begin with, and I think perhaps David Arnold could do better. That said, I do not believe he should just throw out these themes, as they have become familiar to us, but I hope I does not rely to heavily upon them.

The one theme, however, which I hope to hear extensively used in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the little brass motive for Reepicheep. I consider it to be the strongest of the themes in the series so far, and Reepicheep, the character, is featured extensively in the book version of that story.

Also, hopefully that theme will be included on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader soundtrack album, as it was very sadly neglected in the case of the Prince Caspian album.

But here is a snippet of an interesting interview "MaintiTles" with composer David Arnold, and it sounds like he certainly respects the work of Harry Gregson Williams:

"DA:. Yeah, it is interesting with Narnia too, which I was reading when I was younger. It was virtually Harry's [Harry Gregson-Williams] show, really and I'm yet to speak to him about it because I said to the studio it's Harry's case and that he should be the first to be called. I respect Harry and I did make my feelings know it should still be Harry's case. Michael [Apted, director of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader] knew that was so, but he wanted me to do it. And then you've got a difficult situation where you can't really say no to a director with whom you've worked three times and you'll hopefully work again in the future and you've got a good working relationship with."

Very interesting. Here is the link to the complete interview: