In epic films of fantasy and grand adventure we have become accustomed to hear a certain kind of music as accompaniment – there is indeed a type of music which we immediately connect with these kinds of films; a “musical model” of grand adventure that seems to be something basic that lies within us. And so we, or at least I, expected to hear music of this kind, sweepingly thematic, grand and powerful, in Harry Gregson-Williams score for Disney’s large production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the first book of C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed epic book series The Chronicles of Narnia filmed for the big screen. And mostly, the score does not disappoint – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a thematic, sweeping score bristling with both power and emotion – much as we have come to expect for this kind of film. A bit surprising though is the quite modern touch given to some sequences – an approach that to me was a bit unexpected.
These modern touches are evident from the start – “The Blitz, 1940” is an intense action piece that easily could have been taken out of any modern war film. That is very fitting of course, since Narnia takes its beginning in the turmoil of the German bombings of London in 1940. The four Pevensie siblings are forced to leave London (“Evacuating London”) to a sad reading of one of the film’s main themes – the siblings’ theme, a quite melancholic melody surfacing in fragments all over the score. The action of the first track is actually also based on the siblings’ theme. The performance of the theme in the second track, with piano in the foreground, is one of the more elaborate ones in the score, and soon, as the train carrying the Pevensie children to safety in the countryside leaves the station, the track changes style completely to unexpectedly become something more similar to a pop song with Lisbeth Scott’s wailing vocals and a soft electronic beat – something I was very surprised to hear in a film such as this. But – believe it or not, playing over the main titles as the train travels through the English landscape, it actually works quite well. As a standalone piece, maybe not as well, but it is still a rather beautiful piece.
In addition to the siblings’ theme the score features two more primary themes (as well as a number of minor ones) – first the tender Narnia theme and second the powerful “heroic” theme, mainly connected with the great lion Aslan, Narnia’s highest leader. The siblings’ and the heroic theme are closely connected musically, being similar in note progression. But while the siblings’ theme is a sometimes melancholic (“Evacuating London”) and sometimes tender (the end of “Knighting Peter”) theme the heroic theme is always large and powerful (“To Aslan’s Camp”, “The Battle”) often performed by horns or trumpets in very rousing statements. The Narnia theme enters for the first time in a lovely flute rendition when Lucy Pevensie first enters the land of Narnia in “The Wardrobe”, but is saved for important moments of the film and hence only represented a few times on the album. The Narnia theme is however a wonderful melody, instantly recognisable, and its few appearances are all highlights of the album – especially “To Aslan’s Camp” where the theme gets one of its most sweeping statements in the strings, together with incredibly rousing statements of the heroic theme.
The most modern influences are indeed confined to the first tracks of the score, with most of the later parts of the score being of a more classical kind, so to speak, with much in common with Gregson-Williams’ other large score this year, Kingdom of Heaven. There are still a lot of unusual elements though – the otherworldy sound of the electric violin is used in “Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus”, to great effect, in “A Narnia Lullaby” Gregson-Williams uses a duduk, and in “The Stone Table” the gurgling sound of a throat-singing choir accompanied by taiko drums creates quite frightening effects. There is also a large amount of electronic percussion and other effects present at many times. And while some of these things might seem a bit out of place when first listening to the album, it all fits like a glove in the film, all a wonderful merge between image and music, and I can assure you that the album will grow on you after having seen the film – which I wholeheartedly recommend. All the time there seems to be a thought behind the music employed to create the right feelings – be it with modern electronic effects, a duduk or rousing brass fanfares.
There are however parts that does not work as well on album as it does in the film. The dark, unrelenting “The White Witch” does a good job being frightening, but as a very dissonant, moody piece it does not really make for a rewarding listen. Same goes with parts of the interesting but quite challenging “The Stone Table”. Other parts, though – and this goes for most of the album, are a very rewarding listen. The orchestrations are very well done, and the thematic work is complex and commendable. The chorus does have more of a supporting role here, unlike Kingdom of Heaven where the chorus took much of the lead, a fact that made that score such a wonderful listen. But especially in “The Battle” the chorus is allowed to shine almost like in Kingdom of Heaven, in a very rousing action piece that resembles the action pieces of Kingdom of Heaven in many ways. It is anyway one of the most rousing pieces of the score and a true highlight of the album, also referring back to the siblings first true experience of battle with some quotes of the opening Blitz music. After this orchestral and choral workout follows the score’s wonderful finale, “Only the Beginning of the Adventure”, where all the themes get full readings in orchestrations both powerful and beautiful – in my opinion the highlight of the score.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is indeed very different from other scores for similar fantasy adventure films, but it turns out that it is perfect for the film, and even if there are parts that does not work really as well on album as in the film, the fifty-four minutes of score on the album are still mostly very enjoyable minutes. Once again has Harry Gregson-Williams managed to impress with very well written thematic work and well thought-out stylistic choices in a score which, albeit with some unexpected means, in the end is a worthy accompaniment to a captivating film as well as a great stand alone listen.