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Music Review: Thor: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Week of Geek: Thor

Thor: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
CD | MP3
Patrick Doyle
Buena Vista Records
Release Date: May 3, 2011

One of the things I love most about seeing a movie for the first time is experiencing its music score. I have many favorites but the ones that affect me the most are the great adventure scores, from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s jaunty and propulsive The Adventures of Robin Hood to John Williams’ endlessly hum-worthy Raiders of the Lost Ark. The best of these scores tend to plant themselves deep in my mind and always pipe up at moments when I need those sounds the most and my MP3 player is nowhere to be found. They calm my soul and motivate me to conquer each of life’s challenges, be they minor or potentially life-threatening, with a hearty laugh and my arms jutted forward like I could take off flying at any moment.

In my opinion the greatest soundtrack for a movie based on a comic book superhero (and one of my personal favorite movie scores) is Williams’ soaring musical score to the original Superman: The Movie. When Williams used the magic of movie music to give full life to the Man of Steel’s big-screen incarnation, the composer was in the midst of a legendary hot streak as he had only become the most in-demand film composer in the business a few years prior when his scores for Jaws and Star Wars gave new to the classic soundtrack styles of the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s into the new age while simultaneously creating the signature sound of the modern Hollywood blockbuster and raising the bar for any and all film composers for the rest of time.

In the years that followed, many films have been able to adhere to the template set down by John Williams and the results often yielded greatness, but few have achieved the iconic stature of Williams’ best. If I were to make a shortlist of some of my favorites I would have to include Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy score, Michael Giacchino’s music for The Incredibles and Star Trek, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s brilliant team-up on the scores for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and Zimmer’s smashing solo job on Inception. To a lesser extent I would also throw in Klaus Badelt’s Pirates of the Caribbean (not to mention Zimmer’s music for the sequels) and Steve Jablonsky’s score for the first Transformers. Even if the music composed for the films I’ve mention (and many more that I haven’t) never reached true greatness, many tried for the summit and failed honorably. To that category you can add Patrick Doyle‘s soundtrack to the latest summer blockbuster from the mighty Marvel Studios assembly line, Thor.

When Kenneth Branagh was announced as the director of the long-gestating cinematic adaptation of Thor several years ago, the iconic Marvel Comics superhero, it was a foregone conclusion that his longtime collaborator Patrick Doyle would once more be providing the musical score. The prolific Scottish composer has worked on almost every film Branagh directed, not to mention more than a few features that would call for sweeping themes overflowing with love, majesty, and pure excitement. Doyle’s best scores bring to mind the finest movie music from the Golden Age of Hollywood, so who better to create the soundtrack to an epic adventure spanning galaxies and starring no less than Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby’s Norse God of Thunder and his trusty hammer Mjolnir? The answer is simple, True Believers, but his results are a mixed bag. There are moments when you can feel Doyle having some ripping good fun acting like the Thor of his own orchestra, but most of the time the Thor soundtrack comes off as a unwieldy mutant built out of lukewarm leftovers from The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean scores, especially the moments when some musical imagination would count the most. When you put this CD in you expect nothing less than to chill with the gods for a little under an hour and go on the mightiest adventure your mind can process. There’s nothing at all wrong with having high hopes especially when it comes to seeing the comic book heroes you grew up worshiping finally see the light of your local movie house. But the soundtrack of Thor seems to fall easily into a trap common to most modern big ticket summer blockbuster wannabes: the music does a fine job of underscoring the action to the point where you could listen to the album without having seen the movie first and not only know everything that happens but also know exactly what emotions to process at the appointed time, but it can never stand on its own as a great piece of orchestral music.

But damn it if Patrick Doyle doesn’t try to get our blood (and fists) pumping on tracks like “Frost Giant Battle,” “Sons of Odin,” and “The Destroyer,” and “Ride to Observatory” is as about as grandiose as this score gets, and those moments are so brief they’d make fleeting seem like a viewing of Heaven’s Gate on Quaaludes. The emotional core of the film can be best heard on the tracks “Letting Go,” which makes good use of a mournful yet hopeful piano, and on “Loki’s Lie,” the piece that crystallizes the central conflict in the film’s story.

I hope once I see the movie Thor my appreciation of Patrick Doyle’s solid, but mostly forgettable score will improve. As it stands the music is just fine for what it is, and that’s about all she wrote.


  1. I agree I found the soundtrack lacking. Soundtracks are by far my favorite type of music. But never did this one break out of the basics and make my emotions soar like LOTR or Superman. It provided a descent background but never really enhanced the experience the way I hope a good sountrack will.

    Comment by Salamane — May 6, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  2. Nice review! To the list of great film scores following in the Williams tradition, I must add Steve Jablonsky’s soundtrack for Steamboy (the last anime by Akira-creator Katsuhiro Otomo). More than any of his other work (including Transformers), Jablonsky’s Steamboy really captures that rollicking adventure feel of Williams’ best scores. If you (or anyone else) haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it!

    Comment by NeverWanderer — May 7, 2011 @ 3:21 am

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