Film Score Friday: 'Hugo' by Howard Shore

Film Score Friday: ‘Hugo’ by Howard Shore

Nothing like awards season to let you focus in on some fantastic film music! The Golden Globe nominations went out this week and in honor of that Film Score Friday is going to cover the nominated scores each of the next four weeks. I say four weeks because we already covered the excellent War Horse by John Williams. So let’s start off big with Hugo by Howard Shore.

Howard Shore is one of today’s leading composers, everyone and their mother knows his stuff from The Lord of the Rings, but Shore has had an impressive career beyond Middle-Earth. So it was an immediate pleasure to realize he was writing the music to Scorsese’s cinematic love letter to film.

Shore brings a fantastic French sound to the table. Much like Michael Giacchino’s Ratatouille score, Shore takes a the French style and makes it work beautifully within his own bag of tricks. The French influences are in almost every aspect of the score, yet at no time does it sound like wall to wall French music.

Hugo might go down as one of my favorite scores of the year. I am such a fan of the light and playful nature of the album, it really excels at bringing out a since of adventure and fun when listening to it. I don’t want to keep comparing this score to Ratatouille, but it is hard not to notice the interesting parallels between both films and especially their music. So much so that if you played a mixed up playlist of Hugo and Ratatouille tracks you might be hard pressed to tell the difference.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is ‘Coeur Volant’ which includes the wonderful Zaz singing over the top of Shore’s music. This is reminiscent of what he did with The Lord of the Rings movies, taking ideas he explored during the movie and expanding them out to a song at the end of the album. It really brings the whole thing together nicely and offers a great, compact track that gives you the flavor of the score with out just being suite cobbled together.

This score easily represents Shore’s best work since his trip to Middle Earth. Even though his pit stop in Twilight-ville wasn’t horrible, he seemed to be playing in a much smaller idea sandbox for his music lately. Even his better work in this time frame was minimalistic, such as The Departed, which has a brilliant ‘Tango’ and nothing else terribly striking. It is great that Shore seems to be coming back into the world of epic music, although it should come as no surprise due to his next project being The Hobbit.

Howard Shore has crafted one of the few scores this year that immediately grabbed me and stayed on my mind well after I was done with it. It is not flawless, and I would have loved there to be a stronger hook to keep me coming back for more, but as it stands now Hugo is my favorite new background listening music of the year.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Hogo’s Father by Howard Shore – The score opens with several up beat tracks that really sell the world of Hugo. The immediate sense of fun and adventure is apparent within the first minute of listening. It wasn’t until I reached this track, however, that I really started to adore this soundtrack. ‘Hugo’s Father’ has an incredible emotional core to it, the music builds to a real beautiful place when the music settles into a really soft place in the middle of the track. There is a lot going on in this track on an emotional level, but the music never plays it’s hands to obviously, which really allows it to transcend a moment in the movie and play as a simply gorgeous piece of music.

The Invention of Dreams by Howard Shore – If there is a single track you want that represents everything that this soundtrack is, it is this track. This six plus minute track takes you on a journey, and not one many expect. This is not some grand epic finale track or one of the many great battle themes Shore has written in the past. Instead this is a journey through the origins of film. One of the key elements about this film is it was made by a film fan, for film fans, and this track provides a wonderful tour of original era film music mixed in with Shore’s Hugo sounds.

Coeur Volant by Howard Shore Featuring Zaz – I mentioned this track already, and usually I try to fit another track into this slot to share the love, but I just couldn’t resist recommending this track more. While the last track was a beautiful representation for what the film is all about, this track encapsulates what this film actually is. One of the most beautiful things I have heard all year and I really hope it gets consideration in the Best Song category when the Oscars roll around. This is one of the rare French Jams I wouldn’t mind playing loudly from my car, if for no other reason than to force people to hear this beautiful music.

Least Favorite Track:

The Station Inspector by Howard Shore – This track was the only track that felt “lazy” to me. It is very good, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t get much out of it that isn’t better represented elsewhere in the album. It also felt the most derivative of the soundtrack, which is saying a lot because I previously mentioned that some people might not be able to tell this score apart form Ratatouille, but where the two scores share a lot of similarities, most of the music feels fresh and almost purposefully familiar. This track just sounds like stock villain music with a French filter. Can I say again though that the track isn’t actually all that bad?

In all Hugo is a delight, it puts a smile on your face and keeps it there. I think War Horse might be a better awards contender, but Hugo is easily near the top of my personal favorites of the year, and if it wins awards this season, they will be well deserved.

Final Score for Hugo

5 out of 5