Film Score Friday: ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ by John Williams

Last month we spent time reviewing the Golden Globe nominated film scores, at the time I had only listened to one of them going in so it was a nice way to start award season and catch up on some great scores. Now that the Oscar nominations have been released I was going to do the same thing, only I have already reviewed most of them

Thankfully I spaced out and didn’t review the second of John Williams two nominated scores yet, The Adventures of Tintin, so I can knock out the last of the major nominated scores and be all caught up in time for the big show next month. After this week I will move onto the two films with Oscar nominated songs to spice things up a bit.

The Adventures of Tintin is the second score from Williams this year and in tandem with War Horse showcases the Maestro’s range as a composer, even today. Based on the action/adventure films Williams has composed for in the past, Tintin  marks a bit of a departure as the music is not dominated by specific themes, it is more a collection of classic action music that sets the stage for the impressive animated film.

The film was directed by long time Williams partner, Steven Spielberg, so immediately the expectation is for an Indiana Jones type musical sound. While there are certainly elements of that, especially in the more action oriented tracks, the score blazes it’s own trail.

One of the aspects of this score I like so much is that it is vintage John Williams action music with out being too familiar. It is scores like this that make guys like James Horner and Hans Zimmer look so bad when they re-use specific sounds or even full cues. Williams is able to write in an instantly recognizable style while still giving the music a very unique stamp that identifies itself as Tintin right away.

Like I said before the score is not dominated by specific themes, which much to my surprise I preferred. Don’t misunderstand me, there are themes in this score, one of which I think is one of William’s best in a while. But compared to Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Harry Potter and even a one off like Hook, there is no single theme that ties it all together and fills your head as you leave the theater.

This lack of a specific and strong theme has caused some people online to complain, but what those people fail to realize is that the music doesn’t need to be so simplistic, the movie just doesn’t need that to work. There is a pulpiness to those other movies that sort of demand a unifying theme, almost like the theme song of a show. Tintin is much more like Jurassic Park in that respect, there are certainly themes, but there is also a more sophisticated approach to the music.

Tintin is one of those scores that really grows on you, especially after you have seen the film. When I originally listened to the score a over a couple months ago I was left a little flat, then after some more listens I began to enjoy it more and more, and finally as I saw the movie is all came together for me. The end result is that I am having a hard time pinpointing the flaws in the music, every time I think I find one it sort of slips away as I am caught up more and more in the score.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Snowy’s Theme by John Williams – Yeah so I spent a lot of time talking about the lack of a major theme and what is the first track among my favorites? A theme, figures. This playful tune is the music for Tintin’s pet dog Snowy, sort of like Snoopy if he were more of an adventurer. The dog has personality and his theme speaks to that, wonderfully punctuating the mishaps and excitements that this dog always seems to get into. It is music like this that also helps one appreciate that this source material and final film are aimed at children much more so than the standard Spielberg affair. Count this as one of my favorite current era Williams themes.

Escape from the Karaboudjan by John Williams – Classic Williams action music, it is fun and energetic and listening to it makes it hard to stand still for to long. Often times one needs some context to fully enjoy action music, you either remember the scene from the movie or event some spectacles in your mind. What I found so interesting about this track is that I was able to be wrapped up in it on basically my first listen. One of my flaws as a film music fan is that I am prone to over look some well made tracks because I don’t listen with the right context in mind. This track cut through that and announced itself to me a wonderful track that has all the excitement of the film itself.

The Adventure Continues by John Williams – I just like the way this track is put together, it is a bite sized version of some of my favorite bits in the score. One of Williams greatest strengths is writing musical pieces that cap off the movie perfectly as you watch the credits. The music propels the mind to what ever further adventures you think Tintin will make, and in that case it is a perfect track to end the film and the album on. The movie is the first part of a planned trilogy, and this track is as much a bridge to future films as it is a caper to one really fun one.

Least Favorite Track:

The Milanese Nightingale by John Williams – Eh, this track just doesn’t sound like it is apart of the same score. Almost like it was source music with a thin layer of the Tintin score laid on top.  Beyond that it sits on the album right next to the actual song the character sings in the movie and that works so much better, aided by the rather hilarious inclusion of sound effects at the climax of her song. The entire minute and a half could have been cut from the soundtrack and no one would have been the wiser, and that is why it falls as my least favorite.

In the end John Williams is two for two this year in my book. As much as I think War Horse is a better contender for the Oscar, I think I had more fun with the Tintin score. Williams still absolutely has it and if either of his scores gets a win next month this film music fan will be quite pleased with the result.

Final Score for The Adventures of Tintin:

4.5 out of 5

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