Kong: Skull Island

Henry Jackman (2017)

Why You Should…
If you wish to hear Henry Jackman return to form with an occasionally entertaining, if not rowdy score for this needless remake.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If your respect for the original classic by Max Steiner remains unperturbed.

Release Date: March 3rd 2017 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Henry Jackman
Length: 56:42
Recorded By/At:
Label: WaterTower Music

Additional Information:
Additional Music By: Halli Cauthery, Stephen Hilton, Alex Belcher
Conducted By: Gavin Greenaway
Orchestrator: Stephen Coleman
Mixer: Alan Meyerson
Editor: Jack Dolman
Synth Programmer: Maverick Dugger

Of all the various cinematic universes floating around, Legendary Studio’s MonsterVerse is the most intriguing inclusion. More questions on franchises and reboots are raised with KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and despite proving to be a profitable venture all around, its necessity is as ever, redundant. It’s the growling presence of King Kong that steals the show, while the human characters suffer in comparison, and you know there are questions that need to be asked when a CGI creature shows more depth than any human onscreen. Staged in 1973, Tom Hiddleston’s former British SAS Captain James Conrad is forced to recollect his valuable experiences during the Vietnam War when he is assigned to embark on an expedition to the mythical Skull Island. The secretive covert operations by the Monarch agency seeks to expose these fantastical creatures to the wider world, and events escalate to a battle for domination of the land as Kong safeguards his home from the terrifying Skullcrawlers, a brand new breed of monsters entirely. All this is a feast for the eyes, but its gloss wears away easily, the facade proving to be an effective disguise for another “dumb-fun” action blockbuster. The fact that this is grounds for the mighty ape to eventually face off against the ruthless Godzilla as resurrected by Gareth Edwards in 2014 however, remains an exciting prospect for Kaiju enthusiasts and admirers of the lore’s musical tapestry. So it’s all the more imposing on composer Henry Jackman when he steps up to adopt the mantle after legendary composer Max Steiner, and chameleon visionary James Newton-Howard, his individual score proving to be very different from all that has come before it. Neither film nor score matches the original, but suffices for the  revitalised subject matter.

Jackman’s resultant work marks a return to form for the composer, following a mediocre prior year marked by the stale Captain America: Civil War, with the noteworthy exception of the critically acclaimed score for Birth of A Nation. Much of the energy that was missing from that film is seemingly injected into this particular venture, using a standard orchestral palette and infusing grungy guitar portions to evoke the 70s atmosphere. These psychedelic guitars are blended at the behest of the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, in, “I wanted to use songs from the Vietnam era and a myriad of hits from the ‘70s, this provides a striking dichotomy, sets the tone and gives us great moments of fun.” The opening cue of “South Pacific” flashes a brief horn and string drone movement, leading immediately into “The Beach”– with foggy synths and primal slapping courtesy of the percussion. The wailing heard has perhaps become a tired exercise in blockbuster film scoring by this point, though the raw bursts of string and trombones are fantastic enough to compensate. The first major thematic idea materialises in “Project Monarch”, a series of cyclical ostinatos giving way to a brass-laden phrase, thought it’s the ostinato that signifies the idea clearer, further presented in “The Island” with the aforementioned psychedelic guitars taking on a grizzled tone in its infectiousness, an easy highlight of the album. They voice eerily in “Packard’s Blues”, to represent John.C.Reilly’s character having been stranded on the island for years on end, and the Monarch motif kicks back in “Assembling the Team”, on low cellos before inserting a hardcore guitar jam session with snare drums and vibraphones. These guitar portions make the score a lot more engaging and lively than expected, helping insert the commercial cool factor in “Into The Storm”,with muscular snare layers.

Kong finally arrives with a series of low brass blasts in “Kong the Destroyer”, with fluttering string lines of frantic tempo and shifting meter atop primal percussion. The basses strongly imprint these shades of Kong’s fury and fearsome nature, hinting at a longer-lined concept theme towards the latter half, dissolved in gently cooking violins and rumbling timpanis that finally mark Kong with a 5-note cry heard elsewhere in “Kong the Protector”. “Monsters Exist” deconstructs the Monarch theme to blurred guitar layers that sound more like harpsichords in their twanging nature. Aggressively tonal bass synth shifts strike in “Spiders Attack”, featuring more tribal percussion as skeletal as the remains of the islands, continuing in “Dominant Species” and “The Boneyard” to gyrating effect. The villainous Skullcrawlers aren’t given a thematic identity per se, anonymous in presence in more primal orchestra brutality. In the lengthiest cue, “The Temple”, faint vocals echo as a shakuhachi flute puffs ambiguously, achieving a welcome change of pace with haunting string lines to create tension. By this point in the score, the more traditional film score crowd will have dropped their eyeballs rolling them out of their sockets with the low foghorn blasts and the predictable choices. “Grey Fox” continues this more humane tone with mild respite, pleasantly accessible in its chord progressions and fleeting density.

Some of Jackman’s most thoughtful writing appears in “Marlow’s Farewell”, a reminder for any sceptic of the composer that he can reveal amazing palettes of colourful writing for strings and trumpets, another worthy highlight to take. Similarly, “Ambushed” boasts some sharp brass punctuation for Kong, accompanied by choir and staccato strings. Yielding impressive density, this proves that sometimes you have to sift through these works to craft an admirable collation of material. “Man vs.Beast” sustains the Taiko drum influence to a repetitive degree, unearthing the tension further. The primality of “Creature from the Deep” implies the Skullcrawlers afoot, briefly clashing with Kong’s identity in loose counterpoint, but falls short of the more complexly alluring material created by predecessors. Shades of Civil War are resurrected in “The Battle of Skull Island”, harbouring the same string movements at the outset for Monarch, but occupying far more interesting territory in contrast, employing wails, tremolos, brass blasts and an identical drum pound with swirling desemiquaver strings. As the album draws closer to the end in “King Kong”, the ape’s dirty theme is somewhat embedded into the overall scheme of things very well, reiterated on strings and deafening horns as the beast announces his glory. It’s a workmanlike effort from Jackman, whom despite succumbing occasionally to the usual pitfalls, manages to create a decent action score that at least suits the conventional sensibilities, whilst maintaining a strong musical narrative. If you revere Steiner’s work, however, then even after Newton-Howard’s lovable output for the 2005 epic, you’ll still somewhat feel disappointed. The fairest rating lies in the middle.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:
(all music written by Henry Jackman)

1) South Pacific (0:35)
2) The Beach (1:27)
3) Project Monarch (2:02)
4) Packard’s Blues (1:14)
5) Assembling The Team (1:48)
6) Into The Storm (2:44)
7) The Island (1:16)
8) Kong The Destroyer (3:43)
9) Monsters Exist (2:27)
10) Spider Attack (1:39)
11) Dominant Species (2:00)
12) The Temple (5:47)
13) Grey Fox (2:33)
14) Kong The Protector (1:49)
15) Marlow’s Farewell (2:37)
16) Lost (1:27)
17) The Boneyard (1:52)
18) Ambushed (2:21)
19) The Heart Of Kong (2:11)
20) Man Vs. Beast (2:31)
21) Creature From The Deep (2:44)
22) The Battle Of Skull Island (5:46)
23) King Kong (2:42)
24) Monster Mash (Bonus Track) (1:27)




One thought on “Kong: Skull Island

  1. Well for me, to be rated fair I think Mr. Jackman should be given a FRISBEE for he wasted such a wonderful opportunity to follow a great score from Mr. Desplat.


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