Final Fantasy VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack
Final Fantasy VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack
September 28, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
The Final Fantay VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack is very much like the movie; that is, a pleasant romp that is sure to please the average Final Fantasy VII music fan on the first few listeners, but with major flaws. Often unbalanced, unmusical, and uncinematic, with just as many truly hideous tracks as phenomenal ones, the peaks of this album make it a worthwhile listen, nothing else, and it is not a strong film score by any stretch of the imagination. Split much like a game score, hacked in places by untrained arrangers, and featuring an unhealthy amount of material simply transferred from other musical productions, its musical failures are not even outweighed by its strengths when it comes to accompanying the film, as, frankly, it often seems to be a cause of a lot of abruptness. Yet, curiously, it has acquired popularity among the masses, for reasons that are not immediately clear, demanding a more indepth analysis of the album. Could it be that, despite everything wrong with it, it is still very much worthy of a possible purchase? Surprisingly, that might just be the case…
The fundamental problem with the soundtrack from a technical perspective is that it doesn’t work especially well within the movie itself. One major reason for this is that Nobuo Uematsu and collaborators decided to give the soundtrack complete thematic emphasis, splitting the soundtrack discretely into disparate blocks of sound, much like the average game soundtrack. The consequences are very abrupt transitions between certain themes, a lot of unnecessary silence, and an overall unprofessional glaze. In places, it even directly affects the quality of the pacing of the film. For example, the transition from the generic rock arrangement “Those Who Fight Further (FFVII AC Version)” to the epic operatic theme “Divinity II” makes the showdown with Sin Bahamut feel uncomfortably sudden, as if the writers simply thought ‘Oh. Let’s just get this over with’, despite the fact that both themes are played in a highlight passage in the film and are among the handful of pieces that synchronise with the visuals well once they’ve been established. The film producers even ludicrously use the poignant chorale “The Promised Land” twice, which works beautifully in the penultimate scene, but is highly unconvincing in the prologue, which needed a certain amount of dramatic underscoring to avoid tedium. Indeed, regardless of the quality of compositions, if there is not a certain amount of dramatic underscoring, music is dull and purposeless in most action films, and this is where Uematsu and co. completely fail in comparison to Elliot Goldenthal, who scored Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within. It appears those who scored Advent Children didn’t even try to learn from the success of film composers, though not in an attempt to establish originality, but because they felt out of their depths, untrained in the skill of film composition. Some would say it is reflection of arrogance and incompetence, but, ultimately, this is merely the consequences of Square Enix trying to reverse what made Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within unappealing to FF gamers, sacrificing good cinema for the often dubious desires of the Final Fantasy VII fanboy. Nobuo Uematsu himself even admits that he is not competent enough to score a film score:
“Basically I’m not a feature film composer and therefore I would probably not be able to provide scores at the level of professionalism in that field. If you’re talking about soundtrack scores, then it’s better to ask John Williams.” – Nobuo Uematsu
A few cinematic exceptions aside, the album often seems like a game score gone wrong, which might appeal to a certain proportion of fans, but ultimately at the sacrifice of a lot of the credibility of the album and the material it accompanies. Part of the exuberance of great films scores is the way composers are able to meticulously metamorphose the atmosphere their scoring creates so that it evokes a wide array of feelings naturally while providing superb programmatic accompaniment to the visuals. This is very rarely achieved throughout the score, with even the more fitting pieces, such as “The Chase on the Highway,” still featuring jarring transitions to reflect simple changes in scenery. It seems highly likely that any prominent film composer or able anime composer would be able to effectively integrate a representation of a simple scene such as a phone falling through water as flashbacks of the messages played are listened to. Not Uematsu and co., however. What we get is the most abrasive track on the album, “Water,” a ‘new age’ / jazz / synthpop hybrid that features a xylophone, synth vocal pads, piano, harp, and an electric guitar playing a rendition of “Aerith’s Theme.” Not only is Keiji Kawamori’s arrangement cringe-worthy, but is written in a style completely different to everything else on the score, simply leaving a bad taste in the listener’s mouth. It does not add to the score’s diversity in a constructive way. Not only this, but the film’s producers insist on using it twice. Admittedly, the erratic nature of Final Fantay VII -Advent Children-‘s flashbacks makes some of the abrupt elements of the score forgivable; for example, the way “Aerith’s Theme” is suddenly integrated into “Divinity II” is appropriate considering her sudden ‘appearance’, even if the theme is reused far too many times in the score already. Yet, in the case of “Water” and certain others, it is not always clear whether the music is a reflection or the cause of the abruptness of the scenes it accompanies.
All of the piano-based tracks are particularly worthy of bashing. They constitute about half of Disc One in playing time, being largely responsible for the disc’s complete and utter failure. “Sign” initially has potential with its eerie diminished arpeggio patterns, but is far too repetitious, the only development being the addition of a very simple vocal line. The use of the theme during a meeting with the mysterious ‘wheel chair person’ initially adds a small amount of tension, but quickly grows shallow with the eventual introduction of the secondary force; that element, the vocal line, is a blatant feature to hide the theme’s repetitious character, but does not correspond to the gradual development of the scene. Unfortunately, “For the Reunion” is not any better, quickly growing tedious and also feeling like a very hackneyed attempt at creating some atmosphere, with the entrance of Tsuyoshi Sekito’s guitar against the repetitive piano motif being an ultimate cheese moment. It seems likely that silence would have been better in these scenes, in fact, and that’s saying something, after the negative effect complete silence had on the film’s poorly done second scene featuring the helicopter. To add insult to injury, while the second part of Kenichiro Fukui’s “Beyond the Wasteland” is one of the few highlights of the disc, the first two minutes fail miserably. Featuring bland piano descants, a powerless rendition of “Those Chosen by the Planet,” and a banal ‘cello crisis motif, its transition into the action-based passage is equally dissatisfying. To think that this is used in the opening credits reflects the amateurism of the whole composition. A sweeping overture next time please! Indeed, as talented as Fukui is, his and Sekito’s forte is not piano use and it’s ridiculous that Square Enix didn’t employ someone more capable for such an anticipated soundtrack to deal with such themes.
It’s also worth mentioning that the hype the three themes with ‘Piano Version’ in parantheses receive is one of the most amusing aspects of popular approval to this soundtrack. Little do the majority of the listeners know that these three themes were taken directly from the Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections with no modifications whatsoever. Does directly ripping from another work reflect the actions of a strong film composer? No. It’s an extremely lazy action that also near-enough destroys one scene in the film. Regardless of the original strength of Shiro Hamaguchi’s arrangement, “Those Who Fight (Piano Version)” fails completely in the fight between Tifa and Loz; it’s too tame, not effectively representing the danger Tifa is in, and barely corresponds with the scene, literally fading out right in the middle of a development section in a hideous manner. While a non-rock action theme is a good contrast to have, a piano-based one simply does not work here and an original arrangement would have both reserved the integrity of Hamaguchi’s original work and given the scene the musical ‘oomph’ it desperately needed. The renditions of Tifa’s and Aerith’s themes are more acceptably used, but are fairly bland arrangements and a subtle orchestral arrangement (along the lines of “To Zanarkand” from Tour de Japon) would have been ideal instead. Of course, as series arranger Hamaguchi was busy receiving further education in the USA while others were making the score (a pity considering his numerous anime contributions), his contributions are all translated over from the Piano Collections or concerts; the simple yet touching “Cloud Smiles,” integrated effectively in the final scene, is an exception, initially arranged for the film, but nonetheless featured in the Dear Friends concert series. Back to the original point, once the Piano Collections tracks are used in addition to original piano tracks, a brief opening taken directly from a Tour de Japon concert, several generic rock themes, “Water,” and a chorale, we’re left with an extraordinarily poor first disc.
The decision to allow Nobuo Uematsu to score a Final Fantasy movie score was not necessarily a poor one, however. Uematsu is a capable composer where melodies concerned, as shown by the popularity of all the material from the Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack used, as well as the strength of some of the new melodies featured here. “The Promised Land,” for example, is gorgeous in its simplicity, developing subtly to encompass a sense of both holiness and melancholy, while retaining memorability. Similarly, certain rock compositions such as “The Chase on the Highway” and “Battle in the Forgotten City” feature some breathtaking melodic progressions, even if some of the other rock themes, notably “Those Who Fight Further,” suffer from being shadowed by an unmelodious wall of sound. Further, Kawamori’s “Encounter” and Sekito’s “Materia” prove that, without Uematsu’s melodic guidance, we’re just given less one minutes worth of filler music devoid of any musical character in this particular score; these are the least memorable compositions on the score, despite being rivalled in terms of general direness. Worth particular note are the Divinity compositions, easily the best original compositions on the score, featuring full orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus, synchronising fluently with the visuals, combining epic melodic lines with sumptuous harmonies, and having an overall cinematic sheen. It’s in this point that the explanation for the score’s major problems becomes apparent; while composed by Nobuo Uematsu, they were arranged by Kazuhiko Toyama, who has had experience in composing for TV and movie scores since 1990. Indeed, apart from the relatively plain and somewhat uninspiring “End Credits” theme, these are his only contributions to the score, the rest of the original arrangement left to three rock musicians from The Black Mages. To add an appropriate cinematic element, would Square Enix not have been better employing a professional film score arranger to modify more of Uematsu’s works, leaving Fukui, Kawamori, and Sekito to create just the rock themes, not piano pieces and rubbish like “Water”? It’s not a mere coincidence the Divinity themes are among the best.
All the discussions of epic choral works, unworthy piano pieces, and diabolical fusions leave one last segment of the score to be discussed: the rock themes. Rock themes dominate the soundtrack, taking up approximately half the playing time, being especially skewed in the second half, which represents the seemingly endless array of battles during the movie. The listener cannot escape from the score’s rock basis — even the pleasant yet pointless ballad “CALLING” has a light rock touch — and that may well be a source of immediate alienation for many listeners. Unlike the arranged albums The Black Mages and The Black Mages II -The Skies Above-, the trio involved in creating the rock themes and arrangements do not always establish accessibility in their music, with Tsuyoshi Sekito being an especially weak force, creating a mixture of repetitive, lifeless, and oppressive arrangements of four classic themes and one original composition, which collectively add nothing constructive to the score. “Those Who Fight,” for example, opens with a heavily distorted take on a small portion of the original theme, only succeeded by a load of ambience and, eventually, an over-the-top guitar solo that leads to the extremely oppressive and abrupt conclusion. Further, “J-E-N-O-V-A” is effectively a rehash of The Black Mages‘ arrangement, except with different instrumentation, quite a bit of distortion, and the lack of a development section to avoid repetition. Even more disappointingly, the treatment of the Shinra theme in “Violator” quickly becomes tedious before relying on ambience and inappropriate solos in a desperate and failed attempt to bring back some interest, while Sekito’s collaborations with Keiji Kawamori in “Savior” and “The Great Northern Cave” also prove largely fruitless, too much lifeless rubbish getting in the way of occasional glimpses of melodic profoundness. Indeed, the score’s rock emphasis appears to be a massive disadvantage in places, resulting in stylistic inbalance and, in the above cases, a considerable loss of accessibility, the creations being unmelodious, unoriginal, and, quite often, unlistenable. Regardless of the action basis of the film, distorting the score so much with so many weak rock-based themes is completely unacceptable.
Fortunately, not all the rock on the score is flawed, particularly during Sekito’s absence. Kawamori produces one gem: “The Chase on the Highway.” Accompanying perhaps the best choreographed action sequence in the film, it is driven constantly by a Kawamori’s own electric guitar performance, which makes an often-repeated riff remain stimulating and suitably aggressive at all times. Its true power comes in three brief interludes, however, the first two of which feature a powerful and epic chorus while the final one sees the brief reappearance of the popular Turk’s theme. This is Kawamori’s big contribution on the score and it shows that, despite his inconsistency elsewhere, he is worthy of further projects, a promising guitarist and talented arranger. It is also fits the lengthy scene it is used in perfectly and is responsible for more adrenaline-pumping than any other theme from the score. Kenichiro Fukui also proves his versatility and skill once more. His pieces are generally successful: He convincingly combines rock and orchestral elements together in “Battle in the Forgotten City,” ensuring the melodic and harmonic progressions are breathtaking in places; he produces some of the better elements of “Black Water,” a collaboration with Tsuyoshi Sekito, which suffers somewhat from a hackneyed melody; and adds sufficient dynamism to “Those Who Fight Further,” despite its relative lack of melodic emphasis making it feel somewhat oppressive in places. It’s really “Advent: One Winged Angel,” perhaps the pinnacle of the score, that he truly proves his worth as a rock arranger, however. Featuring a full orchestra, complete operatic choir, a three-man rock band, and two talented arrangers, Fukui expands on the orchestral material of Hamaguchi’s Reunion Tracks of the most famous piece in Final Fantasy history provided in an altogether more intense atmosphere with its thick textures, aggressive bass riffs, superbly crafted electric guitar solos, and driving drum use, all within the framework of a symphonic performance and the theme’s oh-so-famous operatic vocals. Altogether more coherent, dominant, and meaningful than Hamaguchi’s initial arrangement, Fukui adds everything that is needed with great amounts of subtlety and sophistication, giving everything most rock-tolerant fans wanted.
What is the Final Fantay VII -Advent Children- Original Soundtrack? All the following appear to be adequate descriptions: It is a varied yet unbalanced score that features a variety of rock, piano-based, choral, and symphonic compositions, as well as an unnecessary ballad and a dire anomaly. It is a score with profound highlights such as the Divinity theme and “Advent: One Winged Angel” that fails to achieve any consistency thanks to repugnant rubbish such as “For the Reunion”, “Materia”, and “J-E-N-O-V-A”. It is a hypomorphically mutated hybrid of a game score and movie score that largely fails on a cinematic level yet doesn’t accompany a game contrary to its deceptive thematic separation. It is a score largely devoid of originality with its generic rock, bland piano-based ambience, and tedious “End Credits” theme, but with rare glimpses of ingenuity. It is an overall musical failure that is an unworthy successor to the Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack, one of Nobuo Uematsu’s most flawed scores to date. It does tarnish the Final Fantasy VII franchise, but remains popular for a reason, and that is its highlights, not the overall picture, which ensure it is an adequate fan service, albeit a disappointing one. Simply put, half a dozen tracks make it a very worthy purchase for the average fan who is able to tolerate rock, but any prospective listener should be aware that huge disappointments also await.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on January 19, 2016.