Legend of the Guardians -The Owls of Ga’Hoole- Original Videogame Soundtrack

Legend of the Guardians -The Owls of Ga'Hoole- Original Videogame Soundtrack Album Title:
Legend of the Guardians -The Owls of Ga’Hoole- Original Videogame Soundtrack
Record Label:
WaterTower Music
Catalog No.:
N/A
Release Date:
October 26, 2010
Purchase:
Buy at CDJapan

Overview

In 2010, the Guardians of Ga’hoole series of owl-based children’s stories was adapted into both a film and a related video game by Warner Bros. Winifred Philips was a respectable choice to score the franchise — after all, she previously worked on the game adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had previous experience as an author of fantasy short stories. The composer carefully matched the tone and mythology of the game using a range of orchestral tracks, many of which have a cinematic structure. Though the game sold unsurprisingly poorly, Phillips released the soundtrack through iTunes to a well-orchestrated publicity campaign. Let’s take a closer look at this somewhat deceptive release…

Body

Though principally targeted towards children, the tone of the Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole video game soundtrack is actually rather dark, given both the sinister nature of the game’s plot and, of course, the nocturnal nature of the protagonists. This is immediately reflected with the opening of “Into the Blackness”, where Phillips oddly blends influences of typical cinematic composers (Elfman, Desplat) with dark romantic symphonists (Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky) to create a fairly unique, yet incohesive, sound. The frequent use of orchestral suspensions and broken woodwind phrases supports the emergence of mystery, though the writing is too sparse and derivative to be especially immersive. The understated action section thereafter also supports the evolution of the opening cinematic, but the development has a rambling quality and the orchestration sounds more inelegant than avant-garde. Phillips was clearly aiming to produce something deep and experimental here, but only partially succeeds.

Phillips continues to attempt a deep fantasy sound on subsequent tracks on the soundtrack, while focusing more on existing cinematic conventions. Many will recognise clear parallels between “The Gathering” with David Hirschfelder’s film score. Phillips does an excellent job of conveying a brief yet bittersweet calm with beautifully evolving woodwind solos and a gorgeous string section from 0:42. Though a contextual highlight, several obnoxious elements — for example, overexuberant harp work and derivative string suspensions — prevent it from being quite as fascinating or emotional as it could have been. Of similar note, the horror soundscapes of “Nightmare”, the pensive wanderings of “Legends”, or elegaic chorus of “The Fallen” may considerably enhance the diversity of the score with their extensive development and convincing implementation; however, Phillips tends to exaggerate and labour every element to achieve the desired emotional effect as directly as possible, at the loss of some maturity.

It is perhaps with the surprisingly numerous action tracks that Phillips demonstrates the greatest command of orchestra and chorus. For example, “Attack at Dawn” is a wonderfully vibrant orchestration that blends stabbing string discords with heavy bass and percussion elements. In fact, it is so melodramatic that it wouldn’t be out-of-place in the God of War series (for which the composer had a small role in), although this may not be appropriate for a children-targeted owl-themed franchise. “Wild Fire” is perhaps better targeted for the game, given its extensive ethnic percussion and woodwind use echoes the flapping wings and hoots of the owls, and is among the genuinely fascinating additions to the soundtrack. Returning to the more derivative pieces, the closer “The Guardians” highlights the power of the score’s chorus at full might. Given the material that precedes, it is a suitably pompous end to the score and will appeal to those with a taste for the epic.

The award-winning headlining theme of the game soundtrack, “With Hearts Sublime”, is written in the spirit of Elvin hymns from other mythological franchises. Phillips establishes a fantasy aura by blending ethereal vocals with understated orchestration. These tried-and-tested foundations create a beautiful fantasy aura and evoke imagery of the skies. However, the song lacks both the length and the substance to compare with greats such as “I Am the One” from Dragon Age: Origins or even “Let It Be” from The Fellowship of the Ring. The vocal performance is entirely serviceable, but lacks the breathtaking effect of masterpieces, in part due to the sparing development of the melody. The instrumental arrangement leaves much to be desired, taking a minimalistic approach with harp and strings that could have been artistic were each element not exploited or laboured with overexuberant arpeggios and suspensions. It is this illusory artistry that is all too abundant on the score.

Summary

Mostly dominated by competent yet trite cinematic orchestrations, there is nothing particularly exceptional about the music of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole when it is stripped down. Phillips succeeds in portraying the fantasy theme and dark mood of the game effectively, while offering a number of contrasting highlights for a stand-alone listen. However, this soundtrack does attempt to sound deeper than what it is — portraying mystery derivatively, crisis melodramatically, and emotion oversentimentally — while mixing and matching influences quite clumsily. This approach no doubt suits the game, with its grandiose ideas and verbose script, yet can be deceiving on a stand-alone level. A more thoughtful and sincere approach similar to the film score would have been more pleasing.

Legend of the Guardians -The Owls of Ga’Hoole- Original Videogame Soundtrack Chris Greening

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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.


About the Author

Chris Greening

I've contributed to websites related to game audio since 2002. In this time, I've reviewed over a thousand albums and interviewed hundreds of musicians across the world. As the founder and webmaster of VGMO -Video Game Music Online-, I hope to create a cutting-edge, journalistic resource for all those soundtrack enthusiasts out there. In the process, I would love to further cultivate my passion for music, writing, and generally building things. Please enjoy the site and don't hesitate to say hello!



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