Home > Reviews > SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS – Harry Gregson-Williams


sinbadlegendofthesevenseasOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The second of summer 2003’s pirate movies, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, is by a long way one of the most enjoyable orchestral romps to emerge from the Hollywood studio system in several years. What’s ironic is that both this score and its sibling, Pirates of the Caribbean, should both have been written by Media Ventures alumni, Harry Gregson-Williams and Klaus Badelt. What’s most impressive is that they are as different as chalk and cheese, with Gregson-Williams treading a well-worn path of orchestral exuberance, dating back to the time of Korngold and Rozsa, and the old Sinbad scores of Bernard Herrmann and Roy Budd.

There have been many Sinbad movies, many of them from the camp of pulp animator/film-maker Ray Harryhausen. This Sinbad is, of course, fully animated – the latest movie to come from the Dreamworks stable following the likes of The Prince of Egypt and Shrek. Directed by Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson, with a screenplay by John “Gladiator” Logan, this version re-imagines Sinbad (Brad Pitt) as a pirate from the city of Syracuse, who is wrongly accused of stealing the mythical Book of Peace (which was stolen by a mischievous goddess Eris, voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer). Sinbad’s best friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), the Prince of Syracuse, vouches for Sinbad’s honesty, and agrees to be executed in his place if Sinbad cannot reach the fabled land of Tartarus and retrieve the book from Eris before an allotted span of time has expired. And so, Sinbad sets sail for dangers unknown, accompanied by his faithful right-hand man Kale (Dennis Haysbert), and Proteus’ beautiful feisty and beautiful fiancé, Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who, of course, falls for Sinbad.

Since Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell unofficially “split” and started tackling more high-profile projects on their own, I have to say I have been more impressed with Gregson-Williams’s efforts. The Englishman has worked on a number of interesting movies, with pleasingly varied musical results. The core of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is grand, lively, orchestral power, grounded by a prominent, memorable main theme. The theme’s melody is written predominantly for brasses, and is first heard in ‘Let the Games Begin’, re-appearing with pleasing regularity throughout the score. Almost every cue has some performance of the central theme somewhere. However, this is a double-edged sword. Film music fans (myself included) often decry albums which have very little thematic content, while more respected classical critics tend to consider overbearing, theme-led scores as childish or somehow “immature”, as though their presentation of solid, memorable tunes somehow implies a lack of true orchestral knowledge and an over-reliance on crowd-pleasing cliché.

Having said that, I personally have to applaud Gregson-Williams for not rocking the boat on Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. As John Debney did on Cutthroat Island almost a decade ago, he has trodden the well-worn path set down by his predecessors and simply added his own stylistic spin to the pirate music genre. Only occasional references to Antz and Chicken Run , and the staccato sensation in the music that occurs as a result of intentional, imperceptible pauses in the performance, give it away as being a Harry Gregson-Williams score, while the brief electronic elements in ‘Lighting Lanterns’ and ‘Rescue!’ remind the listener that this is the work of a former Media Ventures man, with the spectre of Hans Zimmer occasionally rearing its head.

Many reviews of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas have claimed that the score is rather monothematic in nature, but in actuality nothing could be further from the truth. Gregson-Williams does present his central theme, first heard in ‘Let the Games Begin’, with pleasing regularity, but it is far from a one-note score. A secondary theme, depicting Sinbad’s heroism and his relationship with Marina, appears at regular intervals, and although the string-and-choir combination is very reminiscent of his work on Shrek, Gregson-Williams nevertheless makes cues such as ‘Syracuse’ and ‘Sinbad Returns and Eris Pays Up’ sparkle. A bassoon-led “mystery” theme appears in several cues where stealth and caution are called for. The very opening moments of ‘Let the Games Begin’ feature this motif, accompanied by a mischievous-sounding choir, and it re-appears later in ‘Eris Steals the Book’, ‘The Stowaway’, ‘Surfing’ and others.

Action plays a large part of the proceedings also, with cues such as ‘The Sea Monster’, ‘The Giant Fish’, ‘The Roc’ and the immense ‘Tartarus’ taking centre stage. In each of these cues Gregson-Williams puts the London orchestral ensemble to the test with minute after minute of fast-paced, intricate, and above all LOUD music. ‘The Roc’ is worth noting for its wonderful opening note, an enormous call on an exotic brass instrument which mimics the cry of the massive bird that threatens the crew.

One true standout cue is track 11, ‘Sirens’, in which Gregson-Williams presents a masterful merging orchestral dexterity with vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott and her cohorts. Written several months prior to the rest of the music as underscore for a scene where Sinbad and his shipmates are lured into danger by the deadly song of a group of sirens, Gregson-Williams turns the cue into a uniquely breathy, almost orgasmic ballad of seduction and peril. Cleverly, the vocals grow more insistent as the cue wears on, continually calling to the unwary sailor, while the orchestral performance becomes wilder, and more ragged, as if trying to resist the sirens charms.

In a year where there have been more film music misses than hits, and when scores which promised much have generally failed to deliver, it is a breath of fresh air to hear something like Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. While it may be wholly predictable, and while it certainly treads no new ground in its music depiction of buccaneers and their cinematic adventures, this is still one of 2003’s most enjoyably raucous scores. As an example of fine, modern orchestral and choral film music, you are unlikely to find better.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Let the Games Begin (3:04)
  • The Book of Peace (1:41)
  • The Sea Monster (3:32)
  • Sinbad Overboard (3:27)
  • Syracuse (1:16)
  • Proteus Proposes (1:12)
  • Eris Steals the Book (1:53)
  • Lighting Lanterns (1:29)
  • The Stowaway (2:35)
  • Setting Sail (1:40)
  • Sirens (3:22)
  • Chipped Paint (2:52)
  • The Giant Fish (1:05)
  • Surfing (3:04)
  • The Roc (2:00)
  • Heroics (2:11)
  • Rescue! (2:18)
  • Is It the Shore or the Sea? (3:28)
  • Tartarus (10:12)
  • Marina’s Love/Proteus’s Execution (2:02)
  • Sinbad Returns and Eris Pays Up (7:45)
  • Into the Sunset (2:22)

Running Time: 63 minutes 50 seconds

Dreamworks B0000733-02 (2003)

Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott, Donna DeLory, Shaune Ann Feitz and Deena Rizzo. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Richard Whitfield. Mastered by Dave Donnelly. Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams and Slamm Andrews.

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