Home > Reviews > HANCOCK – John Powell

HANCOCK – John Powell

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A super-hero with a self-loathing problem, and a penchant for causing more damage than is necessary when he uses his ‘powers’. A city who doesn’t like the super-hero. A victim who, after being saved, decides to try to overhaul his hero’s image. This is the story of Hancock, one of many super-hero films to hit cinemas in 2008, the latest film from director Peter Berg, which stars Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman and Eddie Marsan.

Along for the ride is the incredibly busy British composer John Powell, for whom Hancock was the fifth score of 2008 (after Jumper, Horton Hears a Who, Stop Loss and Kung-Fu Panda). As befits the character of Hancock, there’s a slight sense of bitterness and despondency in Powell’s music, counterbalancing the super-hero action. It all works wonderfully well. There’s also a great deal of good, old fashioned orchestral excitement, as well as a touch of jazz, which comes as startling relief in contrast to the overbearing hogwash which usually accompanies films of this type – an irony indeed, considering Powell’s roots at Media Ventures.

The opening cue, “SUV Chase” is a superb construct, pitting a wonderfully retro jazz theme, all Hammond organs and blaring trumpets, against a modern orchestra/electronics combo. Cues such as this are perfect examples of how synthetic and electronic enhancements and contemporary compositional techniques can be used in such a way as to enhance the orchestral component to great effect, and puts composers like Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Djawadi, and the others who unsuccessfully try to do the same thing, to shame.

The action music is dense, complicated and exciting, and often makes use of unexpected touches in the orchestration, ensuring that each cue has a life of its own, and is consistently interesting to listen to. There are flying bongos at the beginning of “Train Disaster”, heroic horn triplets in the magnificent “To War”, and by the time the fabulous “Hollywood Blvd” kicks in to high gear with its delicious brass flurries, muted gong crashes, intoxicating percussion and ebullient rhythms, one can’t help but smile.

In fact, the entire finale – from “Hollywood Blvd” through to the conclusive “The Moon and the Superhero” – is a 20 minute master class in inventive scoring. The seemingly disparate musical styles and instrumental touches meld together perfectly, resulting in a musical collage that is enjoyable on a superficial level, but also stands up to intense scrutiny on a deeper, more technical level. The action moments sit perfectly with the more downbeat moments of introspective reflection, such as “Death and Transfiguration”, while the conclusive moments of the score in “The Moon and the Superhero” (despite being clearly influenced by Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man scores) are wonderfully stirring. It’s also perhaps no surprise to see the name of Jane Antonia Cornish listed in the list orchestrators – someone with her talent and orchestral know-how will certainly bring something positive to the table.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s also a great deal of light lyricism to some of the cues, as well as a touch of sprightly comedy, as the likes of “John, Meet Ray” attest. “Meatballs” introduces finger-snaps as a rhythmic device which carries through much of the rest of the score, “Superhero Comix” and “Mary Brings meatballs” are lovely pieces of soft Americana with warm acoustic guitars, while “Getting Therapy” introduces a wonderful, upbeat theme anchored by a gorgeous duet between cello and accordion – an unexpected combo which works tremendously well. At the other end of the scale, “The Trailer” is a wistful piece which hints at Hancock’s loneliness and alcoholism, and makes superbly soulful use of a solo Gospel vocalist.

Listening to this score alongside dross like The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Get Smart really makes you realize how far we have to go to get back to the time when scores of Hancock’s quality were the rule, not the exception, in terms of summer blockbuster films. John Powell is developing into a composer of great skill and technique, with an ear for superb orchestral nuance, memorable themes, and interesting arrangements. In a summer where box office records have tumbled like dominoes, Hancock stands are one of its most accomplished and enjoyable musical by-products.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • SUV Chase (2:01)
  • John, Meet Ray (2:05)
  • Train Disaster (2:40)
  • Meatballs? (0:57)
  • The Trailer (2:00)
  • French Asshole (1:32)
  • Superhero Comix (0:44)
  • You Should Go! (0:51)
  • Mary Brings Meatballs (1:33)
  • Getting Therapy (2:18)
  • To War (1:19)
  • I Really HATE That Word (0:48)
  • Standing Ovation (1:06)
  • The Kiss (2:20)
  • Indestructible (2:05)
  • Hollywood Blvd (6:24)
  • Mortal (5:27)
  • Upon Us All (1:19)
  • Death and Transfiguration (3:55)
  • The Moon and the Superhero (3:13)

Running Time: 44 minutes 45 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6908 (2008)

Music composed by John Powell. Conducted by Pete Anthony, Don Harper and Blake Neely. Orchestrations by Jane Antonia Cornish, John Ashton Thomas, Dave Metzger, Randy Kerber, Brad Dechter, Germaine Franco and Kevin Kliesch. Additional music by James McKee Smith, John Ashton Thomas and Henry Jackman. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Katie Greathouse Album produced by John Powell.

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