Home > Reviews > YOUR HIGHNESS – Steve Jablonsky

YOUR HIGHNESS – Steve Jablonsky

yourhighnessOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

While not quite a spoof in the same way that Robin Hood: Men in Tights was a spoof, Your Highness nevertheless is a lighthearted variation on those medieval costume dramas, in which damsels in distress and knights in armor do battle with dangerous enemies and fall in love in the forest. Directed by David Gordon Green, the film stars Danny McBride and James Franco as Thadeous and Fabious, a pair of royal knights – one a lazy oaf, the other a noble warrior – who team up with a warrior princess named Isabel (Natalie Portman) to rescue Fabious’s virginal bride-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of Leezar (Justin Theroux), an evil sorcerer. The film also stars Toby Jones, Charles Dance and Damien Lewis, and has an original score by Steve Jablonsky.

Films with this kind of swash and buckle and derring-do have often inspired great scores, going all the way back to Erich Wolfgang Korngold and The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938, and encompassing works by such varied composers as Miklós Rózsa, John Barry and Michael Kamen. Steve Jablonsky enters this mix off the back of his massively popular and successful Transformers scores, and is clearly attempting to recapture the scale and scope of those scores here by combining a large symphony orchestra, choir, and various medieval solo instruments, with Lisbeth Scott’s vocal work, and a whole host of electronic samples, textures and effects.

On the one hand, I have to say that on a base level I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this score. Despite its slight echoes of his over-egged Transformers scores, the music has a generally upbeat and pleasing timbre. Once in a while interesting solo instruments – a violin here, a pennywhistle there, an unusual middle-eastern flute texture somewhere else – make guest appearances and give the score a fleeting ancient flavor, and the choir, when it rises to the fore, adds a level of grandeur.

The action music, in cues such as “The Virgin is Plucked”, the exotic “A Fistful of Snakes”, “The Effening” and the wonderfully-titled “Orgy of Violence” is tremendously exciting; fast, complicated, effortlessly energetic cues which give the orchestra a real workout, and which regularly emerge into one of those stirring and heroic power anthems that Jablonsky and Zimmer have so often employed. Occasionally some of the action cues have a tendency to lapse into the patented orchestral-rock that Jablonsky used in his Gears of War video game score, and which has also cropped up in other Remote Control efforts dating all the way back to Crimson Tide and The Rock, but they’re still fun to listen to in and of themselves. On several occasions, especially in the later cues such as “Labyrinths and Humps”, Jablonsky’s music even begins to enter horror territory, with impressionistic explosions of orchestral carnage which is very effective.

At the other end of the scale, the theme for Isabel, heard in “Isabel the Strong” and later in “Til We Meet Again”, is just lovely, featuring delicate harp and woodwind performances, a sweeping string-led restatement, and gorgeous vocalizations by Lisbeth Scott. There’s also an intentionally funny song, “The Greatest Most Beautifullest Love Song In All The Land”, performed by Zooey Deschanel and James Franco in character, and which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Franco is as bad at singing as he is at hosting the Oscars.

However, the one thing I can’t shake off while listening to the score is just how out-of-place and anachronistic it sounds for a film of this type. I’m not one of these people who automatically dismisses anything electronic, I’m not someone who automatically assumes that anything which takes in the past has to be an all-orchestral affair, and I certainly understand that the producers likely wanted to have a hip, modern vibe to the score and asked Jablonsky to oblige, but even in comedies there has to be more than a passing sense of historical and geographical appropriateness; Elmer Bernstein understood that when he wrote all those terrific spoofs back in the 1980s, and Christopher Lennertz understood that when he wrote scores like Meet the Spartans and Vampires Suck – parody scores which are actually better than the scores for the films being parodied.

Right from the opening cue, “Let Us Quest”, Jablonsky’s electronic textures give the score a defiantly modern twist. Thadeous’s theme, heard in the opening cue and later throughout the score in cues such as “Goodbye My Tinys”, “Not in My Castle”, “Kill-Trophy and the Warrior’s Birth”, is given a rousing sendoff in the conclusive “Thadeous”, and sounds for all the world like a combination of Vangelis’s equally anachronistic music for 1492: Conquest of Paradise and the vaguely comedic Jack Sparrow theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, or even Zimmer’s gypsy-flavored Sherlock Holmes. It’s clearly meant to insinuate that this film’s hero has a similar mischievous twinkle in his eye, but unfortunately makes him come across as a bit of a cut-price buccaneer.

The whizz-bang synth effects in the aforementioned “The Virgin is Plucked” and the frenetic “Mean Knights and Horsies O’ My!” sound more like they should be underscoring a space battle than knights on horseback, while the unearthly textures of “Leezar’s Date, Belladonna’s Hate” sound like cheesy 1950s sci-fi. Similarly, the wailing rock electric guitars in “Here Come the Marteetee” and “Heroes Unite” sound more like metal biker gang music (despite the clear allusions to the crew of the Flying Dutchmen – another tip of the hat to the Pirates of the Caribbean films).

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, following his wonderful score for Steamboy in 2004, much of Steve Jablonsky’s career since then has disappointed me. I thought his Transformers scores were trite and predictable, I barely remember his work on The Island, and I didn’t care much for his horror efforts in the new versions of The Amityville Horror or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Your Highness is probably the best thing Jablonsky has written since Steamboy, but even that is faint praise, as Steamboy was so amazing, and this score doesn’t really come close to matching that score’s energy or creativity. People who enjoy Jablonsky’s sound – and, by extension, the recent works of Hans Zimmer – will probably find much of Your Highness to their taste, but despite its strong points it’s not something I will be returning to regularly.

Rating: ***

Buy the Your Highness soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Let Us Quest! (4:29)
  • Isabel the Strong (4:30)
  • Goodbye My Tinys (2:53)
  • Best Man (1:26)
  • The Greatest Most Beautifullest Love Song In All The Land (performed by Zooey Deschanel and James Franco) (1:33)
  • The Virgin is Plucked (3:04)
  • Not In My Castle (1:43)
  • Leezar’s Date, Belladonna’s Hate (1:21)
  • Playful Secrets! (1:52)
  • Mean Knights and Horsies O’ My! (3:16)
  • Here Come the Marteetee (2:27)
  • A Fistful of Snakes (1:47)
  • Isabel Thrashes (2:36)
  • Muldiss Darton, City of Lore (1:39)
  • The Same Betrayal As Before (0:59)
  • Labyrinths and Humps (5:21)
  • Kill-Trophy and the Warrior’s Birth (1:45)
  • The Effening (1:02)
  • Tis I, Thadeous the Hero (1:57)
  • Heroes Unite (1:05)
  • Orgy of Violence (6:35)
  • ‘Til We Meet Again (1:50)
  • Way of the Warriors (1:11)
  • Thadeous (3:52)

Running Time: 60 minutes 14 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-7071 (2011)

Music composed by Steve Jablonsky. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Orchestrations by Suzette Moriarty, Penka Kouneva, Frank Macchia and Geoff Stradling. Featured musical soloists Phil Ayling, George Doering, Clay Duncan and Satnam Ramgotra. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott. Recorded and mixed by Jeff Biggers. Edited by Katrina Schiller. Album produced by Steve Jablonsky.

  1. PT
    April 9, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Disappointing score from a composer who I once regarded as the dark horse and future of mv/rc. I used to be a great believer in the mv/rc concept, but with every “new” score released I’m growing ever more tired of the same old [censored].

  2. mastadge
    April 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I agree with PT. Steamboy was good fun, and I thought the first Transformers was one of the most enjoyable of the MV action scores — not sophisticated, but the familiar tropes were rendered very well, much better than usual. But now with his disappointing video game work I’m just losing interest in rooting for him. I really hope that Jablonsky has the opportunity to step it up soon.

  3. Miles Blitch
    April 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Actually, the electronic elements in the score were not meant to make it “hip” or “modern,” they were there to emulate the music for the 70s-80s fantasy films that “Your Highness” pays tribute to, such as “Labyrinth” and “Legend.” Some of those scores did aspire to be “hip” and “modern,” but “Your Higness” is meant to evoke nostalgia. I think that if you take that into account, then this score may be more palatable to you. I certainly think that Jablonsky will really come into his own if he continues in this vein.

  4. April 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    It could have been so much better, but I had a pretty fun time with this cast and the humor, even though I do feel like a lot of it was too centered below-the-belt. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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