Home > Reviews > BREAKING DAWN, PART II – Carter Burwell

BREAKING DAWN, PART II – Carter Burwell

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The massively successful Twilight franchise reaches its conclusion with the the release of Breaking Dawn Part II, the fifth and final film based on Stephanie Meyer’s incomprehensively successful vampire romance novels that follows the relationship of Bella Swan and her undead paramour, Edward Cullen. Bill Condon returns to the director’s chair, picking up where the last film left off: following the birth of their hybrid child Renesmee, Bella begins her new life as a member of the Cullen vampire clan, and for a while life seems perfect for the newlyweds. However, before long, the Volturi – an ancient order of vampires who essentially set the laws of the vampire world – find out about Renesmee, and mistakenly believe that Edward and Bella have “turned” a human child, a terrible crime which carries the penalty of death for all involved. Fearing for their lives, the Cullens begin to traverse the globe, seeking out vampire allies, in the hope of convincing the Volturi that they have nothing to fear from Renesmee, thereby avoiding the unavoidable confrontation that could mean the end of Cullen family forever. Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson return to their most famous roles for the final time, and are supported by familiar faces Taylor Lautner, Michael Sheen, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Kellen Lutz, Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke, Maggie Grace and Dakota Fanning.

I know I’m not in their target demographic, but the popularity of the Twilight films themselves continue to confound me. The stories are dull and predictable, the acting is wooden at best, and far too much of the films seem to consist of scenes of Bella and Edward simply staring at each other, or of groups of vampires standing round in semi-circles listening to someone talk. I disliked each of the previous installments, and downright hated Breaking Dawn Part II due to its insulting and cheap-trick “twist” ending, but one constant which has been true throughout is that the scores have all been generally excellent, significantly outshining the films for which they were written and, in the case of both Alexandre Desplat on New Moon and Carter Burwell on the first Breaking Dawn, providing each composer with career high points. Burwell returns to score Breaking Dawn Part II and, like he did with Part I, he imbues it with an emotional and passionate score which is very much unlike the majority of the rest of his filmography.

The score opens with the “Twilight Overture”, a nostalgic and clever medley of music from each of the Twilight films to date, in which Burwell blends his own thematic material with Alexandre Desplat’s main theme from New Moon and Howard Shore’s theme for the ‘newborns’ from Eclipse. The clever way Burwell gets Bella’s theme to play in counterpoint with Desplat’s New Moon theme is superb, and the whole thing just seems to be a very classy tribute on Burwell’s part, acknowledging his fellow composers and their musical contribution to the franchise as a whole.

Much of the first half of the score is soft, romantic, and intimate; a musical reflection of the idyllic life Bella, Edward and Renesmee want, counterbalanced by a few moments in which Bella is starting to discover the extent of her vampire powers. Tender acoustic guitars, lyrical flutes and warm strings drive “Meet Renesmee”. Magical chimes, harps and vibrato-rich violins feature prominently in “Sparkles At Last”, “Catching Snowflakes” and the soaring “A Way With the World”. A sonorous oboe and a solemn, solo trumpet anchors the lovely “This Extraordinary Life” Most of the thematic content of these cues are deconstructed and re-arranged versions of “Bella’s Lullaby” – a couple of notes here, a chord progression there – mixed with the new melody of “Renesmee’s Lullaby”, which is performed on piano on-screen by Robert Pattinson and naturally shares a musical origin with the theme for Bella and Edward. The new lullaby appears again in the pretty “At Bedtime A Child Asks About Death”, a lovely piano and string duet for one of the film’s more touching scenes between Bella and her curious, innocent daughter.

Some of the contemporary electric guitar-driven rock music that typified the first Twilight score returns here, in cues such as “A World Bright and Buzzing”, “Here Goes Nothing” and “A Yankee Vampire”, although rather than the slightly grimy and grungy atmosphere that permeated most of the original score, these guitars are lyrical and strong, almost as if they are mimicking the new found life and awareness Bella feels as a new vampire. A couple of percussion- heavy sequences, such as “The Lamb Hunts the Lion”, “The Amazon Arrives” and “Cloud Forest”, also break the romantic tranquility, and hearken back to both the frenzied action music of the original score, and the tribal motif Burwell wrote for the Quileute werewolf clan in Breaking Dawn Part I, although in this instance some of these moments directly reference the arrival of the Brazilian vampires in the Pacific Northwest, whose presence later on the film proves vital. The Volturi also have their own musical element – dark, menacing Latin chanting with an ancient, decadent feeling – that appears prominently in cues such as ‘The Immortal Children” and “Something Terrible” .

However, the most striking thing about Breaking Dawn Part II is the action music that makes up most of its final third; with the exception of a few cues here and there on various films in the past, Burwell has never really had to write all-out action music before, but here the forces are massive: a 70-piece symphony orchestra recorded at Abbey Road in London, as well as a choir singing wordlessly and chanting in Latin, various electric guitars and synthesizers, plus an arsenal of percussion items keeping the beat. The result is truly impressive, and stands as some of the most powerful, dramatic and exciting music Burwell has ever written.

Cues such as the expectant “Gathering in Snow”, the darkly Gothic “Reading Edward”, the angelic “Magnifica”, the brooding and ominous “Irina Loses Her Head”, the pulsating “A Kick in the Head” and the brutal “Exacueret Nostri Dentes in Filia” (which, amusingly, translates as “we will sharpen our teeth on your daughter”) are all excellent appetizers before the main course. The thing absolutely explodes during “Chasing Renesmee”, “A Crack in the Earth”, and the apocalyptic “Aro’s End”, which reverberate with immense orchestral forces hitherto unheard from Burwell’s pen. They’re wonderful, and often incorporate fragments of the original Bella’s Lullaby theme into the fabric of the action, either as a brief leitmotif for Bella and Edward, or as a general overall theme representing the defiance of the Cullens in the face of the Volturi.

Everything ends, however, with a final restatement of Bella’s Lullaby in “Such a Prize”, bringing the score – and the franchise as a whole – to a close with a reminder that everything has been about one thing: a teenage girl’s difficult choice between necrophilia and bestiality. No, I’m joking of course, but it is appropriate that Burwell should return to his main thematic construct as Edward and Bella move on with their life together in immortality.

It’s also worth emphasizing that, despite the increase in the size and scope of the palette, Breaking Dawn Part II remains wholly a Carter Burwell score. It’s filled with the idiosyncratic chord progressions and harmonies that have typified his career to date, and is all the richer because of it. I’ve always wanted Burwell to reach out and explore his lyrical, emotional, action-filled side more extensively, having heard hints of it in many of his earlier scores, notably things like Rob Roy, Conspiracy Theory, Fargo, The Hi-Lo Country and others. He took Breaking Dawn Part I down this road, and has expanded on it further here in Part II, and the resulting work is really excellent.

Breaking Dawn Part II is an intelligently structured, thematically strong, instrumentally interesting, emotionally involving and powerfully dramatic score, easily one of the best of Carter Burwell’s career; I just wish it had been written for a better film, but you can’t have everything, and I’m certainly in the minority considering the $230 million it’s made during it’s first two weeks at the US box office. Even if the Twilight films themselves leave you cold, I unhesitatingly recommend the score as the best thing about the entire project.

Rating: ****

Buy the Breaking Dawn, Part II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Twilight Overture (3:02)
  • A World Bright and Buzzing (1:12)
  • The Lamb Hunts the Lion (1:59)
  • Meet Renesmee (2:43)
  • Here Goes Nothing (0:59)
  • Sparkles At Last (1:04)
  • Catching Snowflakes (1:41)
  • The Immortal Children (2:01)
  • Merchant of Venice (0:44)
  • Into the White (1:04)
  • Renesmee’s Lullaby/Something Terrible (3:03)
  • A Way With the World (1:38)
  • The Amazon Arrives (1:00)
  • A Yankee Vampire (1:07)
  • Cloud Forest (1:23)
  • Witnesses (1:37)
  • We Will Fight (0:57)
  • Shield Training (2:09)
  • At Bedtime A Child Asks About Death (1:14)
  • Decoding Alice (1:45)
  • The Driving Question (1:09)
  • Present Time (2:11)
  • This Extraordinary Life (2:11)
  • Gathering in Snow (2:45)
  • She Is Not Immortal (0:53)
  • Reading Edward (0:55)
  • Magnifica (1:10)
  • Irina Loses Her Head (2:52)
  • Aro’s Oration (2:48)
  • A Kick In the Head (0:58)
  • Exacueret Nostri Dentes in Filia (1:48)
  • Chasing Renesmee (1:20)
  • A Crack In the Earth (2:24)
  • Aro’s End (1:52)
  • That’s Your Future (0:52)
  • Such A Prize (3:25)

Running Time: 56 minutes 55 seconds

Summit Entertainment Records 7567-87619-0 (2012)

Music composed by Carter Burwell. Conducted by Carter Burwell and John Ashton Thomas. Orchestrations by Carter Buwell, Sonny Kompanek and John Ashton Thomas. Additional music by Chris Willis. Theme from New Moon by Alexandre Desplat. Theme from Eclipse by Howard Shore. Recorded and mixed by Mike Farrow. Edited by Adam Smalley. Album produced by Carter Burwell.

  1. November 29, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Nice review! Now if only they sold the score in unmarked paper bags…

  2. Edmund Meinerts
    December 3, 2012 at 5:46 am

    I think it’s interesting to note that the climactic action cues “A Crack in the Earth” and “Aro’s End” are actually co-written by Christopher Willis. Interestingly, he has also contributed additional music to a number of Henry Jackman scores including Gulliver’s Travels and X-Men: First Class. So maybe Burwell really did feel out of his depth providing action music of that kind of stature. Doesn’t take away from how surprisingly good his scores have been for the final two entries, though.

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