Home > Reviews > TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – Brian Tyler

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – Brian Tyler

teenagemutantninjaturtlesOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage for a few years when I was a kid in the 1980s, although to be fair I didn’t know they were ninjas until quite some time later, thanks to the busybody interference of the self-appointed guardian of Britain’s national morals, Mary Whitehouse, who decided that showing children scenes of ninjas doing things with nunchaku would contribute to the decline of a generation. To me they will always be the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, and no-one can tell me otherwise, although looking back I now realize I never was entirely sure how Michelangelo defeated his foes with nothing more dangerous than a slice of pizza. This has been an astonishingly long-lived franchise – with the world having already been exposed to three separate animated TV series, a Japanese anime, and a live-action TV series, we are now on our fifth movie based on the characters originally created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, following the original three movies in 1990, 1991 and 1993, and the 2007 CGI flop “TMNT”. This latest installment is essentially an origin story reboot of the entire story, stars Megan Fox and Will Arnett, and is directed by Jonathan Liebesman.

The music of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films doesn’t have the most distinguished history; Monty Python music maestro John Du Prez scored the first three films, but very little of his music saw the light of day on CD, and Klaus Badelt wrote a decent but little-remembered action score for TMNT in 2007. Enter Brian Tyler; having become Marvel’s go-to guy for music, with the scores for Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World already under his belt, and the score for Avengers: Age of Ultron yet to come, Tyler looks set to challenge Hans Zimmer for the title of King of All Super-Heroes, and his score for the Turtles continues the trend of him writing strong, powerful, thematic orchestral scores in the grandest symphonic traditions.

Brian Tyler has been writing wonderful music for Jonathan Liebesman’s films for over a decade, ever since he scored the director’s feature debut, Darkness Falls, in 2003, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues the trend. Anyone who has listened to a Brian Tyler action score in the last four or five years will know exactly what to expect: a large orchestra, a large choir, a strong main theme, lots of complicated action writing, and a sense of scale and volume that few composers can match these days. The main theme, first heard in the opening cue “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and reprised fully in the conclusive “TMNT March”, is a belter: brass-heavy, powerful, heroic, and often accompanied by a soaring choir. It has a few superficial similarities to his themes from both Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, but on the whole this is immaterial. Tyler is pretty much the only guy writing memorable, recurring themes for super hero movies these days, and we need to be thankful for that fact alone.

The action music, by and large, is fast, dense, and lots of fun. Cues like the astonishing “Splinter vs. Shredder”, “Turtles United”, “Shellacked”, “Shortcut”, “Cowabunga”, and the enormously exciting “Adrenaline” are barnstormers. Most of them feature strong performances of the main theme, and all are embellished by flamboyant touches in the string phrasing, the brass countermelodies, and in the percussion patterns that underpin everything. “Splinter vs. Shredder” and “Shortcut” are especially noteworthy, with their chanted choral parts, back-and-forth brass writing, furiously slashing string runs, complicated rhythmic elements, and general sense of epic grandeur. For the most part, the electronic elements of the score are kept to a bare minimum, simply doubling the percussion or adding a secondary level of bubbling bass. It’s unobtrusive, but maintains a level of ‘coolness’ for contemporary audiences.

By way of comparison, some of the brass triplets remind me a little of James Horner’s most recent action music, especially scores such as Avatar and The Amazing Spider-Man, while some of the horn/flute trills recall Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek music. Similarly, the penultimate cue “Buck Buck” has a touch of the best parts of Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel about it; to be clear, all of these things are good things.

To hint at the Oriental origins of the quartet, Tyler peppers his music with an occasional taste of the land of the rising sun, with trilling Japanese bamboo flutes and immense taiko drums underpinning several tracks. Cues such as the aforementioned “Splinter vs. Shredder”, “Origins” and “Shredder” play up this aspect of the score, and give it a different flavor than some of its contemporaries that is very appealing.

If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a downside, it’s its total and utter lack of subtlety. I’m not saying that a comic book film about crime fighting amphibians requires the restraint and sensitivity that a more grounded movie needs – things need to be larger-than-life – but Tyler scores almost every scene in the film with apocalyptic bombast, as though every moment is the most important moment of the story, and by the end of the 70-minute album I can anticipate some listeners will find the whole thing a little overwhelming. There’s very little sense of anticipation, build-up and catharsis; the score whangs you over the head from the first moment of the first cue, and continues whanging you over the head virtually the entire time until it’s all over.

As such, there only a few moments of downtime. “Adolescent Genetically Altered Shinobi Terrapins” has some soothing choral work, an intimate piano element, and a mystery-shrouded little cello figure reminiscent of Tia Dalma’s theme from the third Pirates of the Caribbean film. Later, “Origins” features some lovely harp glissandi, “Brotherhood” features an emotional string-and-choir theme that is quite exquisite, and “Rise of the Four” revisits the emotional choral panache heard during the opening moments of the first cue, before segueing into yet another rousing performance of the main theme. Finally, at the very end of “Buck Buck” a soothing electronic guitar element comes to take center stage, providing a sentimental, but defiantly contemporary coda to all the chaos.

Having covered those caveats, I have to say that in terms of sheer entertainment value, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most enjoyable scores of 2014 for me so far. Unpretentious scores which kick ass while wearing their hearts on their sleeves are hard to come by these days; too many scores, especially in the super hero genre, have begun to take themselves far too seriously, eschewing escapist entertainment in favor of tortured, dark tales of retribution and twisted morality. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the antidote to all that, but being unpretentious and entertaining doesn’t mean sacrificing musical creativity or compositional dexterity, which Tyler once again proves he has in spades.

Buy the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (4:45)
  • Adolescent Genetically Altered Shinobi Terrapins (4:31)
  • Splinter vs. Shredder (6:25)
  • Origins (6:02)
  • Brotherhood (1:19)
  • Turtles United (4:10)
  • Rise of the Four (3:34)
  • The Foot Clan (3:17)
  • Shellacked (6:47)
  • Project Renaissance (1:57)
  • Shortcut (4:41)
  • Shredder (5:59)
  • Cowabunga (4:35)
  • 99 Cheese Pizza (1:49)
  • Adrenaline (6:26)
  • Buck Buck (4:11)
  • TMNT March (2:07)

Running Time: 70 minutes 02 seconds

Atlantic Records (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Brian Tyler. Orchestrations by Brian Tyler, Robert Elhai, Brad Warnaar and Robert Lydecker. Recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes. Edited by Joe Lisanti. Album produced by Brian Tyler.

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  1. costas chrysanthacopoulos
    August 13, 2014 at 4:31 am

    is there going to be an official cd release of the score?

  2. Adam Krysinski
    August 14, 2014 at 1:35 am

    No. According to Brian’s FB page, CD won’t be released – “I always want a CD release too but unfortunately that decision isn’t up to me. But we did an extra careful job mastering this to make it sound awesome in this format”

  3. Ron
    September 2, 2014 at 5:39 am

    I’m a big fan of Tylers work, but in my opinion the TMNT score fails in every way and feels wrong compared with well known TMNT themes… Yes, the 2007 Movie was a flop but has some of the best tunes Badelt ever wrote… it’s a shame that score is little recognized….And I love the John Du Prez scores… Tyler should have quote them. Giacchino would have done it:-)

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