Home > Reviews > DRAGONHEART 3: THE SORCERER’S CURSE – Mark McKenzie

DRAGONHEART 3: THE SORCERER’S CURSE – Mark McKenzie

dragonheart3Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The enduring longevity of the Dragonheart film series is one of the most unexpected in current mainstream cinema. Surprisingly, we are now on the third film, following the original movie back in 1996, and the first sequel – ‘A New Beginning’ – in 2000. This new film is actually a prequel to the original film, and tells the story of a young squire named Gareth (Julian Morris), who goes in search of a ‘comet’ he observed falling from the sky, which he believes holds enough gold for him to train to become a knight. However, instead of finding a comet, Gareth finds a dragon named Draco (voiced by Ben Kingsley) who is being hunted by an evil sorcerer. After Draco saves Gareth’s life, the two quickly become friends, and begin to work together to defeat the sorcerer and stop his reign of terror. The film is directed by veteran British TV director Colin Teague, and has an original score by Mark McKenzie.

A new score by Mark McKenzie is always a special event. The Minnesota native’s cinematic output has been limited over the years – he has written just 20 or so scores since he made his film music debut in 1991 – but his works include such stunning musical successes as Frank & Jesse, The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, Durango, The Lost Child, and Blizzard, as well as the second Dragonheart movie, and his crowning glory, the 2011 animated film The Greatest Miracle. McKenzie’s status as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand and acclaimed orchestrators clearly translates into his own work, which more often than not is rich and full-bodied, instrumentally, with a grand scope and a sense of expansive beauty. Dragonheart 3: The Sorcerer’s Curse is something of a departure for McKenzie in that, for the first time in his career, his film’s budget did not allow him to use live musicians, forcing him instead to rely on samples to create his score. While for some this will be a disappointing development, McKenzie himself chose to look at this as a positive thing, a challenge to come up with the best score he could, given the technical and aural limitations he had to overcome. The end result – while certainly lacking the sheer power and emotion that only a live orchestra can provide – is nevertheless an enjoyable and entertaining romp, bolstered by McKenzie’s compositional excellence, which more than makes up for the lack of dynamism in the recording itself.

Right from the outset, in the powerful “Clans Stirred to War,” McKenzie’s music is bold and beefy, with a series of noble-sounding horn-based themes which convey the traditional ‘sword and sorcery’ conventions of the genre. The action music, which comprises quite a lot of the generous album’s running time, is more energetic and ballsy than we are used to hearing from McKenzie; anyone used to his sweeping romance and lush religioso themes may be surprised to hear him pumping so much adrenaline here. An increased percussion section, playing dense and complicated rhythms, and large wet brasses, including at one point an entire bank of trombones, give the music depth and muscle, with cues such as “First Attack,” the second half of “Smoke Trick Rescue,” and “A Knight Is Sworn to Valor,” being notable standouts.

Elsewhere, cues like “Jousting Final Test to Knighthood,” “Shadow Hopping” and the aforementioned “A Knight Is Sworn to Valor” have a Celtic overtone to them, with woodwind ideas, a touch of medieval dance-like lyricism, and even an occasional bagpipe or two, parts of which remind me of cues such as “Einon” from the original Dragonheart score. Other tracks, like “The Poor Are First to Suffer and First to Help,” and the lovely “Bathing Beauty,” employ a sampled choir to add a sense of wonder and mystery while, conversely, cues like “Dragon and Eggs Discovered” and parts of “Smoke Trick Rescue” lead down a path of horror and tension, with nervous pizzicato strings, stark piano clusters, and descending brass scales. The former of these cues is especially notable for going some way to capturing Gareth’s fear at his potentially terrifying reptilian discovery.

Respectfully, McKenzie also includes several performances of Randy Edelman’s classic Dragonheart theme from the first movie: its appearances in cues such as “Shared Heart,” “A Knight Is Sworn to Valor,” “Goodbye My Friend,” and “Battle to the Death” are welcome reminders of the series’s musical origins. Edelman’s Dragonheart theme has always been one of my favorites, and its inclusion here is a positive one, tying the series together from a musical point of view.

The score’s finale, comprising the cues “Clans Arrive For War,” “Battle to the Death” and “Final Victory and End Credits,” is a 20-minute action extravaganza, featuring some of the most brutal and complicated battle music McKenzie has ever written. Deep, pounding percussion rhythms are overlaid with chanting choral effects, meaty blasts from the brass section, swiftly undulating string runs, and an occasional bagpipe outburst, as well as several surreptitious statements of the B-phrase from Edelman’s Dragonheart theme, building on the more prominent outbursts of the main melodic line mentioned earlier. The final few moments of “Final Victory and End Credits” really rise to epic proportions, as Edelman’s Dragonheart theme reaches its apex and once more heads to the stars.

From a purely compositional point of view, Dragonheart 3 is a great score, full of all the things we have come to expect from Mark McKenzie: moving themes, intellectually sound dramatic development, clever and creative orchestrations, and plenty of heart and passion. However, I have to point out the score’s one shortcoming: the fact that the score is entirely sampled does limit its sonic range, and may turn off those who are used to McKenzie’s music being performed by a traditional symphony orchestra. Anyone with an ear for these things can easily tell the difference between live and sampled instruments, and if that sort of thing bothers you, consider yourself forewarned. Personally, I am choosing to concentrate on the positives, which include all the things I have mentioned before about quality theme writing, emotional range, and interesting instrumental ideas. The most positive thing of all, however, is that Mark McKenzie is actually scoring movies – I have written before about my desire for him to score more than one movie every 18 months, and the quality of his writing for Dragonheart 3 just further increases that desire.

Buy the Dragonheart 3 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Clans Stirred To War (4:55)
  • Jousting Final Test to Knighthood (1:56)
  • Pay Up! (1:29)
  • One Rejected Knight (3:14)
  • The Poor Are First to Suffer and First to Help (4:32)
  • Dragon and Eggs Discovered (3:49)
  • Shared Heart (4:13)
  • Show Us This Dragon (1:59)
  • Follow Me (1:03)
  • First Attack (1:21)
  • Gareth On Fire (2:31)
  • Smoke Trick Rescue (4:40)
  • Like a Thorny Vine (1:34)
  • Bathing Beauty (2:23)
  • Shadow Hopping (1:46)
  • Wrong Assumptions (0:20)
  • Desires Can Spoil a Dream and a Heart (2:39)
  • A Knight Is Sworn to Valor (7:04)
  • Honor Is In Their Every Word (0:49)
  • Goodbye My Friend (2:34)
  • Clans Arrive For War (4:31)
  • Battle to the Death (6:42)
  • Final Victory and End Credits (9:56)

Running Time: 76 minutes 17 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD- (2015)

Music composed, arranged and performed by Mark McKenzie. Original Dragonheart theme by Randy Edelman. Edited by Marc Perlman. Album produced by Mark McKenzie.

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  1. Craig Pursley
    March 23, 2015 at 4:18 am

    My only (slight) problem with your lavish review of Mark McKenzie’s music is that it wasn’t lavish enough. I certainly concur with the wish that he did more. I believe there is none better at this craft- alive or dead! Thanks for a very knowledgeable review.

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