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TOMORROWLAND – Michael Giacchino

tomorrowlandOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Tomorrowland is a family fantasy-adventure film about the power of dreams and imagination. Directed by Brad Bird, it stars George Clooney as Frank Walker, a genius inventor who, as a child, was transported to a mysterious parallel universe known as Tomorrowland with the help of a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and a magical iconic pin badge. Years later, Frank joins forces with a rebellious but cheerful genius teenager named Casey (Britt Robertson), who has also come into possession of a Tomorrowland pin, in order to avert a possible catastrophe. However, forces are in play who do not want Frank and Casey to succeed. To reveal more of the film’s plot would do it a disservice, but it wouldn’t be revealing too much to say that Tomorrowland is very much a reflection of Walt Disney’s own personal philosophies about science, technology, imagination, and optimism, as can be seen in his theme park attractions in Disneyland in California, and Epcot in Florida. This celebration of youthful enthusiasm, curiosity about the environment around us, and the ways in which humanity can come together to make the world a better place, is the driving force of the film, which espouses a hopeful worldview limited only by what we can imagine is possible. The film is an enjoyable romp, and a visual triumph, anchored by Clooney’s laconic good natured central performance.

The score for Tomorrowland is by the increasingly in-demand Michael Giacchino, working with Bird as a director for the fourth time after The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Unlike many contemporary directors, Brad Bird is still very much in the market for old-school themes-and-variations scores, and thankfully, Giacchino is the man for that sort of job. Twenty years ago, John Williams or James Horner would have been the first choices to score this film, and Giacchino’s music follows very much in their classical vein: it’s fully orchestral, making use of a large ensemble, and a prominent choir, and is built around a trio of recurring themes which work their way through several spectacular set-pieces of action and excitement.

Stylistically, in terms of Giacchino’s canon, Tomorrowland has the wide-eyed brightness and childlike persona of Super 8, blended with the action writing from Star Trek, and the emotional pathos of his Lost TV scores, which makes for some delicious music indeed. The themes are less to do with specific people, and more to do with concepts and ideas. The film itself is concerned with imaginative ideas that transcend time and space and even people, so it makes sense that Giacchino would construct his musical architecture around these things rather than writing actual character motifs.

The first theme, which seemingly represents both the concept and reality of Tomorrowland itself, is introduced at the end of the opening cue, “A Story About the Future,” as it builds from a pretty piano solo into a rousing, heroic theme bolstered by brass triplets. The second major theme appears for the first time in “You’ve Piqued My Pin-Trist,” and appears to relate to the relationship between Frank and Athena, which begins in their childhood, and gradually follows them throughout both their lives. It’s a warmly nostalgic piece, playful and light, which cleverly plays around in the same harmonic world as the Tomorrowland theme, before switching into a rousing performance in the cue’s second half, accompanied by rolling, syncopated piano lines. The subsequent “Pin-Ultimate Experience” blends multiple performances of the Tomorrowland theme and the Frank/Athena Relationship theme into a magical journey that explodes with joy; the echoing brass build up, and subsequent crescendo in the cue’s second half, is just wonderful.

The score’s third major theme appears for the first time, briefly, in “Boat Wait, There’s More,” softly on French horns, before being afforded its first significant performance in “Edge of Tomorrowland”. This theme appears to relate to the concept of ‘science and discovery’ – whether it’s a discovery made by one of the characters, or acknowledging the discoveries made by others in the past – and is the theme that is superficially similar to John Williams’s “grail theme” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. As such, it will be somewhat distracting to those who know Williams’s music well, but I’m sure its resemblance is completely coincidental. Its performances in later cues, notably the different variations in the staggering “What An Eiffel,” reinforce the sense of majesty and power inherent in the theme.

Action music plays a big part in the score; pianos and percussion often lead the way in these cues, presenting interesting rhythmic ideas and drum patterns around which the rest of the orchestra dances. Cues like the aforementioned “Edge of Tomorrowland,” the impressive “World’s Worst Shop Keepers,” the vividly violent “All House Assault,” and the tremendously energetic “The Battle of Bridgeway” are especially florid and creative, dashing around and across different sections of the orchestra with reckless abandon, as well as briefly working in snippets and flashes of the three main themes as the leitmotif idea allows. For example, the Frank/Athena Relationship theme features regularly in “Edge of Tomorrowland,” as that scene concerns Frank trying to catch up with Athena on his jet pack, while in “All House Assault” the Tomorrowland theme crops up on ragged, muted trumpets, insinuating that the origin of the robots attacking Frank’s house is not quite what one might expect. Some of the action music often recalls the best moments from scores like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and even Up, in that it has a similar sense of speed and movement.

Elsewhere, playful harpsichord ideas offset by horns and pizzicato strings give both “Casey V Zeitgeist” and the first half of “People Mover and Shaker” an unusual, mischievous quality. The solemn performance of the ‘Discovery’ theme in “Frank Frank” gives Casey’s first encounter with him just the right amount of trepidation, while the off-kilter woodwinds, prominent plucked double bass, watery piano writing, and unusual rhythmic center of “Sphere and Loathing” gives it an unsettling atmosphere. Similarly, the ghostly choral writing and lonely, heartrending solo brass performances in the unexpectedly dark “As the World Burns” make it a dramatic highlight of the score.

The score’s finale, comprising the cues “The Hail Athena Pass,” “Electric Dreams,” and “Pins of a Feather,” revisit all the score’s significant thematic ideas in wonderful fashion, providing an appropriately bold and thematically satisfying conclusion to the album. The large-scale, hugely emotional performance of the Frank/Athena Relationship theme in “Electric Dreams” is spine-tingling, especially when the choir kicks in during the cue’s second half, while the specially arranged suite in the “End Credits” is outstanding – it’s a shame that so few composers have the opportunity to write original, specific end title pieces anymore.

2015 is shaping up to be a stellar year for Michael Giacchino. Having already impressed with the sci-fi adventure Jupiter Ascending, the score for Tomorrowland just sets the bar even higher for his next two scores, the eagerly-awaited Jurassic World, and the Pixar animated film Inside Out. What I like most about Tomorrowland is how it mirrors the ideas of the film in its music: creativity, innovation, and brilliance abound, in the application of the themes, in the lush and interesting orchestrations, and in the emotional impact of numerous cues. Fans of John Williams and James Horner’s whimsical adventure scores from the 1980s and 90s will find plenty to whet their appetite here, as will fans of Giacchino’s melodic fantasy-styled scores, such as Super 8 and Star Trek. As a musical depiction of Walt Disney’s own aspirations for the future, Tomorrowland pushes all the right buttons and hits all the right marks, standing as one of the year’s best scores to date.

Buy the Tomorrowland soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A Story About the Future (0:54)
  • A Prologue (1:29)
  • You’ve Piqued My Pin-Trist (3:27)
  • Boat Wait, There’s More! (1:08)
  • Edge of Tomorrowland (5:17)
  • Casey V Zeitgeist (1:23)
  • Home Wheat Home (0:42)
  • Pin-Ultimate Experience (4:53)
  • A Touching Tale (1:36)
  • World’s Worst Shop Keepers (3:34)
  • Just Get In the Car (1:42)
  • Texting While Driving (0:47)
  • Frank Frank (1:18)
  • All House Assault (4:04)
  • People Mover and Shaker (5:26)
  • What An Eiffel! (6:56)
  • Welcome Back, Walker! (2:31)
  • Sphere and Loathing (2:21)
  • As the World Burns (4:24)
  • The Battle of Bridgeway (2:52)
  • The Hail Athena Pass (0:59)
  • Electric Dreams (4:40)
  • Pins of a Feather (5:19)
  • End Credits (5:26)

Running Time: 73 minutes 11 seconds

Walt Disney Records BVPR005022 (2015)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec, Marshall Bowen, Dave Giuli and Susie Benchasil Seiter. Featured musical soloists Richard Todd, Mark Gasbarro and Gloria Chang. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Alex Levy. Score produced by Michael Giacchino.

  1. May 30, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Great review, Jon. Really dug this score, definitely need to give it a few more spins. A few quick thoughts I had initially upon hearing the score (seeing it in the film, of course). What stuck out to me at the time as the “main theme” is what you call the “Discovery” theme, this one seemed to pop out as the most distinct and heroic melody. I personally had been calling it “The Promise of Tomorrowland” theme, as it seems to play during the moments related to Plus Ultra and the best that Tomorrowland has to offer. This theme actually reminds me a bit of Horner’s main “Rocketeer” theme due to its old-fashioned, brassy optimism, very Copland-esque.
    The other theme that stuck out, and that after listening on album is my favorite theme is the “Athena” theme, certainly the emotional heart of the score. Every time I hear this theme though, I can’t help but think of “Princess Leia’s Theme”, something about the melody and structure seems to be closely modeled after that piece, whether intentionally or not. In fact, when playing in full grandeur mode, my mind ever over-dubs the same brass harmonies that go with the Williams cue.
    The “Main Theme” ironically, is the one that seems least effective, or at least distinct, certainly the general harmony and rhythm is nice, but doesn’t have the same hook for me as those other two themes, which is a tad disappointing… or maybe I’m just missing something.
    Anyways, despite some heavy lifting of other scores, Giacchino never disappoints, and if he is borrowing from others (not meant as an insult, I simply think this music is deep in his DNA), he’s definitely taking from the very best, and is perhaps the only A-level composer these days who consistently seems to deliver these types of scores. What a year he’s giving us!!

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