TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS – Steve Jablonsky
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
I’ve been rather hard on Steve Jablonsky over the years. Back in 2004, after he wrote his magnificent score for the Japanese animated film Steamboy, I confidently predicted that he would go on to become “the next John Powell,” and follow in the illustrious footsteps of his one-time Media Ventures colleague to become one of Hollywood’s best composers. It’s true that, financially, many of Jablonsky’s films have done very well. His quartet of Transformers films were gargantuan box office successes, and his quartet of classic horror movie reboots – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street – all grossed more than $50 million each. Unfortunately, the music that has accompanied these films has, for me, been mostly disappointing, especially considering the wonderful heights that Steamboy attained. Parts of scores like The Island, Dragon Wars, and Your Highness remain guilty pleasures, and with the benefit of hindsight the original Transformers score has actually held up remarkably well over time, but most of the rest have been predictable and by-the-numbers, contributing greatly to the endless parade of boring Hollywood summer blockbuster scores that all sound the same and have no soul. As such, going into the score for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I had mentally prepared myself for another entry in a long catalogue of mind-numbing dumbed-down action scores. However, I’m very happy to report that my expectations were significantly surpassed, to the point where I can confidently say that, for me, this score is Jablonsky’s best work in almost a decade.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is the second film in Paramount’s reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, which is itself based on the classic 1980s comic book/animated TV show created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Directed by Dave Green, it continues the adventures of the four amphibian heroes –Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo – as they battle to save New York from the forces of the evil samurai Shredder and the alien warlord Krang, with the help of intrepid reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett), and hockey mask-wearing vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).
Brian Tyler wrote one of his most enjoyable action scores for the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in 2014, and thankfully Steve Jablonsky has continued in very much the same vein for the sequel. Disappointingly, but understandably, Jablonsky has not retained any of Tyler’s thematic ideas, but his contribution does boast a similar sense of fun, energy, and orchestral bombast. The Turtles seem to have, in a fit of luxuriousness previously unknown in a Jablonsky score, three themes: a bold trumpet fanfare, a more elaborate and flourishing action motif, and a more powerful percussive idea that often plays contrapuntally to one of the first two themes.
The bold trumpet fanfare, which has more than a hint of “Arrival to Earth” from Transformers about it, is first heard in the opening cue, “Squirrel Formation.” Despite being accompanied by the usual rapid-fire electronic enhancements and chugging cello ostinatos, the theme has an unexpected freshness to it, a boldness and a vitality, and the clarity and optimism of the brass performances are very appealing. Further statements of the main Turtles motif are often incorporated into the action music, which tends to be thick, densely orchestrated, but generally exciting. Cues such as “Tartaruga Brothers,” “Shredder Escape,” and the conclusive “Brothers” feature especially noteworthy performances of the theme. Meawhile, in “Become Human,” the theme is surrounded by magical-sounding electronic chimes, major-key string crescendos, and a definite sense of regret, remembrance, and sorrow.
The percussive idea, which I am calling the ‘Tartaruga ostinato’, first appears during the similarly named “Tartaruga Brothers” cue, and is a five-note rhythm for heavy Taiko-style drums. It has the same sort of dense, relentless feeling as Brad Fiedel’s Terminator rhythm, but with a more organic sound, and its appearances in the score allow a sense of seriousness to accompany some of the Turtles escapades. It is regularly used to underpin the action material, especially in cues like “Shredder Escape,” which for me is the pick of the score’s numerous action tracks.
The second Turtles theme is more fun and flamboyant, with a set of triplet-heavy brass fanfares that allow the heroism and camaraderie of the Turtles to come to the forefront of the score. It is first heard towards the end of the aforementioned “Shredder Escape,” but receives its most prominent statement in the ebullient, infectious, and memorable “Turtle Power,” one of the score’s standout tracks.
The other thematic ideas relate to the villains, Shredder and Krang. Shredder’s theme is ominous, threatening, and aggressive, and is built around a six-note idea for thunderous Taiko drums, other Japanese percussion ideas, crushing electronics, and very low cellos, doubled with a basso profondo choir. The Shredder theme acts as a herald to his malevolent presence; subsequent cues such as “Shredder Escape,” “Transformation,” “Foot Clan Chase,” and “Launch the Beam” feature his theme strongly, with the latter cue noteworthy for its dark, ominous cello variation, and its choral finale.
Meanwhile, the ideas for Krang are of the abstract electronic variety, screeching and pulsing, almost heralding a return to the horrors of Battleship and the dreaded MRI machine. I’m not entirely convinced that Krang’s identity is entirely successful from a musical point of view, but Jablonsky is at least consistent about developing it as a genuine leitmotif, and the way he combines both the Shredder theme and the Krang material in cues like “Technodrome Assembles” and “Turtles Meet Krang” is cleverly appointed.
As the score builds to its conclusion, through cues like “Jump,” “Just One Sip,” Toy Chest,” “Fight on the Technodrome,” and “Close the Portal,” Jablonsky lays on the action material quite thickly, blending performances of all five main thematic constructs with contemporary action stylings. Some of these finale cues do feel a little repetitive and overbearing – there’s only so much of this one can take – but Jablonsky has to be commended for his adherence to a predominantly orchestral sound, and the overall tuneful musicality of the score as a whole. His Turtles score doesn’t have the soul-crushing darkness of a Batman vs. Superman or Man of Steel, for example, which makes it feel like a breath of fresh air in comparison. Also worth mentioning are the stylish orchestrations, coordinated by lead orchestrator Penka Kouneva, which often find the time to throw in an interesting brass or string texture to keep the music lively.
It’s interesting how, as time goes on, your opinions shift with the glow of nostalgia. A decade ago I would have probably written quite a scathing review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, but listening to it now, in 2016, it feels like a fun throwback to a less cynical era in super hero film-making. Steve Jablonsky’s music isn’t high art, nor is it meant to be. But what it does do is accompany one of the most ludicrous comic book creations of all time, and successfully provide a coherent musical structure, with themes and motifs, emotional catharsis, and the right amount of energy so that you can almost – almost – take all of this seriously. Besides, who can’t love a score where the final cue is a high-octane updating of the classic TV show theme tune, which was co-written by sitcom über-producer Chuck Lorre? Heroes in a half shell indeed. Cowabunga!
Buy the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Squirrel Formation (3:02)
- Shredder (3:38)
- Tartaruga Brothers (3:00)
- Baxter Stockman (2:25)
- Shredder Escape (6:27)
- Krang (5:01)
- Turtle Power (2:30)
- Transformation (3:11)
- Foot Clan Chase (3:05)
- Casey Jones (2:28)
- Become Human (1:48)
- The Falcon (3:04)
- Jump! (5:16)
- Launch the Beam (1:10)
- Technodrome Assembles (1:53)
- Just One Sip (4:42)
- Toy Chest (2:26)
- Turtles Meet Krang (4:18)
- Fight on the Technodrome (2:13)
- Close the Portal (2:34)
- Brothers (2:51)
- Half Shell (written by Dennis Brown and Chuck Lorre) (1:49)
Running Time: 68 minutes 51 seconds
Paramount Music (2016)
Music composed by Steve Jablonsky. Conducted by James Sale. Orchestrations by Penka Kouneva, Larry Rench and Jeremy Borum. Additional music by Gary Dworetsky, Dave Fleming, Jay Flood and Corey Allan Jackson. Recorded and mixed by Alan Myerson. Edited by Carlton Kaller and Kevin McKeever. Album produced by Steve Jablonsky.