Home > Reviews > FEARLESS – Anne Kathrin Dern

FEARLESS – Anne Kathrin Dern

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Fearless is an animated family action/sci-fi/comedy written and directed by Cory Edwards which premiered on Netflix in August 2020. It tells the story of a high school teenager named Reid, who spends an inordinate amount of time playing a video game called Planet Master. One day, while playing the game, a cosmic wormhole contrives to send the three children of the game’s protagonist, Captain Lightspeed, out of the game and into the real world, where they end up outside Reid’s house. The children are all imbued with various different super-human abilities – think Jack-Jack from The Incredibles, times three – which Reid suddenly has to deal with as he takes care of them and waits for Captain Lightspeed to come and take them back to his dimension. Unfortunately the game’s villain, Dr. Arcannis, has also discovered the wormhole, and hatches a plot to kidnap the children and finally defeat his nemesis. The only thing standing in his way: Reid. The film features voice performances by Yara Shahidi, Miles Robbins, rapper Jadakiss, R&B singer Miguel Pimentel, Gabrielle Union, basketball superstar Dwyane Wade, and SpongeBob SquarePants himself Tom Kenny, and has a terrific original score by the super-talented young German composer Anne Kathrin Dern.

It’s been very gratifying to see how Dern’s career has blossomed over the years, since I first encountered her music in 2017 via her sumptuous score for the Chinese period drama The Jade Pendant. In each subsequent score I have heard from her – Lilly’s Bewitched Christmas, Hilfe Ich Hab Meine Eltern Geschrumpft, the epic Mongolian live horse show The Legend of the War Horse, and Sprite Sisters from earlier this year – she has continually impressed me with her determination to write bold, thematic, fully-orchestral music in the face of prevailing trends, and she does it with no small amount of skill and panache. Her music has been championed by Mikael Carlsson via his record label Moviescore Media, which has released four of her works, and now we can add Fearless to her list of excellent achievements.

First; the bad news. The soundtrack album, which was released on the wonderfully-titled Zorg Limited label, contains just three of Dern’s cues, amounting to just 8 minutes and 48 seconds of music. In fact, the entire album is woefully incomplete; in addition to Dern’s score the album contains five original tracks from artists signed to hip-hop superstar Jay-Z’s Roc Nation agency (Mel Carter, who performs the tracks “Survivor” and “Us Come Together” is Jay-Z’s nephew, for example). But, even with this, the released music amounts to just over 22 minutes, which is nowhere near enough to be able to provide a comprehensive overview of the music the movie contains, and this is doubly disappointing once you realize just how good Dern’s score is.

The three cues – “Captain Lightspeed,” “Time To Be Fearless,” and “Wherever Heroes Are Needed” – are examples of classic-contemporary super hero music of the highest order. Fully orchestral, recorded at Abbey Road with the London Metropolitan Orchestra, and featuring orchestrations by Elliot Goldenthal and Michael Kamen’s former regular associate Robert Elhai, Fearless is a bold, exciting throwback that provides superb entertainment. It’s all built around a rousing, heroic main theme for the film’s central protagonist, Captain Lightspeed himself. In the cue named for him the theme slowly emerges from a bed of rich brass and lightly rapped snares, and eventually explodes with positive, major key gusto. It has a similar energy to the most rousing John Powell anthems – think Hancock, or parts of How to Train Your Dragon – and once it gets going it blisters around the orchestra, horns blazing, strings churning, percussion thundering, the slightest hint of a choir. The final flourish of notes at the end of the theme is pure James Horner (compare the sequence from 0:41 to 0:46, and several times thereafter, with the passage from 8:22 to 8:29 in “A Coward No Longer” from The Four Feathers, for example) – and, don’t get me wrong, the Horner allusion is entirely complementary, as anyone who knows me will understand. It’s just fantastic, one of my favorite main themes of the year.

The second cue, “Time To Be Fearless,” begins a little more introspectively, with more focus on pianos and woodwinds accompanied by strings, but the Captain Lightspeed theme is never far away, as Dern’s chord progressions throughout the track mirror those of the heroic march. Some more subtle choral accents and more noble horns add to the emotional content of the piece, giving the whole thing even more of a warm and appealing Horner vibe. Just after the two minute mark a new theme emerges, darker and more imposing with commanding brass, which I can only assume is a motif for the evil Dr. Arcannis character; then, for the rest of the cue Dern is in full-on action mode, putting the Captain Lightspeed theme through a number of staccato arrangements, and juxtaposing it against the overbearing Arcannis theme. It’s all full-throttle, energetic orchestral goodness, full of triumphant brass fanfares and surging strings. The final cue, “Wherever Heroes Are Needed,” is more of the same, and again features understated and emotional passages for piano and strings, lyrical woodwind writing, and several statements of the Captain Lightspeed theme, all of which build up to a magical finale filled with chimes and an angelic chorus.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the album is woefully incomplete in terms of Dern’s score, and at this point I’m going to do something I don’t usually do, and that is also talk about the more comprehensive score promo that Dern put out for awards consideration earlier in the year. This 13-track promo contains 22 minutes of Dern’s score, and fully reveals its depths in a way the commercial album cannot.

Much of the music is the same – the “Opening – Captain Lightspeed” is basically a concert overture of the main theme, “Time To Be Fearless” is essentially a reprise of the same cue from the OST, and the conclusive “Goodbye” mirrors much of “Wherever Heroes Are Needed” – but the rest of it contains some variations that are absolutely worth exploring. “Stealing Babies,” for example, has some wonderfully dark spacey-textures, including eerie synth and orchestral dissonances, slurred collapsing trombone motifs, and elegantly cold writing for woodwinds and glockenspiel, as well as what appears to be the first appearance of the Dr. Arcannis theme.

“Military Ambush” is a brilliant cue for a volley of resounding horns and militaristic percussion, underpinned with some glockenspiel textures and unexpected moments of pizzicato and col legno in the strings that give it an unusually comedic undertone. Further statements of the Captain Lightspeed theme abound in tracks like “Landing on Earth,” the urgent-sounding “Radio Communication,” and the serious and dramatic “A Way Out,” the latter of which also reprises some of the more dissonant textures from earlier in the score.

A galumphing motif for brass and woodwinds appears in “Earth,” and feels like it was written for the evil villain’s comedy sidekick. “Borrowed Time” is anticipatory, with striking brass writing, flowing strings, and a sense of impending danger. The terrific “Baby Chaos” has a hint of John Williams-style mischief to it, especially in the way Dern uses glockenspiels and sprightly, endlessly moving string figures to capture the anarchic energy of Captain Lightspeed’s raucous children; it puts me in mind of things like Home Alone and The Witches of Eastwick, which are not bad things to emulate at all. “The Absorption Chamber Is Ready” initially has a sense of dread, which is counterbalanced by some boldly heroic writing for brass and percussion (especially around the 45 second mark) that ushers in the final burst of energy and high stakes orchestral mayhem in “Take Away His Powers,” before a final rousing statement of the Captain Lightspeed theme brings it all home.

Considering the fact that a commercial soundtrack album for Fearless exists, I don’t know how likely it is that another label will be able to release the rest of Dern’s score as a standalone release, but film music soundtrack producers please take this review as a plea to do just that. Fearless is a tremendous score from top to bottom – fully orchestral, creative, heroic, bombastic, thematically strong – and it deserves to be heard and showcased as more than just an 8-minute afterthought at the back end of a bunch of R&B, hip-hop, and pop songs. As for Anne Kathrin Dern herself; well, yet again, she’s cementing her reputation as one of the most talented and exciting young composers to emerge in film music in the last five years or so, and I hope her career continues to go from strength to strength.

Buy the Fearless soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • COMMERCIAL RELEASE
  • Magic [Fearless Mix] (written by Levi Hicks and Dan Frank Johnson, performed by Leegit) (3:15)
  • Survivor (written by Ramel Carter and Samuel Jean, performed by Mel Carter) (2:38)
  • Imperfect (performed by KIA & Anne Kathrin Dern) (2:54)
  • Big Picture (written by Samuel Jean, performed by Goodito Frito feat. Pariis Noel, Lorenzo Burez, and Neek Bucks) (2:53)
  • Us Come Together [Real-Enough Remix] (written by Ramel Carter and Samuel Jean, performed by Mel Carter feat. Goodito Frito) (4:15)
  • Captain Lightspeed (2:17)
  • Time To Be Fearless (4:21)
  • Wherever Heroes Are Needed (2:10)
  • SCORE PROMO
  • Opening – Captain Lightspeed (1:47)
  • Stealing Babies (1:23)
  • Military Ambush (1:16)
  • Landing on Earth (0:44)
  • Earth (0:43)
  • Radio Communication (1:18)
  • Borrowed Time (1:02)
  • Baby Chaos (1:45)
  • Time To Be Fearless (3:56)
  • A Way Out (2:04)
  • The Absorption Chamber Is Ready (1:36)
  • Take Away His Powers (2:08)
  • Goodbye (2:22)

Running Time: 22 minutes 26 seconds (Commercial Album)
Running Time: 22 minutes 04 seconds (Score Promo)

Zorg Limited (2020)

Music composed by Anne Kathrin Dern. Conducted by Andy Brown. Performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai, Andres Montero and Ryan Humphrey. Additional music by Christopher Byrum Harris and Lars Hempel. Recorded and mixed by Jake Jackson. Edited by Anne Kathrin Dern. Album produced by Anne Kathrin Dern and Klaus Badelt.

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