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SHIPWRECKED – Patrick Doyle


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Despite writing what is generally considered to be one of the greatest debut scores in film music history in 1989 for Henry V, Patrick Doyle was for some reason slow to capitalize on this success. His sophomore work was not for another prestigious drama or major studio feature, but was instead for this film: Shipwrecked, a sort-of Norwegian version of Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe. The film was adapted from the popular series of historical novels by Oluf Vilhelm Falck-Ytter about the character Hakon Hakonsen, a young Norwegian boy in the 1850s who takes a job as a cabin boy on a ship to support his family, and subsequently has a number of fantastic adventures on the high seas. The film was directed by Nils Gaup, stars Stian Smestad, Louisa Haigh, and Gabriel Byrne, and was released by Walt Disney in the United States in 1991 several months after it was released to general critical and popular acclaim in its home country.

Even at this early stage in his career, with just two scores under his belt, Doyle’s personal compositional stylistics were clearly apparent. Shipwrecked is a quintessential Doyle work, filled with all the idiosyncrasies that make his music so unique – the constant use of undulating strings under the melody, the staccato percussive writing, the trilling woodwinds doubling against the brass, the immediately recognizable chord progressions and instrumental combinations. Whereas Henry V was the blueprint for Doyle’s serious dramatic scores, Shipwrecked is the original blueprint for his fantasy-adventure writing, and would later go on to be enhanced and adapted in scores such as Into the West, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Quest for Camelot, Secondhand Lions, and – to a lesser extent – his Harry Potter and Thor scores. Shipwrecked is also one of Doyle’s first real experiments in monothematicism, something that would crop up later in scores like Eragon; the vast majority of Shipwrecked is based around a single recurring main theme, which plays in one form or another in almost every cue.

The main theme for Shipwrecked is sort of a cross between a Korngold-style swashbuckling adventure, a romantic depiction of Norwegian culture á la Grieg, and a sea shanty, with a broad lyrical style and a memorable melodic line that moves between brass and strings. The first appearance of the main theme comes at 0:30 of the “Opening Titles” and is ubiquitous thereafter. A jig-like idea for a flurry of strings backed by jaunty woodwinds is introduced at 0:52 – this idea is usually used as a lead-in to the main theme, but it sometimes plays as a standalone motif representing Hakon’s life on the high seas. The fact that the main theme is heard in almost every cue makes describing their appearances redundant; literally, it appears in almost EVERY cue, so it’s perhaps more interesting to talk a little about what else Doyle does, because there are some interesting little nuggets that offer fascinating foreshadowings of several scores in his future.

“Death of Howell” is a darker piece, interested in shifting string figures that have a sense of menace, representing the film’s main antagonist, the pirate Merrick, who murders an unsuspecting crewman so he can take his place on Hakon’s ship. “Homecoming” initially reprises the main theme on warm, inquisitive woodwinds, and then there is a slower, more romantic version of the theme that plays throughout “Off to the Sea” and has a tone very much like the love themes Doyle would pen for literary heroines like Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing or Elizabeth Lavenza from Frankenstein. The subsequent rousing statements of the main theme towards the end of that cue (and later in “Flora Departs”) are magical, especially when they are heralded by spine-tingling cymbal clashes.

“Scrubbing the Deck” is quirky and playful, filled with little stop-start pizzicato ideas based around deconstructed parts of the main theme. “Captain Madden is Poisoned” is unusual in its orchestration, darting between pizzicato textures and muted horns, while clattering xylophones and marimbas dance around underneath a different deconstruction of the main theme. Doyle introduces an action motif in “Mary Is Rescued,” wherein part of the main theme is transformed into a volley of trilling horns and swirling strings underpinned with xylophones, tambourines, and other shaken and rattled percussion. This cue, as well as parts of the subsequent “Hakon Survives a Fall,” feels like the genesis of the rich and dark action music from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dead Again, or Carlito’s Way, although unfortunately the orchestra does seem rather under-powered here. Whereas “Grand Central” and “The Creation” rattle the windows with their intensity, the action here feels understated and a little hesitant in comparison. Despite this, the compositional technique remains outstanding, classic Doyle.

Elsewhere “Exploring the Island” uses a palette of unusual woodwind textures in combination with light chimes to capture the exotic nature of the island on which Hakon and the crew have been marooned after the shipwreck. “Treasure Is Found” is light and magical, with fluttering woodwinds and bright metallic percussion representing the discovery that may allow Hakon and the crew to return home; this continues into the subsequent “Building the Traps” and “Hakon Builds His Boat,” which cleverly blend parts of the main theme with the prancing ideas from the Treasure motif, the exotic orchestrations from the Island motif, and the pizzicato ideas from Hakon’s playful ‘scrubbing’ motif, the latter representing his youthful ingenuity.

The shifty motif that represents the duplicity of Merrick returns briefly in “Pirates Discovered,” before one final action cue in “The Chase,” which features swelling chords like the undulations of the sea, lively darting string runs, and pizzicato textures that move between strings and harps, all underpinned by a rapidly tapped percussion rhythm. “Home to Norway” builds on the action writing from the previous cue, but gives it more depth and dramatic weight through the increased use of brass, before the two-part “End Titles” provide a wonderful six-minute summation of the score, including several superb statements of the main theme at its most rousing, most adventurous, and most emotionally satisfying.

Historically, Shipwrecked has been one of the rarest scores in Patrick Doyle’s discography. Following its initial release in the spring of 1991 it disappeared out of print almost immediately, and quickly became a highly sought-after collectible, with copies going for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. It is, of course, all readily available online now via various streaming sources, but physical copies of it are almost impossible to find for reasonable prices.

Although it is by no means one of Patrick Doyle’s best scores, Shipwrecked nevertheless remains an interesting and important stepping stone in his career. When taken in combination with his staggeringly brilliant debut Henry V, these two scores essentially offer the origins of all the great ‘Doyleisms,’ the familiar compositional techniques and stylistic ideas that have persisted in his music over the last thirty years. As I said before, if Henry V is the origin of the dramatic and the choral Doyle sound, then Shipwrecked is the origin of everything fun and adventurous about the Scotsman’s music. It’s bold, heroic, entertainingly upbeat, and contains one of the composer’s most compelling earworm main themes.

Buy the Shipwrecked soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Titles (1:41)
  • Death of Howell (1:04)
  • Homecoming (1:01)
  • The Sheriff’s Arrival (1:14)
  • Off to the Sea (2:05)
  • Scrubbing the Deck (2:24)
  • The Flora Departs (0:53)
  • Captain Madden Is Poisoned (1:57)
  • Hakon Finds Mary (1:15)
  • Mary Is Rescued (1:42)
  • Exploring the Island (1:23)
  • Dreaming of Home (1:09)
  • Hakon Survives a Fall (1:30)
  • Treasure Is Found (1:09)
  • Building the Traps (1:54)
  • Hakon Builds His Boat (1:59)
  • Pirates Discovered (1:36)
  • The Chase (2:02)
  • Home to Norway (3:38)
  • End Titles – Part I (2:43)
  • End Titles – Part II (3:29)

Running Time: 37 minutes 52 seconds

Walt Disney Records 60614-2 (1991)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by Robert Ziegler. Orchestrations by Lawrence Ashmore, Fiachra Trench and Mark Watters. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble and John Richards. Edited by Roy Prendergast. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

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