Film scores

Soundtrack review: Jupiter ascending (Michael Giacchino – 2015)

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Michael Giacchino is on my list of composers to get excited about right up there with Brian Tyler on the “Oh my god oh my god oh my god” level. These two are going to be appreciated in 20 years just as John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith are regarded today. I usually count the days before something by him comes out. I was still humming “Star Trek into darkness” when “Dawn of the planet of the apes” came and left a permanent echo inside me. I still haven’t gotten enough of that score.

“Jupiter ascending” is the first highly anticipated score of 2015 for me. The movie is a Sci-fi written by the Wachovsky brothers of “The matrix” and “Cloud Atlas” fame.
Michael Giacchino knows how to do dreamy Sci-fi like no other; his scores for the two new Star Trek movies are among my favorites of recent years. And just like for those, this release is on two CDs, 100 minutes of music, proper for a journey of this magnitude. I see 8 and 9 minute long pieces on the track list and I feel like a kid entering a candy store.

Any hope for an objective and clear minded review fade away instantly because “Jupiter ascending” opens with four movements to underline its space opera theme and they are… perfect. I am instantly swept away and I feel something warming up inside me. What is this I’m hearing? Am I listening to the Star Wars of an alternate universe? Am I listening to the music of my heart? Is this really coming from the headphones or is it just an illusion and someone connected a special stethoscope to put my dream score into notes?

The first two movements ushers me into a new world. The sweeping melody and the sweet voices make for a fairy tale overture. The epic orchestral inserts are a prelude to the adventure I’ll get to experience. I get the strange feeling that this is not the beginning… I don’t need time to familiarize myself with this composition. The music has the perfect warmth to ease the listener in. You know that feeling before entering the water when you dread the cold sensation of the first few moments? It’s lacking here. The water of “Jupiter ascending” has the perfect temperature for you to feel at home and to avoid the slightest discomfort. The first movement sounds like a reminder to revisit a long forgotten fantasy world, it’s the wings of a fairy coming to make sure everything is alright with you.

The 3rd movement starts with the tenderest of piano melodies and then slowly builds up on wings of strings and brass until it reaches epic territory. Is this the main theme of the movie? I’ll have a hard time forgetting it. I am so happy to be able to listen to such a sweeping and bold composition that I almost want to stop it so that it wouldn’t end. A voice inside me reminds that I am only 10 minutes into this score and there’s still ten times as much to go through.  I don’t want this score to end, I don’t want this score to lose this stride. Why did Michael Giacchino have to start with such perfect themes…? What if he can’t keep it going for the duration?

I know I might be carried away here and I might change my mind further down the road but so far “Jupiter ascending” sounds like the Star Wars of our time. I’m already fantasizing about this score going head to head with John Williams’ new “Star Wars” score from December in a duel of the parallel universes. They will battle in melody, in choruses and in epic factor.

The 4th movement brings glimpses of that gorgeous main theme again and the orchestral wonder continues. I can see myself listening to this theme years from now remembering this first time right here and being jealous of the me from January 2015 because he got to experience this amazing composition for the first time. There is nothing better than love at first listen and the impact of a score like this is priceless. Who needs drugs? There’s a continuous dialogue between tenderness and power and it is insanely melodic and beautiful. It’s heavenly and I haven’t felt such a burst of emotions inside me since James Newton Howard’s “The last airbender”. This is perfection and it takes me over from inside. If I could have been in the room when they recorded this…immersed in the music being played live… I probably would have teared up…

Once the movements fade away the score continues with a thrilling set of epic choral cues. The string section churns the notes in the background before the brass explodes over it in “I hate my life”. If I were in a concert hall I would do the unthinkable and jump from my seat at the end of this track. I almost woke up my two weeks old daughter because I started clapping.

The first long piece of “Jupiter ascending” is “The Abrasax family tree”. Michael Giacchino takes his time to weave a wonderful symphonic tapestry. No, actually it’s a spider web because it slowly builds up around you so strongly that by the time its tone rises you have no way of moving or getting away. It’s a theme as suspenseful as it is beautiful. “The shadow chase” has the same dark weight as the strongest themes from The Hobbit trilogy. I can’t get enough of this insane rush. Just as he did with Star Trek, Giacchino creates the feeling of melodic imponderability with his music. This cue is thick and heavy but you don’t feel that when you listen to it.

After such a gripping period we take a well deserved break with the charming “The Titus clipper”. There’s flute in this one and I just close my eyes and enjoy the beautiful and playful melodic musings of this amazingly versatile composer. I imagine every member of the orchestra laughing while recording this one. I expect butterflies to suddenly fly into my room.
I have yet to find an imperfect moment in “Jupiter ascending” and I’m already halfway through the journey. I don’t remember anymore who or where I was when I started it.

“Mutiny on the bounty hunter” is the one of the only two track titles reminiscent of Michael Giacchino’s usual word plays.  This is the purest Giacchino sounding track of the score so far. This is his sound. This is the kind of cue I would instantly identify as one of his. The instrumentation, the rhythm and the short motifs that keep drilling could only come from him. The other cue with a pun title, “Digging up the flirt” is a slow and minimalistic rendition of the main theme. It’s beautiful.

After all these varied emotions the score loses a bit of steam with “A wedding darker”, “Regenex is people!” and I almost said “The lies have it” but this one finishes strongly and  the break is over. And by “loses” steam I only mean that the level of emotions drops a bit by comparison. Just for a little while, because we’re back in the land of epic and thrilling with “It’s a hellava chase”. Michael Giacchino can blend melody, choral work and powerful instrumental surges like no other. The music feels compact and alive like a giant snake playing hide and seek with us. This cue is modular and shape shifting and full of nice surprises.

The fun continues until the final cue. This score is filled to the brim with adventure and fireworks. The music is rich and fulfilling. He wrote a space opera himself and gave me everything I love about film music in one magnificent composition.

The longest piece from “Jupiter ascending”, the 10 minute long “Commitment” is the magic sanctuary of this score. It starts with the most minimal of sounds, just like the shy reflection of a tree in a pond before a cello version of the main theme slowly starts rustling the branches of that imaginary tree. Before you know it the scenery changes and everything comes alive with the sound of music. Epic choirs, enchanting melodic motifs, solo vocal inserts and an electrifying orchestral performance make this probably my favorite cue from this score. But is it even fair to chose one?

With “Jupiter ascending” Michael Giacchino took another step in his marvelous development as a composer. I’ve known his music for 11 years now and it just keeps getting better with every year.  This score will be remembered for years and no one who hears it will be able to forget it. It’s compositions like this one that remind me why I love film music so much. There’s nothing better than it. There’s no other music than can convey so many different emotions and tug at so many internal resorts. Thank you Michael Giacchino for this gift! Does anyone else feel 2015 will be his year? Do not miss this score, run and buy it now! You will be telling your grandchildren about it.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 88 / 103

Album excellence: 85%

Highlights:

Jupiter Ascending – 1st Movement
Jupiter Ascending – 2nd Movement
Jupiter Ascending – 3rd Movement
Jupiter Ascending – 4th Movement
The House Of Abrasax
I Hate My Life
Scrambled Eggs
The Abrasax Family Tree
The Shadow Chase
The Titus Clipper
Mutiny On The Bounty Hunter
One Reincarnation Under God
Digging Up The Flirt

It’s A Hellava Chase
Dinosaur To New Heights
Family Jeopardy
Flying Dinosaur Fight
Commitment
Flying Dinosaur Fight With Guts (Bonus)

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

2 Comments

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  • Such an amazing review Minhea!

    I have yet to see the movie so I can’t speak on all the negative reactions the movie received, but this score has blown me away. I downloaded it and listen to it once through while working and heard some bits that made it seem like it could be a really good listen. Finally putting on the Beats headphones and giving the score my undivided attention, it floored me. I think Giacchino created what may be looked back upon as his true masterpiece. Most of his other work is phenomenal anyway, but he was channeling another side of himself with this score and created something very special.

    Thanks for you glowing review of it, nice to see you and many others share the same love for this wonderful collection of sounds.

    • Thanks for your kind words, glad you enjoyed both the score and the review! For me it really is his Star Wars, his magnum opus in an already great career. Scores like this is what it’s all about…