documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Monkey Kingdom (Harry Gregson Williams – 2015)

When I saw that Harry Gregson-Williams was scoring Disney nature’s “Monkey kingdom” documentary I was excited because I hoped it would take one of my early favorite composers out of that generic action comfort zone he had settled in lately. This was no Tony Scott film and there was no Denzel Washington to remind HGW of the same old beats. This is a visually stunning documentary about a family of monkeys living in some ruins in Sri Lanka. Even if usually documentary scores are quite regular there is the occasional exception (see Lisa Gerrard’s “Ashes and snow”). I was hoping Harry Gregson Williams could recapture his magic.

Up until “Courting season” I hear nothing. The music doesn’t do much for me… it’s not frustrating or generic but it’s not exciting either. I forget each note as soon as it rolls out. “Courting season” is a step up with its playful vibes and interesting sounds and “Termites” keeps the momentum going with a lovely flute motif and a general sound that teleported me right back to my favorite Mike Oldfield albums. See, a cue like this makes me regret even more the laziness with which Harry Gregson Williams writes lately. This is one of the most gifted composers of our times, the original Hans Zimmer apprentice and the guy who wrote scores like “Spy game”, “Man on fire” or “Kingdom of heaven”. “Termites” is poetry on notes and it makes me smile and dream and fantasize about the most beautiful summer day ever and I don’t want this cue to end.

The mysterious and dreamy sound of “Termites”, “Maya’s baby is born” or “Retaking the rock” has enchanted me and I can feel this score differently. I understand the generic comedic vibe of some cues, because this is a documentary about monkeys. But the deeper moments are just wonderful and give me a sense of rebirth or rejuvenation and everything around me seems beautiful and magical. This is a side of Harry Gregson Williams I had forgotten about and I am glad that he hasn’t lost it. It fills my heart with joy to hear music as beautiful as this. I feel connected to the world of those primates and I explore it together with them and the playful sounds of this score.

The entire documentary takes place in nature, in the wilderness and I feel that in the music. “The lily pond” makes me feel as if I was invisible and watching the secret life of these animals as part of their world. Midway it turns into a delightful waltz. The nature inspired cues are the best of the bunch and Harry Gregson Williams really nailed the feeling of that world. I can see the music completing some amazing images.

“Monkey kingdom” is a nice and fresh change of pace from Gregson-Williams’ recent compositions and I can only hope that his next ones will be even better. I enjoyed listening to this score and I count it as his best effort from the past few years.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 50

Album excellence: 46%

Highlights:

Courting Season

Termites

Maya’s Baby Is Born

The Lily Pond

Nighttime

Retaking The Rock

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).

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