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Soundtrack review: The man in the high castle (season 1) (Henry Jackman & Dominic Lewis – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: The man in the high castle (season 1) (Henry Jackman & Dominic Lewis – 2017)

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“The Man in the High Castle” is an American dystopian alternative history television series produced by Amazon Studios, Scott Free, Headline Pictures, Electric Shepherd Productions and Big Light Productions.The series is loosely based on the 1962 novel of the same name by American science fiction author Philip K. Dick. Taking place in 1962—in an alternate history of the world in which the Axis powers won World War II and subdivided the world, splitting the United States into two powers, the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States—the series follows characters from both sides whose destinies intertwine after coming into contact with a series of propaganda films that show a vastly different history to that of their own. The music was written by Henry Jackman and Dominic Lewis and this is a review of the score for the first season.

I remember reading the novel when I was in high school and being fascinated by the premise. Alternate realities were a big thing with me back then as I was addicted to TV shows like “Sliders”. Dark and scary this story made an impact on me. I haven’t seen the show yet but I plan to. The score welcomes me with “Edelweis”, an apparently sweet and innocent vocal piece that has a dark and threatening undertone like a shadow that sends shivers down my spine.

The music puts me in a spy like mood right away; Both composers are familiar with the genre and right from the first couple of cues the rhythm of the score makes me think of shadows, rainy alleys and long trench coats. The solo violin matching the loneliness of some sort of agent and the dark grey mood spell dystopia for me. It doesn’t take long for “Chapter 12 verse 5” to get me excited with a terrific and epic build up. Then the mood changes again with the dripping piano and solo cello int he background that make “Neuland” the perfect cue to describe the world this story takes place in. I love pulling apart the layers of this cue in my head and discovering the music goes deeper and deeper like the infamous rabbit hole. With just a couple of instruments Jackman and Lewis weave a fascinating soundscape.

The more this score enfolds the better it sounds. Somehow the two composers found a way to write something unique combining classical instruments of opposite moods like the wailing cello and the frantic violin in “The crown prince’s speech” in an addictive and terrific manner. I find myself in this cue like in a spider’s nest and the more I move around the tighter it wrap itself around me.

I also like the general mood of the score; there’s always an imaginary clock ticking in the background as if the slow movement is just an illusion and everything happens in a time constraint. There’s also a subtle quirkiness in the music (if such a thing can exists) as some of the string motifs make me think of the sound of the Coen Brothers movies with he dark and bloody sarcasm they always use. It’s most obvious in “The grasshopper lies heavy” but the sentiment recurs throughout the score.

The music for the first season of “The man in the high castle” is a fascinating standalone listen and an example of TV music done inovativly and right. While it lacks true highlights (maybe with the exception of “Chapter 12 verse 5”) it’s the kind of score that’s better appreciated in its dark grey entirety, just the way the composers intended. The music tells a story in itself with its minimalistic yet poignant approach. With just a few well chosen instruments Henry Jackman and Dominic Lewis take me through a spectrum of emotions and leave me excited about the second season score.

Cue rating: 93 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 20 / 36
Album excellence: 55%
Highlights:

Chapter 12 Verse 5
Neuland
The Crown Prince’s Speech
Attentäter
A Grave Situation
Unofficial Treaties
Too Good For This World
The Necklace

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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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