Great Sountrack!! by Michael Longstreet (December 5, 2006)
Alan Silvestri breaks with "Back to the Future" and "Predator" mold and comes up with something new. Like "The Mummy Returns," Silvestri has an original sounding score with themes that are relevant to the film and its story.
The best tracks on the CD are "Reunited," "Journey to Transylvania," and "Final Battle," while other good stuff is sprinkled throughout. The great melodic tune in "Reunited" is the stuff movies are made of. I found the overall theme throughout the course of CD compelling and catchy. I found myself humming them over and over again after the CD is over.
Alan Silvestri (Mummy Returns, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Back to the Future) has—in his bombarding Van Helsing score—solidified his reputation as being one of the premier action composers. His synthesized battle cues, and sorrowful melodies, combined with powerful underlying themes have been the foundation for over three-dozen successful scores, dating as far back as the 70s.
His score for Van Helsing—a nonstop action, vampire-killing epic of multi-million-dollar eye-candy (FX)—is perhaps the most definitive (and enjoyable) corroboration of innately-Silvestri cues. Besides the familiar symphonic blasts (which do blast constantly) and repetitive violins which underline all of his scores, Silvestri added—much to his credit—a choir to this soundtrack, intensifying the 16th century gothic/horror feel of the movie itself.
In “Journey to Transylvania (and subsequent tracks),” Silvestri also implemented mandolin cues to accompany the rapid bass and choral rhythms. Another new element, but one that Silvestri fleshes out brilliantly; making sure never to overuse.
In Van Helsing there is also much of the sounds of the Mummy Returns, another successful blockbuster with a subsequently powerful set of action cues and Egyptian themes. But Van Helsing is an even more powerful ‘re-vision’ of the wildly popular Mummy Returns score (a soundtrack which, I must admit, is quite a guilty pleasure of mine).
Like Silvestri’s Mummy Returns opening cue, the beginning track for Van Helsing “Transylvania 1887” is quiet for a grand total of about its first 6 seconds before blasting out a steady stream of clashing cymbals, drums, and a very repetitive chorus (which functions as a successful add-on to the driving beat). Another interesting element of “Transylvania 1887” is the addition of a mixture of sounds supposed to sound like squeaking bats. The squeaking grows in volume about 16 seconds into the cue before giving way to the first of Silvestri’s counted 57 “blasts” in this eighty-six second track.
Following tracks continue to follow in this pattern. Rapid clashes of drums and cymbals dominate the entire score, allowing minimal time for Silvestri to implement emotional violin cues. If there is a downside to this score, it is, in fact, that it is extremely repetitive. IMHO, I could listen to Silvestri cues all day long and still not get tired of them; but then again I am a huge fan of eardrum-blowing action scores like this one. But maybe that is why Decca Records cut the score down to just over 40 minutes (short by feature-length soundtrack standards).
That being said, it would have been nice for just a slight pause in the action cues. Usually, a typical composer wants to create what has been called an “arc” for his scores. So that the music kind of flows up and down, beginning with a solid theme, and then gradually building throughout the score (complete with pauses and instrumental emotional “tugs”) until the finale cues (which traditionally build on the opening main theme and rejuvenate it).
Give Alan Silvestri credit for introducing and solidifying his main theme early on. Tracks one (“Transylvania 1887”) and two (“Burn it down”) take up just over 6 minutes to thoroughly underline the main theme. The next two tracks, “Werewolf trap” and “Journey to Transylvania” are once again non-stop, but introduce some new cues; and I especially enjoy the mandolin in track 4 “Journey.” “Attacking Brides” is just over 5 minutes and gives the listener his first (and practically last) seconds of relative silence, although “peace” would not be a proper synonym. When the percussion winds down and fades for a brief second, its place is quickly taken up by rapidly strumming violins which build a horror/suspense feel until the percussion picks it up again with another powerful blast.
Other tracks of interest are “Useless Crucifix” which is a solid 2 minute, 35 second representation of the score’s main theme. Beginning quietly, the cue slowly builds before eventually allowing the chorus and synthesized action instruments to take over. If you want to get a cue that best represents the entire track, then “Useless Crucifix” is the one.
Something I found to be quite fascinating about this soundtrack, is Alan Silvestri’s almost complete ignoring of the traditional hero theme. This is particularly strange because while there is constant action going on in the score there are very few triumphant cues. Even in Mummy Returns, while the percussion instruments blared, a strong heroic melody underlined the theme. In Van Helsing though, anything resembling victory is almost completely lost beneath waves of battle cues. You can hear the best representation of a victorious theme during the final seconds of “Useless Crucifix” and then again briefly in “Transylvanian Horses” (which is a powerful track and ranks near the top in my favorite Van Helsing tracks). “Horses” also delivers with a powerful chorale and string-arrangement “race” to end of the track, almost forcing the listener to see Hugh Jackman’s character Van Helsing on the big screen as he is racing through the woods trying to escape deadly monsters.
Probably most memorable is the final track “Reunited” which envelopes tragic themes and gives us a picture at the souls of the characters in the film. This track is a needed break for the listener, and the themes in it are soft, quiet and sweeping in the way that the Mummy Returns was at its emotional zenith. Indeed, “Reunited” revisits some of the Mummy’s themes. Van Helsing then builds on the emotion with sweeping violins, capturing the last few moments of the score as Van Helsing realizes that his “lover” is safe and at peace. Then as—in the film—Van Helsing and his sidekick (the poorly played friar) gallop off into the distance, the mandolins return, the brass returns, and in comes the masterful chorale chants all sweeping away the final seconds of the score.
Van Helsing is a strong, POWERFUL score, with many amazing battle themes. Unfortunately, with so much action, there is little to remember. After listening, all one can think of is giant battle cues. Fans of Alan Silvestri (like me) love this soundtrack, but I think even us die-hards go to the final track “Reunited” from time to time, just for a breather.
My favorite cues on this score are the tracks “Useless Crucifix,” “Dracula’s Nursery,” and “Reunited.” “Final Battle” (the score’s eleventh, second-to-last track) is really stunning as well. Except its astounding rhythm and . . . well . . . SOUND (and lots of it) are almost bland by the time you get to it, because it’s more of the same. In the end, Van Helsing is (like one reviewer put it) perhaps best enjoyed on a track-to-track basis. Play on cue, wait for an hour or two, and then play the next one. Because each track is excellent, and individually deserving of 5 star ratings. But when thrown all together, it tends to sound the same.
My final rating for this epic score for Van Helsing is a richly deserved (and perhaps somewhat underrated) 4.
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