Hollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with Peter Pan. What a strange thing. It seems like perfect recipe for a successful fantasy production but, for whatever reason, it isn’t so. Steven Spielberg’s Hook was notable for its flop and the 2003 version came and went without getting any real attention. It seems like Joe Wright’s prequel will suffer a similar fate. The considerable lack of interest from general public comes in tandem with the reports suggesting post-production frictions between Wright and the studio. The film’s release date push back by several months and composer Dario Marianelli, whose name appeared on earlier poster, has been replaced with John Powell.
The British composer established himself as an expert in animated films. Between late 1990’s and now, he must have worked on countless titles, with few live action projects sprinkled in between. In the past few years, he decided to take some time off and focus on personal projects and family life. The only recent films he’s worked on recently were Rio 2 and the excellent How To Train Your Dragon 2. For many people, it was a real surprise then that he decided to take on the troubled Pan and work hard on it for several months.
While his new score is certainly a professional and solid work on technical level, it could have never possibly “solved” this film. It’s quite obvious from an outset that Powell was asked to mimic a lot of his works and follow Pan’s disjointed visual style. Dario Marianelli reportedly offered a bit more muted and grounded approach, very much rooted in the European tradition. The replacement score is clearly a 180-degree turn in the opposite direction. It’s loud, hectic and, quite frankly, not that coherent.
The opening of the Sony Classical starts off well enough. We get a first glimpse of the main swashbuckling theme in a lovely piano rendition (‘Opening Overture’). It’s Peter Pan music at its most traditional, in terms of general mood and tone. The melody itself, however, feels awfully reminiscent of many similar tunes written for pirate films of the past 15 years. It lies somewhere between Harry Gregson-Williams, Brian Tyler and Ilan Eshkeri in terms of big adventurous sound.
With the third track, things start to get slightly out of hand. In ‘Kidnapped - Galleon Dog Fight’, composer brings in his eclectic percussion, both live and sampled, and starts to diversify and move away from a more classical sound established at the very start. Cues like ‘Tramp Stamp’ go in further in that idea. While it is not a crime to experiment with different styles, the shift in tone might seem like a betrayal to some listeners. Nothing, however, could prepare us for the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ cover that will soon follow. Powell arranged Nirvana song for a massive chorus and it is a real head-scratcher. ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ continues on in the same spirit, this time quoting The Ramones song. Bizarre choices to mirror the film’s curious, and probably misguided, premise. Funnily enough, Dario Marianelli is credited as a co-producer on those two tracks.
Unlike most scores relating to Peter Pan, this one is extremely busy. There are many sequences of loud action. The extended cues feel very much like the old scores Powell used to compose with Harry Gregson-Williams. ‘Mine Escape’ and ‘Inverted Galleon’ feel very much like it could be used in Shrek, or Chicken Run. They are a bit hectic and loud, bringing a lot of enthusiasm and energy. At the same time, however, there is a great sense we’ve heard that many times before and in much more appropriate context. The only exception to this rule comes quite late with the very opening of ‘Flying Ship Fight’ and ‘A Boy Who Could Fly’ where Powell unleashes the wondrous choral forces. While still loud and obnoxious, at least it manages to bring in some dramatic weight to all this aimless orchestral frolicking.
The score is really effective in its more quiet moments. That is where Powell allows himself to be more sensitive and emotional. ‘Murmurs of Love and Death’ is one of the more interesting cues, offering curiously understated ghostly fiddle solos backed by a larger string section. ‘Origin Story’ offers us a very lovely chorus coupled with intimate piano. It’s among the best pieces on the soundtrack album. ‘Crocodiles and Mermaids’ starts off with a nice guitar solos and ‘A Warrior’s Fate’ yet again makes use of the large choral ensemble. Finally, ‘Fetching the Boys’ serves a brief emotional coda that leaves listener with a nice aftertaste, especially after all those schizophrenic mood swings.
The soundtrack album also features two song from Lily Allen. She might seem like an odd choice for a film like this at first but her voice works quite well in ‘Something’s Not Right’, especially when coupled with the backing chorus. Seems like John Powell had some say in the arrangements. ‘Little Soldier’, on the other hand, doesn’t feel at all like it belongs on a Peter Pan-themed soundtrack album.
The ultimate problem with Pan is that it doesn’t really know what it is trying to be. John Powell throws in a little bit of orchestral wonder, some more eclectic percussion, bizarre covers of popular rock songs. It just doesn’t feel like... anything. This is not to say that those elements don’t work on their own but this lack of focus certainly won’t help Wright’s already confused film. In the light of John Powell’s notable absence from film music scene in recent years, as well as the high quality of his two How To Train Your Dragon scores, Pan feels like a considerable letdown. It just doesn’t fly.
Pan is out now from Sony Classical