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How to Train Your Dragon
Composed and Produced by:
John Powell

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Gavin Greenaway

Co-Orchestrated and/or Arranged by:
John Ashton Thomas
James McKee Smith
Paul Mounsey
Dominic Lewis
Michael Mollo
Dave Metzger
Germaine Franco
Jessica Wells
Stefan Schneider

Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:
March 23rd, 2010

Also See:
Chicken Run
X-Men: The Last Stand
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

Audio Clips:
1. This is Berk (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

8. Forbidden Friendship (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

15. Romantic Flight (0:28):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

23. Coming Back Around (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award.

How to Train Your Dragon

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Buy it... if you have always appreciated John Powell's dense and rowdy orchestral style for animated films but have waited for him to provide an entry in that genre that finally flows consistently and develops its themes to satisfying maturation.

Avoid it... if you have an aversion to bombastic fantasy material of immense size or hearing Scottish specialty instrumentation at the forefront of a score meant for Vikings.

How to Train Your Dragon: (John Powell) The first of author Cressida Cowell's novels about young medieval Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was loosely translated by DreamWorks into an early 2010 film of 3D technology and the same name. After a series of ridiculously juvenile animated topics from that studio throughout the 2000's, How to Train Your Dragon is an epic fantasy adventure aimed at children and adults while carrying moral themes of tolerance and family bonding. It follows the unlikely development of a friendship between a nerdy Viking teenager and a dragon he was meant to kill as part of his culture's ongoing feud with the beasts. Through his tender relationship with the dragon, he not only seeks to bring peace between the species but also earn the respect of his father, the Viking chief, and the young female warrior of his liking. An absence of stupid humor, a plot with actual meaning, an effective cast, and a spectacular (completely computer generated) visual design combined to lead How to Train Your Dragon not only to overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, but also surprisingly robust earnings (the film blew past its $150 million budget in grosses within the first two weeks of theatrical release). The music in DreamWorks' 19 previous films has traditionally been the domain of Hans Zimmer and, by association, his Remote Control army of clones. John Powell, one of the two most successful graduates of Zimmer's organization, has been involved with several of these productions, but always sharing credit. Zimmer has long praised Powell's abilities, on more than one occasion asserting that Powell is the far superior composer between them, and it is refreshing to finally see Powell helm a DreamWorks production on his own. That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't an army of assistants, orchestrators, arrangers, specialty performers, and engineers that dwarfs the usual ensemble for the crew on the other side of the glass from the orchestra. You still get the distinct impression that Powell has himself attracted so many collaborators that questions may arise about how much of the success of a project like How to Train Your Dragon should be credited to the primary composer. Still, what the score for this film proves is that Zimmer is indeed correct about Powell's superiority when you take into consideration the incredible density with which he writes. Among those that used Zimmer's friendship to spawn their own careers, Powell continues to write music that is, on a technical level, more impressive in its orchestral mastery than any other.

A veteran of almost a dozen animated projects since the late 1990's, Powell has always provided workmanlike music for the genre. Ranging from proficient to outstanding in his tackling of these assignments with personality and style, these scores are often hyperactive and abundant in the creativity department. Usually, however, they lack focus and a consistent flow, likely by necessity. You have to go back to his collaborative efforts for Antz and Chicken Run to be able to assemble listening experiences that tell a fluid narrative on album and feature highlights of significant length. Building off of the majesty and greater continuity exhibited in X-Men: The Last Stand, however, Powell has finally managed to create a well rounded and more easily digestible variation on his typical mannerisms for How to Train Your Dragon. The score's employment of both rhythm and brass layers will be extremely familiar for any enthusiast of Powell's music, as will some of the progressions in the composer's many themes for the film. A sense of exuberance in the score's lighthearted portions is especially reflective of the composer's previous works, as is his affinity for using rhythm-setters of light percussion to carry the momentum of a cue. But the film's longer narrative format, absent the lurching, unwieldy slapstick nonsense and quick cuts that have plagued DreamWorks films for several years, allowed the composer to explore themes with long lines (and sometimes interludes) and develop them throughout the score in satisfactory fashion. He not only clearly establishes these identities, but manipulates them in ways that James Horner masterfully accomplished in his animation projects of the late 1980's and early 1990's, twisting them with slower tempos and excruciating performance emphasis, for instance. There are four consistently applied themes in How to Train Your Dragon, the first three conveniently revealed in snapshot succession in the first two minutes of the score's opening piece, "This is Berk." The third one is actually the title theme, embodying a sense of high adventure that takes buoyant progressions from the swashbuckling days of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and accelerates them to a hyperactive pace and frenzied depth of instrumentation. Often conveying a spirited Scottish flavor (more on that below), this theme is as memorable in its enthusiastic conveyance as it is in its repetitive insertion to represent the story's overarching adventurous personality. This theme explodes in "New Tail", "This Time For Sure," and "Astrid Goes For a Spin" and is eventually reduced to hints as part of the piano solo in "Where's Hiccup?"

The two major secondary themes in How to Train Your Dragon are heard in the first minute of "This is Berk," beginning with the one representing the redemption and excitement of flying. This theme receives perhaps the most manipulation in the score but is best summarized by "Test Drive." The other is a romantic idea for Hiccup and his female companion, and you'll immediately hear similarities in progression and rendering between this theme and that of the princess in the Shrek scores. Its most cohesive presentation comes in "Romantic Flight," complete with longing fiddle and soothing choir. A simple and key-rooted fourth theme, reflecting the mystique of the dragons, emerges in "The Dragon Book" and culminates in the ominous "Dragon's Den." As attractive as the thematic constructs in How to Train Your Dragon is Powell's extremely organic spread across the dynamic range of instruments. He defies all of the formulas that cripple the scores of other Zimmer associates by using a blend of live and sampled specialty sounds to breathe vibrant life into the tone of his thematic performances. The marimba and xylophone effect in "Forbidden Friendship" combines with ethereal female voices and sleigh bells to create an extremely unique ambience. A remarkable cue is "See You Tomorrow," which raises memories of Chicken Run while highlighting the score's strange but consistent use of Scottish instruments (bagpipes, fiddle, and penny whistle) in conjunction with harpsichord and tapping snare. This tone is given muscular depth in the following "Test Drive" with the assistance of large varied drums and even an electric guitar. Anyone tired of hearing how Ramin Djawadi and other lesser Zimmer associates abuse electric guitars in their orchestral scores needs to pay attention to how well Powell employs the instrument as purely a bass enhancement that infuses a cue with just a slight hint of coolness without overpowering even a penny whistle. The dynamic spread of the soundscape emphasizes treble elements without sacrificing satisfying bass; this technique extends to the choir, which includes brawny male vocals to represent the pride and power of the Vikings (in ways that resurrect shades of Jerry Goldsmith's The 13th Warrior, not surprisingly) while also extending to the high female ranks to crank up the intensity of the fantasy element in the battle cues later on. Fans of clearly recorded and mixed solo performances by woodwinds and strings will find much to like in this score, all the way to the conclusive "The Vikings Have Their Tea," which, like several other cues before it, addresses the levity of a scene without resorting to even faint hints of typical cartoonish ensemble hits and slapstick pacing of stuttering movement.

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Overall, How to Train Your Dragon is an extremely well developed score for the animated genre. It's technically superior to all of Powell's previous endeavors in this area and is arguably the most satisfying listening experience of this nature since his past collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams' Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas in 2003. It's also refreshing to hear Powell able to expand upon some of the general ideas in his previous scores and give them full-fledged identities. His best scores typically feature extraordinary highlights but suffer from continuity issues often beyond his control. The format of this film allowed him to really play with his themes and explore dense instrumental balances not usually heard anywhere in film music. There are, however, a couple of detractions to the score that are blatantly obvious. The first issue is with the ethnicity of the work. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the casting of some Scottish actors in lead roles for the voices led to a similar influence of that ethnicity on the score. There's really no reason whatsoever for bagpipes, fiddles, and whistles to have such a prominent place in a score for Vikings. They do sound pretty, of course, and that was probably a determining factor. But there's a lingering distrust of the application of Scottish and Irish tones that James Horner has perpetuated through the years, and to hear such elements in How to Train Your Dragon may irritate (or at least baffle) some listeners. Powell does make a few nods to traditional Viking tones, especially with the horn call and percussion at the outset of "Dragon Battle," but none of it approaches Mario Nascimbene territory. Secondly, there is no doubt that while the foundation of this score, as well as its dynamic orchestral flourishes, will appeal to Golden Age film music collectors, Powell still doesn't take his foot off the gas for very long in his works. Cues like "Forbidden Friendship" and "Romantic Flight" are absolutely necessary respites from the level of bombastic activity in this music. The suite of final five cues is appropriately exhausting and jettisons some of the thematic cohesion earlier in the score for outright explosive symphonic rambling. It's glorious material, but for those who have never been able to tolerate the extroverted personality of Powell's previous animation scores, it could be daunting to navigate. Another final downside of the album is the Icelandic-styled rock song provided by Jonsi, which drains all the enthusiasm out of the environment created by Powell. Despite the curious and potentially damaging aspects of his score, it's easy to get the impression that this recording is about as fine as the composer's animation style can get. It's the best such ruckus since Chicken Run and, for setting itself apart from its peers (both in this genre and in the realm of one-time Zimmer associates), How to Train Your Dragon hurls enough fire to earn the highest rating. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Powell reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.1 (in 40 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.03 (in 45,184 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 4.12 Stars
Smart Average: 3.84 Stars*
***** 1077 
**** 467 
*** 245 
** 131 
* 106 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Alternative review at Movie Wave
  Southall -- 5/19/14 (2:05 p.m.)
   FVSR Reviews How To Train Your Dragon
  Brendan Cochran -- 3/20/14 (1:52 p.m.)
   How to Train Your Dragon- Brilliant
  Deane Nelson -- 5/6/12 (3:12 p.m.)
   Re: Should have won the Oscar
  Chris R. -- 9/20/11 (5:11 a.m.)
   Re: Should have won the Oscar *NM*
  Chris R. -- 9/20/11 (5:08 a.m.)
Read All | Add New Post | Search | Help  

 Track Listings: Total Time: 72:06

• 1. This is Berk (4:12)
• 2. Dragon Battle (1:55)
• 3. The Downed Dragon (4:16)
• 4. Dragon Training (3:10)
• 5. Wounded (1:25)
• 6. The Dragon Book (2:22)
• 7. Focus, Hiccup! (2:05)
• 8. Forbidden Friendship (4:10)
• 9. New Tail (2:47)
• 10. See You Tomorrow (3:52)
• 11. Test Drive (2:35)
• 12. Not So Fireproof (1:11)
• 13. This Time For Sure (0:47)
• 14. Astrid Goes For a Spin (0:45)
• 15. Romantic Flight (1:55)
• 16. Dragon's Den (2:28)
• 17. The Cove (1:10)
• 18. The Kill Ring (4:27)
• 19. Ready the Ships (5:13)
• 20. Battling the Green Death (6:18)
• 21. Counter Attack (3:02)
• 22. Where's Hiccup? (2:43)
• 23. Coming Back Around (2:49)
• 24. Sticks & Stones* (4:08)
• 25. The Vikings Have Their Tea (2:04)

* written and performed by Jonsi

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes lyrics to the song and extensive credits, but no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from How to Train Your Dragon are Copyright © 2010, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 4/10/10 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2010-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.