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Section Header
Rise of the Guardians
Composed, Co-Orchestrated, and Conducted by:
Alexandre Desplat

Co-Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope
Clifford J. Tasner
Jean-Pascal Beintus

Performed by:
The London Symphony Orchestra

Produced by:
Solre Lemonnier

Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:
November 13th, 2012

Also See:
The Golden Compass
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Audio Clips:
1. Still Dream (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

5. Wind Take Me Home! (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

24. Jack's Center (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

27. Oath of the Guardians (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release.


Rise of the Guardians
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Buy it... if you seek to hear Alexandre Desplat retain his trademark structural and instrumental complexity while coming back to the mainstream with the more genuine heart of his thematic core for this children's genre score.

Avoid it... if the improved expressiveness of Desplat's intentions here cannot compensate for the fact that his themes are still elusive in their progressions and he prances into parody territory more often than some listeners may like.

Rise of the Guardians: (Alexandre Desplat) Although not rigidly loyal to the storylines of William Joyce's "The Guardians of Childhood" series of books, the 2012 adaptation Rise of the Guardians was whole-heartedly approved by the author. The events in the film take place hundreds of years after those of the books, bringing the setting into line with today's society while retaining the core characters and the concept of a group of guardians that protects the dreams of young boys and girls. This clan, consisting of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman, keep children safe from nightmares caused by the Boogeyman. When this force of evil launches an attempt to dominate the dream world, the Guardians unite with winter-obsessed Jack Frost, in this context a rebellious young man, to restore their universe. The DreamWorks production is decidedly darker than most animation topics aimed at kids, the graphics strikingly scarier than usual, the characters somewhat menacing by design, and the performing talent including beefy, muscular voices in counterintuitive ways (including Hugh Jackman as, of all things, the Easter Bunny). While the concept of colliding holiday icons may raise concerns about overlap with Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, director Peter Ramsey and his team take Joyce's ideas in a fresh enough new direction to warrant interest. The project was met with significant anticipation from fans of French composer Alexandre Desplat, who triumphed in his major entry to the genre when tackling The Golden Compass in 2007. The absence of sequels to that film left Desplat enthusiasts wondering what else the composer could offer to serious children's fantasy concepts, and Rise of the Guardians finally answers those questions. Few will argue against the notion that The Golden Compass, regardless of its ability to attach itself to (or alienate) the listener, is a technically marvelous, melodically complicated achievement. Desplat's capacity for intellectual structural development and instrumental creativity is always a pleasure to behold in the composer's larger, more ambitious projects.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rise of the Guardians is that Desplat, while maintaining nearly all of his trademark writing techniques, actually manages to tone back the complexities to yield a more mainstream children's score. There are certainly enough of the composer's mannerisms remaining in Rise of the Guardians to firmly establish it as a Desplat work, and listeners will encounter a few moments of hair-raising orchestral mastery along the way, but equally surprising is how much of the score resembles a merging of the conventional children's film score mechanisms and tone of James Horner and John Williams' equivalent efforts of the 1990's. As such, Rise of the Guardians is likely to be considered a more readily accessible work for those not always enthralled with the technically precise and sometimes emotionally cold nature of Desplat's writing. His instrumental palette is as varied as always, featuring accent players and a touch of electronics at times. The orchestra receives a healthy workout, Desplat's usual multiple lines of activity requiring close attention by the London Symphony Orchestra. His application of a chorus is very judicious, saving the singers for specific cues of particular importance in the fantasy element. Not surprisingly, the piano and the woodwinds carry the bulk of the emotional weight in Rise of the Guardians. When the piano doesn't convey one of the score's two softer themes, you'll always encounter a clarinet, oboe, or flute taking that lead. Those enthused by Desplat's ability to use the piano, fluttering woodwinds, and triangle to convey magical dreaminess will love portions of this work, especially early (accenting Santa's workshop). The existence of the villain, Pitch, and his associated shrouds of darkness, allows the composer to let rip with trombones and French horns with particularly awesome force at times. True to Desplat's knack for spreading the wealth, however, expect to hear a solo tuba convey the character themes with a touch of humor as well, a throwback to one of Horner's favorite techniques. Varied drums provide forceful rhythms at the forefront of the mix in a few cues. That mix is extremely dry, a normal choice for Desplat, forcing all the elements to the front and sometimes diminishing the fantasy atmosphere.

The demeanor of Rise of the Guardians is a clear deviation from The Golden Compass. Rather than embroil the score in layers of obfuscation, Desplat plays his ideas in relatively straight forward fashion, developing one theme for the end credits song and keeping the overall number of melodies down. There is no doubt a much stronger feeling of innocence at the heart of this work, the two tender themes countered by accessible fanfares for the noble concepts and the whole seemingly friendlier and more genuinely caring than what Desplat has produced in similar situations in the past. There also exists a fair amount of "Mickey Mousing" in Rise of the Guardians, the cue "Tooth Collection" wildly passing through several genres and utilizing parody mechanisms to reflect, once again, Horner's vintage wacky moments in prior circumstances (We're Back! A Dinosuar's Story actually comes to mind most frequently). There is no mistaking the villain's material, either, the ensemble matching Jude Law's snarling attitude with dissonance and familiar descending figures. When it comes to the themes for Rise of the Guardians, Desplat seems to have followed the Williams playbook when constructing the core of his ideas for the wholesome side of the story, consulting at times with the Alan Menken playbook as well. You can't fault Desplat for taking this route, even if the result is a main theme that has more than a pinch of flowing Broadway personality to it. There are technically two major themes in Rise of the Guardians, joined by two clearly delineated secondary ideas and a couple of vague lines that recur as well. Listeners will be pleased that the two primary themes include one of pretty drama and another of heroic bombast, applied in almost equal time during the work. On the other hand, the arguably more impactful themes are the two secondary ones, and as with so many scores that leave their best thematic constructs to duty buried in fragments and expressed in too few places, Rise of the Guardians has the capacity to frustrate in this regard. The primary ideas represent the dream world as a whole on the sensitive side and the heroism of the Guardians on the other, while the secondary melodies are dedicated to Jack Frost (for the other soft theme) and the evil Pitch, whose musical identity has difficulty remaining defined for much of the work. Additional motifs include one for the elves and another seemingly denoting the magic applied to real-life kids by the Guardians.

The main theme of Rise of the Guardians serves as the primary phrase of Desplat's end credits song, "Still Dream." While this phrase is easily memorable, interestingly, the rest of the theme and song is not. Desplat uses extremely fluid and counterintuitive movements in his progressions to emphasize the beauty of each moment rather than a coherent flow for the whole. As such, you get a song for soprano Renee Fleming (of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King fame in the film music world) that seems perfectly suited for a Broadway stage or, with the especially pronounced high notes, a Barbra Streisand romance. It makes for a lovely performance but not the most easily memorable melody. In its interpolation into the score, the theme's primary phrase almost exclusively represents the idea until the second half of the film. It's introduced at 0:18 in "Dreamsand" on pleasant strings under frenetic supporting activity from woodwinds before being twisted when cue turns dark. A humorous statement on tuba at 1:05 in "Busy Workshop" is later reprised at 0:59 in "Jack & Sandman." Aside from a lovely piccolo at 3:02 into "Nightmares Attack," the theme is provided a subtle, alarming tone at 1:55 and 3:38. The mood turns prancing and playful in "Jamie's Bedroom," during which woodwinds and harp open the fun and fragments are unleashed with gusto towards the end. The theme serves as a dramatic string interlude at 2:33 into "Jack & Sandman" before the secondary phrases of the "Still Dream" song are finally heard melodramatically at 2:52 into that cue. Those extended passages from the song inform most of "Memorial," albeit in despair. The second half of "Easter" explores even more of the song's phrases for extremely pretty piano and soft strings, usage that continues at 0:54 into "Jamie Believes" and becomes increasingly magical in instrumental touch, especially by the wholesome ensemble expression at 1:18. Desplat doesn't shy away from tormenting the progressions of this full idea, either, its brief reference at 1:10 into "Jack's Center" forced into huge and menacing forms later in the cue. In the resolution sequnce of "Dreamsand Miracles," Desplat wastes no time immediately launching into the full song format of the theme, a flighty performance that definitely resembles vintage Horner children's tunes. The composer bids farewell to the idea in "Oath of the Guardians," notable references at 1:00 for full strings and 1:46 for a solo violin. Aside from these overt applications, you can hear especially the main phrase adapted by Desplat into numerous other places, sometimes in just three or four-note fragments.

The heroic theme for the Guardians is the other major idea in Rise of the Guardians, and this is likely the identity that will carry the soundtrack for most casual listeners. Its immediate and full announcement in "Calling the Guardians" makes it easy to identify, though some listeners may be disappointing by its generic progressions. In some ways, it sounds like a John Ottman adaptation of Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" into a superhero context... not brilliant, but sufficient. The idea returns for wild variations and some steam-building in "Sleigh Launch." Its usage in "Nightmares Attack" is extensive, a tragic statement of loss at 0:56 and a subtle reference on woodwinds at 3:58 leading to a handful of big, frantic, and martial performances later in the cue. After the aforementioned playful, bouncing variations in "Tooth Collection," the theme returns to full action hero mode at 1:53 into "Jack & Sandman." In the short "Guardians Regroup," Desplat literally pulls the theme together into increasingly coherent form. Its representation of the Easter Bunny in "Easter" is truly obnoxious, the prancing staccato, royal personality (especially with the vocals) difficult to tolerate in the first half of the cue. Conversely, a sad rendition on flute at 2:39 into "Jack Betrays" and the full brass-blasting mode with swirling strings and crashing cymbals at 2:01 into "Jack's Memories" are more engaging. A similar progression from woodwind hints to stomping, full fanfare starts at 1:03 into "Pitch at North Pole." The final two references to the idea by Desplat feature over-the-top martial heroics that are almost too enthusiastic, resembling Superman purity. These performances at 0:22 into "Sandman Returns" and 2:38 into "Oath of the Guardians" build up to a majestic closing statement aided by choir. One of the offshoots of this theme, though it one time extends out of the "Still Dream" melody, is one of Desplat's recurring minor motifs that adds tremendously to Rise of the Guardians. This descending piano figure is key to closing out the sentimentality of a scene, meandering down through a major fifth on piano at 1:12 into "Nightmares Attack," at 2:56 into "Jack Betrays" on flute, and again on piano to conclude "Jamie Believes" (at 2:34). It's a nice touch, even if it comes directly out of Rachel Portman's Only You. Another idea that extends out of the Guardians' general thematic core is the music for the elves, heard in full in "Fanfare of the Elves" and reprised with tongue in cheek at 0:41 into "Oath of the Guardians." The proportion of this theme is appropriate for a procession at the Olympic Games, meant as pure fun even if it's hard to swallow on album.

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The two secondary themes that are more elusive but ultimately more rewarding in Rise of the Guardians are led by the identity for Jack Frost. Introduced at 0:28 into "Alone in the World," this very fluid idea has significant structural similarities to both Horner and Williams, and its redemptive, fuller performance at 1:35 into the cue is a highlight of the score, especially with Desplat's tingling rhythmic accompaniment. Another enthusiastic performance over drums at 0:47 into "Wind Take Me Home!" is followed by a less cohesive but still flighty rendition at 0:40 into "Snowballs." The theme becomes increasingly solemn as the score progresses, its reference for flute at 5:21 in "Nightmares Attack" tender and plaintive. At the end of "Jack & Sandman," a sudden choral-backed reference is lovely. Most interestingly, Desplat really puts the theme through an ordeal in "Jack's Memories," when at 0:37 he states the underlying string progressions of the theme without the actual melody, later allowing the theme to be fully stated. Unfortunately, the subtle reemergence of the idea at 3:04 into "Jack's Center" represents the end of this theme's presence. Equally unsatisfying in its infrequent incorporation is Desplat's theme for Pitch, a series of seven repeating, descending notes introduced at 1:43 into "Dreamsand." This figure, sometimes truncated, is heard at the end of "The Moon," at 2:41 into "Nightmares Attack," and with final resolution at 2:39 and 4:29 into "Jack's Center" (the former massive on brass over pulsating rhythms while the latter extends up to mostly the trumpets). Overall, Desplat is very loyal to these themes and does not let much time pass without utilizing one of them. Unfortunately, the two less frequently referenced ideas are more interesting than the two primary ones, and the softer identities do seem to owe a bit to Horner and Williams. Even Danny Elfman trademarks enter the equation in "Guardians Regroup." It's intriguing to hear Desplat "come back to the middle," so to speak, in making Rise of the Guardians more accessible than The Golden Compass. The song has more than a little Broadway and Menken feel to it as well, completing the shift. All of that said, there is still a significant amount of Desplat complexity woven into the fabric of this score, making it a clear winner for his collectors. Had the various phrases of "Still Dream" been condensed into an easier form and better integrated with the great potential of Jack's theme, Rise of the Guardians could have been a five-star score. But the elusiveness of these themes and that of Pitch, as well as the countering transparency of the overly-heroic Guardians identity and a very, very dry mix, leave a slight sense of dissatisfaction with the whole. One thing is certain, though: you can't question Desplat's chops in the children's genre from here forward. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Alexandre Desplat reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.3 (in 23 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.14 (in 12,057 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.22 Stars
Smart Average: 3.18 Stars*
***** 68 
**** 77 
*** 80 
** 49 
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  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Just a little correction
  Marvin Arnold -- 7/23/14 (11:37 a.m.)
   Excellent review!
  Rick -- 1/9/13 (9:27 a.m.)
   A beautiful soundtrack to a great movie!
  LordoftheFuture -- 11/26/12 (1:47 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 68:31

• 1. Still Dream - performed by Renee Fleming (3:12)
• 2. Calling the Guardians (2:06)
• 3. Alone in the World (2:04)
• 4. Fanfare of the Elves (0:53)
• 5. Wind Take Me Home! (1:28)
• 6. Dreamsand (2:03)
• 7. Pitch on the Globe (0:57)
• 8. The Moon (1:32)
• 9. Snowballs (1:31)
• 10. Busy Workshop (1:33)
• 11. Sleigh Launch (1:45)
• 12. Nightmares Attack (7:17)
• 13. Tooth Collection (2:22)
• 14. Jamie's Bedroom (2:31)
• 15. Jack & Sandman (4:18)
• 16. Memorial (1:21)
• 17. Guardians Regroup (0:58)
• 18. Easter (3:39)
• 19. Jack Betrays (3:20)
• 20. Kids Stop Believing (2:35)
• 21. Jack's Memories (2:24)
• 22. Pitch at North Pole (2:00)
• 23. Jamie Believes (3:01)
• 24. Jack's Center (4:52)
• 25. Sandman Returns (2:36)
• 26. Dreamsand Miracles (2:18)
• 27. Oath of the Guardians (3:11)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Rise of the Guardians are Copyright © 2012, 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 11/11/12 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2012-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.