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The Iron Giant in Full Score (Michael Kamen)

September 4, 2021

Hot of the heels of the success of Aliens in Full Score, Chris Siddall Music Publishing has now released the full printed score for Michael Kamen’s The Iron Giant; meticulously transcribed from the original manuscripts. As I love both the film and its score, it’s a great pleasure for me to read through this book. And it’s not just about seeing how certain cues are written; the inclusion of early version and unused cues actually give an insight into the overall scoring process.

The Film. Released by Warner Brothers in 1999, The Iron Giant is the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who started his career at Disney and later joined Pixar. The story, based on Ted Hughes 1968 book “The Iron Man”, tells of a young child named Hogarth who discovers and befriends a giant metal robot. The story is set in the 1950s against the backdrop of cold war paranoia. The army want to capture the giant and use it as a weapon, though ultimately try to destroy it with a nuclear missile. The Giant, who indeed is a weapon of mass destruction, has learned so much about life and death from his friendship with Hogarth that he no longer wants to be one. In the end, he sacrifices himself to save the humans from a nuclear disaster.

The film’s got an impressive voice cast including Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr and most notably Vin Diesel as the Giant. The history of The Iron Giant is quite interesting and I’d urge you to look it up on Wikipedia. I won’t go into all of the details here, but suffice to say it’s been in the pipeline for many years before Warner, Bird and Kamen got involved. At one point, it was envisaged as a musical with music by The Who’s Pete Townsend.

The Score. By the late 90s, Kamen was already an established A-lister, thanks to his music for the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movie franchises, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 101 Dalmatians, Mr Holland’s Opus and Highlander; as well as his collaborations with Bryan Adams, Queen and Metallica, to name but a mere few. A graduate of Julliard School, Kamen excelled at merging classical and pop music, often resulting in scores with strong and memorable melodies. With each score, Kamen fine-tuned his skills and when The Iron Giant came around he was as the top of his game, delivering a beautifully written score, which was co-orchestrated with Robert Elhai and Blake Neeley; and which was wonderfully performed by the Czech Philharmonic in Prague. The film was temp-tracked with music by Bernard Herrmann and Kamen was keen to give his score that vintage ‘silver age’ sound, which he found in Prague.

The Book. Published by Chris Siddall Music Publishing in August 2021, The Iron Giant in Full Score offers the full score; 48 cues in total. That’s everything you hear on the soundtrack album, several unused cues and a few early versions of cues. It couldn’t be more comprehensive if it tried. Unless… wouldn’t it be great if you could hear those unused and early cues? Well, you can! The benefit of having to put all the notes into Sibelius is that you can then easily play it back (in this case through Note Performer). Head over to Chris’ YouTube channel where he has compiled an extensive playlist of all the cues in the score. The book has 228 9×12 pages, a wonderful cover, a few drawings scattered throughout… and… a beautiful foreword from Kamen’s daughter Zoe, in which she shares some lovely memories of her dad.

Early versions. What makes this book extra special, beyond it being a beautiful score, is that we get to explore several early versions of cues. This allows for a glimpse into the scoring process, which sometimes reveals a real change of direction. Let’s home in a few.

“Souls Don’t Die” – the score version starts with high-pitched, wavering strings and winds. Hogarth’s theme is subtly brought in by the horns under a layer of sparkling winds, strings and harp. It creates an idyllic soundscape as Hogarth and the giant observe the forest and make friends with a deer. However, as hunters shoot the deer, Kamen supports this with dark and aggressive tones, leading to a few early versions of the ‘soul’ theme, which will come to fruition later in “No Following” (or “Goodbye” as it’s called on the score sheets). The cue sticks with the ‘soul’ theme whilst Hogarth and the Giant contemplate life and death.

An early version of this cue opens with a soft but strident pattern for brass and low strings. It’s an altogether darker and more aggressive opening. Hogarth’s theme appears in the lower registers, still under a layer of sparkling sounds, but the addition of a glockenspiel makes it sounds sharper than the final version. The shooting of the deer plays out in a higher pitch; unintentionally sounded more comical. The ‘soul’ theme makes a brief appearance, but gives way for a variation on Hogarth’s theme. This puts the focus of the scene on Hogarth, who is doing most of the talking.

The final version of “Souls Don’t Die” sounds more emotional and dramatic. With the ‘soul’ theme making a stronger appearance at the expense of Hogarth’s, Kamen shifts the focus to the Giant learning about life and death. It’s a fantastic revision I think, one which shows off the power of film music very well. Clearly, the film makers’ first instinct was to place Hogarth’s theme here, seeing as he is right there in the centre of the screen teaching the Giant about life and death. A good score follows what happens on screen; a great score draws our attention to what we cannot see. In this case, emphasising that souls don’t die by placing the ‘soul’ theme here.

The full score also offers several unused cues; and even early versions of those cues. Again, it’s great to read this score, but it’s even better to get an insight into its trials and errors. It demonstrates where the film makers initially wanted to add music; and it shows how dedicated they were to do so by going through multiple revisions. “He Can Stay” and “I’m Superman” are two (or four) such cues. The early version of “He Can Stay” is only 42 seconds long, but the revised cue is even shorter, having chopped a bit of the end. The early version of “I’m Superman” prominently features snare drums, which were taken out (or significantly reduced) in the revision, softening the overall tone. In the end, neither cue made the final cut, yet it’s interesting to hear what they tried to do with the music before concluding it wasn’t going to work.

Another cue listed as unused is “Goodbye”, a sentimental cue of just under a minute and a half. Don’t fret about it though, as it (or a very close variation of it) serves as the opening of “No Following”.

These are just a few examples of cues you’ll find in this book. Needless to say by now, everything you hear on the album, in the film and more(!) is in this book.

In terms of orchestrations, The Iron Giant features a beefy brass section with 8 horns, 4 trombones and 3 trumpets. In the winds section there are at least two of almost everything; flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon; along with a few other choices. The string section consists of 52 instruments, half of which are violins. There are two harps, a piano, an organ and a Kurzweil synth. Finally, there is plenty of percussion which include motoring parts like hub caps, springs and brake drums. Orchestrations are credited to Michael Kamen, Robert Elhai (best know for his work with Elliot Goldenthal) and Blake Neely who is now a formidable force himself in television-scoring.

The Iron Giant is a great film with a great score, which you can now study note by note. Even “Duck and Cover”! Siddall and his collaborators have done another great job transcribing this from the original manuscripts. There is one particular detail I absolutely love. I hadn’t noticed it at first; it actually took me a few days before I realised it, because I was so focused on the notation. At the top of most pages, you’ll find little notes, keywords or quotes from the movie that make if perfectly clear where we are in the cue, making it easier to follow along. Great stuff!

The Iron Giant in Full Score.
Music by Michael Kamen.
Orchestrations by Michael Kamen, Robert Elhai and Blake Neely.
Score engraved by Chris Siddall, Samuel Labrecque and Tom Margraff.
Available via Chris Siddall Music Publishing.

(c) 2021 Synchrotones. Article by Pete Simons.


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