Musings of an Aviation Photographer

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One my favorite things to do is stumble across scores that, at first glance based on the movie/show that it provides background for, you’d automatically dismiss as most likely a low budget score with a synthesized sound at best.  But after watching the movie or listening to the score, you discover that the soundtrack leaps beyond your expectations.  Sometimes, the soundtrack can even overshadow the movie and stand apart! I’m going to share some of those ‘Surprise Soundtracks’ (as I call them) when I stumble across them and even some sample tracks!

Surprising Soundtrack #2 – ‘Evan Almighty’ by John Debney

Surprising Soundtracks - Evan Almighty by John DebneyMovie Synopsis: After being elected to Congress with his slogan ‘Change the World,’ former newsman Evan Baxter (Steve Carrel) moves his family to a brand new Virginia neighborhood and takes office.  While the perks of his position are nice, he soon finds out the price is being forced to co-sponsor a bill that will allow development in national parks headed by Congressman Long (John Goodman).  It’s here that God (Morgan Freeman) appears to Evan, giving him a chance to really ‘Change the World.’  God asks Evan to build an ark to house two of every animal for a ‘coming flood.’  Evan, of course, disbelieves him and does everything in his power to avoid and ignore God. After God continually sends things into Evan’s life to remind him of what he needs to do, he reluctantly agrees and starts on his quest to build an ark much to the panic of Evan’s family and coworkers who think he’s losing his mind.  Sending truckloads of wood and building supplies, Evan sets to work much to the attention of the locals.  It soon grows into a public interest and Evan finds himself under heavy ridicule when he reveals to the world his intentions.  With the biggest drought in history, no one believes it will flood, and Congressman Long’s patience for the lack of promised support on his bill by Evan grows thin.  Congressman Long orders the ark to be destroyed on various building laws that Evan has ignored, even as two of every animal mysteriously gather in the ark as it’s being finished.  Once completed, Evan finds himself in a struggle of faith in God’s word about the so called flood and a struggle for time as Congressman Long sends demolition crews to tear apart the ark.  When everything seems lost, rain clouds start to appear, but the rain only lasts a few seconds, much to the laughing delight of crowds gathered to see the ark.  His faith reaching an all time low, Evan finds himself ready to give up when the last thing anyone thought possible happens, resulting in a wild ride.

For anyone familiar with the Soundtrack world, you’ll instantly recognize the name John Debney.  He’s scored many big name movies such as the Passion of Christ to the Emperor’s New Groove. More recently, he scored the music for the new Predators movie along with the box office hit Iron Man 2.  His range of movie types he’s scored is more than I can count, from kid movies to serious thrillers.  He’s always had a grand orchestral sound to his music, but at the same time he can have a fun playful score using unusual instruments.  I’ve been a fan of his work for a while, especially the Passion of the Christ score which has some very powerful orchestral cues in it.  Being a big fan and always on the search for ‘epic’ scores that really have climatic themes that culminate into massive uprising moments where the final showdown occurs, I find that one of the places you most find them is in the movies you least expect.

Evan Almighty

With Evan Almighty being a comedy and the sequel to the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty, I wouldn’t have expected to find such a grand sweeping score, even if done by Debney.  The original Bruce Almighty score (which was also done by Debney) was very well done, but didn’t have that epic sound to it, mostly because there weren’t really any major epic moments in the story.  Expecting the usual motif of a comedy movie this appeared to be, I expected to hear the modernistic style of acoustic guitars with background filling orchestra strings and the occasional piano. For the majority of the start of the soundtrack, it’s just what I thought, that down to earth guitar and orchestra softer themes that have become the musical theme of suburban life for a family in movies.  Acoustic guitars with a fast base string section and piano, I think anyone in this day and age will recognize.  As the movie goes on, there’s a lot of fun upbeat music, including a bit of a fun march that accompanies many of the different situations that God puts Evan in when he doesn’t believe what he needs to do and tries to ignore God.

Evan Almighty
One of the first things I really picked up on was the theme Debney chose for God.  It’s a slower theme heavy on the strings (which I’m very fond of), and there was one thing in particular that made me realize I’d heard this music before.  I realized that Debney was calling upon the music of Aaron Copland from his ballet suite ‘Appalachian Springs’, which is one of my all time favorite pieces of music. The nod towards Copland works really well when the theme plays when God shows Evan the various beautiful views of the forests that the bill Congressman Long proposed will destroy.  It’s a fitting theme for God as well, giving a sense through the music that it’s God’s creation and the beauty he’s made. This theme plays a few times throughout the movie, and works very well for those moments. There’s a calming sense to the strings, and fits the calm nature of God in the movie matching the down to earth (no pun intended) fun personality that Morgan Freeman portrays as God.

Most of the movie is this sort of fun crazy modern style, but as things for Evan start to heat up and the ark brings many trials for himself and his family, I can start to hear a grand theme slowly building.  At times it makes a little appearance, which according to the soundtrack is the Ark’s Theme.  In the track ‘Take it Down,’ what makes this a surprising soundtrack starts to form.  It’s slow at first, hinting at an ominous event about to take place with subtle strings and even slightly recalling God’s theme.  It’s the perfect essence of trying very hard and reluctantly giving up when there’s nothing else you can do.  It’s then the theme really builds up into a preview of what’s to come as the rain starts, but abruptly stops when Evan’s hopes are once again squashed as the rain quits as soon as it begins.  Then, suddenly a quiet theme picks up and continually rises and once it reaches a peak, it’s started the main ‘epic’ theme of this movie for which I believe makes it a surprising soundtrack.

SPOILER ALERT: The next part of the review is going to spoil the end of the movie,
so beware if you’ve not seen it!

Evan Almighty
My favorite track, ‘The Flood’, starts out as an ominous monsters gaining strength.  Like Evan’s realization of what’s happening, it builds and builds on itself with this horrid realization of what’s to come.  Once the chorus comes in, it reaches a massive peak as everyone realizes the flood is on it’s way.  Soon, the orchestra comes in with the grand fast paced theme that’s both epic as the whole neighborhood finds themselves on the ark and in the middle of the biggest flood in history.  As the ark is carried by the rushing currents, the theme continues to build and each time they reach an problem, the orchestra grows in sound getting louder and louder with each horn that blares.  To me, this track is the pinnacle of epic music, with a huge theme and hopeless situation build into a grand climax where the ultimate test takes place.  It’s at the very peak of this climactic tune where the orchestra is alive and vibrant with many different sounds that have made up this grand theme that the heavens open up and the Ark’s main theme screams out with not just the chorus but the entire orchestra.  Not out of the woods yet, the track continues to beat like a heart that’s pounding from fear as the ark has to come to a stop somewhere, and finally the track ends with a fade as the giant wooden structure comes to a stop.

Click the PLAY button below to listen to John Debney’s Evan Almighty track “The Flood“[audio:|titles=Evan Almighty – John Debney – The Flood]

Debney’s use of choral singers with the orchestra’s grand theme is very brilliant, taking the fullness and making it even louder.  If you’re like me, every time you hear many of the tracks from this movie you want to really crank up the volume to hear that massive powerful sound wrap around you. I highly recommend checking out this soundtrack if you get the chance, especially if you want a really good epic score.  While it’s got it’s slower moments along with the goofy and fun themes, it’s the epics that really make this score a must have.

If you’d like to see other ‘Surprising Soundtracks’, you can view the ones I’ve posted here!

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