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Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal – Javier Navarrete

March 8, 2015

Cover_ZhongKuiZHONG KUI: SNOW GIRL AND THE DARK CRYSTAL

Javier Navarrete, 2015, Lakeshore Records
20 tracks, 71:45

A Spaniard writing a Chinese score? Are you mad? This came out of left field, for me. And then it started attacking my senses. Left, right and centre! Barely three months in, and Navarrete has already delivered one of this year’s best scores.

Review by Pete Simons

WINNER 2015 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

What is it?

“Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is about legendary Chinese anti-hero Zhong Kui (Chen Kun), a young man endowed with mysterious powers. He is forced into battle among the realms of Heaven, Earth and Hell in a dire attempt to save his countrymen and rescue the woman (Li Bingbing) he loves. “Snow Girl” is produced and directed by Academy Award Winning Cinematographer Peter Pau (of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).

What does it sound like?

Composer for this film is Javier Navarrete, who conjures up a large symphonic score, with added choir and electronics. Navarrete explains: “The movie has so many aspects: is super modern in terms of visuals, and at the same it’s a period film. There is Heaven, Earth, the Underworld, love, war, demons, etc, so I thought that every possible tool at hand could be used.  We had first at all a big orchestra and choir, then quite a lot of electronics, and traditional Chinese instruments: pipa, erhu-like fiddle, and xiao.

It’s lively and colourful score with several strong themes that recur throughout the album in various guises.  The overall sound is so overwhelming that it may take a second listen to really start recognising the themes. The album opens with “In Heaven” which instantly present an epic, lush main theme that will dominate the score. Whilst it’s performed by the brass section during the opening cue, it’s equally (or perhaps even more) powerful when performed by choir (“The Magic Fan”) and more mesmerising when performed on strings juxtaposed with a solo violin (“Lost Soul”).

Unsurprisingly the score is steeped with Chinese influences. This is not one of those score that are entirely ‘Western’, yet claim to be to ‘Eastern’, just because the composer uses an erhu. On “Snow Girl” those Eastern influences run much, much deeper than that. Sometimes it’s in the melodies (e.g. “Snow Girl Vanishes”), whilst at other times it’s in the orchestrations or the overall sound design (flutes, bells, gongs, growling vocals).  To my ears it’s a magnificent hybrid of East meets West. And then there’s the excellent integration of electronics (on a few cues like “Dark Crystal” and “Giant Demon King”). This is a hybrid score on so many levels, it’s insane! And best of all – it’s still unmistakably Navarette, with some of the melodic lines reminding me of “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

The sheer ‘size’ of the music also reminds me of Shore’s “Lord of the Rings”, though with a predominantly Easter sound palette. There are heroic brass passages, plenty of percussion and vocals of all kinds (from your basic ooh’s and aah’s to growling, chanting, wordless effects, ethnic performances and more). I wonder to what degree the sound of the score is down to orchestrator Nicholas Dodd. He’s known to have a noticeable influence on the scores he works on (Clint Mansell’s “Sahara” ended up sounding, well… nothing like Mansell – that’s not a criticism, I do love that score). The orchestrations on “Snow Girl” are astonishing. It’s so colourful and vibrant (and the crisp recording, mixing and mastering make it possible to every last little detail of the score), but I must say it is also a bit heavy-handed and a little exhausting (partly due to it’s prominent use of low brass, and partly due to the score not being allowed to rest. There is always something trying to grab your attention; even during the quieter moments).

Is it any good?

Javier Navarrete’s score to “Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is a perfect hybrid of Eastern and Western styles and techniques, and of orchestra, choir and electronics. Nicholas Dodd’s orchestrations are colourful and vibrant; and the recording and mixing is crystal clear, allowing you hear every little detail of the score. Although a little heavy-handed, and a little bit loud for a little too long… Navarrete has conjured up an insanely large, epic orchestral score (of “Lord of the Rings” proportions), whilst retaining his own melodic sensitivities. It’s a very addictive album!

Rating [4.5/5]

Tracklisting

01. In Heaven (3.25)
02. Underworld (4.13)
03. Nothing To Fear (1.37)
04. Endurance (2.41)
05. The Magic Fan (2.18)
06. To Use Your Power (3.19)
07. Little Snow (1.53)
08. Snow Girl (5.48)
09. Snow Girl Dance (1.34)
10. If I Were A Demon (1.58)
11. To Await Someone (3.01)
12. Dark Crystal (4.45)
13. Giant Demon King (6.12)
14. Lifeless (7.54)
15. Lost Soul (3.21)
16. The Power Grows (4.30)
17. Frozen (3.19)
18. Snow Girl Vanishes (5.42)
19. Zhongkui (0.57)
20. To the Flame Like a Moth (Fen Bu Gu Shen) – Liu Huan, Jike Junyi (3.18)

 

 

 

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