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Planet Earth II (Hans Zimmer – Jacob Shea – Jasha Klebe)

December 24, 2016

cover_planetearthiiPLANET EARTH II

Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea, Jasha Klebe, 2016, Silva Screen Records
2CD, 49 tracks, 2:13:14

It’s a tall order to follow in the musical footsteps of George Fenton. Will Shea and Klebe (with a theme by Zimmer) be able to pull it off?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

David Attenborough presents a documentary series exploring how animals meet the challenges of surviving in the most iconic habitats on earth. Sequel to 2006’s Planet Earth, it features six episodes, each focusing on a different habitat. The original score is, rather surprisingly, written by Jasha Klebe (Winter on Fire), Jacob Shea and features a main theme by Hans Zimmer. So, no George Fenton this time. But will he be missed?

What does it sound like?

I’m not going to do a track by track analysis here. It would simply take forever; partly because there are so many tracks, though mostly because virtually each one has something interesting to offer. Yes, it’s one of those albums where almost every track is a stand-out. That said, let’s do linger on the “Planet Earth II Suite” which presents the main theme by Hans Zimmer. It is fab-u-lous! It’s very simple, but it’s elegant, it’s uplifting and by jolly it’s epic. Starting with a humble cello solo, it builds into an epic powerhouse for full orchestra and choir. When I say the theme is simple, I mean it’s build up from a sequence of two notes at a time. It’s nothing virtuoso, instead it’s rather static and regal, but it’s totally addictive. The main theme recurs a good few times throughout the score. It feels very welcoming each time. In my experience, the theme grounds the score. The music will wonder off in all kinds of fantastic directions, but every now and then it returns home to the main theme. It’s a very comforting feeling.

If I were to pick out a few tracks, just to give you a flavour of what’s on the album… “Home to Dragons” features an electric cello alongside a strong string section which overall has a Middle-Eastern feel to it. “Albatross Dance” is a quirky cue with a strong emphasis on harp and winds. When the main theme makes a brief appearance (as it frequently does throughout the score) it’s very welcome. “Singing Indri” reminds me of Avatar, and I wonder if this serves as an audition for its sequels. Based on Planet Earth II I wouldn’t even mind if Shea and Klebe had a crack at it.”Chinstrap Penguins” is surprisingly epic with its deliberately paced theme and arpeggios, reminding me of Batman Begins.

“Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise” is an elegant yet playful cue for flute and violin, with an ethereal performance of the main theme during the mid-section. And that main theme is reprised gloriously in “Something Worth Protecting”. The way Klebe and Shea manage to incorporate it time-and-time-again is impressive, but then…it’s a very mouldable theme. There’s plenty of dramatic string-writing and percussion in “Monsoon Deserts/Canyonlands”; and some sinister (almost Steve Price-like) action music in “Lions vs Giraffe”; and there’s some wonderful percussive things going on in “Wild Horses”.

Some mysterious Interstellar moments aside, “Desert Nightlife” features the quirky type of music we’ve come to expect from nature documentaries. And believe me, there’s plenty of this throughout the album. “Early Morning Fog” stands out for its glittery/shimmery sounds… you can never go wrong with them, especially when you layer one of the score’s key themes on top of it. This is a magical cue! “Roof of the World” concludes the first disc and reprises the main theme.

After the solemn “Peaks of North America”, the score continues with the playful “The Ibex” for fast strings and light percussion. “Ice Skating Flamingo” briefly reminds me of Sherlock, with it’s off-kilter tone and dulcimer sound. Things turn downright groovy with “Dancing Bears” where 70s-like bass and flute are combined with lively percussion. “Snow Leopards” sounds every bit as elusive as the cats themselves, as it’s a very thin and airy cue, but it is mesmerising. The main theme (including it’s lush b-section, which I haven’t mention before) makes an appearance in “Savage Beauty” and I think this may be the only time where it sounds a little bit shoe-horned in. It appears again in the Thomas Newman-esque “Nomadic Life” where it feels much more natural.

I’ll boldly skip over most of the rest, but will mention the lengthy “The Great Migration” which takes the listener on a journey all of its own; the fast-paced action cue “Langurs of Jodhpur”; the stylishly modern “Illuminated” (think Craig Armstrong’s style), the magical “City Skylines”; the absolutely gorgeous “Starlings” with it’s fast flutes and dreamy pads; the reverential “We Are The Designers” and “Epilogue” (goosebumps!); before the album concludes with the majestic “Flight Over the Alps”. Those last three are nothing less than sublime.

Is it any good?

Planet Earth II is simply outstanding. Lovely themes and motifs, wonderful and colourful orchestrations and a knock-out of a main theme. To write this much music and for it to be of a consistently high quality is a magnificent achievement. To a degree, the appearances of the main theme are amongst the highest highlights of this album. But to focus on that one theme alone would be a disservice to Klebe and Shea who went far above and beyond any expectations any of us had for Planet Earth II. With the likes of George Fenton, Sarah Class and Panu Aaltio setting some fantastic examples to follow; Klebe and Shea have delivered a score that is every bit as playful, colourful, epic, majestic, exciting and inspiring as anything I’ve ever heard.Easily one of the best works of 2016, even without one of the best themes of the year.

Rating [5/5]

Tracklist:

Disc 1:

01. Planet Earth II Suite
02. The Sloth (Islands)
03. Home to Dragons (Islands)
04. Albatross Dance (Islands)
05. Razor Snakes vs. Iguanas (Islands)
06. Chinstrap Penguins (Islands)
07. Singing Indri (Jungles)
08. Competing Hummingbirds (Jungles)
09. Life in the Canopy (Jungles)
10. Jungle Weather (Jungles)
11. Night Crawlers (Jungles)
12. World of Bioluminescence (Jungles)
13. Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise (Jungles)
14. Something Worth Protecting (Jungles)
15. Life Without Water (Deserts)
16. Monsoon Deserts – Canyonlands (Deserts)
17. Lion vs. Giraffe (Deserts)
18. The Butcher Bird (Deserts)
19. Wild Horses (Deserts)
20. Desert Nightlife – Golden Mole (Deserts)
21. Long-Eared Bat vs. Scorpion (Deserts)
22. Early Morning Fog (Deserts)

Disc 2:

01. Roof of the World (Mountains)
02. Peaks of North America (Mountains)
03. The Ibex (Mountains)
04. The Himalayas (Mountains)
05. Flight Over Alps (Mountains)
06. Ice Skating Flamingos (Mountains)
07. Dancing Bears (Mountains)
08. Tenacious Bobcat (Mountains)
09. Garden of Ice (Mountains)
10. Snow Leopards (Mountains)
11. Savage Beauty (Mountains)
12. Normadic Life (Grasslands)
13. Hunting Buffalo Herds (Grasslands)
14. The Okavango (Grasslands)
15. Carmine Bee Eaters (Grasslands)
16. Industrious Insects (Grasslands)
17. The Great Migration (Grasslands)
18. The Unnatural Habitat (Cities)
19. Langurs of Jodhpur (Cities)
20. Temple Gardens (Cities)
21. Market Thieves (Cities)
22. Illuminated (Cities)
23. City Skylines (Cities)
24. Starlings (Cities)
25. Toronto Raccoons (Cities)
26. We are the Designers (Cities)
27. Epilogue (Cities)


Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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