Valerian and the City of a Thousand PLanets
What You Will Hear: Orchestra, choir, tribal drums, all with minimal effects/synth. Also, some songs that mix rather well with the score.
Standout Tracks: Big Market, Arriving on Alpha, A Million On My Soul, Medusa, Pearls On Mul, Reading the Memo, Flight Above the Big Market, Showtime, Submarine, Le souper du Roi, Boulanbator Combat, Bubble, Pearl’s World, Pearls Power
Will You Be Humming Along? The main theme is fun, used in big sweeping gestures and smaller comedic moments.
I believe there might also be a secondary theme. I think it starts with a descending half step neighbor tone, then hangs around in A major's first five pitches? (see: The City of 1000 Planets or Pearls Power)
The album this makes me want to dust off: Pan - John Powell
Will I come back to it? Yes. Valerian is a traditionalist’s dream. Hollywood dominates sci-fi scores with synth and effects these days, but Desplat has delivered a bright and dynamic full orchestra. The soundscape is instantly enjoyable, and the main theme is unique and endearing. It isn’t used often enough, but when it appears, the motif is beyond effective. From its first statement, playfully introduced on The Big Market, the theme almost feels like jazz. I was completely taken off guard by this. Even the direst cues from the score have light woodwinds accentuating the mood (see: Submarine). Other villainous scenes are approached with a funky small ensemble (see: Le souper du Roi). Having prepared myself for a heavier or darker sound, the vibrant orchestra and smaller groups were a joy to experience.
Another surprise was the amount of time Desplat got to spend creating tender sections with the strings (see: Bubble). The composer has a masterful stroke in many cases, but especially when the strings are whispering soothing tones. It was so nice to hear smaller character moments find a place within the spectacle of it all.
The pop tunes fit in well. If you can’t stand songs chopping up your score, then skip the beginning interruptions and get to the main body of Desplat’s offerings. But, I very much enjoyed some David Bowie and being introduced to The World (Is Going Up In Flame) from Charles Bradley. Alexiane’s A Million on My Soul is strangely hypnotic and I’ve returned to it a lot. It’s an unexpected simple pleasure. These selections feel like tongue-in-cheek storytelling, and I bet they work nicely in film.
Valerian is more wholesome than expected (see: Pearl’s World). The orchestrations are fantastic. The theme’s melody is wonderfully quirky, and the action writing is inventive and exciting (see: Fishing For Butterflies). The lack of dark sci-fi scoring is appreciated. I do wish the main theme had been used to hold things together more often. From time to time, it feels like this experience wonders without a goal. But, if you’re going to wonder for a while, this is a fantastic way to do it.