THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) – Album Analysis #1

JWFAN proudly presents the first online review of The Adventures of Tintin soundtrack album! Including an extensive track-by-track description and a detailed introduction to the basic the themes in the score. Enjoy!

Exclusive “The Adventures of Tintin” soundtrack review
By Jason LeBlanc

Move over, young composers of the day – the Master is back.

It’s been 3 and a half long years since the last new full John Williams film score… and in one over-far-too-soon new Original Soundtrack CD, the Maestro reminds us why he is not only one of the best composers the world of celluloid has ever seen, but one of the most versatile as well.

I think I counted no less than 10 different themes over the course of the 65 minute soundtrack album, weaving in and out of exciting action riffs, gorgeous orchestrations that put you right into various locations around the world in seconds, mysterious legend-exploring passages, character-defining moments, and virtuoso concert arrangements that must have left every orchestra member desperate to catch their breath!  Balancing out everything you’d expect in a good globe-trotting adventure are moments of true comedy, thanks to the themes for Captain Haddock and the bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson.  In fact, let’s go over the themes I’ve discovered for now – as I seem to pick up on new ones every time I listen to the CD!

Tintin’s Theme is the most versatile of the score’s many themes, getting its own jazzy concert arrangement (The Adventures of Tintin), an Indiana-Jones-esque action variation (Escape From The Karaboudjan, The Pursuit of the Falcon), and a general “off to the next location!” / “moving the story along” version (“The Flight To Bagghar”).  The two halves of the theme almost act like a 5-note call and a 6 note answer, almost always playing back to back.   For a simple theme, it’s very adaptable.

Williams has written another great animal theme for Tintin’s canine sidekick Snowy has his own theme, the notes rising up and up reminding you of a yipping dog.  The theme is sometimes backed by piano appears often throughout the beginning of the CD (appearing in tracks 2 through 6), and even gets its own concert arrangement featuring lengthy piano solos punctuated by string runs that sums up the theme just as you’re getting settled into things.

Haddock’s Theme is at the core of the score for me.  It’s not only the most fully developed, getting a full 5 bar arrangement in several  of the tracks, but it has the capability to be played in a heroic, thoughtful, comical, bravado, or endearing setting depending on the scene.  Commonly played on bassoon or bass clarinet, it tends to make you want to smile every time you hear it, and I’m sure after seeing the movie you will instantly picture Captain Archibald Haddock every time you hear it.

There seems to be two themes associated with The Unicorn and the mysteries it contains – you can hear them battle each other back and forth in “The Secret Of The Scrolls”, with the main one of them popping up throughout many other tracks on the CD, all the way until the end.  It harkens back to the Ark Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, though is certainly not similar enough to be considering derivative.

Sir Francis and Red Rackham, two characters from Captain Haddock’s ancestry, likewise have themes that duel each other throughout “Sir Francis and the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Curse and The Treasure”, with Red Rackham’s theme popping up again in “The Clash of the Cranes” as well.  Both themes conjure up high-seas adventure, and are among the more powerful and in-your-face themes of the score.

Tintin’s friends, the detectives Thomson and Thompson, also get their own theme, like Haddock’s commonly played on woodwinds, though usually backed by piano and/or accordion.  Similar to the main Unicorn Theme in that it sounds more or less the same every time it is used, it is no less completely perfect for what it represents.

What follows is a brief description of each track on the CD.  No worries about being spoiled here – as I haven’t seen the film, I have been enjoying solely the listening experience Williams has created.  It flows remarkably well, despite having such a huge number of themes and orchestral colors – which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows how Williams works.  Here we go!

1. The Adventures of Tintin (3:08)

Bass Clarinet, Harpsichord, and piano team up right away to let us know this isn’t a typical action-adventure score.  As more and more instruments enter, the jazzy palette is confirmed, and soon solo clarinet introduced us to Tintin’s theme, when continues to weave its way in and out of the rest of the jazzy concert arrangement, which also features accordion, alto and tenor sax, a drum kit, and bells.

2. Snowy’s Theme (2:10)

The next concert arrangement begins right away with Snowy’s Theme bouncing in on flutes and clarinet, which after a few variations gives way to the first of several piano runs that define most of the rest of the piece.  The performance by Gloria Cheng will impress even the most casual listener.  Her piano runs are punctuated by intrusions by many of the other sections of the orchestra, in a way that reminds the listener of a symphony – an extremely fun, 2 minute symphony!

3. The Secret Of The Scrolls (3:13)

Williams now slows things down and introduces us to the two Unicorn Themes, which alternate back and forth, each getting extensive development over the duration of the track.  The first theme is more mysterious, reminiscent of the quieter variations of the Ark Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, while the secondary theme has a more ancient and noble quality to it, each time it plays sounding like we’re getting closer to unraveling a larger mystery.  A brief interlude containing Snowy’s Theme followed a bit later by a brief occurrence of Tintin’s Theme is about the only section to not feature one of the two themes playing.

4. Introducing The Thompsons and Snowy’s Chase (4:09)

An up and down grand piano rhytm introduces Thomson and Thompsons’s Theme, played on a few different woodwinds before suddenly stopping, and an accordion passage brings us to a new location.  Accordion and woodwinds duel for a bit, Tintin’s Theme returns, and pizzicato strings enter the soundscape as well.  The second half of the track begins in a way you know something bad has happened, but Snowy’s Theme lets us know he’s on the case.  Parts of this chase sequence were adapted into the Snowy’s Theme concert arrangement (track 2).

5. Marlinspike Hall (3:59)

Without knowing what Marlinspike Hall may be, Williams’ music lets us know right away someone is up to no good.  Just when the music is at its most threatening, Snowy’s Theme breaks in to let us know things might be OK.  The rest of the track is primarily mysterious suspense music, punctuated by Tintin’s Theme, the mysterious Unicorn Theme, and an explosive variation of the other Unicorn Theme.

6. Escape From The Karaboudjan (3:21)

The disc’s first true action track begins with a brief pizzicato strings section before the action begins!  Tintin’s ThemeSnowy’s Theme, and pounding timpani  give a sense of escaping from pursuers in a thrilling manor.  Rousing trumpet blasts the climax of the piece, and then the denouement contains a new theme that sounds perfect for a threatening villain.  This is quickly followed by another new theme played on ethnic instruments (kemenche and tanbura) before the piece concludes

7. Sir Francis and the Unicorn (5:08)

The next track begins quietly, but builds to a small peak before giving way to a lengthy rendition of the mysterious Unicorn theme, which is now expanded to the full orchestra including brass in a manor indicative of revealing something new and important.  A quick rendition of its former mysterious sound soon gives way to more new themes: Red Rackham’s and Sir Francis’ Themes enter and alternate back and forth, all the while sounding like a classic pirate adventure, but with a modern Williams twist.  The two themes build and build, going through many variations by all different sections of the orchestra.  After climaxing, the mystery Unicorn Theme returns once more to end the piece.

8. Captain Haddock Takes The Oars (2:18)

Williams now chooses to introduce us to Haddock’s Theme, busting in with a swagger on bass clarinet and bassoon. The track features many lengthy variations of his full theme, including ones backed up by accordion.  The theme perfectly fits the image of a sea captain with a noble history who might not be living the most noble life anymore, but takes opportunities whenever he can to prove himself, his theme always there backing up his decisions.

9. Red Rackham’s Curse and The Treasure (6:11)

The longest track on the album is also the hardest to describe, and many listens in I am still discovering new things.  It starts with pounding cello and bass setting the backdrop as violin and viola drive things along.  After an interlude with chimes and some ethnic flare, a new rhythm driven by viola soon leads us to a new theme for violins that are invocative of pirates dueling on large ships.  This theme goes through a few iterations, the main melody passed off to other sections of the orchestra a few times, before things calm down again.  The dueling pirates melody briefly returns, before the final section of the track begins, which has a distinctly desert feel to it.  The Unicorn Theme gets a new, nobler variation, and then the driving viola melody returns again before suddenly the whole orchestra comes in for the climax, which sounds like travelers long-lost in the desert have finally found salvation.  This is quickly followed by the kemenche and tanbura theme from “Escape From The Karaboudjan” before the track ends.

10. Capturing Mr. Silk (2:58)

Clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon let us know we’re in the company of Captain Haddock again, even though his theme doesn’t play right away.  When it does, it is very reminiscent of the villain’s theme from Home Alone.  The next section of the cue returns to some of the great European flair heard in “Introducing The Thompsons”, with accordion and other instruments giving the middle of the track a very Parisian flair.  The third movement of the track features the return of Thomson and Thompson’s Theme,  this time backed up by accordion, in a faster and more fun setting than before.

11. The Flight To Bagghar (3:35)

The album’s second major action track also features a quiet start that quickly explodes to a full-on action romp. Haddock’s Theme even gets a quick action variation, before Tintin’s Theme takes over in its most Indiana Jones-esque rendition yet.  Haddock’s Theme returns to send the track to its climax, which features thrilling string writing once again.

12. The Milanese Nightingale (1:30)

One of the most exquisite tracks on the album, this track not only features a gorgeous violin solo, but also a fantastic section based on a French-sounding accordion that creates a perfect Parisian soundscape.  The piece ends with another violin solo and a swelling string climax that briefly hints at a bit of danger before concluding.

13. Presenting Bianca Castafiore (3:26)

This track begins with the introduction to the cavatina from Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.  It is quickly followed by Renee Fleming as Bianca Castafiore singing Je veux vivre, from Charles Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.  The conclusion of the piece contains breaking glass and other sound effects sure to displease some soundtrack fans.

14. The Pursuit Of The Falcon (5:44)

Strap yourself in for the craziest action material to come out in quite some time!  But first, Je Veux Vivre is reprised by the orchestra, followed by some suspenseful chase music, which gives way to a full on action cue.  Timpani, bass drum, and snare drum pound along as flutes, trumpets, horns, and the string section all get their turns to chase our characters along.  Some sections highlighting the flutes conjures images of a bird flying, and are reminiscent of Harry Potter and the some of the flute music for birds in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Some of the string rhythms seem to be based on Snowy’s Theme, and Tintin’s Theme makes appearances as well.

15. The Captain’s Counsel (2:11)

This “calm before the storm” track is mostly somber in tone, featuring a solemn variation of Haddock’s Theme. The end of the track features a quick appearance of Thomson and Thompson’s Theme.

16. The Clash Of The Cranes (3:49)

The brief pause is over – we are quickly back into action material!  The timpani and bass drum from the previous action track are now joined by heavy, medium, and low drums, pounding away forcefully to let us know the stakes.  The strings and brass create a sense of chaos, as if our heroes really don’t know what to do.  Tintin’s Theme attempts to appear, and then Snowy’s Theme enters in heroic fashion, but that is short lived as before you know it, Red Rackham’s Theme makes a sudden return!  It creates a perfect sense of danger.  The second half of the track loses the pounding drums in favor of a harpsichord and string section,  followed by a woodwind section featuring Haddock’s Theme, and then finally Tintin’s Theme gets a few fun variations as well before Thomson and Thompson’s Theme comes in to end the piece.

17. Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale (5:52)

The Unicorn Theme returns, back in its original mystery variation. This is followed by Tintin’s Theme and then Snowy’s Theme.  After climaxing, quiet and mysterious music returns, giving a feeling of there being one last mystery to solve.  A somewhat serious variation of Haddock’s Theme is heard before the music gets its most mysterious.  The mysterious music is only briefly punctuated by the Unicorn Theme and Haddock’s Theme, and this section ends with a lush, noble variation of the Unicorn Theme on horns.  The final section of the track begins with a bouncing rhythm on celeste, harp, and violin, which underscores Haddock’s Theme on contrabass clarinet before everything builds to a dramatic conclusion, featuring the Unicorn Theme that perhaps gives a small hint that more adventures are to come….

18. The Adventure Continues (2:58)

Beginning as the previous track is still fading out, Williams presents the final concert arrangement to conclude the album.  This one is based on the dueling pirates melody heard in “Red Rackham’s Curse and The Treasure”.  The melody gets passed from instrument to instrument, always backed by strings, in another virtuoso performance from the orchestra that makes you simply marvel at the performing prowess of the musicians.  Two classic Williams false ending lets things build again to a stronger and even more powerful ending, and the CD is over!

Overall this is fantastic score by the maestro, covering a huge range of emotions, ideas, soundscapes, and instrumental palettes.  It’s got to be impossible to not find something to like on the CD, with so many different ideas present.  Yet it never feels like you are listening to a disjointed mess;  the many themes of the score tie everything together so you always know what score you are listening to.  The themes may not be as instantly classic or memorable as so many themes in John Williams’ repertoire are, but that is perfectly alright.  The method taken just plain works here, and the score – at least as presented on the CD – is a fantastic listening experience from beginning to end.  Highly recommended.

Be sure to check out our exclusive sound clips from the CD.
Jason LeBlanc can be reached in our forums.