Doctor Strange: Original Score Review
Music Rating - 3.5/5
Review by Neil Mc Allister
Director: Scott Derrickson
Composer: Michael Giachinno
Having a legendary resume, composing scores for numerous works of famous directors like Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and J.J Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Star Trek 2009, Super 8). Michael Giachinno is having one of his finest years with Doctor Strange being the third box office hit he’s composed for this year, after Zootopia, Star Trek : Beyond. Plus the undoubtable success of Star Wars: Rogue One to look forward to. Nonetheless, Doctor Strange’s score is as a whole rather unmemorable in terms of melodies, particularly for a composer of his calibre; but it does compensate somewhat by having an interesting array of instrumentation.
“Ancient Sorcerer’s Secret” is for the most part a typical introductory music that Giachinno has done before in his scores for the Star Trek movies, but he does mix in some ethnic instrumentation that acknowledges the ancient-oriental setting which features in Doctor Strange. The first section is a call and response between the french horns and an FX-laden electric guitar against a drone of low register chanting. A few bells and drums can be heard before the piece becomes more hectic and starts using the violin, horns and flute to rack up the intensity before it breakdowns into a somewhat random amalgamation of all the aforementioned instrumentation. The main theme then starts in earnest, sounding like a mixture of Danny Elfman’s Spider-man theme and Giachinno’s Star Trek theme (speedily arpeggiating violins, with bells, choir and timpani providing the weight to the piece).
“The Hands Dealt” is more a breath of fresh air, being a melancholic piano to accompany Strange’s grief as he struggles to come to terms with his permanently injured hands. At the midpoint of the song the strings section enters to give the music a bit more peace, before the piano drops out temporarily and moves out of using arpeggios and using simple long-held notes in the other instruments. “A Long Strange Trip” takes advantage of the time-bending mythos in the movie with having a reverse-playback of the originally written score, as Strange is sent on an inter-dimensional mind-trip by The Ancient One. After a crescendo of horns and strings, it goes into sci-fi territory with a rumbling synth, booming choir and discordant brass sections. After a sudden silence it, goes into blending both real-time and reverse violin and piano. The temporarily calm atmosphere is broken by a massive choir chant played back in reverse.
“Go For Baroque”, puns aside, stands out for having an interesting main choice of instrument; the harpsichord and really helps the piece stand out. It focuses on a mid-register arpeggio and a higher-register melody, using the same motif to that of “The Hands Dealt”. The string section joins in halfway through, which nicely brings the imagery of Dr Strange studying and pondering in his sanctum. “The Master Of The Mystic” is radically different as well, sounding like a 1970s prog rock tune. It starts with a growing mass of various FX-heavy guitar before the main melody is played across the harpischord and a sitar. At a later stage it goes very Indian-sounding before going into a massive Queen-style chorus. A hammond organ solo follows, with a guitar solo to boot, before the end combines almost of all of the instrumentation for a big finale. It’s probably my favourite, sounding like a track Pink Floyd would have proudly put on their albums back in their hey-day.
There’s no doubt Michael Gichinno has done better in other works of his, but Doctor Strange is very good example for looking at how to use interesting instrumentation. We will be looking at his work again fairly soon when Stars Wars: Rogue One comes out.
Written by Neil Mc Allister
Neil is a Graduate of BIMM Dublin and Griffith College where he studied music and sound design. He is also a freelance composer and musician.