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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Soundtrack Review: #Sherlock Season 3

Season 3's score continues to solve the mystery behind this modern series masterpiece.
Review by Matt Cummings

Unless you've lived under a television rock for the past three years, you probably know all about the BBC series Sherlock. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, these 90-minute, three-episode arcs have done nothing less than solidify each actor's standing as top-tier talent. Central to the success of the show is the soundtrack by Composers David Arnold and Michael Price. Season 3's score is out now, and the results continue to unravel the mystery of this now iconic series.

Set in modern-day London, Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Freeman) use their quirky chemistry to solve a series of crimes using Sherlock's brilliant but tattered mind and Watson's medical prowess. Season 2 witnessed the apparent death of Sherlock, but after two years he returns to find Watson having moved on. Faced with the loss of his teammate, Sherlock must bring his old friend back while unraveling some of the most diabolical crimes ever to arrive at 221B Baker Street.

There's a lot of set up in Season 3's tracks, such as John is Quite a Nice Guy and Back to Work, which retain just enough of the original Sherlock theme without using it as a crutch. Both use the opener in different ways, with Guy utilizing an electric guitar/violin combo and Work singing an almost drunken tune by its end. For #SherlockLives, Arnold and Price return to the theme throughout, hearkening back to John Williams' treatment of Star Wars Episode IV. In Work, Arnold and Price use the main theme as merely a bridge to the larger goings on with the track. They never rely on it, but like any good score we find ourselves picking it out of quite often. Lazarus is another of my favorite pieces. In many ways, it feels like Arnold's dark return to the Casino Royale Bond, with a powerful head of steam behind it.

Arnold is no stranger to crafting luxurious atmospheres, as his work on the Brosnan-Bond films and Seasons 1&2 prove. He and fellow collaborator Price know exactly what the series is, deftly vacillating between quirky and dark with relative ease. Season 3 starts as powerfully as Season 2 ended, and here How It Was Done provides an unexpected start, skipping the theme altogether. We then move into God Rest His Soul, which is a complete change of pace from the raucous opener; it's an orchestrated march complete with Arnold's trademark violins leading the way. Floating Dust is one of my favorite tracks, with nice violin interludes that are completely unique of the theme. It's almost a love (or a friendship) theme for our duo. Because Watson is not gay, a joke that continues from Season 1.

One of the funniest sequences of Season 3 sees the boys consume lots of alcohol at local pubs, and here Stag Night definitely utilizes aspects of drunken playfulness as the two find themselves getting into fights and ultimately winding up at the stairwell of Mrs. Hudson's flat. Mayfly Man uses the best of Arnold's time with Bond, crafting an early lush experience of violins and sound effects before moving into a bridge that really doesn't go anywhere. That's OK, because you need tracks like these and Lestrade The Movie. After a bit of setup, it really kicks into gear around 2:40 before a sudden disconnection, like a light bulb being turned off. These do a good job of connecting the tonal tissue between them and the larger pieces, and Lazarus is a good example.

Waltz for John and Mary is a simple violin piece, serving as a celebration of Watson's marriage. Of course, if you've seen Season 3 you know the weird angle that one takes, but Waltz is a nice bridge before descending into a much darker series of tracks. A highlight of Season 3 was the baddie Magnussen, whom Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) can't even touch, and here we get just how dangerous he can be, as the next few tracks take on a decidedly darker tone. We've clearly left the fun of episode 1 to unearth lots of surprises in Forwards or Backwards, Redbeard (another fave), the beautiful To Lie In Leinster Gardens, and Addicted to a Certain Lifestyle. This set is perhaps the strongest of the 22-track release; it represents a pivotal time for our team, and Lifestyle in particular punches us in the gut, in what appears to be the end for Sherlock and Watson.

What's interesting is that both Arnold and Price don't rest on their laurels with Season 3: we never get the original theme here, because frankly they don't need it. The score is a rich mix of power, deep orchestrations (see The Problems of Your Future, the longest track presented), and playful intentions. Fans have expressed a tad of outrage at the way Season 3 went off the rails - returning a baddie who's supposed to be dead - but don't blame our musical duo in the slightest. As things conclude with Appledore and the excellent East Wind, we're ready to see how they handle The Christmas Special and the impending Season 4. From a music standpoint, Sherlock Series 3 solves the mystery behind this modern masterpiece.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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