Review: John Powell – How To Train Your Dragon 2

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the latest film score from acclaimed British composer John Powell. A protegé of Hans Zimmer, Powell has collaborated with Harry Gregson-Williams on the soundtracks for Chicken Run and Shrek, and has composed original scores for films as diverse as the Bourne sequels, Hancock and F. Gary Gray’s 2003 remake of The Italian Job.

In 2011, his scoring of the computer-animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon was nominated for Best Original Score at the 2011 Academy Awards and for Best Original Music at the BAFTA awards of the same year. Clearly then, his music for the sequel (due to be released on the Relativity Music Group label later this month) has a lot to live up to. Like the original, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is set in a fictional Viking world. Powell puts forward a rustic character with folk instruments (including a bagpipe ensemble called the ‘Red Hot Chilli Pipers’) alongside a 120-piece orchestra and a 100-piece choir, instilling the traditional, lush Hollywood string sound with a Celtic undertone.

‘For the Dancing and the Dreaming’, brings this style to the forefront, by featuring a harp, an accordion accompaniment, and folk-style violins and pipes. Its slow, thoughtful opening soon gives way to an up-tempo folk dance which would sound more at home in a céilidh than on record.

Bringing the Viking lands to Hollywood, the music of Nordic classical composers Sibelius and Grieg are another heavy influence on Powell’s soundtrack. This is especially clear in the romantic wind solos of ‘Together We Map the World’ and ‘Valka’s Dragon Sanctuary’. In the latter, the main character (a young warrior called Hiccup) discovers a huge cavern filled with dragons of all shapes and sizes. Powell’s choral accompaniment visualises the scene’s otherworldliness and magic with ease.

This score’s use of folk influences is a breath of fresh air for the fantasy genre, which all-too-often relies on traditional, romantic orchestral sounds. Overall, Powell’s score is an effective follow-up to a hugely successful original soundtrack. 

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