Henry Jackman ‎- Kong Skull Island

3 out of 5

Label: Waxwork Records

Produced by: Henry Jackman

I didn’t really understand the necessity of this release from Waxwork.  Some of their stuff – Taxi Driver, for instance – has been kind of questionable to me, but I can kinda sorta get it as being a “cult” movie, which is tangential to the horror and sci-fi stuff the imprint specializes in.  Around this time, WWR started issuing a lot of modern day horror soundtracks as well – previously it was mostly classic stuff – and it caused me to kind of lose interest in them.  That cast a pall over my listening experience of Kong Skull Island, as it simply wasn’t a score I was very excited for.  Similarly, Henry Jackman’s other work I’d listened to – some Marvel stuff, Uncharted – had come across rather generically to me; predictable action cues, predictable downbeats, Zimmer horns and whatnot.  Double whammy.

There’s a brief note from Jackman on the liner notes for this, though, that mentions reaching back through the legacy of Kong films for inspiration.  This is literally just a single paragraph, but it had me listening a bit more attentively than I might otherwise have done, because I have spent time with Max Steiner’s original King Kong score, and I was interested to hear if that’d been modernized in some way.

While I feel like the only callbacks I heard were some subtle notes in the Kong cues (e.g. Kong the Destroyer; Kong the Protector) – noting that my ears aren’t great that kind of thing – I was rather pleased at points by what Jackman was trying to do here.  The score mostly avoids a lot of modern affectations – that genericness I was mentioning that ripples through a lot of our blockbusters and the movies that mimic them – and, especially on the C- and D-sides, gets downright thrilling and momentous.   This isn’t to say we don’t get some electric guitar and some of those horns, but in the former case it feels rather inspirationally and surprises like a good score should, and in the latter case, while it tip-toes towards recognizable “hero” themes, Jackman seems to be trying his best to minimize those types of tones.

That said, this leads to an awful lot of restraint, which prevents the score from feeling like it has a real direction, and on the B-side, leaves us wandering through quiet, aimless cues while we’re waiting for action.  As mentioned, though, that action – sides C and D – is pretty grand stuff, going heavy on drumming and finally securing a “sound” for the film.

Waxwork’s packaging on this feels a little underwhelming, but I think that’s also due to this being a modern film: there’s no sense of history or nostalgia to drawn on, so you’re just re-making familiar images.  The sound is pretty rich, though, with only some minor pops and crackles kicking off the A-side.