Monday, 30 May 2016

Top 10 Warcraft Soundtracks

Obligatory disclaimer that listicles like this are intrinsically subjective and fallible and don’t mean much.

Warcraft is a grand series of video games about to make its way to the big screen. In anticipation of this film (and Ramin Djawadi’s score!) I’ve decided to look back at the many Warcraft soundtracks over the years. And hey, why not try to rank them?

The Warcraft series differs from other extended fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit because it’s simply much bigger. Whereas the Tolkien films were all scored by Howard Shore, Warcraft has seen contributions from dozens of composers over the years. And with many games over the years with many different styles and huge amounts of content, the sheer amount of musical material in Warcraft is just enormous. For most of the World of Warcraft releases there is around 10 hours (!) of music available to listen to on YouTube (for this article I'm really only looking at the official releases though). And it’s all incredibly varied, as Warcraft has touched on genres of fantasy, war, science fiction, melodrama, romance, horror and even comedy.

So much brilliant music to get through! Here’s my ranking:

10) Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (1994) by Gregory Alper, Rick Jackson, Chris Palmer, Glenn Stafford

The original WarCraft may not have many lasting themes, but it's a high energy soundtrack that forges a path for what's to come. The fast marching drums and taut, dancing brass define the WarCraft style to this day.

9) Taverns of Azeroth (2007) by David Arkenstone, Jason Hayes

A change of pace: gentle, hearty and warm shanties from the Warcraft world.

8) WarCraft II (1995) by Glenn Stafford

Similar to Orcs & Humans, but brings Tauren-sized bucket loads of fun. Electronic, but oozing with rhythmic marches and fist-pumping motifs. Lots of attitude and personality. Highly memorable.

7) WarCraft III (2002) by Tracy W. Bush, Derek Duke, Jason Hayes, Glenn Stafford, Victor Crews

Diverse; often ethereal, intermittently creepy, sometimes grand.  Enormous and rich, it builds upon some WarCraft II themes, and is the origin for some of the greatest in the series. While it may not be wall-to-wall fun like WarCraft II, Warcraft III is when the series began to become beautiful and sentimental.

6) World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (2007) by Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Matt Uelmen, Jason Hayes, David Arkenstone, Brian David Farr, Neal Acree

Adding some terrifying sting to the vanilla World of Warcraft.

5) World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (2010) by Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford, Neal Acree, David Arkenstone

Many of the best themes from the series are vividly re-imagined.

4) World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (2008) by Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford

A cold, operatic despair harks the terror of the Lich King.

3) World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (2012) by Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon, Edo Guidotti, Jeremy Soule

Warcraft meets Eastern styles. It works ridiculously well. And Jeremy Soule's flourishes are fun.

2) World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor (2014) by Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti, EĆ­mear Noone

Some of the most powerful melodies I've ever heard, and some of the most heartbreaking. Like Pandaria and Lich King, Draenor's score feels truly unified in a theme - here the Orcs' quest for a home.

1) World of Warcraft (2004) by Jason Hayes, Tracy W. Bush, Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford

World of Warcraft takes the fun of Warcraft II and the beauty of Warcraft III and blends them into something unforgettably glorious.

Special Mentions:

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Sweet, gentle, toe-tapping music is featured in this Warcraft spinoff game.

Echoes of War

Some of the best recordings of Warcraft pieces ever.

Heroes of the Storm

Warcraft has a place in this mishmash of Blizzard IPs, and it’s pretty rock’n’roll.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

On Battlestar Galactica

The other day I watched the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. A year ago I had never watched any Battlestar Galactica. These are some thoughts I have on Battlestar Galactica.

It's an amazing show. I can't help but compare it to modern Doctor Who, which is also a reboot of a science-fiction show from decades ago. BSG and Doctor Who's 21st Century rebirths both began around the same time (2003 & 2005 respectively). I wonder what I'd be like now if I had grown up on BSG instead of Doctor Who. I imagine I might be more grounded, with less starry-eyed optimism but greater appreciation for the fallibility of humanity.

Like Doctor Who, BSG is a show with huge variances in quality. But in both programmes the "ups" heavily outweigh any "downs". At its best, BSG is a sprawling sci-fi epic, with lively characters scrambling through the moral murkiness of a world with highly-developed advanced artificial intelligence. We get so many stories of the beginnings of AI, but BSG is really about what AI could be like after existing for hundreds of years.

Throughout the whole show, but particularly towards the beginning, I found it difficult to know if the show wanted me to relate to the Cylons or not. They're certainly initially portrayed as evil robots of destruction, but then there are many times when the viewer is supposed to root for them. Which is something I would be happy to do, but then the show would change its mind again and say they're evil robots. I appreciate that they were probably aiming for some kind of "objective" portrayal, with lots of grey area, but the show really wants the viewer to feel something towards the Cylons and I was never sure what that something was. Again, maybe this was the point, but it felt clunky.

Speaking of clunky - I'd say the whole plot is a pretty big mess. I can't get my head around the Cylons' plans at all. Totally random things happen all the time under the guise of "destiny". But again, this is just like Doctor Who. The plot is allowed to be a disaster because this show is all about the characters. I was pretty disinterested in the plot of most of Seasons 3 & 4, but it's all time spent building these characters, so it was worth it. And chief among the characters in my books is none other than Mr. Gaius Baltar. A wildly interesting person, stunningly portrayed from the pilot to the finale. Gaius was often used as comic relief and, like in many stories, that allowed him to evolve into the most three-dimensional, intriguing and heartbreaking character of the lot.

"I know about farming."

I thought the musical score by prolific TV maestro Bear McCreary was great in the show, but I think it's actually even better on album. His music is so unique and rich and bold. It certainly holds up against Murray Gold's Doctor Who, if I'm going to keep this comparison going. Here's one of the most extravagant pieces in BSG, which made me suddenly sit bolt upright when it first started playing in the show. Like, I kinda didn't even know strings could do that.

A good test of how invested I am in a show is often how I react to the finale. In BSG's case I was pretty affected. It was devastating to see these characters come to terms with everything and say goodbye to one another. The finale was also loaded with a surprising amount of pointed religious and anti-technological messages, which I know have bothered some people, but I prefer a show has too much to say than not enough. And that rather sums up Battlestar Galactica for me. It's a show that was too ambitious to be perfect. But where's the fun in watching something that's perfect?