Music Composed by: John Powell
Movie Genre: Animation
Movie Release: 2010
Soundtrack Release: 2010
Label: Varese Sarabande Records

“A musical triumph for animation, with
the exquisite signature of John Powell!”

Eastern of nowhere and northern of freezing, there is a viking village called Berk. This village is facing a problem quite different than any other one. The problem has wings, breaths fire and has a name: dragons! The Dreamworks animated film “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) was, for many reasons, a rather enjoyable cinematic experience. The reason that interests SOUNDTRACK BEAT is of course the music, for which the composer John Powell won an Academy Award nomination, the first in fact of his career, but left the Academy Awards ceremony without the golden statuette at hand. Did he deserve it? By all means, from the first to the last musical note! After writing music for many animated films, John Powell has become particularly adept at the genre. Especially in animation, the musical demands rise, the amount of music needed is increased and coherence is most required. This particular animated film is of no exception.

«How to Train Your Dragon» movie’s plot details make it more demanding regarding the musical approach, even more than the average film of the genre. Let’s cite the details on which the soundtrack is obliged to focus: vikings, dragons, a rebellious boy who falls in love with a girl, a mighty dragon, the most feared of all the dragons, and an unexpected friendship shared by the dragon and the boy. The film focuses on their friendship and its side effects. Furthermore, you can add the thrill of flight on the back of a dragon and a battle that will decide the future of the village Berk. All these plot details inspired composer John Powell, who found multiple ideas on the musical sketching for the characters, places and events that occur as the dragons shoot fire and the Vikings practice heroism on a daily basis.

On the occasion of «How To Train Your Dragon», John Powell goes a step further and shows us indeed how a flawless score sounds like! Until this score and despite his previous total of eleven animated films, the composer had not been able to reach such a high level of combined freshness, energy, inspiration and musical maturity. With an arsenal of themes, an orchestra performing exceptionally and a choir that colors the music in the right places, the seventy-plus minute score of the film rolls magnificently! When one track gives way to the next and the listener does not get tired of the music, then you realize that the essence of this score does not lay on a few interesting tracks, but it is spread throughout. With such a great narrative skill, something rare nowadays, we can speak of a musical treasure, not only in the filmography of John Powell, but also for the film genre in general.

The basic plot issue is about the friendship created between the young boy Hiccup and a dragon, named “Toothless”. The friendship theme was the hardest thing the composer had to deal with during the composition of the score, according to his own statement. The first time we hear it, it’s in the scene where the two meet for the first time. Toothless is wounded on the ground trapped in a net, the outcome of the dragon attack on Berk the night before (the introduction of the film). Hiccup can not believe that the most fearsome dragon of all is before his eyes trapped. If he kills the dragon, everyone will believe in his bravery. While preparing to use his knife to finally kill the beast, there it is, the theme of friendship in its most tragic form. Listen to it at 3:10 in «The Downed Dragon» (#3). However, instead of killing the beast Hiccup frees the dragon from the ropes and in return the dragon lets the boy live. This is the early stage of a friendship that would blossom later in the movie.

The next appearance of the friendship theme comes as Hiccup is leafing through the book with all recorded dragon types. He is about to find the dragon who managed to trap. Just before he reaches the dragon’s page, we hear again the friendship theme with quite a different orchestration at 1:07 in «The Dragon Book» (#6). The theme matures when Hiccup will find the dragon wounded, without the left flap of its tail, and thus helpless to fly. Hiccup will approach the dragon, the fearsome beast will be fed, and a bond between the two is about to grow. This was the scene that nearly “killed” the composer, a word used by him, as this was the most difficult scene of the whole movie to approach musically. Essentially, this is the sequence where we hear the friendship theme in its most beautiful and comprehensive form.

Speaking of the track «Forbidden Friendship» (#8), the music here reflects the mutual trust between the boy and the dragon, with the aid of a theme that combines carefreeness, childhood mischief, faith, devotion and euphoria. Characteristics which unite the two friends, which music brings out in a miraculous way, with the entry of an ethereal choir and a marimba along with the orchestra. The fact that the music surprisingly elevates this scene and vice versa, that this music finds such fertile ground to work and flourish in this particular sequence, it is because as long as we listen to the track «Forbidden Friendship» (#8) there is almost no dialogue, only a few brief quotes from Hiccup. A perfect opportunity for the music to work and prove that when the music speaks, dialogue is unnecessary. That is really the power of music in films. When the director allows it, music can speak even more vividly than any dialogue! The same is verified in other scenes of the film, where music is left on its own to completely take the cinematic narrative. These are the most magical moments of “How to Train Your Dragon”.

Another example is found in the track «Romantic Flight» (#15), where Hiccup along with a girl named Astrid, enjoy a wonderful flight on the back of the dragon Toothless. One new theme is presented in this piece of music in its most charming and rich version since it is about a flight scene: the theme of Astrid, who will become the girlfriend of Hiccup before the end credits come. A more tender and sensitive performance of the same theme is heard in «The Cove» (#17), as Astrid and Hiccup talk about whether or not his father should learn the truth about the dragon. Before Astrid enjoy the calm and majestic flight along with Hiccup on Toothless, she was startled for good when the dragon wanted to scare her making sudden movements while flying. Terror overwhelms Astrid. And the music of this scene overwhelms the listener with a new full of energy adventurous theme heard in «Astrid Goes For a Spin» (#14), which often occurs during the film when the illustrated adventure calls for.

In a film with dragons and numerous flight scenes, it would be impossible not to have a musical theme just for this purpose. Some of the most beautiful and important compositions in the history of cinema were for flights with airplanes, balloons, birds, spaceships etc. Now it is time for the flights of a dragon to get music to be remembered by and John Powell composes another theme for the flights of Toothless and Hiccup, and we hear it in its most prolific appearance in «Test Drive» (#11). Another sequence without dialogue, where John Powell’s great music conveys everything Hiccup feels as he flies for the first time with a dragon: an absolute excitement! Also heard in the same track is their friendship theme in a more adventurous form at 1:53, where Hiccup is separated from the dragon and falls. While dropping, Hiccup will reach Toothless and the friendship theme boldly returns.

Hiccup and Toothless count many minutes of flight in the film. Along with Astrid, as they fly on a cloudy night, a dragon will appear next to them flying. And after a while, another one. As time passes the cloudy sky fills with dragons holding a prey, all flying together. Toothless and the rest remain calm keeping the same route, when all of them suddenly make an aerial dive entering inside a hollow mountain. The sequence is extremely well accompanied by «Dragon’s Den» (#16), one of the reference tracks of this score, where the violins and the whole orchestra with the choir gradually expand the sound palette and increase the intensity as the dragons approach the mountain. The orchestra performs a fragmented explosive performance of the flight theme. The crushing cymbals outline grandeur, indicating that the place where the three friends are going, is distinguished by its importance. And indeed it is an important place, since it is the nest of a huge dragon king. The hurried departure from the dragon’s nest is accompanied by a riveting brisk musical epilogue from 2:14 to the end of the track.

Hiccup’s father assembles the entire fleet of Berk and sails to the dragon king’s nest. The track «Battling the Green Death» (#20) is the music of the ensuing battle where all the musical themes used prior parade. Needless to say, this is an epic piece of music that overflows from the pulse and the adventure of the battle. «Coming Back Around» (#23) is the musical epilogue of the film and we couldn’t have imagined a better one. Throughout the score, there is a distinct Celtic flair, but this track appears to be of a more Celtic vibe than any previous one.

At the beginning of the film, the viewer is acquainted to all the important musical themes of the score in a single track: «This is Berk» (#1). This is where we hear for the first time all the themes previously described plus another one. Hiccup has its own carefree theme and we hear it at 3:15, firstly in its simple form and after a while in a military version with the accompaniment of the percussion instruments. The track begins with the flight theme at 0:23 and at 1:10 we hear the adventure theme, as in «Astrid Goes For a Spin» (#14), while at 2:58 Astrid’s theme appears. By now, we come to realize that «This is Berk» (#1) serves as a wonderful suite for the music of the film. John Powell really triumphs on his composing skills for “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010) and adds another musical treasure to his filmography, four years after his monumental score for the film «X-Men: The Last Stand» (2006).

Track List:

01. This is Berk (4:12)
02. Dragon Battle (1:55)
03. The Downed Dragon (4:16)
04. Dragon Training (3:10)
05. Wounded (1:25)
06. The Dragon Book (2:22)
07. Focus, Hiccup! (2:05)
08. Forbidden Friendship (4:10)
09. New Tail (2:47)
10. See You Tomorrow (3:52)
11. Test Drive (2:35)
12. Not So Fireproof (1:11)
13. This Time For Sure (0:47)
14. Astrid Goes For a Spin (0:45)
15. Romantic Flight (1:55)
16. Dragon’s Den (2:28)
17. The Cove (1:10)
18. The Kill Ring (4:27)
19. Ready the Ships (5:13)
20. Battling the Green Death (6:18)
21. Counter Attack (3:02)
22. Where’s Hiccup? (2:43)
23. Coming Back Around (2:49)
24. Sticks & Stones (4:08) – Σύνθεση & Ερμηνεία Jonsi
25. The Vikings Have Their Tea (2:04)

Total Time: 72:00

The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters.

Score Rating: * * * * *