Thursday, March 29, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Theme from Human Target" by Bear McCreary

Coming soon: Hunan Target, the all-Chinese version about badass security expert Christopher Chan.
"Bear McCreary's Christopher Chance theme is as important to that character as the Raiders March is to Indiana Jones, the Imperial March to Darth Vader, or Jerry Goldsmith's 'It's A Long Road' theme for the Rambo character," said a Human Target fan in an online petition where he called for Fox to bring back Jonathan E. Steinberg and the Walking Dead scorer as the showrunner/composer duo on Human Target during its second and unsurprisingly final season.

Although it bore little resemblance to the terrific and psychologically complex Vertigo master-of-disguise comic it was based on, the much more straightforward TV version of Human Target, particularly in its first and best season, was an enjoyable action drama in the vein of Burn Notice and Leverage. But it was far more globally minded than the confined-to-Miami Burn Notice (shot on location in Miami) and the confined-to-Boston Leverage (shot in Portland, Oregon, which poses as Boston and other cities, much like how Human Target's Vancouver homebase was disguised--a la the comic book version of Chance--as San Francisco and other locales). So in the music department, Steinberg, who once said his globetrotting and martial arts-heavy version of Human Target was built out of the DNA of the Star Wars, Star Trek and Indiana Jones films he grew up watching, encouraged McCreary to think big and epic.

Mark Valley is living every guy's dream: being handcuffed to Emmanuelle Vaugier.
"The real thrill of scoring Human Target comes from the unprecedented creative freedom I’ve been given to create the kind of sweeping, thematic and adventurous score largely absent from both the small and large screen in recent years. And while the heart of the score is old school, its [sic] not a throwback or a parody," wrote McCreary in his blog post about working on Human Target's pilot episode. "My goal was to create a continuation of classic orchestral scores, not a regurgitation of them."

McCreary's score music, from the 33-second main title march that trumpeted Chance's heroics to the themes he wrote for each love interest or villain, sounded superb. It was reminiscent of the dashing-sounding work of the late Shirley Walker, whom McCreary idolizes, and her staff of composers on Batman: The Animated Series, and it was accomplished on an amazingly large scale, despite a limited network TV budget (snowy Vancouver as not-exactly-snowy SF... again?!). Human Target's first season featured music performed by a 60-piece orchestra or larger, like in the series highlight "Christopher Chance," both the last episode before Steinberg and McCreary's exit and the last good episode (other than a Steinberg-penned second-season ep that reunited Mark Valley's eccentric and remorseful assassin-turned-bodyguard with Lennie James' unrepentant thug Baptiste, his ally-turned-nemesis-turned-ally).

Mark Valley makes an appearance at what ended up being Bear McCreary's final Human Target recording session and offers to teach the dorkiest violinists in the studio some krav maga moves.
One thing I enjoyed about the first-season Human Target opening title sequence, which evoked Human Target's comic book roots and was produced by the highly esteemed Imaginary Forces title design studio of Mad Men fame and directed by Karin Fong, was how it was animated and edited to the rhythms of McCreary's classy and cinematic-sounding march.

"This perfect timing between music and images was achieved because I actually wrote the music first, months in advance, and delivered it to the animators as a guideline," wrote McCreary at the beginning of his Human Target stint. "This combination of imagery and ballsy orchestral music make [sic] a bold statement, that this series is going to be something special. Chance is not your typical action hero and his music is not your typical electronica-inspired TV scoring. The title promises that you are about to watch a movie."

The ballsy orchestral sound lasted only one season. This was due to Human Target becoming a victim of showrunner musical chairs, one of many aspects of the TV industry I'll never fully understand. Tim Jones did decent work as the original score composer for one of Human Target producer McG's other action shows, the more comedic and soapy Chuck, but when Jones replaced McCreary on Human Target, his efforts paled in comparison to McCreary's. Jones' much less epic Chuck sound was wrong for Human Target, as was the whole Chuck-ification of Valley's show that was spearheaded by Steinberg's replacement, Chuck veteran Matt Miller, in Human Target's second season (why do the words "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" come to mind?).

In Human Target's second-season opening titles, Jones' theme briefly references McCreary's Chance theme at the beginning, but it morphs into this strange and unengaging beast that doesn't match the movements of the mostly unchanged opening title graphics. It's emblematic of Jones' less epic approach, which was the opposite of what McCreary said he wanted to achieve with his music for Chance.

Jones' theme is so out-of-place in the opening titles that "Human Touch" by Rick Springfield--who starred as Chance in an earlier and much more short-lived TV incarnation of Human Target--would have been a better replacement.

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