WHITE LION – Philip Miller


Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at maintitles.net)

White Lion is a film that I first thought was a wildlife documentary that charts the survival and journey to adulthood of a white lion cub cast out from his pride. But, as it turns out, the film is actually a drama. However, the human element intrudes only occasionally into the film, only giving context to the adventures of the white lion. The film’s story is told through its cinematography and, as there is little dialogue, the music is an important tool in storytelling. It is the job of South African-based composer Philip Miller (whose previous projects include the 2006 political thriller Catch A Fire) to add depth to the film with a score in which he was asked not to emphasis too much the indigenous music of Africa. Miller has composed a very thematic, orchestral score.

With this being a movie set in Africa with a lion as its central character, it is difficult not to compare the movie or Miller’s score to John Barry’s Born Free. “Gisani’s Theme”, one of the main themes of the score, is somewhat reminiscent of the Barry’s music as it evokes the grandeur of the African bush as did Barry’s classic score. Miller uses some African vocalisations at points (e.g., “Adult Letsatsi”) where he wants to add particular emphasis of the link between the land and both animals and humans. More dramatic music highlights the lion’s journey when it is fraught with dangers, calling upon hard-edged percussion and staccato strings for encounters with hyenas and crocodiles. There is also “comedic animal music” that can feature in films such as this and “Playing Cubs” and “Chicken Hok and The Porcupine” appear early in the score as the young lion explores its new environment. 

The film-makers were keen for Miller to work with an orchestra in order to create a large and rich sound that wound support and enhance the images. Performed by the Johannesburg Film Orchestra, Miller has produced an orchestral sound (by design or as a result of constraints put on him in terms of the number of musicians he could use) that is quite different to what is usually heard with orchestral scores. Emphasising the brass, woodwinds and low strings, these sections of the orchestra dominate and higher string registers are relegated to an almost supporting role in many of the cues. It’s quite a refreshing sound to hear and certainly differentiates Miller’s score from other orchestral scores.

I believe that Philip Miller’s music to While Lion is another good example of a score where a CD release would have been unlikely had it not been for the foresight and, to be frank, the courage of Mikael Carlsson and his label MovieScore Media. A fresh score from a talented composer, this makes for one of the more memorable releases over the past year and deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.

Rating: ***½

  1. In The Beginning (1:09)
  2. Playing Cubs (2:11)
  3. Hyena Attacks (1:42)
  4. Gisani’s Theme (3:39)
  5. Chicken Hok and The Porcupine (2:03)
  6. Crocodile Attacks (0:54)
  7. Mother (1:03)
  8. Mohahlwa (1:17)
  9. Dance of The Wildebeast (1:46)
  10. Friends (1:40)
  11. Manhood (1:46)
  12. Fire (1:43)
  13. After The Fire (1:25)
  14. The Shooting (3:34)
  15. Adult Letsatsi (1:24)
  16. Hunting Success (2:19)
  17. Loss (1:00)
  18. Over The Neck (1:17)
  19. The Last Fight (4:51)
  20. Finale (2:20)

Running Time: 39:15

MovieScore Media MMS11009 (2011)

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