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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Music of Bionicle

LEGO's Bionicle is something that I like very much. I remember first getting into the comics, then the movies, then the books, then the web serials and everything associated with them, not to mention the guidebooks, online games, and toys. The entire point of the story was to sell those toys, Bionicle being a merchandise driven storyline in the same vein as G.I. Joe and Transformers. Bionicle may not have been turned into a gazillion dollar movie and television franchise, but it is incredibly versatile and in-depth, combining complex plotting and storyline with richly detailed world building. But there's one thing that brought it all to life in its various media: the music. The music of Bionicle is as rich and diverse as its media outlets, if not more so. We've got everything from electronic techno-funk to traditional orchestral music. I don't by any means consider myself a music critic, but I do know that the developing stages of the Bionicle storyline is reflected in its changing music, and that understanding the changing music is key to understanding the changing tone of the storyline.

In the early years of Bionicle, during 2001-2002, the music used in the commercials for the toys was composed by Paul Hardcastle and Simon Fuller. This music was electronic-techno stuff which was meant to evoke the techno-fantasy tone that the the then creative team of Bob Thompson and company was looking for. The success of the toy was in due in no small part to these commercials, including the music. In the original Mata Nui Online Game, this mood was also used in the music, produced by the fellows at Templar Studios. The music in MNOLG was minimalist, yet deep and contemplative. It nicely set the mood for all of the scenes and locations in the game, and provides an generally great soundtrack. This electronic-techno feel was used for the commercials and animated shorts produced in connection to Bionicle in these early years, right up until 2003.

It was in that year that everything changed due to one deciding factor: Bionicle: Mask of Light. The first Bionicle direct-to-DVD movie marked a new era in the Bionicle saga. More personality in the characters, changes in the dialogue, a whole new tone, and with all those things, new, different music. Nathan Furst was the guy that LEGO tapped to compose the score for all three of the original Bionicle films (Mask of Light, Legends of Metru Nui, and Web of Shadows), and I'd say that he did a darn great job. The classical orchestral score was something altogether new to Bionicle, changing the feel from a techno-fantasy adventure story to science-fantasy epic. Everything was bigger in scale in Mask of Light, everything bigger than anything seen previously. This included the music. Furst's score was what defined the original trilogy's tone from start to finish, and completely redefined the entire saga. This new music gave the Bionicle saga an aura of mystery and majesty which hadn't been there previously. It would retain that general tone until Bionicle: The Legend Reborn.

However, Nathan Furst's score was not the only influence on the Bionicle saga in the 2003-2005 years. LEGO also contracted the rock band All Insane Kids to do promotional material for the sets in the commercials. Gone was the electronic-techno music of the 2001-2003 era. The marketing of the Bionicle toys became dominated by rock music, with the songs "Hero" and "Caught in a Dream" by All Insane Kids being composed especially for the franchise. The latter of theses was played during the end credits of Bionicle: Web of Shadows, reflecting the darker tone of that film. This shift from electronic-techno to alternative rock marked a drastic change in the saga which continued past the era of the original trilogy all the way to the very end of the Bionicle saga.

After the era of the original Bionicle movie trilogy, the music of Bionicle took a darker turn. 2006 heralded the arrival of the depressingly tacky and overly edgy period of Bionicle from 2006 to 2007. We had the hilariously awful Piraka Rap, for one thing. Even the comic book art changed with the arrival of Stuart Sayger, which I remember vehemently disliking back in '06. One good thing did come out of this period, however. I was introduced to "Move Along" by the All American Rejects, the song having been used to promote the Toa Inika. I still really like that song.

But it wasn't until 2007, with the Toa Mahri and the Barraki, that the Danish band Cryoshell was recruited to do several songs for Bionicle, up until the very end of the franchise. The overly "edgy" tone (it was more of a gimmick than anything else) left, but Cryoshell stayed. This was quite possibly the best idea that the Bionicle marketing team ever had. Cryoshell, an alternative rock band, put out some really cool and epic songs, such as "Creeping in My Soul" and "Gravity Hurts." Aside from "Crashed" by Daughtry, also a good song, Cryoshell pretty much dominated the Bionicle musical spectrum until the franchise's official conclusion in 2011. Their final song for the saga was "Bye Bye Babylon." The music was very well received by the fandom and created an indelible impression on the series from 2007-2010.

I suppose that before we conclude, we should address the music used in Bionicle: The Legend Reborn. It must first be understood that The Legend Reborn had a completely different tone than the original Bionicle film trilogy. In addition to the song "Ride" by Canadian band Presence, the film's score was composed by John D'Andrea, and helped contribute to the film feeling like yet another bargain-bin sci-fi adventure flick. The flaws of The Legend Reborn, however, are beyond the scope of this article. The point is that the feel was very different, and it was the music that helped contribute to this. Instead of mystery, we are given melodrama. Instead of majesty, we are given mediocrity. It was, in a word, cheap. Substandard. Wholly lacking in any degree of quality. If anything, the score reflected the steadily declining state of affairs in the Bionicle franchise, as did the badly flawed The Legend Reborn.

The music of the Bionicle saga is replete with examples of excellent craft, from Templar Studios' work with the Mata Nui Online Game to Nathan Furst's original film score to Cryoshell's cool alternative rock music. The musical diversity of Bionicle mirrors the various creative minds behind the story as well as the different marketing approaches used throughout the years. With the exception of All Insane Kids, the Piraka Rap, and the soundtrack of Bionicle: The Legend Reborn, I definitely recommend all of the music listed in this video. I also advise readers to check out the other musical works of composer Nathan Furst, who recently composed the score for the film Act of Valor. I got it off Spotify, and I gotta say, it's pretty awesome.

Image courtesy of bioncle.wikia.com