The Soundtrack


By • Jan 15th, 2006 •

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My, oh my, don’t the years fly. This time it’s not been a question of what to include, but what to throw out; to avoid the obvious yet retain the essential, the up-to-date, the unusual and, of course, throw in some film aficionado’s ‘must haves’.

With the (welcome) proliferation of rediscovered and ‘remastered’ editions of either old, previously unavailable or specially packaged, so-called ‘Special Editions’ of soundtracks cropping up all over the place, it just gets harder and harder. Rest assured I haven’t gone, nor ever will, for the commercial presentations that are heaved out by the dozen at this time of year, and which are simply designed to part you with your hard earned cash, but have simply adhered to my simple description above.

One thing I have added to this column is a selection of other efforts from each composer before each review so as to help you decide, based on past experience, and irrespective of my comments, whether or not you’re likely to enjoy each particular score. Let me know whether this is a help or a hindrance.

I hope you enjoy the selection. Oh, and don’t look for KONG – there’s far too much about the big ape on the site already…

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Composed by John Ottman
Label: La-La Land Records

‘Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ was an instrumental track on the James Bond THUNDERBALL soundtrack and was initially intended to be the main theme song, being recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick, but was dumped in favour of the now famous title song by Tom Jones (and congratulations Sir Tom). I also believe it was the title of that movie in Japan. But that’s by the by. This movie has nothing to do with James Bond, but it is nice to know where people get their titles.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a deadpan comedy film noir with cool characters, private eyes, gorgeous dames, sleazy locales, a convoluted and unlikely plot, witty dialogue and one-liners, obligatory flashbacks, and even a hackneyed Dashiel Hammett-esque narrator. Ottman’s score captures all this with its trashy detective fiction saxophones and muted horns, wistful innocent piano, some terrific percussion, and a pulsing and immediately engaging main theme that kicks in whenever the action starts. I can listen to this one over and over again. It’s almost a light-hearted ‘MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM’ and I thoroughly recommend it. The only downside is Robert Downey Jr.’s final vocal track – it’s such a shameless imitation of a Sting style song and arrangement, whose style is so bland anyway that only he can get away with it the first place, and basically shouldn’t be there. It lets down the rest of the album.

Ottman is also scoring the new Logan’s Run and Superman Returns. Busy man.

Composers’ other credits (selection):
Fantastic Four (2005); House of Wax (2005); Cellular (2004); Gothika (2003); X2 (2003); Eight Legged Freaks (2002); Bubble Boy (2001); Lake Placid (1999); Apt Pupil (1998); Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998); The Cable Guy (1996); The Usual Suspects (1995)

THE GETAWAY: THE UNUSED SCORE (Limited Edition of 3,000 Copies)
Original Score by Jerry Fielding
Label: Film Score Monthly

Jerry Fielding was understandably miffed when his score for THE GETAWAY was rejected by the film’s director Sam Peckinpah (with whom he was a long-time and successful collaborator) in favour of a score by Quincy Jones.

Fielding was adept at addressing any subject, style or environment (simply look at the diversity of titles above) and his GETAWAY score combines the dramatic themes and cues you would expect from any of his action movies with the folksy riffs heard in the BIONIC WOMAN theme and the light romantic touch of McMillan and Wife to create the thematic world of McQueen’s and McGraw’s husband and wife criminal team attempting to save not only their lives and their loot but also their marriage.
The package includes a bonus promotional item not available separately: an all region DVD of the half-hour documentary, Main Title 1M1: Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah and The Getaway, a highly personal reminiscence by three of the women in Jerry Fielding’s life: his wife Camille, daughter Elizabeth, and Peckinpah confidante Katy Haber. This is actually a very endearing and insightful piece of film.

The CD itself features the premiere authorised release of the complete score in excellent stereo. At the close of the CD there is also a telling piece of character summating dialogue from Fielding himself where he tells of his disgust with people in the industry who turned against their colleagues during the McCarthy era in order to simply protect their careers, and although brief, its very powerful.

The liner notes by Peckinpah authority Nick Redman – who produced this album and directed the documentary film – provide a wealth of historical detail, and exact timings for relating the music to the motion picture. This is one of those aficionado’s ‘must haves’ mentioned earlier. All we need now is a re-release of the movie with this score reinstated (or at least optional). If there’s anyone out there reading this…

Composer’s other credits (selection): Escape from Alcatraz (1979); Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979); Gray Lady Down (1978); The Gauntlet (1977); Semi-Tough (1977); Demon Seed (1977); The Enforcer (1976); “The Bionic Woman” (1976) TV Series (also main title theme); The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976); The Killer Elite (1975); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); The Outfit (1973); Straw Dogs (1971); “McMillan and Wife” (1971) TV Series (also theme); The Wild Bunch (1969)

And while we’re on the subject of alternative scores…

THE APPOINTMENT (Limited Edition of 3,000 Copies)
Three Alternate Scores by Michel Legrand, John Barry/Don Walker and Stu Philips
Label: Film Score Monthly

As you know I always try to include a John Barry score somewhere in the column, and this one is no exception. You may be surprised though to hear me say that it’s one of his worst.

Here we have three alternative scores for the same movie by no less than four different composers. One was discarded altogether yet, bizarrely, the other two were both used.
1969’s THE APPOINTMENT, directed by Sidney Lumet, was an arty story of a lonely Italian attorney’s (Omar Sharif) romancing of a beautiful model (Anouk Aimee) despite the fact that he thinks she’s actually a high-priced prostitute, which results in a tragic ending to a troubled relationship – and a troubled production.

Legrand’s score relied on a constantly repeated motif which simply seems to change key and tempo and was rejected at it’s first screening to MGM execs. The job was then passed on to Bond legend and then recent BORN FREE and ZULU composer John Barry, who unfortunately had the same idea as Legrand and simply made use of a recurring motif. It seems even he got tired of it and handed it over to Broadway arranger Don Walker to finish. This score however accompanies the Lumet approved version of the film now in circulation.

When The Appointment was released in the U.S. in 1972 it was in a shorter version which premiered on CBS television as a late night movie, and this shortened version was re-scored by Stu Phillips, way before his stint as Glen Larson’s TV show composer of choice (see above), and which even included a couple of songs, and it is peculiarly different to the other composers’ ideas. It’s hard to believe they’re all seeing the same movie.

FSM’s CD of The Appointment is presented entirely in stereo, remixed from the original master elements. Liner notes by Lukas Kendall chronicle the production and differences between the scores.

This one is for film historians and completists only. Fascinating though.

Composers’ other credits (selection): Michel Legrand: Never Say Never Again (1983); Atlantic City (1980); The Hunter (1980); Gable and Lombard (1976); The Three Musketeers (1973); Lady Sings the Blues (1972); Summer of ’42 (1971); The Go-Between (1970); Ice Station Zebra (1968); The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) (also song “The Windmills of Your Mind”) John Barry: (You’ve got to be kidding…) Stu Phillips: “Knight Rider” (1982) TV Series (some episodes, also theme); “The Fall Guy” (1981) TV Series; “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979) TV Series (also theme); “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) TV Series (also theme); Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Music From the Motion Picture Composed by Alexandra Desplat
Label: Sony Music

Predominantly a composer for French movies, having scored over 60 films in his native France, Alexandre Desplat made his Hollywood breakthrough in 2003 with his moving score for Girl with a Pearl Earring, which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination.

Based on Robert Baer’s novel “See No Evil,” Syriana, with George Clooney and Matt Damon, dramatizes the international oil industry. Press: ‘From the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, the film’s multiple storylines weave together to illuminate the human consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power.’

Desplat is a true crossover genius. His music oozes the ease, confidence, jaw-dropping simplicity and style of in fact the majority of French composers from Jarre, Lai, Delerue and Legrand way back to Debussy, Bizet and Ravel. To capture the drama, energy and locale of the movie he combines classical strings with exotic solo instruments (including the duduk and the ney), frenetic percussion (there’s one long kettle drum sequence that reminded me appropriately of Jarre’s similar piece in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) and synth to create an eerie, tense and beautiful, score. It’s magnificent. It’s also not surprising that in addition to his film work, Alexandre Desplat gives master classes at La Sorbonne in Paris and London’s Royal College of Music. Buy anything by this guy with confidence.

Composer’s other credits (selection): Casanova (2005); The Upside of Anger (2005); Birth (2004); Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003); Stormy Weather (2003); Tristan (2003); Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002)

Original Score by Graeme Revell
Label: Varese Sarabande (Release Feb. 2006)

Believe it or not Aeon Flux is the name of the main character played Lara Croft-like by Charlize Theron in a story set 400 years in the future when disease has wiped out the majority of the earth’s population, and when Aeon is sent on a mission to kill a government leader, she uncovers a world of secrets. As of course you would.
The score is a busy one which hardly ever takes a breath. New Zealander Graeme Revell blends traditional ethnic music, ambient, animal and industrial sounds, and creates an almost unique style, which, it has to be said, is quite riveting, though not engaging enough to listen to the entire album in one sitting. It has the coldness and freneticism of Christopher Franke’s BABYLON 5 scores which makes it okay only if you’re in the mood, or as background to the action, which of course is its primary function, and this it does admirably.

Composer’s other credits (selection): The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005); Sin City (2005); Assault on Precinct 13 (2005); Open Water (2003); Freddy Vs. Jason (2003); Daredevil (2003); Collateral Damage (2002); Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001); Blow (2001); Red Planet (2000); Titan A.E. (2000); Pitch Black (2000); Bride of Chucky (1998); The Negotiator (1998); The Saint (1997); The Crow: City of Angels (1996); From Dusk Till Dawn (1996); Tank Girl (1995); The Crow (1994); Hard Target (1993); Dead Calm (1989)

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Graeme Revell
Label: Varese Sarabande

Robert Wainwright’s unnecessary remake, starring Tom (SMALLVILLE) Welling, of the 1980 John Carpenter movie. Again a fascinating audio experience but hard to warm to from a musical standpoint. Revell’s AEON FLUX score was a little relentless with its brow-beating, pounding score – this presents a different side of his compositional skill, being moody, menacing and downright creepy, mainly clunking, clanking and groaning through its length, though the pulse does kick in for the more shocking moments. But how else do you make fog scary? Franz Waxman achieved a similar effect in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, turning a studio-bound London ‘pea-souper’ into a menacing scenario for Spencer Tracy (as Hyde) to gallump through to the strains of a precursor to Williams’ shark theme from JAWS (track it down and listen – Williams’ theme is a steal). Waxman did however find the opportunity to introduce some lighter-hearted melody. There’s none of that here. This is 39 minutes and 22 seconds of ominous dread punctuated by whatever shock moments your imagination sees fit to envision, or of course, watch the movie. Immensely innovative and serviceable though.

Composer’s other credits (selection): See above

Original Soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
Label: Walt Disney Records

In the absence of KK I’ve opted for this one to fill his particularly grandiose and seasonal place on the epic front. Distributors, in their self-imbued wisdom, love to presume the intelligence, or lack of, of an audience and meddle with the original titles of things, a la Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which became SORCERER’S STONE in the US (alone). Are you really all that dim over there? I think, and of course know, to the contrary. Yet still I half expected this movie to suffer a similar fate and have a secondary title of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE CLOSET. However my lack of faith, at least on this occasion, was unjustified.

Gregson-Williams’ score is suitably pastoral and dynamic where appropriate and whilst the film is unashamedly jumping onto the LOTR bandwagon (the map of Narnia featured inside the casing behind the disc is straight out of Tolkien), with coincidentally (?) another New Zealander (Andrew Adamson) directing (his first foray into live action after SHREKs 1 & 2), the score itself has more of a contemporary feel in its use of tempo and vocals than Shore’s LOTR themes and the score is a whole lot lighter in tone.

The very sparse sleeve notes are merely a list of credits and thanks and contain no other information about the movie or the music’s composition whatsoever, which is pretty shoddy, but otherwise it’s altogether a well rounded and appropriately epic, albeit predictable, soundtrack.

*Also available as a two disc-set, the second disc being a DVD with the usual ‘making of’ featurettes etc., and a ‘collectable’ 40-page booklet (ah, so that’s why my sleeve notes are so crappy – surprise, surprise).


Keep listening…

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