The Soundtrack


By • Apr 15th, 2007 •

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First off the bat, let me apologize for my lengthy absence. Relocating to another part of the country is one thing. Relocating to another country altogether is quite another. So, now here I am in sunny Cyprus (well, actually today it’s raining, but 340 days of sunshine can’t be all bad), finally connected up with the rest of the world, which after all only took five months, and busy making up for lost time.

So without further ado, and to show you all that I’ve not been completely idle, sunbathing and just watching girls on the beach for the last few months (though to be honest, I have done a lot of that) I’ll quickly run through some of the best of the music that has winged its way to me since my last column.

John Williams has duly handed over the reins to two of his most famous cinematic musical creations.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (Warner Bros.), the fourth film in this incredibly successful franchise, gives us a fine score by Patrick Doyle, who interpolates Williams’ themes with his own and provides a dark, threatening piece in keeping with the maturation of the storylines and the characters themselves. There’s also a lively jig for the Quidditch World Cup which wouldn’t go amiss in a Riverdance performance. All in all a well-rounded score capturing all the moods of the movie.

Superman also returned to our cinema screens last year in the inventively titled SUPERMAN RETURNS (Warner Bros.) this time with a score by John Ottman. Although I was a little disappointed with the storyline (which to me was just a re-write of the first movie. And what is this preoccupation with Lex Luthor anyway? Can’t we have Brainiac for a change?) I liked it because it ignored the frivolous LOIS & CLARK and SMALLVILLE incarnations and basically picked up where the late Christopher Reeve left off. Despite my disparaging remark earlier, Superman had indeed returned and Brandon Routh is unnervingly similar to Reeve in the role. Williams’ iconic theme is obviously there, and there were some nice little touches like ‘Memories’ where Clark recalls his young days on the Kent farm, and snippets of ‘Can You Read My Mind’ in some of Lois’s scenes. The rest of the score, though, Ottman makes his own and gives a more serious edge to the proceedings than Williams. This is also a CD ROM enhanced disc with a few nice, if short, features. Recommended.

ZATHURA (Varese Sarabande), a feel-good family adventure movie and basically JUMANJI in space, features a suitably action-paced (yes, that is action-paced and not action- packed, though it is that too) and heroic score from John Debney. Debney seems to have borrowed a little from every major sci-fi film over the last 30 years to the point where this sounds like a sci-fi score written by a computer. But it’s exciting, fun and hits all the marks.

In my ‘They don’t write ‘em like that anymore’ slot is BREAKHEART PASS (La-La Land Records). Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this 1975 Alistair MacLean penned secret-agent-yarn-cum-western set aboard a snowbound train is one of his best. The film features a cast only the seventies could muster: Charles Bronson, Richard Crenna, Ben Johnson, David Huddleston, Ed Lauter, Charles Durning and Jill Ireland, and the score has terrific action underscoring, a poignant love theme and one track in particular (Here They Come) begins with slow tension which develops into some of the most dynamic and heroic action music you’ve ever heard, all in the space of less than a minute! Excellent, and with equally excellent sleeve notes too.

STAY ALIVE (Nicabella Records). When you read the tag line ‘You Die in the Game, You Die For Real’, you know what kind of movie this is going to be. Using a blend of electronic and orchestral, John Frizzell comes up with an innovatively raw, frenzied, frantic, haunting and sometimes startling score which I’m sure aids the movie enormously. An excellent example of music from this movie genre. Another is WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (Lakeshore Records) from composer James Dooley who previously collaborated on DreamWorks THE RING. A remake of the 1979 movie, the score is a more brooding and somber affair than STAY ALIVE, saving all its pent-up tension for the last few tracks, but it’s a nice build up and a nice companion piece to the former album.

ABOMINABLE (Aleph Records), the latest offering from one of my all-time favourite filmusic composers Lalo Schifrin, is exactly the opposite of what its title suggests. With a great melancholic love theme and terrific, rich, melodic action cues, this style harks back to the music that accompanied the horror ‘B’ movies Lalo used to watch as a child in Argentina, his grandmother being the only family member that would accompany him, and music which inspired him to become one of the great TV and filmusic composers of the last 40 years (sorry Lalo!). Maybe not deliberately, maybe so, it doesn’t matter, but I distinctly hear a repeat of the descending three note motif that accompanied the original KONG in this score, and the rest easily compares, and I’m sure this is deliberate, with those 50s sci-fi/horror scores by Herman Stein, Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini and Mishca Bakaleinikoff. Highly recommended. Oh, and it’s about Bigfoot, but who cares, it’s a great horror score.

(Varese Sarabande) features another hybrid electronic/orchestral score this time from Christopher Beck. A political thriller featuring Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland and Kim Basinger as the First Lady no less, the film has a hi-tech, militaristic feel, dealing with Presidential security, intrigue and surveillance, and the score reflects all this powerfully. Very refreshing.

THE BIG EMPTY (La-La Land Records) tells the story of a guy who simply has to deliver a suitcase to a desert truck-stop, for which he’ll receive $27,000. Simple? Add local vixens, hot-headed boyfriends, mysterious strangers, special agents, alien-obsessed locals, murder, decapitation and hundreds of missing people, it all starts to get very complicated. The score by Brian Tyler includes, in his words ‘nods to mystery scores of classic cinema, jazz, prepared piano music, 1970s scores and late night infomercial music’. I’ll just say that it’s pleasantly different and highly listenable to.

BASIC INSTINCT 2 (La-La Land Records), the inevitable sequel, but this time with a British feel (if you’ll pardon the expression). The score here is provided by John Murphy and is suitably moody, mysterious and rhythmically erotic with the occasional subdued action cue. There are of course frequent reprises of Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme, and the whole is mainly ambient and very atmospheric.

An interesting addition to anyone’s filmusic collection is Clint Eastwood’s score, and choice of source music, to his movie FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (Milan Records). Eastwood has been involved with the scoring of his movies for a while now, usually associating with Lennie Neuhaus, who would score while Eastwood wrote the lyrics. The two then moved on to writing scores between them, and Eastwood, since MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY, now ventures to write scores on his own, this being one, albeit orchestrated and conducted by Neuhaus. Eastwood’s son Kyle also provides some new arrangements of classic 40s jazz numbers and the album is also littered with original recordings from that era. There’s also the obligatory bit of John Philip Souza, plus Mozart and Haydn. An odd mix, but evocative.

With a voice talent list that includes Freddie Highmore (Charlie from CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), Mia Farrow, Madonna, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Emilio Estevez, Luc Besson’s ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES (Arthur et les Minimoys) (Atlantic Records) aims high. This live action/animated story tells of a ten-year-old, who in a bid to save his grandfather’s house from being demolished, goes looking for some hidden treasure in the land of the Minimoys, tiny people, some of whom might possibly live in his back garden. The score is by Eric Serra (who contributed the controversial Bond score for GOLDENEYE). There’s nothing tiny, let alone invisible about this score. It is scaled large, exciting, melodic, majestic, in fact all the kinds of things you’d expect from this kind of movie, only better. A pleasant surprise.

Now I come to a difficult part of my selection. The subject matter of the next three movies, for which, I hope you will remember, I am simply reviewing the music that accompanied the cinematic retelling of events, is very emotive. My comments on the music have no bearing on the actual events and are not meant to be dismissive in any way of those events, so let’s just get that out of the way. I don’t usually apologise in advance for any ill-will that may be caused by my reviews, but on this occasion I thought I should clear the air just in case you think that, as a Brit, I am dispassionate about the particular events, which I assure you, I’m not.

BOBBY (Rhino Records), relates the story of the 1968 assassination of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy from the perspective of a score of people who were present. Score by Mark Isham.

WORLD TRADE CENTER (Sony Classical), Oliver Stone’s controversial film about two police officers who become trapped under the rubble of the WTC on September 11th. Score by Craig Armstrong.

UNITED 93 (Varese Sarabande). A real time account of the events aboard the fourth plane to be hijacked on September 11th. Score by John Powell.

The movies are important as they reflect society’s feelings at the time when they were made. The making of the latter two titles shows that the American public were finally ready for a dramatic depiction of at least some the events of September 11th, and, edgy as I feel about simply reviewing the soundtracks to those depictions, it must be nothing compared to the emotional pressure placed upon those who had to compose them, and I am full of admiration for Isham, Armstrong and Powell for providing such powerful and moving scores. Inevitably though, moving as they are, they have a downbeat, plodding inevitability to them which therefore make them difficult to assess as stand-alone soundtrack albums. They are, rightly, inseparable from their accompanying movie images and anyone who gets any solace or pleasure from listening to them in isolation really needs to move on. They are undeniably beautifully and lovingly composed, haunting, poignant, heart-wrenching and inspirational, but they are the soundtracks to movies, not the soundtracks to real life, and as such should be kept strictly confined to the limits of the screen and the movies for which they were composed. And it’s not often I say that.

John Powell was in fact very prolific and diverse last year. As well as UNITED 93 he also wrote the score for ICE AGE 2: THE MELTDOWN (Varese Sarabande), an uplifting and great fun score (which I’ve actually just put on to drag myself out of the seriousness of my last entries). This album really does capture all the drama and humour of the movie, with all the various animal sing-a-longs (including the vultures’ version of ‘Food Glorious Food’) as well as the frantic action, pathos and majestic mammoth march. Powell has really impressed me with his ability to address any subject and probably my favourite score of last year was his terrific X-MEN 3 – THE LAST STAND (Varese Sarabande). This is a huge score encompassing a main theme that has the tempo of SUPERMAN combined with the darkness of BATMAN, a sumptuous love theme, and at times the whole takes on a Wagnerian grandeur. There’s emotion, power and pain in this score and the powerful and tragic climax literally gives a whole new meaning to the words ‘comic opera’. Absolutely breathtaking.

There have also been the usual collection of compilation so-called soundtracks, basically re-issues of old songs with the odd bit of new material, some of which feature in the movie, usually over the closing credits. I know some of you like these so the ones I recommend to those that do are HOODWINKED (Rykodisc), LEONARD COHEN – I’M YOUR MAN (Verveforecast), FLUSHED AWAY (Astralwerks) and CONFETTI (Sanctuary Records).

Well, the sun has finally come out, and probably will be out for the next six months and so, as the beach is calling, I’ll wrap up with a couple of TV soundtracks.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA SEASON 2 (La-La Land Records) continues in the vein of Season 1, with an eclectic mix of musical styles. I’ve mentioned previously the incongruity of alien space travelers having the same mix of musical styles as we do here on Earth, so I won’t go on about it again here. Bear McCreary’s score is thoughtfully and imaginatively composed, and, as I’ve said, encompasses a wealth of musical styles from all over the planet, and if I were going to send a disc into space to introduce some passing alien traveler to the types of music they might encounter on visiting the planet earth, this would be it.

(La-La Land Records) was a six hour mini series from Dean Devlin and Bryan Singer starring Sam Neill as a billionaire who, fed up of losing his cargo ships in the infamous Bermuda Triangle, hires a team of experts from various fields to sort out the mystery once and for all. The cast also included Eric Stoltz, Bruce Davison and Lou Diamond Phillips. The score was provided by Joseph Loduca, familiar to you all for his work on HERCULES – THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA – WARRIOR PRINCESS. His score basically works, appropriately, around a 3/4 time motif and is suitably mysterious, tense, intimate and militaristic (when the US Navy intervenes), moving from minor to major keys as the mission is completed. Again, this is another score that is highly listenable to with that 3/4 motif becoming very catchy.

So, there we are. Another mixed bag. There were more I could go on about, but I’m sure you’ve had enough, and I’m off to the beach.

As always – Keep listening.

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