The Soundtrack

THE SOUNDTRACK: WINTER ROUNDUP ’07-‘08

By • Apr 18th, 2008 • Pages: 1 2

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Sorry about the title. Sounds like something the ranch hands would be doing in BONANZA, THE BIG VALLEY or THE HIGH CHAPPARAL doesn’t it? Or maybe you’re not old enough to remember such things, or have just never studied. These were great TV series – big, heroic pioneering families tending and defending their huge ranches in the old west – yet none of them ever seeming to do any actual work. They spent most of their time squabbling, fighting ‘injuns’ and other assorted bad guys, and mainly eating. Oh, and chewing out the ‘houseboy’. Sometimes you might see one of them hunkily, and complainingly, banging in a fencepost to keep in some off-screen ‘steers’ whilst his ‘off duty’ comrades happened to pass him, delivering lots of ‘nyah-nyah-dee-dah-dah’ humour, as cowboys do (did?) when ‘going into town for supplies’ (and no doubt a good time with the gals in the saloon, ‘Yee-hah!’) and thereby instigating that particular week’s episode. It was also, of course, never divulged how any of these ranches made the money to pay for all these shenanigans or for them to be able to afford such an extensive wardrobe (both in clothing AND actual space) so that they might each wear the exact, same, personal attire for several years running… Anyhow, I digress.

Herewith is my usual mixed bag of (reasonably) unrelated offerings, featuring:

ENCHANTED; AMERICAN GANGSTER; MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM; MARTIAN CHILD; THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB; TOOTH & NAIL; THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE; THE SPY WITH MY FACE; THE AVENGERS; RUN, FAT BOY, RUN; ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS; NAVAJO JOE; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

ENCHANTED
Score composed by Alan Menken
Songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
Original Soundtrack from Walt Disney

I don’t like musicals. Especially Disney musicals. This album starts with the song ‘True Love’s Kiss’ – If a computer were to write a Disney song, it would never achieve the subtlety of this masterful piece of composition. As soon as it started I saw the Magic Kingdom, Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins, Cinderella, Snow White ‘la-la-la’ing around the cottage, then there was the cute little dialogue from the equally cutesy characters and animals, the background character chorus, the hero joining in the duet and building up to the big crescendo finale. The lot. All deliberate of course, but it was scary and touched something I thought long forgotten and beaten out of me. I had a smile on my face – and this was only the first track. What makes it all the more scary is that it worked. I have to admire how Alan Menken has not only written some melodic and memorable new ballads, but has also captured the classic essence of what is undoubtedly a neo-vintage Disney movie soundtrack. I also have to admire the demonically psychological Disney brains behind this score. Maybe I’m being cynical (hah! Heaven forbid), but this did worryingly strike a chord of indoctrination; comfort blanket; everything’s okay; the world is still wonderful as long as there’s old mom’s apple pie and that big rainbow over those big round ears and that big, pointy turreted castle. I am told that ENCHANTED is an homage to classic Disney films, so all this is presumably allowed. Nay, positively encouraged.

Eight-times Academy Award winner Menken is of course no stranger to the ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ having scored THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, HERCULES, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and POCAHONTAS, the latter two with whom he also collaborated with Stephen Schwartz.
The first half of the album features the songs from the movie, whilst the rest comprises the thematic and dramatic orchestral score, plus a music video for your CD Rom and the lyrics to the songs so’s you can all join in. The later songs rightly become a little more streetwise as the action moves from animated world to real world, and the two are linked together, I must say, enchantingly. I was expecting to have to find a sick bag, but, I have to say, even though I knew I was being manipulated, I was enchanted (have I used that word too many times already? Sorry… pass me the anti-Disney-dote…please. And get that damned fairy out of my face!).

AMERICAN GANGSTER
Composed by Marc Streitenfeld
Original Score from Varese Sarabande

Set in the Seventies, the crime drama follows a detective (Russell Crowe) who works to bring down the drug empire of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a Harlem kingpin who smuggles heroin into the country by hiding it in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War.

Appropriately it is a dark, moody score using an 80-piece orchestra (which is only ‘one element of many’ explains Streitenfeld) as long with other acoustic pre-records. There are no retro 70s elements here either, but a rhythmic, percussive and haunting sense of menace, doing what a score should – underlying all the on screen action, setting the pace, conveying the suspense, all of which it does with a misleading simplicity. Some sections also reminded me of some of David Arnold’s less energetic Bond scoring; those little ‘clock-ticking’ suspense scenes. It’s also very satisfying to listen to away from the movie. The score was nominated at this year’s BAFTAs (beaten to it by LA VIE EN ROSE).

Born in Munich, Germany, Streitenfeld relocated to Los Angeles at the age of 19, first working as assistant to Hans Zimmer, then as a freelance music editor and music supervisor on high profile features. Streitenfeld was nominated for a Golden Reel Award for his work on Ridley Scott’s KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. It was his long creative relationship with Scott that led to the offer of composing his first feature score A GOOD YEAR. Prior to his work as a composer, Streitenfeld had collaborated with Scott as music supervisor and music editor on several projects, including MATCHSTICK MEN, BLACK HAWK DOWN and GLADIATOR. AMERICAN GANGSTER marks Streitenfeld’s seventh consecutive music collaboration and second film score with Scott. I look forward to more works from this man.

(This release is not to be confused with a soundtrack album previously released by Island Def Jam which contained a sample of the score.)

From the sublime to the ridiculous…

MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM
Composed by Aaron Zigman and Alexandre Desplat
Original Soundtrack from Varese Sarabande

In a prolific five years Aaron Zigman has scored twenty-five movies, with ten released last year including THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB and MARTIAN CHILD (for both see below). As for Alexandre Desplat, I said in an earlier review of his SYRIANA score that you should buy anything composed by this man with confidence. A bold statement I agree, and I’m delighted to say so far that this advice still holds true. His collaboration with Aaron Zigman (JOHN Q., THE NOTEBOOK, ALPHA DOG) has produced a lively mix of drama, suspense, melancholy, whimsy and a hint of 40s jazz (a mix which reminded me a little of James Horner’s score for BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED. Zigman also scored THE NOTEBOOK in the musical style of the 1940s, performing it with vintage instruments and using period-specific recording instruments for an authentic sound). A classically trained pianist, Zigman began his musical career as a producer and arranger for notable popular music stars including Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Christina Aguilera and Seal. Expanding his repertoire to include film, Zigman began to arrange and orchestrate for features such as MULAN, THE BIRDCAGE, LICENCE TO KILL, and POCAHONTAS, leading to his collaborations with JOHN Q. and THE NOTEBOOK director Nick Cassavettes. Desplat, who requested that Zigman co-composed this score with him, has of course also scored GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, THE QUEEN, THE PAINTED VEIL and THE GOLDEN COMPASS.

There are, given the absurd subject matter of this movie, well crafted and surprisingly adult, rich and moving themes here, also some very surrealistic and raucous themes, all of which, not to mention the combined talent involved, are wasted on the film itself. They deserved a better showcase than this, but, without it, the two composers may not have got together and the music would probably not have been written, so we have one reason to be thankful for this moralistically heavy-handed, poor man’s Willy Wonka of a movie.

MARTIAN CHILD
Composed by Aaron Zigman
Original Soundtrack from Sony Classical

This romantic drama stars John Cusack as a recently widowed science fiction writer who adopts a young boy with behavioural problems who claims to be from Mars. He gets more than he bargained for when a series of strange happenings lead him to believe that the boy’s claims may be true. And either way, does it really matter?

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by real Sci-Fi writer David Gerrold (STAR TREK, BABYLON 5) and his own experiences as a single adoptive parent, MARTIAN CHILD is an OK little movie, helped enormously by Zigman’s relaxed and warm score. There is also a very distinctive, and recurring, descending chord motif which grabs your ears immediately and links the whole together. A light, melodic, whimsical and wistful score that’s not half bad. The Greek-style plate smashing track is fun too.

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
Composed by Aaron Zigman
Original Score from Varese Sarabande

Zigman again, and I have to say a score not dissimilar in tone to MARTIAN CHILD. In fact, if you were to put both these CDs on random play, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which film each individual track came from. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with that, or this. Filmusic composers are frequently selected on their individual style, or are told by the creators what kind of sound they are expected to supply for their movie. George Lucas played classical selections for John Williams to emulate for STAR WARS; James Horner was given the job of scoring STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN as long as his score sounded like the one he’d written for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (a habit he now can’t seem to get out of if you listen to TITANIC); and a Bond score must sound like a Bond score, no matter who writes it (a pity nobody bothered to tell Eric Serra…). So, that said, again this is a more than serviceable score. The only thing that lets down the listening experience is that the selections are very short cues which stop just as you’re getting into them. I suspect though that this is because the copy I have is a promotional release and the tracks will be edited together more satisfactorily for the final release.

TOOTH & NAIL / THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE
Composed by Elia Cmiral
Original Scores from Lakeshore Records

Two of the ‘Eight Films to Die For’ premiered during the After Dark Horrorfest 2007, TOOTH & NAIL tells a post-apocalyptic tale of a group of survivors followed by a savage band of cannibals and THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE is the tale of a young man hunted by an evil presence, forced to die every day until he can solve the mystery of his own life.

The After Dark Horrorfest was the first festival of its kind, running over the course of one week, including two weekends, on over 300 screens across the United States, making it the largest commercial film festival in the world.

No stranger to the world of thrillers, Czechoslovakian born Cmiral most recently provided the score to PULSE. This was Cmiral’s second collaboration with Wes Craven, having scored THEY in 2002. He also scored John Frankenheimer’s suspense thriller RONIN, also STIGMATA, BONES and SPECIES 3.
These two scores are of a kind, and great companion pieces, with perhaps IAN STONE having more melodic passages, but both contain hard driving, ruthless percussion and nerve-grating acoustics and electronics. Normally I find albums of this kind hard to listen to in isolation (I mean away from the movie, not just sitting on my own, though sometimes that can be scary also) but these are far from being simply ambient scary noises and simmering menace; there is sound musical structure, inventiveness and surprise here. Often cheap shocks are accompanied by a cheap, adequate score, whereas this is music from a mature composer and is exciting and satisfying on its own, which is seldom the case. I doubt the two movies in question could say the same.

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2 Responses »

  1. RE: The Magnificent Seven. The Varese CD of the original tracks is actually not “the first time that this classic soundtrack … has ever been released.” The 2004 Varese album is a re-issue of the CD originally issued by Ryko Records in 1998 (RCD 10741 ).

  2. Thanks for the info. I stand corrected. Still find it incredible that it took 38 years to release.

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