The Soundtrack

THE SOUNDTRACK: SUMMER 2008

By • Aug 24th, 2008 •

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Greetings. Here we are again with another assortment of recent filmusic releases.
Being the summer season we have of course the summer blockbusters (or so their distributors hope), but as you know, I also try and include some little, more obscure gems.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN
Original Soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
Label: Walt Disney Records

The inevitable follow up the ‘The Cat, The Cow and The Closet’ (sorry C.S. fans), PRINCE CASPIAN continues the story of the four kids from WWII England who are occasionally whisked away through a wardrobe to adventures in the magical kingdom of Narnia. One year has passed in the real world, but when the kids return to Narnia they find 1300 years have passed, Narnia has been conquered and is under the rule of a merciless tyrant.

Darker in tone than its predecessor, Gregson-Williams’ score for PRINCE is suitably more downbeat but more dramatic and heroic than its pastoral-laced forerunner. There’s plenty of action here, with some deft use of strings and chorale (which we’ve come to expect in these fantasy epics). Gregson-Williams returns to the themes from the first movie with slight variations, and brings in new ones for the new characters, predominantly for the eponymous hero Caspian. The album also features tracks from Regina Spektor, Oren Lavie, Switchfoot and Hanke Hukkelberg.

It’s a grand, luxurious score which will fit nicely on your shelf alongside PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, MASTER AND COMMANDER, ZATHURA and LOTR, if you get my drift.

SLEEPWALKING
Original Soundtrack by Christopher Young
Label: Lakeshore Records

Award-winning composer Christopher Young has done another wonderful job with his score to SLEEPWALKING, the tale of an abandoned 12 year-old girl who, with her slow-witted uncle, goes off in search of her missing mother.

With a cast that includes Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, Woody Harrelson and Dennis Hopper the movie is… well it’s slow, dreary, disappointing and predictable. Christopher Young’s score captures that mood perfectly as it too is slow, dreary, disappointing and predictable.
Just like the movie, you expect it to get better, but it doesn’t. It just plods on, each track sounding like the last, maybe in a different key or at a slightly different tempo, like some melancholic guitar strummer making it up as he goes along. When it’s not doing that it’s just long-held subdued chords.

If only all movies and movie scores could go hand in glove like this one it would make my job a lot easier. Nice work Chris.

WALL-E
Original Score composed by Thomas Newman
Label: Disney Records

Thomas Newman (FINDING NEMO, AMERICAN BEAUTY) is a member of the film-scoring Newman dynasty. His father and uncle are the legendary composer and conductor Alfred and Lionel Newman respectively; his brother is composer David Newman and his cousin is composer/singer/songwriter/recording artist Randy Newman.

His score for WALL-E, the wordless tale of the last waste disposal robot on Earth that, when they all left, nobody turned off, is a pleasant delight. His mix of numerous musical styles is inspired, as are his introductions of tracks by Michael Crawford from Hello Dolly (Uncle Lionel incidentally conducted the music for the 1969 movie) and Louis Armstrong’s La Vie en Rose. These are nicely interspersed between lonely, romantic and heroic action themes, ‘dialogue’ from Wall-E himself and even a store jingle. The album wraps up with a Peter Gabriel number especially written for the movie.

A very nice listen. The sleeve and sleeves are also, appropriately, made from recycled material.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Original Score composed by Andrew Lockington
Label: New Line Records

I’m going to have a frustrating time writing this review as my spell checker is going to insist on correcting the spelling of ‘Center’. I’m writing in Brit-speak, where we spell it ‘Centre’. I have the same problem with ‘Theater/Theatre’. Why can’t you people learn to spell? And don’t get me started on ‘colour’… Ah well. Here goes.

JTTCOTE (Ah! That’s solved it) is yet another remake of the famous Jules Verne story and the first time an entire film has been shot in 3D. Others have had 3D sections, but not an entire film.

(As a side note, my grandfather, Thomas Henry Pemberton, was a photographer in northern England in the early 1920s. He even had his own movie-camera, the first in that part of the country, and used to make his own newsreels of local football matches and other events. He also came up with an invention, which he patented in 1922, for a spectacular new form of stereoscopic picture. This did away with the Victorian style of stereoscopy, which entailed two pictures side by side made to coalesce in relief by the use of a viewer (like the old View-masters we had as kids). Instead, it is claimed, the Pemberton invention could make any photography look three dimensional through a new viewing lens. Those who saw them say the illusion was complete and extraordinary, as though you could walk around the room or down that street. Later on, when early in the talkie era Hollywood was looking for new gimmicks, Warner Brothers showed a brief interest in the invention for a possible application in movies. But it turned out that Thomas Henry had never been able to afford to patent his invention in America, and so it could be appropriated with impunity. In any case, for whatever reason, technical or financial, it was never used in the cinema. Pity. I could’ve been rolling in it…)

A relative newcomer to movie scoring, Lockington does an ok job here, keeping the action moving yet light enough not to overwhelm it. There is never any real sense of dread or menace; this being a fast paced family adventure (both on and off the screen). I did on first listening have trouble identifying that recurring theme that puts a stamp on a movie. There was a lot of charging about and scaling chords, but no identifying motif came through. Even the great Jerry Goldsmith sometimes had problems with this. When scoring STAR TREK: THE MOTION(less) PICTURE he’d written a beautiful and majestic piece of music to accompany the new Enterprise leaving the space-dock for the first time. Director Robert Wise listened to it and said basically “Yeah, that’s beautiful Jerry. But where’s the theme?” and Jerry went away and wrote the piece we hear now and which has been the iconic theme for the Star Trek franchise ever since. However, listening to JTTCOTE a second time I did pick it up, but it did take me a while to isolate it.

I have to say, like the movie, which takes a classic and exciting adventure story with nothing at all wrong with it, decides that the characters should now be a family, puts a kid into it and turns it into a watered down, slightly dangerous family picnic, it’s a little formulaic and does what it needs to do, but there is nothing inspired in it.

It was nice to have an excuse to tell you about my granddad though.

HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
Original Soundtrack by George S. Clinton
Label: Lakeshore Records

Another comedy from John Cho and Kal Penn as the pot-smoking, multi-cultural slackers who this time have a run in with, and a run from, the authorities when they are mistaken for terrorists whilst trying to board a plane to Amsterdam.

Although it is a gross-humoured, riotous and raunchy comedy, the score quite rightly takes itself very seriously. Clinton himself says “In comedy, I write music like the straight man and let the characters make the film funny”. Clinton has scored all the AUSTIN POWERS movies and has recently re-united with Powers star Mike Myers on THE LOVE GURU. Last year he received an Emmy nomination for his score for HBO’s BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE.

This is a great action score and despite Clinton’s claims, there are some comedic moments in his score where he interpolates the American national anthem and even slips in a piece of Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO shower scene screeches.

Well worth a listen away from the visuals of the movie.

SUDDEN IMPACT
Original Score by Lalo Schifrin
Label: Aleph Records

Here for the first time is the complete score for the fourth in the Clint Eastwood/Harry Callahan series and the third to be scored by Lalo Schifrin, him being unavailable for THE ENFORCER which was scored by Jerry Fielding. Aleph Records, Lalo’s own label, have so far released the soundtracks to all these movies and my reviews of the previous releases, and a complete feature on Lalo’s many other scores, can be found in past Soundtrack columns in Films in Review.

It had been ten years since Lalo had scored a Harry Callahan movie and he was aware that times and musical tastes had changed. Also the character had grown older and the score wisely reflects all this. There are still many of Lalo’s typical trademark action and underlying tension cues, cool piano and jazz riffs, and even a bit of pop/rock, but here also is a touch of romance as the relationship builds between Harry and his murderous antagonist (Sondra Locke). And we also get a little glimpse of Harry’s original theme here and there.

If you’re a Schifrin fan this is a must have, if not, it’s still a great collection of music and I highly recommend it.

Finally I’d like to dedicate this column with a fleeting and totally inadequate reference to two gentleman and excellent movie and TV composers that have recently left us.

Alexander Courage, ‘Sandy’, best known for his iconic theme to STAR TREK, and who also made great compositional contributions to the original TREK’s then competing series, the Irwin Allen produced LOST IN SPACE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LAND OF THE GIANTS. He also wrote many scores for THE WALTONS. He was also a phenomenally busy, often unsung, orchestrator ranging from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN in 1950, plus many other subsequent classic Hollywood musicals, through to HOLLOW MAN in 2000. Please look up this particular aspect of the man – you will genuinely be astonished at the body of his work. If you’d like to learn more, check out John Williams’ tribute here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH0aSwFKacw
You can make your own way from there, and it’s well worth the Trek…

Earle Hagen, who composed Emmy Award winning episodic scores for TREK’s contemporary series I SPY, also wrote original music for an amazing number of TV shows in his long career, including the theme tunes of hit U.S. series THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THAT GIRL, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, GOMER PYLE, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE MOD SQUAD and the piece ‘Harlem Nocturne’, used as the theme for the MIKE HAMMER series. He also contributed to episodic scores to many others including PLANET OF THE APES (TV). He also shared an Oscar nomination with Lionel Newman for his work on the Marilyn Monroe film LET’S MAKE LOVE in 1960. Also, like Courage, he was a prolific movie orchestrator in the 1950s. For more information go to http://www.earlehagen.net/

Both men were 88. Thanks to you both and rest easy; you’ve both more than earned it.

That’s all for now folks.

As always – Keep listening.

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One Response »

  1. A very informative and honest review, a good guide to good listening from a very knowledgable Film Buff. I liked the personal touch about his grandfather, He obviously has a great love of film music which comes through in his comments and of course is a great devotee of Lalo Schifrin which demonstrates his excellent taste. E.B

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