Atlantis: The Lost Continent (Russell Garcia, 1961): Film Score Monthly released this CD of Russell Garcia’s score to George Pal’s science fiction film, which was one of his lesser-known efforts. The score is paired on the CD with Miklós Rózsa’s score to Pal’s The Power.
The 45 minute, monaural score is melodic and romantic, but with some fairly intense action music as well. Some of the softer moments are characterized by solo horns and Occasional Mediterranean ethnic elements come into play as well. Garcia uses the harp quite a bit as well, sometimes to introduce a bit of a mysterious sound, as in the cue entitled “Lost/Hallucinations”, or sometimes for a more romantic sound as in “Harps”. The score also contains its share of fanfares, even including a track simply titled “Fanfares”. I particularly like the big, brassy fanfare-like theme that is introduced with the simply-titled cue “Atlantis”.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (James Newton Howard, 2001): This film was a bit of a departure for Disney’s animation team. It was a widescreen, action adventure film that was closer in spirit to Indiana Jones than to Disney’s usual animated fairy tales. James Newton Howard came on board to provide a high energy action score for the film. Heard out of context, I doubt most people would pick this out as a Disney animation score.
The album opens with a pretty generic pop song entitled “Where the Dream Takes You”, which was co-written by Newton-Howard and Diane Warren and performed by Mya. It isn’t anything overly special, but at least they allowed the film’s score composer write the music for the song, which is incorporated in the score as essentially the film’s love theme.
The film’s main theme is a big, brassy fanfare with wordless choral backing. It is a very catchy and memorable melody and is re-visited pretty regularly throughout the score. The entire score is very brass and percussion focused, with strings and chorus joining in pretty regularly as well.
Author, Author (Dave Grusin, Johnny Mandel, 1982): Johnny Mandel initially was hired to score this Al Pacino romantic comedy, but his score was ultimately rejected and replaced with one by Dave Grusin. Varese Sarabande’s CD Club limited edition release includes both scores on a single CD, with Grusin’s score running about 25 minutes and Mandel’s about 23. Note that the film included a hit song, “Coming Home To You” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, that isn’t on the CD.
Grusin’s score has a pop music sound, using mostly electronic instruments, mainly keyboard, although saxophone is also pretty common. During the main title track, Grusin introduces a primary melody that is repeated regularly throughout the score. It is a warm, infectious melody, although the repetition is a bit much. Grusin’s jazz background does shine through occasionally, particularly with the solo saxophone in “Out and About”. The score has a pretty dated sound, definitely recognizable as a comedy score from the early 80s. It is a good representative of that kind of score, but probably not to everyone’s taste.
Mandel’s score is orchestral, featuring a main theme that is primary played by solo piano with the string section occasionally joining in. One fairly quietly romantic theme introduced later in the cue “Reels Five and Six” (the cues for Mandel’s score were not given titles but are instead represented by the reel numbers where they would have fit in the film) features a very nice melody played on a solo guitar. The final track (“Reel Twelve”) opens with a solo violin excerpt from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” before transitioning into an orchestral finale. The score has a darker quality and isn’t as constantly cheerful in quality as Grusin’s, but also doesn’t sound nearly as dated. On CD, I think it is the better of the two scores, although I don’t really know which was better suited to the film.
Avalon (Randy Newman, 1990): Barry Levinson’s 2nd film in his autobiographical Baltimore trilogy (which also includes Diner and Tin Men) was a film that I absolutely loved. It is one of those rare films where I became so completely absorbed in the lives of the characters that I hated to leave them when the film came to an end. Randy Newman’s sensitive, Americana score definitely contributed to the film’s success.
Newman’s score uses a variety of solo instruments to evoke varied moods throughout the score. It opens with a simple, solo piano presenting the main theme. Solo violin, trumpet and woodwinds later take on the same melody. These instruments dominate the entire score, which remains gently melodic throughout. The use of trumpet solos for some of the score’s most emotional moments is particularly effective.
Newman makes the interesting choice of avoiding ethnic elements in a film about an early 1900s Polish immigrant family with a strong emphasis on their adaptation to life in America. Newman correctly recognized that the right emphasis should be on the characters’ current home rather than where they had come from. Americana orchestral music itself certainly is largely an adaptation of European classical music styles, which makes it very well suited to this type of story.
Avatar (James Horner, 2009): I’ll state right off that I’m probably one of the very few people left that hasn’t yet gotten around to seeing Avatar. It isn’t a lack of interest that has kept me from seeing the film, but instead simply that I didn’t find a good opportunity to get out to see the film during its theatrical run and finding a 3 hour+ block to sit down and watch a movie on DVD isn’t exceptionally easy either. I do expect to try and see the film some time in the fairly near future, so I might need to re-visit this score at a later date.
The expectations for this score were obviously very high considering that the last collaboration between James Cameron and James Horner was Titanic, which set records both for box-office gross and soundtrack sales. While Avatar was as financially successful a film, the soundtrack wasn’t as big a breakthrough among non-collectors.
This is the the first time in quite a while that Horner has taken on a full-blown science fiction film and there might be an expectation that the score might resemble his early successes in that genre such as Star Trek II/III, Aliens, and Cocoon, but it really doesn’t resemble those scores much. This score does seem to be more akin to his other scores from the late 90s and 2000s.
A lot of the music is fairly dark, with some heavy percussion, strings, and low brass along with some choral elements. The score doesn’t have the ethnic elements that have been common in some of Horner’s more recent scores (particularly Titanic), which is probably to be expected for a movie set on an alien planet. In their place, he uses some fairly unusual instrument choices and carefully placed vocals to generate a bit more of an exotic sound. The score does establish a couple distinctive themes, including one primary melody that comes a little bit too close to the primary love theme from Titanic.
Probably in an attempt to duplicate their last success, the album ends with a pop ballad entitled “I See You (Theme from Avatar)”, which is performed by Leona Lewis. It is based around one of the primary themes from the score, although it is not nearly as memorable as the Celine Dion hit from Titanic.