Soundtrack Collection: Bolt to Brave Little Toaster

 Bolt

Bolt (John Powell, 2008): Disney’s 2008 CGI animated feature was not a musical, thus the soundtrack album primarily features the orchestral score by composer John Powell, who has generally done some of his best work in animated features (including Shrek, the Ice Age sequels, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon).  This was his first score for Disney and it is well suited to the film.

The soundtrack album opens with the two songs from the film, both of which have a modern country style.  The first is “I Thought I Lost You”, the end-credits song performed by the film’s voice stars John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, which is a fairly interesting pairing for a duet.  The other song is “Barking at the Moon” performed by Jenny Lewis, which was used more prominently over a key montage sequence in the film.

Powell’s score has an interesting mix of styles, due to the somewhat dual nature of the film itself.  The main story of the lost dog trying to find its way home called for a fairly tender, emotionally driven score, which Powell builds around a piano-driven main theme.  This aspect of the score is quickly introduced during the first cue of the score portion of the soundtrack entitled “Meet Bolt”.  Powell also provides a fun, vaguely Godfather-inspired  theme for Mittens the cat, which is introduced in the cue “Meet Mittens”.  Other parts of the score have a bit more of a rural, country-inspired feel.

The other key aspect of the score is the very fast-paced, action music that is principally featured in the title character’s super-hero type TV series within the movie.  For these sequences, Powell provides an edgy, heavily synthesizer driven score.  On the soundtrack album, these cues feel a bit out of step with the rest of the score, although they fit perfectly in those sequences in the film.  This aspect of the score is heard early on with “Bolt Transforms” and “Scooter Chase” and Powell does occasionally re-introduce some of the TV series action music during appropriate, action-oriented sections of the main storyline.

Born Free

Born Free (John Barry, 1966): Outside of his James Bond songs, the title song from Born Free is almost certainly the most recognizable and familiar composition of John Barry’s career.  The Matt Monro recording of the song (which features lyrics by Don Black) was a big hit and  became Monro’s signature song.  A cover version by Roger Williams was also a top-10 hit.

The title song is the best remembered aspect of the score and its melody is the dominant theme.  Like the song, the score is very lush and romantic and extremely melodic.  Fitting the family-oriented adventure film, the score has a definite playful quality to it and Barry also occasionally introduces some bits and pieces of African styling, such as some of the use of percussion in the cue “Elsa at Play”.  Some slightly darker tones come into play in “The Death of Pati”, while still maintaining the overall style of the score.

For the 1966 soundtrack album, Barry conducted a re-recording of the score’s highlights.  This re-recording plus the Monro version of the song runs just under 40 minutes in length.  The soundtrack album was released on CD by Film Score Monthly in 2004 in a, rare for the label, non limited-edition that was widely distributed to stores.  The CD doesn’t contain any additional music (or the original film tracks), but it is a solid representation of the score.

Born on the Fourth of July

Born on the Fourth of July (John Williams and Various artists, 1989): This film featured John Williams first of the three scores (preceding JFK and Nixon) that he composed for director Oliver Stone.  Those scores were among the darkest and most somber that Williams composed.  This means that they weren’t among the most accessible to listen to separately from the films, but the scores were exceptionally effective within the films.  The Born on the Fourth of July score isn’t one that I return to very often, but it is a very impressive, serious composition that should be a part of any serious film music collection.

The soundtrack album for Born on the Fourth of July is a mix of a song and score album.  The film used contemporary to the era music pretty extensively to help establish the late 60s/early 70s setting and, particularly, the scenes involving the Vietnam War protest groups and the general counterculture of the era.  The album opens with cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians” and John Fogerty’s  “Born On the Bayou” recorded by The Broken Homes.  Both of these were recorded for the film.

The rest of the songs were original artists versions of “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Pie” by Don Mclean, “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles, “Venus” by Frankie Avalon, and  the familiar choral version of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”.  All are good songs, of course, but they are also very widely available from other sources and it would have been vastly preferable to have had more of the score instead.

The score portion of the album opens with “Prologue”, a distinguished and somber theme for solo trumpet, extremely well performed by former Boston Pops lead trumpeter Tim Morrison, a frequent Williams collaborator.  This immediately establishes the very serious mood of the score.  This theme is re-visited quite a bit during the rest of the score cues and Morrison’s solo trumpet is also utilized to perform other themes within the score.

During the second cue, “The Early Days, Massapequa, 1957”, Williams establishes the other primary theme of the score, which is a fairly romantic Americana theme that reflects the all-American, small town origins of the film’s central character.  As the score progresses, this theme is re-visited frequently, but with darker, more downbeat shadings as the film’s very serious story arc plays out.  This is especially true of the last couple cues of the album, which score the last parts of the film after the injured main character has returned home from the war.  Especially effective is Williams use of a bit of a pop beat under the trumpet performance of his Americana theme during “Homecoming”, with a revisit of the “Prologue” theme interrupting it, causing a fairly abrupt shift from optimism to sadness.

The soundtrack also includes a couple cues that underscore the film’s war sequences.  The first of these, “The Shooting of Wilson” is mostly very dissonant in sound with harsh strings and bursts of percussion and brass underlining the tension and pain of the war.  It is the most difficult cue on the album to listen to, although it is still very expertly composed.  The cue ends with repeats of the score’s two main themes, providing a sort of release.  The second war cue, “Cua Viet River, Vietnam, 1968” is more melodic and interweaves more of the main themes, but in a very dark and foreboding style.  Williams’ use of vocal whispering (with unrecognizable words) is a particularly unsettling element of this cue.

Williams’ score only takes up about 25 minutes on the album, so this is obviously a very prime candidate for an expanded release.  Not counting Williams (mostly early) scores that have never been released outside of their films at all, this is almost certainly his most under-represented score out there.  The album does hit the top highlights of the score giving a solid taste for it, but there definitely is a need for more of it to be made available.

Boy On a Dolphin

Boy On a Dolphin (Hugo Friedhofer, 1957): Intrada released a limited edition CD release of this interesting and fairly exotic Hugo Friedhofer score.  Previously, the score had been released on LP several times (including a release contemporary to the film) as well as on a Japanese-import CD, but the Intrada disc added a little over 10 minutes of additional music and was the first domestic CD release and the first time the score has been available in stereo.    The CD also includes a demo version of the title song.

The album opens with a title song, performed by singer Mary Kaye.  The song’s melody serves as a primary theme for the instrumental score as well.  It is a melodic, vaguely fantastical song that establishes the primary overall tone for the score.  The entire score has a somewhat exotic, vaguely Mediterranean sound to it.

Friedhofer also makes good use of slower paced string and woodwind centered melodies to help establish a mood fitting to the film’s underwater sequences.  Adding to the exotic, vaguely otherworldly quality are some wordless female vocals that overlay some of the cues.  The cue “Nocturnal Sea” is a particularly notable example of this aspect of the score.

The Boy Who Could Fly (Varese Sarabande re-recording) The Boy Who Could Fly (Percepto promotional)

The Boy Who Could Fly (Bruce Broughton, 1986): This is one of my favorite film scores and a soundtrack that I return to very often.  The CD that I have was a promotional release that was put out by Percepto Records in a limited edition of only 500 copies.  I purchased it when it originally became available, but it is now long sold out and used copies generally go for hundreds of dollars.  An earlier Varese Sarabande release contained a shorter, re-recording of the score, which was released on LP contemporary with the film and was also briefly available on CD, although it is now a bit hard to find.  The Varese album is still available from iTunes as a download.

The score is primarily built around an absolutely beautiful, sensitive and highly memorable main theme.  The theme is introduced right at the beginning of the soundtrack in the cue “Meeting Eric”.  The theme is initially presented in a very low key version played on piano, harp, flute and acoustic guitar, but the theme builds over the course of the score, eventually making it to soaring, fully orchestral presentations that primarily score the film’s flying sequences, particularly in the cue “The Hospital/Flying” and in the last portion of the spectacular finale cue “Milly and Eric Flee/Into the Air”.

While the main theme is repeated frequently throughout the score in a wide variety of orchestrations, Broughton does also provide some very effective secondary themes as well.  For the film’s soldier-obsessed younger brother character (who was played by a very young Fred Savage), Broughton provides a theme that manages to successfully sound military while still remaining gentle and playful.  A sensitive, somewhat melancholy theme is presented in the cue “Family”, which blends a piano theme with some short, very low key statements of the main theme.

Broughton also effectively brings the score into some darker places, when needed, with both some more subdued variations on the themes for some of the sadder sequences of the film as well as some occasionally tense music when needed.  This is especially noted in the cues “Eric Agitated/Louis Defeated” and “The Rainstorm/The Ring” as well as in the fairly abrupt strings that conclude “The Hospital/Flying”.

In the film itself, a pop song was selected to play over the film’s end credits, but the Percepto CD includes an unused end credits suite that Broughton wrote for the film.  This cue, simply entitled “The Boy Who Could Fly”, is the most complete presentation of the main theme, including its progression from the simple, lightly-orchestrated version into the fully orchestral theme.  It is a major shame that this wasn’t kept for the film as it would have been the ideal conclusion.

One bit of trivia about this score is that the main theme is likely to be very familiar to frequent movie-goers in Los Angeles, particularly Disney fans, even if they don’t remember or never saw the movie.  Before every show at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, they do an elaborate light show as they open the curtains.  The music used during the curtain opening is the theme from The Boy Who Could Fly.  The exact music used at the theater starts at the 1:25 mark during the unused closing credits cue on the Percepto CD, although I strongly suspect that the recording used is actually taken from the re-recording that Erich Kunzel did with the Cincinnati Pops for the CD entitled Fantastic Journey.

The Boys from Brazil

The Boys from Brazil (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978): For this thriller, Jerry Goldsmith made the somewhat unusual choice of crafting an original waltz that would serve as the score’s primary theme.  This impressive composition of soaring strings and triumphant brass is one of Goldsmith’s most popular compositions among film score enthusiasts.

The waltz is immediately introduced during the film’s “Main Title” cue and is re-visited pretty regularly.  The rest of the score includes some pretty impressive action music, which emphasizes percussion and brass.  Particularly notable is Goldsmith’s use of tuba and trombone to ramp up the intensity of some of the action cues.  The lengthy, early cue “The Killer’s Arrive” introduces the key action themes up front, before impressively segueing into the waltz.

The original soundtrack album produced at the time of the film’s release featured a 20 minute suite of the highlights from the score, edited into a single cue plus two shorter (relatively speaking) score cues that run another 15 minutes or so combined.   The album also included the song “We’re Home Again” performed by Elaine Page and written by Goldsmith with lyricist Hal Shaper.  While not complete or in film order, the album arrangements are a nice selection of music from the film, although the omitted portions do include some of the strongest action-oriented cues.  The original album also put a bit more emphasis on the waltz, placing it more front-and-center than it really was in the complete score.

In 2008, Intrada released a 2-CD limited edition (5,000 copies) containing the complete score in film order on disc 1 and the original soundtrack album tracks plus some source music and demo tracks on disc 2.  This release is no longer available from Intrada, but copies can generally be found in the $30-$40 range.  Intrada’s release really is a best-of-both-worlds release by including both the complete score and the album arrangements.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Wojciech Kilar, 1992): Francis Ford Coppola’s very stylish and very strange version of the Dracula story was one of those films that pretty heavily divided audiences.  I generally found it to be an interesting and absorbing film and I felt that Wojciech Kilar’s classically gothic score played a big role in helping to establish the film’s distinctive mood.

The score has a fairly old-fashioned, highly thematic sound.  The music is extremely atmospheric and really cranks up the tension with themes that heavily emphasize percussion, low brass, choral elements, and extremely active strings.  Kilar establishes the score’s most significant theme during the soundtrack’s second cue, entitled “Vampire Hunters”.  This theme features a simple repeating melody, played over the top of a progressive beat of brass and percussion.

A substantial portion of the soundtrack consists of action cues that tend to emphasize the building of tension over pure adrenaline-pumping themes.  Choral elements are frequently used in cues such as “The Storm” and “The Hunt Builds”, with lots of low-register brass and fairly relentless percussion.  The action cues are very dark, but constantly interesting and engaging.

Kilar also provides some quieter, more romantic melodies, primarily serving as themes for the major female characters.  The theme for the character of Mina is a primarily string melody that is first introduced during “Mina’s Photo” and more fully developed in “Love Remembered”, while the cue “Lucy’s Party” introduces a gentle, but vaguely ominous minor-key piano melody.  “The Brides” presents a more intense, violin-driven melody.

The one cue that seems pretty out of place on the soundtrack is “The Ring of Fire”, which seems to be made up more of sound effects from the film’s finale than actual musical material.  It does have a dissonant, rhythmic, mostly percussion musical element, but it still seems pretty out of place in the otherwise mostly melodic album.

The soundtrack album ends with a song entitled “Love Song for a Vampire” that is performed by Annie Lennox.  The melody is based on Mina’s theme.  The musical accompaniment is mostly electronic rather than orchestral, making it a bit of an odd fit with the rest of the album.

The Bravados

The Bravados (Alfred Newman, Hugo Friedhofer, 1958): This western featured a collaboration between two of the top golden age composers.  The resultant score is a blend of the two composers’ distinct, but still mostly compatible, styles.  Film Score monthly released an impressively complete soundtrack CD as part of their Golden Age Classics series.

The soundtrack opens with an exciting, brassy march that was composed by Newman, which gets the score off to a very rousing start and is further developed nicely in “The Posse Rides”.  Newman also contributes some of the film’s more romantic and contemplative melodies, including a fairly reverent theme heard in the cue “A Mother’s Prayer” and a romantic theme with some very impressive work for strings in the cue “The Dead Miner and Emma/Josefa”.

Friedhofer’s contributions are primarily the more dark and brooding aspect of the score.   His themes tend to have more of an emphasis on lower brass and strings, providing the score with some more tense passages such as in cues like “Jailbreak” and “Parral’s Ambush”.  I will say that I’ve never been a huge fan of Friedhofer’s style and this score kind of drives that home.  While I’m sure his compositions were appropriate to the darker parts of the film, I definitely prefer the Newman themes.

The program on the CD is in 3 parts.  The first half hour or so is a fairly complete version of the score presented in stereo.  This is followed by about 13 minutes of source cues.  The album ends with a little under 20 minutes of the score presented in its original monaural mix.

The Brave Little Toaster

The Brave Little Toaster (David Newman, 1986): This film was an independently-produced animated feature that primarily played on television and home video here in the US after a few showings at film festivals.  David Newman scored the film, which also contains a few songs composed by Van Dyke Parks.

Percepto Records released a limited edition soundtrack CD for the film, but it is a pretty mixed bag.  The score on the album is complete, but it is covered with dialog and sound effects on quite a few tracks.  Newman provides an impressively melodic and fully orchestral score, but so much of the music is overwhelmed on the album that it is difficult to get a solid feel for the flavor of this score.

Still, there is some very good music on the disc and the passages that play uninterrupted are sometimes pretty impressive.  The film’s primary theme is introduced during a nicely presented “Main Title” cue and Newman has the opportunity to develop the themes pretty well during some of the lengthier cues such as “The Pond/Busby Berkley/The Meadow” (which has a lot of sound effects during the first part, but is mostly music-only after that) and the 7 minute “Finale” cue.

The songs are ok, but generally pretty forgettable.  I’m not exceptionally familiar with the movie (saw it once quite a while back), so perhaps the songs would connect with me more if I knew it better.  The most entertaining of the songs is the clever horror spoof “It’s a ‘B’ Movie”.

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