The Clearing (Craig Armstrong, 2004): As I know little about the film, it is fairly unlikely that I would have bought this soundtrack myself. It is one of several that I was given by a friend who works at the movie studio and it is a pretty good score. My only previous familiarity with Craig Armstrong was mainly through his projects with Baz Luhrmann, which tended to be pretty song-oriented. It is interesting hearing a more full score.
Much of the score has a very dark and moody quality. The opening cue is a solo violin presentation of the score’s main theme. This kind of low-key presentation of the theme establishes a pretty distinctive mood right at the start. The theme is a fairly simple motif, built around a fairly simple 8 note melody with the first 3 notes repeated. This motif is woven throughout the score, often either via the solo violin or via piano (including a stand-alone solo piano cue of the theme). The soundtrack ends with a full orchestral arrangement.
Armstrong includes some electronic elements as well, introducing a bit of a modern style to some parts of the score. The early cue “Arnold On His Way” especially showcases this aspect of the music and comes as a somewhat interesting shift in tone after the moody, more classical instrumentals of the first couple cues.
Cliffhanger (Trevor Jones, 1993): Trever Jones’ Cliffhanger is one of my favorite action scores of the early 1990s and it comes from what I think was probably the most purely entertaining action film of Sylvester Stallone’s career. I’ve always found it a bit puzzling that Jones didn’t make a bigger name for himself as an action composer.
The score is built around an absolutely thrilling main theme. The theme is built around a series of very brassy fanfares backed by some absolutely soaring strings. This is one of those themes that really sticks in your mind after listening to the album or seeing the film. The opening cue of the album is a terrific concert arrangement of the theme. It may have played over the main title, although I don’t recall for sure. Either way, it gets the album off to a rousing start while firmly establishing the score’s primary musical voice right from the beginning.
Stallone’s action movies often tended to have something of a brooding quality to them and Jones’ score does reflect this with some cues that are fairly moody. This is pretty effective scoring, with Jones retaining a melodic quality that never strays excessively far from the style of the main theme. This helps to keep the darker side of the score from becoming oppressive and also retains a cohesive sound to it.
One thing that might be a tad surprising about the score is that it doesn’t have a lot of extremely high-adrenaline action music. It isn’t completely absent, of course, but even some of the core action cues like “Bats” or “Helicopter Fight” still stay very anchored in melody and are a bit heavier on tension and mood than on what you might usually expect for a big-budget action movie. When more actively percussive music comes into play, it tends to be particularly effective due to its fairly sparing use.
Cloak & Dagger (Brian May, 1984): I haven’t seen it for years, but this was a movie that I especially enjoyed when it first came out. I was 15 years old and already a definite computer/video game nerd by then, so the film connected with me pretty well. What I don’t remember was ever really thinking too much about the music in the movie, particularly since there was no soundtrack released. Intrada released Brian May’s score for the first time earlier this year and I found the music to have a certain familiarity, although not as much as I might have expected from a film that I saw a number of times back when it was reasonably new.
May provided a pretty charming adventure score for the film. It is a fully orchestral score with a somewhat old-fashioned sound. Considering the computer and video game theme to the film, it is actually a bit surprising that the score is so traditional and lacking in electronic elements. The score is dominated by some very active string and piano melodies, with occasional militaristic brass and percussion brought into some of the action sequences, including a pretty great march that appears occasionally during the score and then gets a full performance in the end credits cue. Gentle woodwinds often accompany piano during the more quiet parts of the score.
The score is very energetic and fast paced, although it is somewhat limited in thematic elements. May does introduce a very short primary motif that serves as something of a main theme for the score, but it isn’t one that is especially distinctive and, thus, probably not one that will stick in your mind too much after seeing the film or hearing the album. In fact, this fairly minimalist main theme is probably the reason that I didn’t find the music exceptionally memorable based on multiple viewings of the film. This isn’t necessarily a negative, though, as the music is pleasant to listen to and likely served the film well.