Soundtrack Collection: Dragonheart to Dutch

Dragonheart

Dragonheart (Randy Edelman, 1996): Randy Edelman’s main theme to Dragonheart has been used in so many trailers for other movies that it is likely to be instantly familiar to most people even if they have no idea what it is from.

The theme is introduced during the opening cue, entitled  “World of the Heart (Main Title)”.  It is a primarily string-driven theme with a warmly noble quality to it.  The theme has a definite grandeur and sense of importance, which is obviously the reason why it has become so popular to re-purpose it.  In some parts of the score, starting with the album’s 2nd cue “To the Stars”, Edelman adds a wordless choir to the theme as well, giving it an even broader scope.  Much of the score continues in the same vein as the theme, usually strongly melodic with strings generally in the forefront.

The score does have occasional darker patches, such as the very prominent percussion and chant-like vocals found in the cues “Einon” and “Bowen’s Decoy”.  The former cue also introduces some distinctive ethnic elements to the score, with some old-European styling to some of the melodies. This includes some prominent use of acoustic guitar in this and a number of other cues.

Despite the highly melodic, fairly large-sound to the score, Edelman actually makes pretty extensive use of synthesizers during much of the score.  During some of the bigger orchestral segments, synthesizers are used to enhance the percussion and give the score a bit more active bass.  Some of the lighter, more comedic sections of the score place the synthesizers more up-front, as in the cue “The Last Dragon Slayer”.

The soundtrack to Dragonheart was released on CD at the time of the film’s release and is still readily available.  The album contains a relatively generous 45 minutes of score and is generally a solid representation of the score, although I suspect there would be plenty of material for an expanded release.

Dragonslayer

Dragonslayer (Alex North, 1981): This big-budget Disney/Paramount co-production (unusual at that time) wasn’t a big hit at the time of its release, but it has increased somewhat in stature over the years.  It isn’t considered a classic by any means, but it is now generally fairly well-regarded as one of the better entries in the sword & sorcery genre.

The score to Dragonslayer came fairly late in Alex North’s distinguished career and it was really his last score for this type of epic, action-oriented period piece, the type of film in which the composer often exceled.  He delivered a dark, minimally-thematic score that is often a bit difficult to listen to separate from the film, despite the score’s obvious artistry.  North’s score is an avant-garde, often biting effort that lacks the generally upbeat sense of fun that is usually associated with this genre.  It isn’t for everybody and has long been a controversial score among fans, but it is a complex and always interesting score.

While North never really establishes much in the way of strong, distinctive themes that carry through the score, he does introduce melodic material, although it is often surrounded by very active, often dissonant music.  For example, the cue “Maiden Sacrifice” introduces a distinctive, tender melody, but generally overwhelms it with intense strings, brass, and percussion.  This type of approach is repeated fairly often throughout the score.

It is fairly well known that North repurposed portions of his rejected score to 2001: A Space Odyssey for Dragonslayer and those familiar with the either or both of the recordings of that score will certainly recognize its echoes here.  In particular, the waltz that North wrote for the space station docking sequence is clearly reproduced in the cues “Burning Village” and “Dragon Sore-ing” as well as during the finale and over the end credits.   It becomes the most thematic part of this score, although I’m not sure I would think that had I not heard the 2001 score.  In each cue, North builds on his already existing music to build something distinct to this score.  The two scores really make for interesting companion pieces.

While the score did receive a fairly limited LP release as well as an earlier CD release (of dubious legitimacy), the first truly official CD release came from La La Land Records in 2010.  It is a limited edition of 3,000 copies, although still readily available at the time I’m writing this.

Dreamer

Dreamer (Bill Conti, 1979): This fairly obscure Bill Conti score opens with a “Main Title” cue featuring a pleasantly old-fashioned Americana swing-music style, which figures prominently in other parts of the score as well.  Towards the end of the cue, it transitions into more of the late-70s pop style that is more typical of Conti’s scores during that time period.

The score is kind of all over the place stylistically, with some cues featuring the old-fashioned style, others in the more pop style, such as the romantic pop cues “Double Image”, “Blurry” and “Alley Cat”.  The cue “Pool Room” even has a country instrumental style while “Waitress Walking” is pretty much pure disco and “Racking Pins” has a bit of a Mexican mariachi style.

The soundtrack also includes a catchy, 70s pop song entitled “Reach for the Top”.  The song was written by Conti and performed by Pablo Cruise.  It certainly isn’t as memorable as Conti’s famous “Gonna Fly Now” which was written for Rocky just a year earlier, but it still has the same triumphant, anthem style.

The score for Dreamer was released by Varese Sarabande paired with Conti’s The Scout on a 1,000 copy limited edition “CD Club” release, which is now sold out.  The music from Dreamer runs around 40 minutes.  Note that the above image is poster art from the film as there was no Dreamer cover art with the CD.

Duel at Diablo

Duel at Diablo (Neal Hefti, 1966): Neal Hefti was a composer best known for contemporary films, particularly comedies, and Duel at Diablo was his only western.  He mostly avoided the common western conventions of the era, instead going for a smaller-scale, somewhat more pop oriented style.  There are certainly parts of this score that do suggest a western score, but the genre isn’t immediately evident if listening blindly.

The score opens with a “Main Title” cue that establishes a catchy main theme.  This theme really doesn’t sound like a western at all and, in fact, would probably seem fairly at home in a 1960s contemporary comedy.  A vocal version of the theme (simply called “Duel at Diablo on the soundtrack) was performed by Ernie Sheldon.  According to the liner notes, it was not used in the film.

Other parts of the score do have a more rustic feel, such as the fairly lush melodies introduced in the cue “The Earth Runs Red”.  Some parts of the score suggest a bit of a Mexican ethnic influence as well.  While the main theme has an upbeat quality, many other parts of the score are much darker and more menacing, particularly during the “Prologue” cue.

A soundtrack LP containing a re-recording of the score was released with the film and was later included by Film Score Monthly as part of their now sold-out (and very expensive to obtain) “MGM Soundtrack Treasury”.  The soundtrack runs a little under half an hour in length.

Dumbo

Dumbo (Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace, 1941): Disney released an excellent CD of the songs and score from the classic animated feature Dumbo as part of their “Classic Soundtrack Series”.  As is the case with most of those releases, the CD is now out of print, but still pretty easily available.   It is also available as a download from Amazon or iTunes (and probably other stores as well).

The film is, of course, the story of a circus elephant who learns how to fly using his oversized ears as wings.  The circus setting mostly sets the musical style of the score with lots of brass and cymbals, whistle, and the appropriate use of a calliope.  As you would expect, most of the score has a very upbeat, cherry quality, although the film has some darker passages towards the middle and the composers provide appropriately melancholy melodies when needed.

There were a number of songs included in Dumbo and on the soundtrack they are often presented in the same cues alongside relevant score.  Probably the most famous song from the film is the very emotionally-driven lullaby “Baby Mine”, sung by Dumbo’s mother to her son after she has been imprisoned in a cage.  The song has a huge emotional impact in the film.  On the soundtrack album, the song is presented at the end of the generally sad score cues that precede it in the film, which results in more of the song’s emotional impact being retained than is the case with the stand-alone version of the song typically heard on compilation albums.

Other well-known songs from the film include “Casey Junior”, ““Pink Elephants” and “When I See an Elephant Fly”.  The first of those is very effective at musically capturing the familiar sound of a train.  The second accompanies probably the film’s oddest sequence, a borderline psychedelic dream sequence after Dumbo has accidentally become intoxicated.  It is a highly entertaining sequence, although one that probably wouldn’t be too likely to make it into a current children’s film.

The second is possibly the most prominent show-stopper number in the film, performed by a quintet of crows, voiced by Cliff Edwards (well-known to Disney fans as the voice of Jiminy Cricket) and the Hall Johnson Choir.   This sequence has become controversial as many critics have noted that the crow characters are portrayed with African American stereotypes.  The criticism does have merit, although it is important to also keep in mind the time period when the film was made and the stylistic similarity of the song to others from the period.

Other songs on the album include “Look Out for Mr. Stork”, “Song of the Roustabouts” and “Clown Song”.  These certainly aren’t as well known as the others from the film, as they each generally are more focused on establishing atmosphere than advancing the story.  They play well on the CD, though, as they all blend well with the surrounding instrumentals.

The soundtrack album ends with a demo version of an unused song entitled “Spread Your Wings”.

Dune

Dune (Toto, 1984): The score to David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the classic science fiction novel Dune was the only film score created by the popular pop/rock band Toto.  The all-instrumental score features a hybrid of the band’s usual pop/rock with orchestral portions performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.  In the film, the score is credited to the band as a whole and the individual cues on the soundtrack are all credited to some combination of the band’s members at the time: Jeff Porcaro, Mike Porcaro, Steve Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather.

The film was one of the bigger box-office bombs of that time and suffered from such substantial editing that the story was nearly impossible to follow for anyone that didn’t have the novel essentially memorized.  The score was also pretty drastically edited in the film, with the sound mix and construction varying quite a bit between the film, the original 1984 soundtrack album release, and the 1997 expanded soundtrack CD.   The original release contained a reasonable sampling of the score, but did omit quite a bit of music and also had bits of dialog over a couple cues.  The expanded release added back a lot of the missing music and removed the dialog, but had some sound quality problems and mistakes in the cue listings.  Both releases are out of print now and this still a score that could use a definitive re-issue.

The soundtracks open with a short “Prologue” piece that segues directly into the “Main Title” featuring the  score’s anthem-like opening theme.  On the 1984 album, the film’s opening narration is played over the prologue while the 1997 version is music-only.  The opening theme is a dark, but sweeping melody featuring electric guitar accompanied by the full orchestra and a wordless choir.  This theme quickly establishes the rock/orchestral hybrid approach.  An orchestra-only version of the melody is later presented as “Leto’s Theme” and variations of the tune are used throughout.

The other most prominent theme is noble theme for the titular planet itself, which is built around a distinctive, descending progression.  Excerpts from the theme are heard in “The Fremen” before it is given a powerful, largely electronic rock presentation in “Riding the Sandworm”.  A concert arrangement of the theme is featured in the cue “Dune (Desert Theme”) and it also figures prominently during the score’s end credits cue, entitled “Take My Hand”.  Interestingly, a kind of warped, electronic presentation of the desert theme is also used as the villain’s theme in the early cue “The Floating Fat Man (The Baron)”, which is the other cue on the 1984 album release to feature dialog.

The chorus is most prominently used with the “Destiny” theme, which is used to underscore the more religious aspects of the story.  This is a grand, fairly large scale theme and the one aspect of the score where the composers chose to pretty fully suppress the rock and electronics in favor of a fairly old-fashioned epic style orchestral approach.  This theme isn’t used frequently in the score, but tends to make a pretty strong impression when it does appear.

Composer Brian Eno contributed one theme that was used periodically in the film and is credited as the “Prophecy Theme”.  There is some uncertainty about whether Eno originally composed a rejected score for the film or, if not, how he came to contribute that one theme.  I don’t think it is a particularly distinctive or interesting composition.  Eno’s theme was included as a stand-alone cue on the 1984 album, but is completely absent from the 1997 release.

Dutch

Dutch (Alan Silvestri, 1991): Although Alan Silvestri’s most popular scores tend to be for big action and/or adventure films (like Predator or Back to the Future) or for large-scope dramatic films (like Forrest Gump or Contact), he also has done some very good, smaller-scale scores for comedies.  One of his lesser-known scores in that genre was for the 1991 John Hughes production Dutch, which featured Ed O’Neill as an ill-tempered step-dad bonding with kids during a road trip.

Silvestri’s approach to the score starts off more jazz/pop oriented before eventually picking up his more familiar orchestral sound.  The “Main Title” cue has a catchy main theme with a small jazz ensemble sound, dominated by piano.  The second cue, entitled “Party”, then presents a lengthy instrumental that is primarily dominated by solo piano, with only occasional small ensemble accompaniment.

The full orchestra finally kicks in with the 4th cue on the CD, entitled “Trouble on the Home Front”.  The orchestral cues on the soundtrack are recognizably Silvestri’s style, including his typical aggressively dynamic strings as well as the tender piano melodies that are common to his scores for less action-oriented films.  Some of the cues are surprisingly short, including several that are under 2 minutes and even one (“Dad!”) that is only 16 seconds long.  The longest orchestral cue, “The Shelter” clocks in at 4:38.  This approach gives the score a bit of a choppy quality, although this is far from a fatal flaw.

Sprinkled throughout the CD are several source cues, including a solo violin version of a Brandenburg Concerto, a couple brief choral pieces (each identified as alternates of “Campus Choral”), and a lengthy unused “Fireworks” cue that basically is brassy circus music.  These cues are interesting, although I think the CD might have played better had these source cues all been grouped together at the end.

Silvestri’s score to Dutch remained unavailable commercially until 2010, when La La Land Records released a 1200 copy limited edition CD of the score.  At the time that I’m writing this, the CD is still available from their website.  While this is really a minor Silvestri score, it is still worth getting for fans of the composer, particularly if you have a fondness for his smaller scope scores.

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