Soundtrack Collection: The Egyptian to Enchanted

The Egyptian

The Egyptian (Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, 1954): The Egyptian is one of the most important scores of its era.  The score was a collaboration between two of the true giants of Golden Age film scoring, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, working together on a large-scale historical epic.  The score was a true collaboration with each composer composing key segments of the score, but with shared themes and effective blending of both composers’ styles.

While a few re-recordings were available, the original recordings were long thought to be destroyed, until Film Score Monthly obtained access to preserved stereo tapes in 2001, allowing them to release a 72 minute limited edition CD (still available) containing all the surviving portion of the score.  It isn’t complete, but it is does cover the most important portions of the score.

As you would expect, this is a true epic score with dynamic action music, intimate romantic themes, and pretty much everything in-between.  The score features a full orchestra and chorus, giving it a fittingly large scale.  For the most part, the composers tend to handle the parts of the score that are most appropriate to their styles.  Herrmann was often most comfortable with darker, more brooding music and that is on display here in cues such as “The House of the Dead/The Burial”.  His talent for thrilling, fast paced action scoring is present as well, particularly in the exciting “The Chariot Ride/Pursuit” and the frantically stark cue “The Homecoming”.

Newman’s contribution tends to focus more on the romantic side as well as the score’s sense of nobility.  While Herrmann’s segments often tended to emphasize brass and percussion, Newman’s is dominated by lush strings and gentle woodwinds.  This aspect of the score is particularly well represented in the lengthy (7 minutes plus) cue “Valley of the Kings”.  Newman’s portion of the scoring also tends to be the strongest contributor to giving the score a distinctively middle-eastern flavor.  Newman also provides a religious hymn (with Biblical lyrics) that is presented first in “Hymn to Aton” and later reprised in “Death of Merit”.

While the above comments almost sound like two separate scores, the two portions actually blend very well.  There is a fair amount of thematic overlap and there are quite a few places where music by one composer is designed to flow right into music by the other.  On the soundtrack CD, quite a few cues contain portions by both composers.  Even in most single-composer scores, there can be a fair amount of variation in style based on what is needed for individual scenes.  This is simply a prime example of two top composers splitting up the film in such a way that each is able to contribute to the parts that are the best fit to his style.

Eight Below

Eight Below (Mark Isham, 2006): Mark Isham’s score to Eight Below was one of the early cases of Disney’s recent trend toward download-only releases on soundtracks that are primarily score.  This title was released exclusively to iTunes and it continues to be only available from that service.  Unfortunately, this does mean that the music is only available in iTunes’ compressed AAC format and not as a lossless recording.  Unfortunately, this pretty good adventure score is marred somewhat by the less than stellar sound quality.

The album opens with an overture that provides a pretty good overview of the key themes.  The most prominent theme is a fairly simple, brassy fanfare.  It is effective, although its relatively spare use in the score is something of a surprise.  Isham tends to pull out the theme as sort of a periodic crescendo, while often tending towards more subtle scoring during much of the rest of the running time.

The score is largely orchestral with a definite emphasis on brass and percussion.  Guitar is also featured during many parts of the score, giving it a bit more of a contemporary sound without moving it substantially towards a modern rock/pop sound.  The main guitar riff becomes a key secondary theme for the score, particularly playing up the more playful aspects of the score.  The score’s more sensitive side is played up with solo piano melodies in a few cues, most notably “Southern Lights”.

Eloise at the Plaza

Eloise at the Plaza/Eloise at Christmastime (Bruce Broughton, 2003): In 2003, ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” series aired two made-for-TV movies, starring Julie Andrews,  based on the popular “Eloise” series of children’s books by Kay Thompson.  Both films were scored by Bruce Broughton and Intrada released a 1,200 copy limited edition (now out of print) 2-CD set, with one disc dedicated to each of the two scores.

Broughton establishes a charming and memorable main theme, which primarily features a solo saxophone.  It has a bit of an old-fashioned, Gershwin-inspired Americana style to it, which is a good fit for Broughton’s own sensibilities as well.  The theme debuts during the “Main Title/The Plaza” cue that opens the Eloise at the Plaza score and appears regularly throughout both of the scores, serving as a strong connecting tissue for a fairly wide variety of thematic material.  The rest of the musical material ranges from the charmingly manic to touchingly sensitive.  The latter is especially well represented by a gentle piano theme that serves as a core of the score’s more emotional components.

The score to Eloise at the Plaza tends to build on the style established in the main theme, maintaining a generally jazzy tone through much of the music.  Solo saxophone is used in quite a few variations that riff on the main theme.  Piano also tends to stand-out quite a bit, including some very dynamic playing in cues such as “Breaking the Boredom” and “Eloise’s Stuff”.  On the latter, there is some impressive violin counterpoint, an example of some interesting strings that also pop up periodically.  The result is a kind of upscale sophistication that reflects the film’s setting.

Eloise at Christmastime

As you might expect, the score to the Christmas-themed second film adds interpolations of various common Christmas carols and other melodies associated with the holiday season.  This aspect of the score presents itself right up front with brief excerpts from “The Nutcracker Suite” kicking off the score’s overture before transitioning into reprises of some of the key themes from the first score.  The bits from the “Nutcracker” reappear in other parts of the score as well, including a fairly front-and-center performance in the cue “Doggie in a Tutu” as well as more subtle interpolations in quite a few other cues.

Broughton introduces a fair amount of new original music as well, further developing the earlier themes while often adding a holiday-themed overlay with common elements such as sleigh bells or brief statements of Christmas melodies.  At times, this includes using chimes or other seasonally-associated instruments for original melodies, such as in “Mrs. Thornton’s Story / Troubled”.  The substantial holiday influences tend to overtake the jazz influences of the first score, resulting in two distinctively different scores, although built around some of the same themes.

The Emperor' s New Groove

The Emperor’s New Groove (John Debney, Sting, 2000): Something of an oddity among Disney’s animated features, The Emperor’s New Groove started production as a fairly serious animated musical to be called “Kingdom of the Sun” before eventually being transformed into a largely slapstick (but, somewhat surprisingly, very funny) comedy.  Sting was brought in to write several songs, but only two of them ended up making it into the final version.

The two songs that made it into the film were “Perfect World” and “My Funny Friend and Me”.  The first was a snappy, fairly humorous lounge-style song performed by Tom Jones.  The song was featured at the start of the film in a montage that essentially introduced the main character.  “My Funny Friend and Me” is a soft-rock ballad performed by Sting himself.

The soundtrack album also includes three additional songs that Sting wrote for the film, but which were not ultimately used.  These additional songs give a bit of a taste of what the film was intended to be in its earlier incarnation.  The most interesting is “Snuff Out the Light (Yzma’s Song)”, a villain’s song that is performed in-character by Eartha Kitt.  The song and Kitt’s performance of it are tremendous fun.  It is a shame that it didn’t stay in the film, although that wasn’t really feasible as the lyrics focus on a key plot point (the character’s plan to blot out the sun) that was no longer part of the film.

The other two songs are less distinctive.  “Walk the Llama Llama” is a kind of funky, vaguely doo-wop styled song performed by Rascall Flatts.  The other is a fairly generic pop romantic duet performed by Sting and Shawn Colvin.  Both songs are ok, but their removal from the film doesn’t really seem like too much of a loss.

The first of John Debney’s instrumental score cues is “Run Llama Run”, an amusing, fast paced swing-music style cue, featuring extremely active brass, crashing cymbals, and even voices yelling out “Run!”.  This cue is featured during the portion of the CD otherwise devoted to the song cues and is probably better thought of as a source cue than a really key part of the score.

The rest of the score is much less distinctive, although definitely adequate to the film.  It is orchestral, but with a largely understated quality.  Debney does provide a main theme that is melodic with a cheerfully romantic quality.  The score also includes some pretty active brass at times, sometimes in the kind of on-the-nose matching of on-screen action that occasionally occurs in animated films to an extent that it is commonly referred to as “Mickey Mousing”.  Considering the film’s Middle Eastern setting, the score is surprisingly lacking in ethnic influences.

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (John Williams, 1987): Several years before Steven Spielberg made the highly acclaimed World War II dramas Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, he directed his first serious drama set in the war, an adaptation of author J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun.  The film received a mixed critical reaction and was not a box-office hit, but I found it to be a powerful, emotionally engaging film.  John Williams’ expressively emotional scoring definitely was a key asset.

The soundtrack album (and the film) opens impressively with a choral and orchestral performance of the traditional Welsh hymn “Suo Gan” featuring the Ambrosian Junior Choir, lip-synced in the film by young Christian Bale, who was making his film debut.  While not a John Williams composition, the song generally sets the musical tone for a fairly up-scale, sophisticated score.

The second cue on the soundtrack, entitled “Cadillac of the Skies” is a soaring, wistfully melodic piece with very active brass and strings early on, leading into a wordless choral conclusion.  This cue is one of the score’s most distinctive orchestral pieces and is often included in compilation albums or concert performances.   The film has a subplot involving the main character’s love of airplanes and there are a number of cues that have this kind of a soaring, aerial quality to them.

This is immediately followed by “Jim’s New Life”, a fast-paced, brassy piece with a bit of a playful edge which then gives way to a darker tone in the cue “Lost in the Crowd”.  These cues together represent a pretty strong expression of the score’s fairly extensive emotional range.  The score’s most distinctive original theme is a gentle, beautiful string-dominated melody that is best represented in “Toy Planes, Home and Hearth”.  In that cue, it eventually transitions into a gorgeous wordless choral rendition.  Williams also very effectively incorporates a couple existing classical pieces into the score, including an orchestral arrangement of “The British Grenadiers” and solo piano performances of Chopin’s “Mazurka Opus 17 No. 4”.

The score’s most impressive original Williams composition is the choral piece “Exsulate Justi”.  In fact, I consider this piece to be towards the top of my list of favorite of all John Williams compositions.  It is a robust and regal piece for full orchestra and chorus, with the choir performing Latin lyrics.  The piece is excerpted within the film during a fairly critical sequence and then is played in full over the end credits.  I believe this cue alone justifies buying the soundtrack, with the rest of the score as very good icing on the cake.

Enchanted

Enchanted (Alan Menken, 2007): Disney’s mixed animation/live-action hit about a fairy-tale princess transported to modern day New York City was a rare case of a film that worked both as a satire and as its own self-contained story.  The songs by Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz as well as Menken’s score also succeed in the same way, working both as gentle send-ups of the genre conventions as well as working really well on their own.

Menken and Schwartz’s approach to the songs is to transition over the course of the film from fairly traditional animated fairy tale songs to a more contemporary (and less satirical) style, which also reflects the story arc.  As part of this approach, the film’s star Amy Adams (in a star-making role) performs primary vocals on the first 3 songs while the last two feature vocals by contemporary recording artists. 

The first song, “True Love’s Kiss”, is a very old-fashioned romantic duet that would sound completely at home in most of Disney’s classic fairy tale films.  In fact, the style is old-fashioned enough that the song is closer stylistically to the music from Snow White or Cinderella than to Menken’s own songs from Disney’s big animated hits from the late 80s to mid-90s.  The song’s satirical aspects tend to be subtle, including a certain over-the-top quality to its romanticism as well as some clever lyrics, particularly having James Marsden as the prince sing “You were made to” and Adams follow with “finish your duet!”

The most clearly satirical song is "Happy Working Song", very obviously expired by "Whistle While You Work".  In the film, Adams sings the song while cleaning a New York apartment with the help of local wildlife: mainly cockroaches, pigeons, and rats.  The song has a charming absurdity to it and includes some clever situational lyrics, including one reference to the helpers as being "vermin".  The song is funny, but still doesn’t stray too far into parody.

The third song, "That’s How You Know" is my pick as the film’s best. It accompanies a big, showstopper production number in Central Park, with Adams’ vocals joined by a variety of the types of street musicians found in the park.  The song has a highly infectious tropical reggae rhythm and a very appealing melody accompanied by a mix of  instruments, including some great solo horns and even a steel drum. This song is on my list of most favorite Menken compositions.

“So Close” is a very appealing romantic ballad that is performed by John McLaughlin (who actually appears on-screen in the film) during the film’s climactic ballroom sequence.  It is a generally modern ballad that fits the scene’s mix of romanticism and melancholy absolutely perfectly.  This song is completely straight without a hint of parody, which is very appropriate to the tone of the scene it accompanies.

Finally, the final song in the film is “Ever Ever After”, a very peppy contemporary pop song performed by Carrie Underwood during the “happily ever after” montage that closes the film.  It is a fun song and I really commend the producers for recognizing Menken and Schwartz’s flexibility as songwriters instead of bringing in pop songwriters for this closing son.  The result is maintenance of some musical consistency, even incorporating a brief quote of “True Love’s Kiss”, as the style turns fully contemporary at the close of the film.

Menken’s instrumental scoring skill has improved dramatically with experience.  While he still occasionally incorporates his song melodies into the score, he now longer relies on them nearly as extensively as he did with his first couple scores.  Enchanted requires a pretty wide range of scoring, with scenes of romanticism, comedy, fantasy, and action.  He finds the right musical tone for each of those aspects of the score. 

The score tends to be pretty fully orchestral, with pretty extensive use of brass as well as some very well placed wordless choral.  One interesting exception to that is “Girls Go Shopping”, which is mainly a pop instrumental version of “Ever Ever After”, primarily featuring guitar, bass, and other traditional pop/rock instruments.  It sticks out a bit in the midst of the whole

Some of the score’s strongest thematic material is provided for the romantic aspects, particularly a nice woodwind and piano theme that Menken blends well with the melody of “So Close” during the cue “Robert Says Goodbye”.  For the villain, he provides a suitably over-the-top brassy theme, complete with bold, choral chanting.  This theme is front and center in the cue “Narissa Arrives” and also figures heavily during the impressive 11 minute finale cue, “Storybook Ending”.  This cue largely ties together all the main scoring themes as it covers the film’s climactic sequences.

For the most part, the score is played straight without satirical elements.  The one big exception comes during the cue “Nathanial and Pip”.  One clever inside joke in the film was cameos by the voice actresses that played Belle, Ariel, and Pocahontas in Disney’s hit animated films.  Paige O’Hara (Belle) appeared as a character in a soap opera that the prince was watching on TV and this cue opens with a melodramatic, soap-opera style arrangement of the most recognizable score melody from Beauty and the Beast.

One major highlight of the soundtrack CD is the 4 1/2 minute “Suite from Enchanted”, which also played over the film’s end credits.  This is a terrific instrumental arrangement of the melodies from all of the songs.  It is a great summation of the music from the film and it was really wonderful that the producers allowed Menken to prepare this suite instead of ending with a radio friendly pop song over the credits.

The soundtrack ends with James Marsden’s performance of “That’s Amore”, which is essentially a piece of source music from the film.  It is amusing, although perhaps a bit out of place after the suite provides really the perfect closing to the album.

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