The Enemy Below (Leigh Harline, 1957): This golden age action score is highlighted by a stirringly militaristic and melodic main theme, dominated by trombone and other prominent brass instruments. It is a thrilling attention-grabbing theme that establishes the composer’s very dynamic action approach to the score. This theme is particularly dominant in this score, repeating frequently, but with many variations in orchestration and pacing.
As is frequently typical with this type of action score, there are some darker, more suspense-oriented passages as well. One of the earliest in the score is the cue “Charting Tables”, which tends to use slower pacing and lower brass to present a darker mood, while still remaining centered around the melody of the primary theme. Action is definitely central to the score, though, with plenty of fast paced action cues, such as “Abandon Ship”, which contains some aggressive piano underlying the expected brass.
The score ends on a somewhat surprising note with a gently melodic end title cue, which is mainly string oriented. Coming right after some much more fast paced action music, this cue provides a pretty effective winding down of the score. While much of this cue is somewhat disconnected from the other parts of the score, it does work up to a bold, fanfare-style statement of the main theme as an ending flourish.
Intrada’s limited edition CD release is now sold out at their site and rare enough that I couldn’t even find an Amazon link. It contains a little over 40 minutes of Harline’s score, plus another 8 minutes of bonus cues of source music. The bonus cues include a number of vocals by Theodore Bikel, a military band march, and various “radar blips” that were composed by Harline essentially for sound effects.
Enterprise (Dennis McCarthy, 2002): The most recent (to date) “Star Trek” TV series mostly inherited the same musical style that was established with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and continued through each of the subsequent TV series. It was not surprising that Dennis McCarthy, one of the most frequent composers on the previous series, was brought in to score the pilot as well as other later episodes of the series.
One strange, and controversial, choice that was made by the series’ producers was to deviate from the usual orchestral main title themes and instead use a pop/rock song. Even stranger was the decision to use a re-worked version of “Faith of the Heart”, which was written by Diane Warren and performed by Rod Stewart for the movie Patch Adams.
The version of the song used for “Enterprise” was re-titled “Where My Heart Will Take Me” and performed by Russell Watson, essentially copying Stewart’s rough voiced style. While this decision was, I suppose, fairly bold, it wasn’t really a good one. The song felt terribly out of place over the series’ nostalgic opening title sequence (which featured visuals giving the history of space exploration) and it certainly didn’t fit with the musical approach used for the actual episode scoring.
The series was never a big hit (it only lasted 4 seasons, compared to 7 each for the previous three series) and only one soundtrack CD, containing the pilot score, has been released so far. The CD also contains two versions of Russell Watson’s performance of “Where My Heart Will Take Me”, a longer version that opens the CD and the shorter version used on the show, which closes the disc.
McCarthy provides a primary theme that is incorporated frequently into the episode score. The theme is dominated by majestic brass along with some soaring strings, which nicely evokes flight while also presenting a bit of a nostalgic flavor. This theme was originally intended to be the opening title theme and the full arrangement written for that purpose is presented on the CD as “Archer’s Theme”.
As with any “Star Trek” incarnation, the show provided opportunities for a mix of dramatic, somewhat-cerebral scoring as well as some faster, more percussive action music, such as “Klingon Chase-Shotgunned” or “Phaser Fight” and darker suspense cues as in “Morph-o-Mania”. The action cues, in particular, tend to have quite a few synth elements to supplement the otherwise orchestral presentation.
ER (Marty Davich, James Newton Howard, 1996): NBC’s medical drama “ER” was an enormous hit for the network and something of a ground-breaker when it came to its pacing and style. The series distinctive synthesizer-driven musical scoring was a key stylistic component of the series.
The series’ opening title theme and the pilot episode score were written by James Newton Howard. After that, Marty Davich took over as the series’ composer, scoring all of the subsequent episodes of the show’s 15 season run. While Davich used Newton Howard’s theme as a starting point, it is definitely reasonable to give Davich the bulk of the credit for the show’s overall musical identity.
The main theme is dominated by a synthesizer background that is designed to be evocative of ambulance sirens, while still remaining squarely in the realm of music rather than sound effects. Newton Howard then layers on a strong melody that plays over the ever-present synths. The theme includes a solo saxophone that adds a jazzy component as well. Much like the series itself, it is a busy and highly kinetic theme that somehow manages to stay under control.
Davich’s episode scores are primarily electronic, with very percussive scoring for the series’ many fast-paced, emergency sequences. The particularly action-oriented episode “Hell and High Water” is represented on the CD with four different cues, providing perhaps the strongest overview of Davich’s approach to action scenes.
More melodic scoring, often dominated by keyboard, is used for the character-driven segments, such as a plaintive, jazzy horn melody in the cue “Goodbye Baby Susie” and a piano-driven romantic theme as heard in “Doug and Carol”. This more emotional type of scoring is fairly prominent on the CD, although it is reasonable to say the action-oriented scoring was probably more dominant on the series.
The only available soundtrack release for the series came out in 1996 and featured music from the series’ first two seasons. The album opens with an extended version of Newton Howard’s theme music, with the arrangement actually used in the series at the end of the disc. Davich’s 12 score cues come from eight different episodes.
The CD also includes 3 songs: “Healing Hands” by Marc Cohn, “Reasons for Living” by Duncan Sheik, and Mike Finnegan’s arrangement of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”.
Eragon (Patrick Doyle, 2006): One of the best ways to add a touch of high-brow sophistication to pretty much any movie is to hire Patrick Doyle to write the score. Doyle’s score for the film adaptation of the popular fantasy novel Eragon is an especially good example of this. The film wasn’t particularly well received (I haven’t actually seen it), but Doyle provided an exciting and sophisticated, classically-themed score that is a real thrill to listen to on CD.
The album opens with a stirring and soaring title cue that establishes the score’s main theme. This cue features Doyle’s usual mix of very dynamic strings with regal, extremely well-placed brass. A rich, sharply-defined central melody is established with this cue and that melody then remains as a central anchor for the remainder of the score. Doyle does a good job of continuing to develop this melody over the course of the score, with well matched secondary themes.
This is not a subtle score, by any means. Doyle maintains a big, bold sound throughout. Strings and brass are overwhelmingly dominant here and many of the cues are very action-oriented, although always with a vividly strong sense of melody. Choral elements are added effectively in some cues, such “Fortune Teller”. Cues often evoke a sense of flight, particularly through the powerful use of strings. Battle music is best represented in the lengthy cue “Battle for Varden”, which proves to be one of the score’s highlights.
Some may actually find Doyle’s score a bit over-the-top, but I admit that I tend to respond very positively to this type of bold scoring, at least when listening to it separated from the film. The running time of the score is about 47 minutes, which is probably about right for this one. It might have started to wear out its welcome at a much longer running time.
In addition to the score, the album ends with two vocal songs: “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne and “Once In Every Lifetime”, performed by Jem. The Lavigne song was an attempt to have a hit single and did get some radio airplay. The Jem song was co-written by Doyle and is based around the melody of his main theme.
Eraser (Alan Silvestri, 1996): Alan Silvestri supplies one of his darker, more menacing scores for the Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller Eraser. La La Land Record’s limited edition CD release of the score provides a complete presentation.
The album opens with an unused opening title cue that establishes the score’s fairly dark tone. This initial cue actually brings to mind Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score in its moody, atmospheric sense of dread. Silvestri then establishes the score’s main theme in the second cue “Need a Lift”. This theme has a brassy, percussive, action-centric pace while still having low tones that maintain the darker tone.
The second prominent theme to the score is a more melodic, string-focused darkly romantic theme that figures prominently in the more character-oriented portions of the score. Once again, Jerry Goldsmith seems to have had some influence on Silvestri’s approach to this score, as this theme resembles some of Goldsmith’s similarly dark romantic themes, particularly his main theme to Basic Instinct. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Silvestri copied Goldsmith’s themes. I just couldn’t help but notice some stylistic similarities.
Silvestri uses a rock-infused, synthesizer driven approach for some of the action music as heard first in the third cue, “You’ve Been Erased”. At times, this includes some electric guitar and electric drum effects, such as in the cue “It’s a Jungle”. This aspect of the score gives it a pretty modern sound that contrasts interestingly with the orchestral material.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith, 1971): After creating the highly acclaimed score for the original Planet of the Apes, Jerry Goldsmith returned to the series only one time, for the third movie in the series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
While Goldsmith does revisit some of the themes from the original score, the presentation is often lighter, frequently with a 70s pop sensibility. The score is also surprisingly melodic much of the time, in pretty stark contrast to the famously atonal approach taken with the original. The “Main Title” cue immediately establishes this change of pace by presenting a pop-styled variation on Goldsmith’s original theme, this time with steel guitar as a key instrument. Cues such as “Shopping Spree” have a romantic side, in a pop instrumental way.
That isn’t to say that the percussive, atonal approach that Goldsmith took with the first film is completely absent here. Darker cues such as “A Little History” and “Interrogation” are very much in line with the approach used in the first score. The action cues also continue the highly percussion-focused style.
For a long time, the best available music from Escape from the Planet of the Apes available on album was a 16 1/2 minute suite included on Varese Sarabande’s release of the original Planet of the Apes score. While this suite covered the highlights and was probably a sufficient representation for many listeners, an expanded stand-alone release was finally put out as part of Varese Sarabande’s CD Club series in 2009. This CD still only runs a little under a half an hour, but is complete as the film did not contain a lot of music. This 3000 copy limited edition is, somewhat surprisingly, still readily available.
Ever After: A Cinderella Story (George Fenton, 1998): I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed Andy Tennant’s live action, non-fantasy variation on the Cinderella story starring Drew Barrymore. I found the film to be charming and romantic. George Fenton’s lush score, the first of several collaboration with director Tennant, contributed greatly to the film’s success.
At the heart of this score is a charmingly melodic main theme for strings. It is a memorable and infectious theme that aptly represents the film’s strongly romantic qualities. The theme is introduced during the “Main Title” cue and used frequently throughout the score, generally to underscore the more romantic parts of the story. It is occasionally overlaid with some horns and piano to give the theme a bit more richness in some of its orchestrations.
The score overall has an interestingly whimsical quality, pretty effectively reflecting the film’s somewhat precarious mix of a medieval period setting with more contemporary characterizations and plotting. Gentle woodwinds and pipes are well used occasionally to emphasize the period setting, such as in the cue “Homecoming”. Another interesting stand-out cue is “The Royal Wedding”, a nicely-written, religious choral piece.
While lush strings tend to dominate the score, Fenton also uses some regal brass fanfares effectively as well, such as during the lively cue “The Girls, the Prince, and the Painting”. A particularly effective fanfare opens “Danielle’s Wings”, signaling her arrival at the ball. The brass also plays well in the closing “Happily Ever After” cue.
At the time of the film’s release, London Records released a soundtrack CD containing nearly an hour of score from the film. The album closes with the end credits pop song “Put Your Arms Around Me”, performed by a group named Texas. It has a kind of new-age style to it. It isn’t a bad song, although it doesn’t fit exceptionally well with the score and I would have preferred an orchestral end title suite.
Evita (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, 1996): From the moment it was announced, the film version of Evita was controversial, mainly due to the casting choices. The selection of Madonna and Antonio Banderas to play the roles made famous by Patty Lapone and Mandy Patinkin on Broadway pretty clearly seemed like casting for celebrity. Looking back with some distance from the controversy, it is now easy for me to say that both did credible jobs in the role. If you only want to own one recording of Evita, definitely get the Lapone/Patinkin cast album, but I do consider the movie soundtrack a valuable alternate presentation with merits of its own.
Madonna’s performance in Dick Tracy had previously shown that she was vocally capable of handling Broadway-style songs, but the biggest doubt was whether or not she could handle the vocal acting required for the role of Eva Peron. For the most part she does fine with it, although she definitely doesn’t bring the emotional range to it that Lapone did.
She handles the songs well vocally, but doesn’t quite bring the full level of emotion required for some of the songs. This was most evident in “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”, a song that was transferred to Eva (instead of Juan Peron’s mistress) in the film version in order to give Madonna another solo. The song had much more of an edge in the Broadway version. She does much better with the musical’s most famous song, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, which is a sung speech.
Banderas was much more of a surprise. His take on the character is very different than Patinkin’s, but works rather well. The combination of his fairly thick (and not suppressed) accent and his somewhat rough vocals brings a very raw edge to the character that definitely contrasts with Patinkin’s more slickly sarcastic version. His style works particularly well with the rock-oriented “The Lady’s Got Potential”. He certainly does not come close to Patinkin’s vocal range (who does?), but he gives an interesting, and generally effective, performance.
The casting for the third lead, the role of Juan Peron, was much less controversial. Veteran Broadway star Jonathan Pryce was cast in the role and was definitely a good choice. He has a much less showy role than the other two leads, but it still is a nuanced role that calls for a mix of bemusement, calculation, and subtle nervousness. Pryce has a unique vocal style that manages to convey this range of emotions very well.
The 2-disc soundtrack contains pretty much the entire audio track of the film (essentially all the dialog is sung). The film included pretty much all the music from the Broadway show, plus one new song that was written specifically for the movie. The new song, “You Must Love Me”, gives Madonna one final solo ballad very late in the film. It isn’t unusual for a new song to be written for film adaptations of stage musicals in order to qualify for an Academy Award. In this case, the song works well in the film and did win the Oscar for that year.