Archive for the ‘Film Scores’ Category

Soundtrack Collection: Fantastic Voyage to Father of the Bride

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (Leonard Rosenman, 1966): Leonard Rosenman provides a moody and often dissonant, but also sometimes melodic and thematic, score for the popular science fiction adventure about a team of miniaturized scientists exploring he innards of the human body.  It is an unusual and experimental score, but also distinctive and effective.

The melodic aspects of the scores are primarily built around a haunting and evocative central theme.  The theme is fairly short, primarily characterized by a short fanfare-type motif, although its statement usually leads to fairly dissonant and, at times, atonal material.  The score finally goes fully-melodic, and becomes recognizably Rosenman’s style, during the dramatic finale cue, entitled “Optic Nerve/End Cast”.

The soundtrack CD opens very strangely, with a minute and a half “Main Title Sound Effects Suite”, which is exactly what the title suggests.  It includes a variety of beeps, buzzes, clicks, and electronic hums with no melody involved.  The early part of the film (up until the scientists first enter the body) was left unscored, so this sound effects suite is representative of the opening of the film.

Film Score Monthly released a CD of the score back in 1998, the first release separate from the film.  This is a complete presentation with a running time of a little over 45 minutes.  The CD is out-of-print and is now a bit expensive, but not difficult, to locate.

Far and Away

Far and Away (John Williams, 1992): While the film was not a big hit and the score isn’t extremely well-known to the mainstream public, John Williams’ music to Ron Howard’s 70mm epic Far and Away has become a favorite of film music enthusiasts and is frequently featured at Williams’ live concerts. The epic scope of the film provided Williams with an opportunity to showcase a wide range of highly-thematic material, including Irish/Celtic flavored melodies, western-tinged Americana, and rousing action cues.  The result is one Williams’ richest and most diverse scores.

The film’s focus on the relationship (and romance) between Irish immigrants played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman made the use of Irish-influenced melodies an obvious choice that Williams certainly embraced.  The first cue on the soundtrack, “County Galway, June 1892” establishes the main theme, which incorporates bagpipes along with the orchestra and is both distinctly ethnic and also an example of Williams’ strong gift for rich, thematic melody.  As the film transitions into American settings, the more ethnic elements of the theme are pushed more into the background in favor of a distinctively Americana orchestral flavor.

The strength of the main theme from Far and Away, which isn’t fully dependent on the Irish arrangements, led to a very effective violin arrangement of the theme that Williams arranged for the “Cinematic Serenade” album that he did with Yo Yo Ma, and which is now a frequent showcase for the lead violin player at some of Williams’ live concerts.

The ethnic components of the score are further strengthened through the participation of the popular Irish band The Chieftains on several of the scores cues.  On the soundtrack, these are the cues “The Fighting Donellys”, “Fighting for Dough” and portions of the end credits suite.  Their energetic strings and percussion are expertly blended with the orchestra. 

Williams provides some exuberant, orchestral action music in such cues as the rich, string-centered “Blowing Off Steam”, “Fighting for Dough”, and “The Big Match”.  Williams sticks with grand, very melodic material for the action segments of the score, eventually culminating in the absolutely thrilling 5 minute cue “The Land Race”, which is one of the score’s highlights. 

The score also features richly dramatic components, including the cue “Am I Beautiful”, which is highlighted by an especially effective piano rendition of the score’s central theme.  Another distinctive, quietly dramatic cue is “Inside the Mansion”, where Williams mixes tender strings with bell-like piano to create an almost dreamlike quality to the music, eventually leading into another tender piano rendition of the theme.  This cue then transitions into the more darkly-dramatic “Shannon is Shot”.

In addition to Williams’ music, the soundtrack album also contains the song “Book of Days”, written for the film and performed by Enya.  I admit that I tend to find that Enya’s songs all sound fairly interchangeable to me, although I generally find them pleasant enough.  I do like this song and it blends in fairly well with the score.  The song’s presentation on the album is between the film’s finale music and Williams’ end credits suite, but it doesn’t really feel out of place.

The soundtrack album to Far and Away isn’t a complete presentation of the score and isn’t entirely chronological, but it perhaps one of the best arguments out there in favor of an album arrangement over a complete and chronological release.  The listening experience on the album (which runs just under an hour and ten minutes) is simply superb, with expertly edited cues and transitions. While I would likely purchase an expanded release, I am also pretty sure that I would both retain and still frequently play the original album.

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Soundtrack Collection: F/X to Fantastic 4

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

F/X

F/X (Bill Conti, 1986): I remember really liking this mid-80s thriller about a special effects artist that gets caught up in real life intrigue, but I also admit that I don’t really remember very much about it.  While Varese Sarabande released a soundtrack LP at the time of the film’s release, I never bought it and the score didn’t particularly stick with me after seeing the film.  As a result, I ended up essentially re-discovering this score with the 2007 Varese Sarabande CD Club release.

Bill Conti provides a moody, vaguely noir-inspired mixed orchestral and electronic score with several melodic main themes as well as fair amount of suspenseful, string-dominated music.  The "Main Title" cue actually opens with a bit of suspense-driven piano and string music before shifting into a brassy, percussive fanfare.  About a minute and a half in, it then transitions into the score’s main theme, which features a string melody overlaid with a repetitive piano motif.

The more melodic aspect of the score first comes into play in the cue "Rollie’s Diversion", which is primarily a piano-driven version of the main theme, although with some strings joining in towards the latter half of the cue.  The theme continues to provide a melodic line throughout the score, although the darker, more-suspenseful music tends to dominate the soundtrack.  Conti does occasionally provide some of the brassy, fanfare type music that is often his trademark.  In addition to the brief fanfare during the main title, the cue "No Loose Ends" also is a very brassy, action-oriented cue and is very recognizably Conti.  Horns are used more sparingly here than in most of Conti’s scores, but that just tends to make them a bit more impacting when they do appear.

The score is primarily orchestral, but Conti does make sparing use of electronics, such as in the cue "The Wrong Hit".  The electronic elements are typically used to ratchet up the suspense a bit.  Another change of pace comes with an extended militaristic drum solo during the late cue "Lipton’s Last Ride".

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (Bernard Herrmann, 1966): The CD that I have of this classic Bernard Herrmann score is not actually the original soundtrack recording.  Instead, it is an excellent re-recording of the score by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William Stromberg.  This re-recording was released by Tribute Film Classics in late 2007 and also includes music from Herrman’s score to the "Twilight Zone" TV episode entitled "Walking Distance".  The music from Fahrenheit 451 runs a little over an hour in length and is billed as being complete.

Herrmann’s score uses an interesting mix of fairly light-touch, vaguely fantasy-inspired melodies along with some darker, fairly oppressive music.  The lighter portions are dominated by piano as well as frequent use of xylophone and harp.  The darker material features aggressive, lower-register strings as well as some slower, vaguely-sad melodies.  The two styles of music are often presented side-by-side, reflecting Ray Bradbury’s story’s depiction of a society that is characterized by a surface happiness masking an underlying oppression.

There are some faster paced, action-oriented cues as well.  Herrmann makes especially effective use of very fast paced violins in these segments of the score.  Really good examples of this aspect of the score can be found in the cues "Fire Alarm" and "The Hose".  Occasional bits of xylophone and harp overlaying the strings add an especially appealing bit of color to these cues.  Herrmann also includes some emotional, melodic material, particularly in the later part of the score.  "The Reading" is a particularly emotional cue.

The score is presented as 47, generally very short cues.  The longest cues run a little over 3 minutes while many are well below a minute in length.  Despite this, the score does not seem choppy or disjointed.  The music is arranged so that the cues typically flow cleanly into one another, making for a very effective listening experience.  The large number of cues mainly makes it very easy to connect each bit of music directly to the appropriate part of the film.

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Soundtrack Collection: Executive Decision to F.I.S.T

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Executive Decision

Executive Decision (Jerry Goldsmith, 1987): The score to the Kurt Russell/Steven Seagal action thriller Executive Decision is not one of Jerry Goldsmith’s more memorable efforts from the late 1980s.  It certainly isn’t helped by the Varese Sarabande soundtrack CD’s exceptionally abbreviated 30 minute running time, something all to common at the time due to union re-use fees.

The score certainly isn’t bad, though, even if it doesn’t stand with his best work. As was commonly the case for Goldsmith’s action music late in his career, the score is orchestral, but with a pretty substantial assist from synthesizer elements.  Brass and percussion are highly dominant in the score, underlining the military focus of the film.  In these ways, the score somewhat resembles Goldsmith’s much more familiar Air Force One score, but without that score’s much more memorable main theme.

The Executive Decision score is certainly a competent effort on Goldsmith’s part and, perhaps, would be better served if an expanded soundtrack album were ever released.  With only the abbreviated presentation available, though, it seems like a minor and mostly forgettable effort.

Explorers

Explorers (Jerry Goldsmith, 1985): Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Joe Dante’s Explorers is high on my list of scores that I would most like to receive an expanded re-issue on CD.  The existing Varese Sarabande soundtrack CD (a port of the old LP release) only contains a little over 30 minutes of Goldsmith’s score, as well as a handful of pop songs.  It is also fairly rare and expensive to obtain.  What is there is quite wonderful, though, and I’d absolutely love to have much more of the score on CD.

The score’s infectious main theme is established in the album’s opening cue, entitled “The Construction”.  It opens with a rhythmic, synth-driven baseline that it then overlaid with a distinctive, playful melody.  Both of these components of the main theme are frequently revisited throughout the score, sometimes separately and sometimes together.  The score is primarily synthesized, helping to bring a bit of an otherworldly quality to what is still a largely melodic presentation.  This is one of the best of Goldsmith’s synth-dominated scores.

The entire score has a strong sense of wonder as well as a frequent romantic quality to it.  One of the strongest cues is the soaring “First Flight”, which is built around the main theme, but with slow builds to crescendos, representing the sense of excitement and adventure central to the accompanying scene in the film.

The film takes a very quirky turn towards the end, which is heavily reflected in the last couple score cues on the CD.  The score becomes much more blatantly electronic, with the otherworldly tone moving fully into the forefront.  These portions of the final two cues take on a bouncy, kind of swing-style that is both unusual and exceptionally appealing.  Goldsmith very effectively interweaves this with the more melodic style that played in the earlier part of the score, bringing these two aspects of the story together in a way that Dante was not otherwise entirely able to do in the film itself.

The soundtrack CD ends with three pop/rock songs that were used as incidental music in the film.  These are “All Around the World” by Robert Palmer, “Less Than Perfect” by Red 7 and “This Boy Needs to Rock” by Night Ranger.  The original LP release interspersed these cues with the score cues, but Varese Sarabande wisely grouped them at the end for the CD version.  All three are pretty decent songs, in my opinion, but they are very easily skipped if you want to hear score only.

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Soundtrack Collection: Enemy Below to Evita

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

The Enemy Below

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

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.

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Soundtrack Collection: The Egyptian to Enchanted

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

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.

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