Con Air (Mark Mancina & Trevor Rabin, 1997): Teaming up Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin, two of the major composers to come out of Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures film score company during the late 1990s, Con Air features a pretty hard-driving, largely electronic score that echoes the film’s intense, adrenaline-fueled action.
At the very beginning of the soundtrack, the score’s intensity is established with the opening “Con Air Theme”. The cue starts with some very rough, metallic sounding sounds that are closer to sound effects than to music. This transitions into the score’s primary theme, which is melodic but very much in a rhythmic, rock-instrumental mold. The main theme somewhat resembles Mancina’s well-known Speed theme, which suggests that he probably was the primary driver on it. Most of the rest of the cues continue in this rock-based style and the Hans Zimmer influence is pretty evident in this score as well.
The second cue, entitled “Trisha”, introduces a softer, very melodic theme for Nicolas Cage’s character’s wife, the only really significant female character in the film. This theme is the primary deviation away from the hard driving nature of the rest of the score. At least on the soundtrack album, the theme only appears very rarely after this initial presentation of it.
Oddly, the final cue on the soundtrack album is entitled “Overture”, suggesting that the album producer doesn’t know the meaning of that word.
Conan the Barbarian (Basil Poledouris, 1982): Although he had been around for quite a while, and even scored some high profile projects, this extremely popular score did quite a bit to elevate Basil Poledouris into the upper tier of composers and established him as a solid choice for scoring high energy action films.
The best known theme from the score is the highly percussive “Anvil of Crom”, which is the opening cue of the soundtrack album (preceded by a brief spoken prologue). It features a very rhythmic drumbeat which is overlaid with a brassy march-type melody. It is a recognizable theme that had a pretty obvious influence on a number of future action score themes, particularly Brad Fiedel’s The Terminator and Jerry Goldsmith’s Total Recall.
The whole score is mix of some very active and dynamic action music, dominated by brass and percussion as well as some pretty impressive choral elements. The entire score maintains a very strong melodic quality, with strings generally brought in to enhance the more emotional portions of the score. Poledouris establishes some pretty strong thematic material here with some very distinctive melodies.
The original LP release of the soundtrack from the time of the movie’s release ran around 49 minutes and was later re-issued on CD by Milan Records. That CD edition is still pretty easy to come by and is also available as a download or as an in-demand CD-R release from Amazon. Varese Sarabande also released an expanded CD edition back in 1992 that ran over an hour in length. That edition is out of print and relatively difficult to find at reasonable prices. I only have the shorter Milan release.
Congo (Jerry Goldsmith, 1995): This adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel was seriously panned by critics (although it did reasonably well at the box-office), although I think it actually is a film that is a lot better than its reputation. Possibly its strongest component was the exciting, ethnically-appropriate score by Jerry Goldsmith.
The score closely reflects the setting of the film, with the use of a lot of African-style percussion and rhythms. These are integrated carefully with Goldsmith’s typical style of fast paced and melodic action music. The primary theme is based around the song “Spirit of Africa”. Popular African vocalist Lebo M, best known for his arrangements and performances for The Lion King, provided mixed African and English-language lyrics and performed vocal versions of the song that open and close the album. It is a very cool song, particularly if you and the melody is used frequently throughout the score.
The soundtrack CD contains only a little over 33 minutes of the score and, thus, an expanded release would be very welcome. Now that Paramount has recently started working with specialty soundtrack labels, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if an expansion of this score shows up at some point in the future.