Archive for the ‘Disney’ Category

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.

(more…)

Soundtrack Collection: Dragonheart to Dutch

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

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.

(more…)

Soundtrack Collection: Chronicles of Narnia to A Civil Action

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Special Edition Soundtrack)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005): Obviously inspired by the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings films, Walden Media and Disney saw adapting C.S. Lewis’ classic Chronicle of Narnia book series as an obvious opportunity to create a similar, but more family-friendly, franchise.  Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson was a somewhat surprising choice to helm the first film in the series.  Adamson brought along Shrek composer Harry Gregson-Williams, giving him a welcome opportunity to stretch his talents quite a bit beyond the animation and contemporary action scores for which he was mainly known.

The film cranked up the intensity and scope of the action and battle sequences quite a bit compared to the books, which gave Gregson-Williams the opportunity to create some fairly intense action music.  The soundtrack gets off to a very fast-paced start with the opening cue, “The Blitz, 1940”, a percussion and brass driven action cue that accompanies the film’s surprisingly intense opening sequence.  This type of action music again will later dominate the final portions of the score, particularly the lengthy finale cue simply entitled “The Battle”.

The majority of the score has a more melancholy and moody quality, which is introduced in the second cue, entitled “Evacuating London”.  The first half of the cue introduces some simple piano-driven melodies before transitioning to an otherworldly, largely electronic theme accompanied by vocals by Lisbeth Scott.   A more gentle, traditionally orchestral version of the same basic theme is central to the next cue, “The Wardrobe”. Later, Gregson-Williams provides an appropriately regal main theme for Aslan the lion, heard particularly prominently in the opening to the cue “To Aslan’s Camp”.  That is the theme that eventually serves as essentially the primary theme for the film, with some fairly frequent statements during the battle music late in the score.

The entire score has a somewhat surprisingly modernistic sound to it, generally forgoing the more traditional British classical scoring approach to this kind of fantasy that Howard Shore had used for The Lord of the Rings.  Gregson-Williams introduces a number of ethnic elements and also uses a fair amount of electronic instruments as well as frequent choral and solo vocal elements.  I find it to be an effective score, although probably not what a lot of people expected for this material and, thus, it has tended to be a somewhat controversial one.

The album ends with four songs, all of which are very atmospheric and moody in style, with a somewhat modern electronica-ballad style.  “Can’t Take It In”, performed by Imogen Heap, and “Where” by Lisbeth Scott were both co-written by Gregson-Williams and are based on themes used in the film.  “Wunderkind” by Alanis Morrisette and “Winter Light” by Tim Finn are not connected with the rest of the film’s music.  With the exception of “Where”, the songs are each pretty long (4-5 minutes+) and they kind of wear out their welcome.

Note that there were quite a few different soundtrack albums for the film.  Two score albums were released, a standard and a special edition.The musical content is identical on both releases, with the special edition simply offering fancier packaging.  I have the special edition because I was able to get it at a decent price, but there is little reason to spend much extra for it.  There also were at least two song compilation albums released which were really just “inspired by” the movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2008): Composer Harry Gregson-Williams returned to the world of Narnia for Prince Caspian, the second entry in the series.  The score maintains stylistic continuity with the first one, including reprising a couple main themes, but it does also take a more action-oriented approach while downplaying some of the more otherworldly elements from the original.  The result is a score that is in the same family as the first one, but perhaps a bit more conventional.  While less of a creative leap, I also think it is a somewhat more listenable score.

Just like with the first score, this one opens with a driving, percussion and brass action cue.  The cue this time is called “Prince Caspian Flees” and it perhaps demonstrates Gregson-Williams’ background in Hans Zimmer’s scoring company more than any of the cues in the previous score.  The piece definitely has a quality that reflects Zimmer’s driving, orchestral/electronic approach to action scoring.  This cue sets the tone for the kind of action scoring that dominates a lot of this score.  This opening cue does also introduce a new theme for the title character, although it is only sparingly used during the rest of the score and feels a bit underdeveloped.

The key themes from the original film are reprised here, with the primary theme for the siblings that are the story’s central character first making an appearance in the second cue, “The Kings and Queens of Old”.  The regal theme for Aslan is used very frequently in this score, initially making its re-appearance in the cue “Arrival at Aslan’s How”.  As in the first score, that theme tends to serve as a victory theme in the battle cues which, as noted earlier, dominate this score much more than the original.

As with the previous soundtrack, several songs are included at the end of the album.  Once again, they are generally in that modernistic, electronic folk ballad style and really aren’t exceptionally interesting.  This time, Gregson-Williams is not credited as a writer on any of the songs and the performers, Regina Spekter, Oren Lavie, Switchfoot, and Hanne Hukkelberg, are all unfamiliar to me.

Prince Caspian was the last released film in this series at the time that I’m writing this.  As of this point, this will be the last film in the series for Disney, Gregson-Williams, and director Andrew Adamson.  The third film in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, is scheduled for release (by Twentieth Century Fox) later this year with Michael Apted taking over as director and David Arnold taking over the scoring.  It will be interesting to hear whether Arnold chooses to retain any of Gregson-Williams’ themes.  I tend to hope that he at least retains the Aslan theme in order to keep some musical continuity to the series.

(more…)

Soundtrack Collection: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Note: My discussion of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ended up being so lengthy that I decided it would fit best as a separate post. 

  Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast: Broadway Cast (cover #2)

Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, 1991): Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of Disney’s animated films and on my short list of favorite movies in general.  The film’s music is absolutely critical to its success.  At the time, it was the closest that an animated film had come to duplicating the style of a modern Broadway musical and, thus, it was no big surprise when several years later an adaptation of the movie became Disney’s first Broadway show.

The film featured six songs, and two reprises, by the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who had written songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid a couple years earlier.  One previously deleted song, entitled “Human Again”, was added back in to the film for the 2002 re-issue of the film in Imax.  Menken also wrote the film’s score, which is largely based around the song melodies, but also introduces a couple additional themes.

The film and soundtrack albums open with a “Prologue” with David Ogden Stiers reading narration that sets up the story.  Alan Menken’s musical accompaniment to this is essentially an (unfortunately) uncredited adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from “Carnival of the Animals”.  The music fits wonderfully, although its pretty obvious source should have been credited.

The opening number is entitled “Belle” and serves as an introduction for both the film’s heroine and, late in the song, the villain Gaston.  This is an impressively-scoped number featuring an entire ensemble, led by Paige O’Hara as Belle.  During my first viewing of the film, I remember realizing during this sequence that my jaw was pretty much hanging open from the amazement that they had pulled off such a sweeping, Broadway-style number.  This really felt like something very new and unexpected for this medium and the song and sequence continues to impress even after numerous viewings.

“Gaston” remains one of the best villain songs from a Disney film.  It also has some of the most clever wordplay of Howard Ashman’s impressive career, even managing to work in the word “expectorating”, which may have been a first for a song lyric.  The song really captures Gaston’s distinctive traits while also being exceptionally funny, with Richard White’s (Gaston) and Jessi Corti’s (La Fou) contributing highly to that.  Probably because it really doesn’t mean much out of context, the song isn’t as well known as the others from the film, but it may actually be the most complex and accomplished.

The two best known songs from the film are “Be Our Guest” and the title song.  The former is presented in a big, Busby Berkley style showstopper.  The sequence is probably the most traditional for an animated music number, but it still is tremendous fun and aided greatly by the great vocals by Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth).

The Oscar winning title song is, of course, performed by Angela Lansbury and accompanies the romantic dance sequence late in the film.  The song has already become something of a standard and is easily one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney catalog.  The end credits’ duet version of the song performed by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion became a huge hit on the pop chart, but pales in comparison to Lansbury’s version.

(more…)

Soundtrack Collection: Backdraft to Bandolero!

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Backdraft

Backdraft (Hans Zimmer, 1991): I’m pretty sure that Backdraft was the first film in which I really noticed a Hans Zimmer score enough to purchase the soundtrack album.  Of course, Zimmer has become one of the most successful working composers in subsequent years, but his distinctive style was something of a fresh discovery back in 1991.

The score features Zimmer’s usual mix of orchestra and synthesizer, with a rock beat behind the main theme.  While this musical sound is now pretty ubiquitous, largely because of Zimmer and his protégées, it felt very new when this film first came out and I remember being very excited to get the soundtrack album.  While it isn’t nearly as distinctive today, the score still holds up as one of the best examples of this style of scoring. 

While there are some action-oriented portions to the score, especially during the cue “Burn It All”, the majority reflects more of a dramatic intensity.  Strings and synths dominate, with a pretty ever present percussion backing.  Occasional choral elements come into play as well, particularly during some of the more action-oriented sections.

The soundtrack CD opens and closes with the Bruce Hornsby songs “Set Me In Motion” and “The Show Goes On”.  Hornsby has a very recognizable style to his songs and both of these are easily recognizable as his.  Generally, I think they fit reasonably well with this score.

BadBoys

Bad Boys (Mark Mancina, 1995): This film was the first pairing of director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer and was essentially the first instance of the heavily rock-influenced instrumentals that film score enthusiasts often refer to simply as the “Bruckheimer sound”.  There is a lot of room for debate as to whether or not that should be considered a positive milestone.  The scores to Bruckheimer’s films from 1995 onward are most widely associated with Hans Zimmer and his influence is evident.  While Zimmer didn’t score the film, Mancina was employed by his company (at the time known as Media Ventures) and another Mancina protégé, Nick Glennie-Smith, also contributed to the score. 

Mancina was likely hired to score the film largely on the strength of his generally acclaimed score to Speed the year before and the similarities are obvious, particularly in the main theme.  The score is generally driven by synthesizer, keyboards, and electric guitar, with orchestral components generally given a backseat.  Acoustic guitar is occasionally used to score the film’s rare quieter moments, as in the cue “You’re Going to Leave Me Alone?”  The score also has some appealing reggae influences, first given significant play during the cue “JoJo, What You Know?”, and revisited periodically afterward.  Even the score’s main theme has a reggae influenced melody, which becomes more evident as the score continues on.  Fairly intense wordless vocals are also used periodically.

The soundtrack album released with the film was primarily a song album and only included one 4 minute score cue featuring an arrangement of Mancina’s main theme.   In 2007, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 70-minute CD of the complete score.  This edition is still available at their site and is currently priced at just $9.98.  It is very much worth getting at that price.

(more…)