Bolt (John Powell, 2008): Disney’s 2008 CGI animated feature was not a musical, thus the soundtrack album primarily features the orchestral score by composer John Powell, who has generally done some of his best work in animated features (including Shrek, the Ice Age sequels, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon). This was his first score for Disney and it is well suited to the film.
The soundtrack album opens with the two songs from the film, both of which have a modern country style. The first is “I Thought I Lost You”, the end-credits song performed by the film’s voice stars John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, which is a fairly interesting pairing for a duet. The other song is “Barking at the Moon” performed by Jenny Lewis, which was used more prominently over a key montage sequence in the film.
Powell’s score has an interesting mix of styles, due to the somewhat dual nature of the film itself. The main story of the lost dog trying to find its way home called for a fairly tender, emotionally driven score, which Powell builds around a piano-driven main theme. This aspect of the score is quickly introduced during the first cue of the score portion of the soundtrack entitled “Meet Bolt”. Powell also provides a fun, vaguely Godfather-inspired theme for Mittens the cat, which is introduced in the cue “Meet Mittens”. Other parts of the score have a bit more of a rural, country-inspired feel.
The other key aspect of the score is the very fast-paced, action music that is principally featured in the title character’s super-hero type TV series within the movie. For these sequences, Powell provides an edgy, heavily synthesizer driven score. On the soundtrack album, these cues feel a bit out of step with the rest of the score, although they fit perfectly in those sequences in the film. This aspect of the score is heard early on with “Bolt Transforms” and “Scooter Chase” and Powell does occasionally re-introduce some of the TV series action music during appropriate, action-oriented sections of the main storyline.
Born Free (John Barry, 1966): Outside of his James Bond songs, the title song from Born Free is almost certainly the most recognizable and familiar composition of John Barry’s career. The Matt Monro recording of the song (which features lyrics by Don Black) was a big hit and became Monro’s signature song. A cover version by Roger Williams was also a top-10 hit.
The title song is the best remembered aspect of the score and its melody is the dominant theme. Like the song, the score is very lush and romantic and extremely melodic. Fitting the family-oriented adventure film, the score has a definite playful quality to it and Barry also occasionally introduces some bits and pieces of African styling, such as some of the use of percussion in the cue “Elsa at Play”. Some slightly darker tones come into play in “The Death of Pati”, while still maintaining the overall style of the score.
For the 1966 soundtrack album, Barry conducted a re-recording of the score’s highlights. This re-recording plus the Monro version of the song runs just under 40 minutes in length. The soundtrack album was released on CD by Film Score Monthly in 2004 in a, rare for the label, non limited-edition that was widely distributed to stores. The CD doesn’t contain any additional music (or the original film tracks), but it is a solid representation of the score.
Born on the Fourth of July (John Williams and Various artists, 1989): This film featured John Williams first of the three scores (preceding JFK and Nixon) that he composed for director Oliver Stone. Those scores were among the darkest and most somber that Williams composed. This means that they weren’t among the most accessible to listen to separately from the films, but the scores were exceptionally effective within the films. The Born on the Fourth of July score isn’t one that I return to very often, but it is a very impressive, serious composition that should be a part of any serious film music collection.
The soundtrack album for Born on the Fourth of July is a mix of a song and score album. The film used contemporary to the era music pretty extensively to help establish the late 60s/early 70s setting and, particularly, the scenes involving the Vietnam War protest groups and the general counterculture of the era. The album opens with cover versions of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians” and John Fogerty’s “Born On the Bayou” recorded by The Broken Homes. Both of these were recorded for the film.
The rest of the songs were original artists versions of “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Pie” by Don Mclean, “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Soldier Boy” by The Shirelles, “Venus” by Frankie Avalon, and the familiar choral version of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”. All are good songs, of course, but they are also very widely available from other sources and it would have been vastly preferable to have had more of the score instead.
The score portion of the album opens with “Prologue”, a distinguished and somber theme for solo trumpet, extremely well performed by former Boston Pops lead trumpeter Tim Morrison, a frequent Williams collaborator. This immediately establishes the very serious mood of the score. This theme is re-visited quite a bit during the rest of the score cues and Morrison’s solo trumpet is also utilized to perform other themes within the score.
During the second cue, “The Early Days, Massapequa, 1957”, Williams establishes the other primary theme of the score, which is a fairly romantic Americana theme that reflects the all-American, small town origins of the film’s central character. As the score progresses, this theme is re-visited frequently, but with darker, more downbeat shadings as the film’s very serious story arc plays out. This is especially true of the last couple cues of the album, which score the last parts of the film after the injured main character has returned home from the war. Especially effective is Williams use of a bit of a pop beat under the trumpet performance of his Americana theme during “Homecoming”, with a revisit of the “Prologue” theme interrupting it, causing a fairly abrupt shift from optimism to sadness.
The soundtrack also includes a couple cues that underscore the film’s war sequences. The first of these, “The Shooting of Wilson” is mostly very dissonant in sound with harsh strings and bursts of percussion and brass underlining the tension and pain of the war. It is the most difficult cue on the album to listen to, although it is still very expertly composed. The cue ends with repeats of the score’s two main themes, providing a sort of release. The second war cue, “Cua Viet River, Vietnam, 1968” is more melodic and interweaves more of the main themes, but in a very dark and foreboding style. Williams’ use of vocal whispering (with unrecognizable words) is a particularly unsettling element of this cue.
Williams’ score only takes up about 25 minutes on the album, so this is obviously a very prime candidate for an expanded release. Not counting Williams (mostly early) scores that have never been released outside of their films at all, this is almost certainly his most under-represented score out there. The album does hit the top highlights of the score giving a solid taste for it, but there definitely is a need for more of it to be made available.