Angels in America (Thomas Newman, 2003): This HBO miniseries had an extremely distinguished cast (including Al Pacino and Meryl Streep) and was directed by Mike Nichols. Along with the other feature film talent on the project, Thomas Newman came on board to compose the score.
The album opens with a somewhat startling 1 minute opening choral piece that has a very religious quality with Latin vocals, revisited fairly regularly in the later half of the score, including in cues such as “The Infinite Descent” and “Broom of Truth”. It is a somewhat unexpected start to a Thomas Newman score album and definitely grabs attention. It then transitions into “Angels in America (Main Title)”, which is a melodic orchestral piece that sounds more recognizably like Newman’s usual laid-back, atmospheric approach.
The main themes are orchestral with an emphasis on strings and woodwinds, although Newman does introduce some synthesizers at various points as well. In cues such as “The Ramble”, “Quartet”, and “Her Fabulous Incipience” electronic instruments dominate to bring a fairly tense, almost desperate quality to the music. In other cues, electronic instrumentation is layered over the orchestral music in a way that gives it a somewhat ethereal sound, probably to emphasize the religious elements to the story. As it progresses, the mini-series moves more in the direction of fantasy and that is reflected in Newman’s score, particularly with the increased use of wordless choir late in the album.
The disc includes source cues “Solitude” and “A Closer Walk with Thee”, both of which are older recordings with sound quality that matches. The album ends with the very upbeat gospel song “I’m His Child” performed by Zella Jackson Price.
Angie (Jerry Goldsmith, 1994): Angie is not one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best known scores, and was featured in a movie that is pretty much forgotten, but it features a main theme that I have always found immensely appealing and it is a soundtrack album that I have re-visited fairly regularly.
The soundtrack opens with a full presentation of the main theme in a cue aptly named “Angie’s Theme”. The theme features a very infectious, almost waltz-like melody and is initially presented with a bit of a French ethnic sound. Goldsmith makes pretty heavy use of electronic instruments in the piece, along with strings, piano, and even accordion.
The main theme remains central to the remainder of the score, although the fairly playful nature of the opening track is moderated over time into more mature sounding presentations, intended to reflect the title character’s personal growth over the course of the film. Woodwinds are particularly dominant in some of those later versions while the electronics are greatly reduced.
The Varese Sarabande soundtrack album is fairly brief (about 35 minutes), which was pretty typical for lower-profile score releases at that time. This is probably a score that would benefit from an expanded re-issue.
Animaniacs (Various, 1993): This is one really silly CD. The 30 minute long album contains quite a few key songs from the Spielberg-produced animated series from the early 1990s. As you would expect, the album opens and closes with the amusing opening and closing title music from the series, which were written by Richard Stone and Tom Ruegger.
The rest of the songs are very silly, but also frequently very catchy and humorous. Most of the songs are written by some combination of Randy Rogel, Paul Rugg, and/or Richard Stone. Most of the songs are performed by the Warner brothers and sister: Wakko, Yakko, and Dot who are voiced by Jess Harnell, Rob Paulson, and Tress McNeille respectively.
A couple of the songs actually do have some educational value as well. This is particularly true of “Yakko’s World”, which has lyrics that are simply a list of all of the nations in the world. Similarly, “Wakko’s America” is a list of the states and state capitals and “The Planets” gives names and brief descriptions of the planets in the solar system. These songs could potentially be very useful as teaching aides for younger kids. The album also includes two parodies of Gilbert & Sullivan: “Yes, Brothers Warner We” and “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Cartoon Individual”. These could potentially be used as introductions to the real thing.
Anna Lucasta (Elmer Bernstein, 1959): This jazzy, early score by Elmer Bernstein was released by Varese Sarabande as part of their limited edition CD Club series. The music is monaural, but the condition of the recordings seems to be very good. The album opens with a song called “That’s Anna”, performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., who also starred in the film. The melody from the song is used as a main theme through the score.
The score has a very dramatic and sometimes romantic sound, with an emphasis on horns. Many of the tracks feature an old fashioned jazz sound, with solo saxophone, drums and symbols, and lots of bass. The mix between the jazz and more conventional orchestral is an interesting combination.
In their description of the album, Varese Sarabande referred to the four tracks that start with “The Runaways” as “one of the greatest scored sequences of Bernstein’s entire career”. This segment of the score is the strongest presentation of the jazz-style in the score, starting with some pretty intense percussion that is next joined by very dynamic and impressive brass and piano music. It really is a rather remarkable sequence and a definite highlight of this score.
Anne of the Indies (Franz Waxman, 1951): Here is another Varese Sarabande CD Club limited edition of a golden age score. This is big, brassy swashbuckler score written for a pirate movie. The style on this one is pretty much exactly what you would expect (and hope for) from a swashbuckler movie from that era. The score opens with a main title fanfare that is pretty instantly memorable and is a recurrent theme during the remainder of the score. The rest of the score is heavy on brass and strings and is overall very exciting and engaging music. As is typical of this kind of score, it also has some quieter, even romantic segments as well.
The monaural recording on the album does reflect the score’s age, but the sound quality is certainly acceptable. The album ends with a demo version of a title song performed by Bob Graham which isn’t used anywhere else on the album.
The Ant Bully (John Debney, 2006): Debney provides an adventure-movie style score for this animated feature. The opening track has a percussion driven jungle style to it. Debney’s style has always seemed to have been influenced quite a bit by John Williams and this is quickly evident here in the second cue, entitled “Destroyer”, which almost sounds like it could have come from a Star Wars film. The score features a lot of action music heightened some by occasional choral segments and electronics. It isn’t an exceptionally noteworthy score, but it is entertaining.
Antz (Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell, 1998): Dreamworks’ first computer animated film was immediately somewhat controversial due to surface similarities to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which came out right around the same time. The film was really quite different stylistically, playing much like an animated version of a Woody Allen film, with Allen himself providing the voice of the lead character. The filmmakers did not use Allen’s usual approach of scoring with period source cues, though, instead bringing in Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell (at the time resident composers at Hans Zimmer’s company) to co-compose the orchestral score.
The score is very thematic, with a gentle piano melody (“Z’s Theme”) to represent the main character and a romantic woodwind-based theme for the love interest. The composer also provided a fast-paced main theme for the ant colony which is a fast paced military-style march complete with whistling in the background. The score includes a number of fast dance rhythms as well as some military-style action music. The score includes quite a bit of electronics and has a fairly modern sound that is common to the scores by Zimmer protégés.
The score incorporates a couple existing pieces, including an amusing arrangement of the well-known Cuban song “Guantanamera”, which starts off in a very slow-paced, almost dirge-like rendition that eventually shifts to a fast-paced dance version. The cue “The Antz Go Marching to War” is a variation on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, with lyrics suited to the film.
The Apartment (Adolph Deutsch, 1960): The score to this classic Billy Wilder comedy was included as part of Film Score Monthly’s MGM Soundtrack Treasury boxed set. It was also later reissued by Kritzerland on a limited edition CD paired with Andre Previn’s score to Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie (which was also included in the Film Score Monthly boxed set). Both versions are sold out and may be a bit difficult to find, though. Both versions are direct transfers of the original 30 minute LP released at the time of the film, which featured concert arrangements of the music instead of the original film tracks.
The score is very melodic and romantic and also includes several fun jazz cues. The main theme is based around a melody that was written by composer Charles Williams for an earlier British film entitled The Romantic Age. Deutsch interweaves this melody throughout the score and the theme actually became a fairly well known, particularly due to a piano version performed by the group Ferrante & Teicher (not included on the soundtrack) which made it to the top 10 on the pop charts. Another major highlight of the score is Deutsch’s “Career March”, a peppy and infectious march.
Apollo 13 (James Horner, 1995): Ron Howard’s extremely effective film about the nearly-disastrous moon mission was enhanced considerably by James Horner’s excellent score. The biggest accomplishment of the film was its success at building a tremendous amount of tension and sense of danger despite the fact that most in the audience already knew the outcome of the story going in. Horner’s music is a big help to building the appropriate mood.
The main theme is a distinguished, patriotic melody featuring a solo trumpet. It has a very noble, basically Coplanesque tone to it, which plays perfectly to the serious tone of the film. Well used percussion and occasional wordless choir also enhance the highly brass-centric score. the cue “Darkside of the Moon” (and reprised during “End Credits”), wordless female vocals are very effectively provided by Annie Lennox, who brings a dark and somewhat mysterious element to that part of the score. The key cues are fairly lengthy, including 10 minutes for “All Systems Go – The Launch”, 5 minutes for “Darkside of the Moon” and 9 minutes for “Re-entry and Splashdown”, giving time for the themes to be well developed. Horner avoids the temptation to allow the score to become overblown or obtrusive, instead keeping it at the right level to provide solid support to the fact-based film.
The soundtrack album is definitely a mixed bag and this is absolutely a score that would benefit greatly from a re-issue. The disc includes about 40 minutes of the score, but it is overlaid by dialog on several tracks. The film used popular period songs in quite a few scenes and these are also included on the album. The songs are generally pretty well-known ones such as “Groovin’”, “Purple Haze”, “Somebody to Love”, “Blue Moon” and “Spirt in the Sky”. The songs are all good ones, but also widely available elsewhere.
At the time that the film came out, a promo CD was distributed to Academy members for Oscar consideration. This promo includes about 15 minutes of additional score and omits all the songs and dialog. I’ve unfortunately never managed to obtain a copy of the promo CD and a re-mastered commercial release of that program would be extremely welcome.
Many people probably actually have the promo album without knowing it, though, as it was included on the original 2-disc DVD release of the movie. When you start up the disc, the score starts playing over the main menu. While the menu music on most discs is just a short excerpt that quickly repeats, this one plays the entire contents of the promo CD. You can even skip from track to track using the DVD player’s navigation buttons. I don’t know if this feature was retained on newer issues of the movie.
The Appointment (John Barry, Michel Legrand, Stu Philips, 1969): This Sidney Lumet thriller was a very troubled production that ended up with three separate scores. The first, by Michel Legrand, was rejected. Stu Philips score was used for the US release (which debuted on television) and John Barry’s score was used internationally and is the version still in circulation today. Film Score Monthly’s Silver Age Classics soundtrack CD contains all three scores. The three are so different that it is pretty amazing that they all were written for the same movie.
The Legrand score was the first written and is presented first on the CD in the form of two lengthy suites that total nearly 19 minutes in length. Legrand’s score is very repetitive, essentially repeating the same 12 note motif using different instruments and tempos and, sometimes, with some overlaying counter melodies. The instruments used include harp, guitar, vibes, flute, and keyboard. The score is an interesting curiosity, although it gets tiring well before it is finished.
26 minutes of Barry’s score is featured next on the soundtrack. It is a lush, romantically orchestral score, vastly different from the minimalist Legrand music. The music very recognizably reflects Barry’s usual melodic style and is reminiscent of the music he provided for the more romantic portions of his James Bond scores. The score is built around a 32 bar theme that is used throughout the score, but not in the extremely repetitive way that Legrand used his main theme. On the album, the cues do not have descriptive names (other than one source cue of “Cafe Music”), but are instead labeled with the scene numbers.
Philips’ score runs about 32 minutes and opens with a folk/pop song entitled “Solo È Triste” performed by singer Eric Karl and a second song, “The Beauty of Beginning” by Laura Creamer, appears later in the album. The score itself has a contemporary (to the 1970s) pop instrumental sound with some electronics and guitar work backed by orchestral elements. This score feels much more dated than either of the other two, although I can recognize why it might have been deemed the best choice for a made-for-TV edit.
Around the World in 80 Days (Trevor Jones, 2004): Disney’s remake of the classic Michael Todd epic was one of the bigger flops of the early 2000s, but the film featured an exceptionally good score by Trevor Jones, who tends to be well-suited to this kind of epic project, as he had previously demonstrated in his work on Last of the Mohicans and the TV mini-series version of Gulliver’s Travels.
The soundtrack opens with a trio of songs before the nearly 50 minutes of Jones’ score. The first is a fairly odd rendition of “Everybody All Over the World (Join the Celebration)” performed by David A. Young (who has a voice that doesn’t fit the song well) and The Silvia Young School Choir. That song has a few lyric changes to refer to the film. Next comes a generic pop song called “River of Dreams” (not the Billy Joel hit) performed by Tina Sugandh. Finally comes Baha Men (of “Who Let the Dogs Out” infamy) performing the famous Disney theme park song “It’s a Small World”. The less said about that the better. In summary, it is probably best to skip the first three tracks when playing this album.
The score opens with a 5 minute overture that introduces the main theme and generally gets the score off to a rousing start. The whole score is a fully orchestral, brassy adventure score with a variety of different ethnic styles that reflect the globetrotting nature of the story. The main theme reappears periodically throughout the score before making a rousing return (with the addition of a choir) at the finale, although the varying ethnic styles required mean that this score is less consistent thematically than is typical for Jones’ scores.
The different settings in the film do provide for some very interesting and effective mixes of styles. “Rendezvous in Paris” has a very French sound to it, complete with accordion accompaniment, “1st Class Waltz” is, as the name implies, a very effective waltz and middle-eastern vocals open “Prince Hapi Escapes”. There are also some obvious Asian influences (including the use of a koto) in both “Agra to China” and “Return of the Jade Buddha”. “Lost In America” includes some ragtime piano and jazzy melodies as well as some old-western motifs.
As a footnote, I’ll mention that this entry made me realize that there is an obvious gap in my collection. I do not currently have a recording of Victor Young’s score to the classic version of Around the World in 80 Days. A bit of quick research showed that there is a fairly recent expanded and re-mastered version of that score and I just placed an order for it. I’ll write up some comments on it once I get it.
As Good As It Gets (Hans Zimmer, 1998): James L. Brooks’ acclaimed romantic comedy was one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. The combination of great acting and writing resulted in a film that I found immensely satisfying. Hans Zimmer’s delightfully romantic score serves the film quite well and is quite enjoyable to listen to on CD as well.
Casual fans of Hans Zimmer’s scoring are probably most familiar with his big, often electronics driven action scores. Zimmer also has scored quite a few smaller dramas or romantic comedies (these types of scores dominated the early part of his career) and has a real knack for smaller, more sensitive scores. In fact, I think his scores for this kind of film are often better than his action scores. This score is dominated by some very effective string melodies combined with some soft piano and woodwind sections.
The soundtrack album is a mixed song/score album, opening with about 30 minutes of Zimmer’s music followed by 7 songs. The songs are generally light pop songs plus Nat King Cole’s well-known “For Sentimental Reasons (I Love You)”. The one really interesting song that is included is Art Garfunkel’s cover of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which played over the end credits. The song probably wouldn’t be particularly humorous to those that don’t know its origin, but Garfunkel’s straight performance combined with an intentionally somewhat overproduced accompaniment (including a full choir) is rather amusing.
As You Like It (Patrick Doyle, 2007): Kenneth Branagh’s most recent (to date) film adaptation of a Shakespeare play once again teamed him up with his usual composer Patrick Doyle. Although filmed with the intent of a theatrical release, the movie ended up being purchased by HBO for broadcast on the pay channel as an original movie. Thankfully, Varese Sarabande still opted to license Doyle’s score for a soundtrack release.
Doyle’s usual approach to scoring these films has been a very traditional classical music style, with an emphasis on strings and woodwinds, which is again the case here. A genially romantic melody, played on a number of solo instruments including violin, harp, and flute, serves as a primary theme for the score. The final cue on the soundtrack, “Violin Romance”, is an absolutely beautiful, fully-developed presentation of the theme featuring solo violin.
Branagh came up with the somewhat unusual idea of moving the setting for this film to Japan and Doyle responded by integrating some traditional Japanese instruments into appropriate portions of the score. The result is an interesting hybrid of European-style classical music with some Asian-inspired melodies. Right from the beginning, the Asian inspired music takes center stage with the exciting and lengthy opening cue entitled “Kabuki Attack”. The other side of the scoring approach arrives towards the end of this cue with the first introduction of the main theme melody.
As has often been the case with Doyle’s scores for the Shakespeare adaptations, there are a few songs on this album featuring words from the play set to Doyle’s music. “Under the Greenwood Tree” and “Blow Blow” both feature Doyle himself as a solo vocalist accompanied by a solo lute. “A Lover & His Lass”, which accompanies the closing scenes of the film, is performed by a full chorus and orchestra. These songs are always a highlight of Doyle’s scores.