Atlantis: The Lost Continent (Russell Garcia, 1961): Film Score Monthly released this CD of Russell Garcia’s score to George Pal’s science fiction film, which was one of his lesser-known efforts. The score is paired on the CD with Miklós Rózsa’s score to Pal’s The Power.
The 45 minute, monaural score is melodic and romantic, but with some fairly intense action music as well. Some of the softer moments are characterized by solo horns and Occasional Mediterranean ethnic elements come into play as well. Garcia uses the harp quite a bit as well, sometimes to introduce a bit of a mysterious sound, as in the cue entitled “Lost/Hallucinations”, or sometimes for a more romantic sound as in “Harps”. The score also contains its share of fanfares, even including a track simply titled “Fanfares”. I particularly like the big, brassy fanfare-like theme that is introduced with the simply-titled cue “Atlantis”.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (James Newton Howard, 2001): This film was a bit of a departure for Disney’s animation team. It was a widescreen, action adventure film that was closer in spirit to Indiana Jones than to Disney’s usual animated fairy tales. James Newton Howard came on board to provide a high energy action score for the film. Heard out of context, I doubt most people would pick this out as a Disney animation score.
The album opens with a pretty generic pop song entitled “Where the Dream Takes You”, which was co-written by Newton-Howard and Diane Warren and performed by Mya. It isn’t anything overly special, but at least they allowed the film’s score composer write the music for the song, which is incorporated in the score as essentially the film’s love theme.
The film’s main theme is a big, brassy fanfare with wordless choral backing. It is a very catchy and memorable melody and is re-visited pretty regularly throughout the score. The entire score is very brass and percussion focused, with strings and chorus joining in pretty regularly as well.
Author, Author (Dave Grusin, Johnny Mandel, 1982): Johnny Mandel initially was hired to score this Al Pacino romantic comedy, but his score was ultimately rejected and replaced with one by Dave Grusin. Varese Sarabande’s CD Club limited edition release includes both scores on a single CD, with Grusin’s score running about 25 minutes and Mandel’s about 23. Note that the film included a hit song, “Coming Home To You” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, that isn’t on the CD.
Grusin’s score has a pop music sound, using mostly electronic instruments, mainly keyboard, although saxophone is also pretty common. During the main title track, Grusin introduces a primary melody that is repeated regularly throughout the score. It is a warm, infectious melody, although the repetition is a bit much. Grusin’s jazz background does shine through occasionally, particularly with the solo saxophone in “Out and About”. The score has a pretty dated sound, definitely recognizable as a comedy score from the early 80s. It is a good representative of that kind of score, but probably not to everyone’s taste.
Mandel’s score is orchestral, featuring a main theme that is primary played by solo piano with the string section occasionally joining in. One fairly quietly romantic theme introduced later in the cue “Reels Five and Six” (the cues for Mandel’s score were not given titles but are instead represented by the reel numbers where they would have fit in the film) features a very nice melody played on a solo guitar. The final track (“Reel Twelve”) opens with a solo violin excerpt from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” before transitioning into an orchestral finale. The score has a darker quality and isn’t as constantly cheerful in quality as Grusin’s, but also doesn’t sound nearly as dated. On CD, I think it is the better of the two scores, although I don’t really know which was better suited to the film.
Avalon (Randy Newman, 1990): Barry Levinson’s 2nd film in his autobiographical Baltimore trilogy (which also includes Diner and Tin Men) was a film that I absolutely loved. It is one of those rare films where I became so completely absorbed in the lives of the characters that I hated to leave them when the film came to an end. Randy Newman’s sensitive, Americana score definitely contributed to the film’s success.
Newman’s score uses a variety of solo instruments to evoke varied moods throughout the score. It opens with a simple, solo piano presenting the main theme. Solo violin, trumpet and woodwinds later take on the same melody. These instruments dominate the entire score, which remains gently melodic throughout. The use of trumpet solos for some of the score’s most emotional moments is particularly effective.
Newman makes the interesting choice of avoiding ethnic elements in a film about an early 1900s Polish immigrant family with a strong emphasis on their adaptation to life in America. Newman correctly recognized that the right emphasis should be on the characters’ current home rather than where they had come from. Americana orchestral music itself certainly is largely an adaptation of European classical music styles, which makes it very well suited to this type of story.
Avatar (James Horner, 2009): I’ll state right off that I’m probably one of the very few people left that hasn’t yet gotten around to seeing Avatar. It isn’t a lack of interest that has kept me from seeing the film, but instead simply that I didn’t find a good opportunity to get out to see the film during its theatrical run and finding a 3 hour+ block to sit down and watch a movie on DVD isn’t exceptionally easy either. I do expect to try and see the film some time in the fairly near future, so I might need to re-visit this score at a later date.
The expectations for this score were obviously very high considering that the last collaboration between James Cameron and James Horner was Titanic, which set records both for box-office gross and soundtrack sales. While Avatar was as financially successful a film, the soundtrack wasn’t as big a breakthrough among non-collectors.
This is the the first time in quite a while that Horner has taken on a full-blown science fiction film and there might be an expectation that the score might resemble his early successes in that genre such as Star Trek II/III, Aliens, and Cocoon, but it really doesn’t resemble those scores much. This score does seem to be more akin to his other scores from the late 90s and 2000s.
A lot of the music is fairly dark, with some heavy percussion, strings, and low brass along with some choral elements. The score doesn’t have the ethnic elements that have been common in some of Horner’s more recent scores (particularly Titanic), which is probably to be expected for a movie set on an alien planet. In their place, he uses some fairly unusual instrument choices and carefully placed vocals to generate a bit more of an exotic sound. The score does establish a couple distinctive themes, including one primary melody that comes a little bit too close to the primary love theme from Titanic.
Probably in an attempt to duplicate their last success, the album ends with a pop ballad entitled “I See You (Theme from Avatar)”, which is performed by Leona Lewis. It is based around one of the primary themes from the score, although it is not nearly as memorable as the Celine Dion hit from Titanic.
Babe (Jerry Goldsmith, 1975): This score is from an obscure 1975 TV movie about Olympic track runner Babe Didrickson. Film Score Monthly released the score on a CD along with two other Jerry Goldsmith TV movie scores from Hawkins on Murder and Winter Kill. A little over 30 minutes of the score are included on the CD.
The melodic main theme is introduced first on a solo acoustic guitar, which is then joined by an orchestra dominated by strings and woodwinds. The solo guitar remains a dominant instrument throughout the rest of the score, with the theme also occasionally being presented via solo piano or violin as well. The score is predominantly made up of repetitions of the main theme with the different instruments and orchestrations providing quite a bit of variety. Every once in a while, a touch of brass or a much faster tempo version of the theme is presented, which lightens the tone quite a bit.
An example of that lighter tone is the first half of the cue “The Team/Where It’s At”. The second half of that cue introduces some much darker music, including a fairly somber tune played on a solo tuba. The darker approach continues through the next cue, with solo violin and the orchestra’s string section maintaining that tone before the main theme is re-introduced to lighten the music up a bit more. The entire score has a fairly low-key style to it, never becoming excessive in either the lighter or darker segments.
A bonus track includes a vocal version of the main theme performed by an unidentified female vocalist. The title of this version is “When You’ve Gone Away”.
Babe (Nigel Westlake, 1995): One of the most unlikely successes of the 1990s was Babe, a low-budget family film (with talking animals) about a pig that learns to herd sheep. The charming film, which surprisingly was written and produced by Mad Max creator George Miller, was one of the year’s biggest blockbusters and was even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
The primary theme used in the score is actually a credited adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, which Westlake used as the basis of the song “If I Had Words”, which is prominently used in the film. The soundtrack album includes two versions of the song, one performed by James Cromwell (the farmer in the film) and another performed by the mice that serve as essentially a Greek chorus for the film. The remainder of the score is charming, with an emphasis mostly on woodwinds and strings with occasional brass, mainly introduced for the darker parts of the score.
The soundtrack CD is unfortunately very heavy on dialog, often overlaying the music. The dialog is so pervasive that it is actually a bit difficult to get a really good feel for the score. Such a dialog heavy soundtrack is surprising coming from Varese Sarabande. Hopefully they will re-visit this one some day with more of a music-only release.
Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (Jerry Goldsmith, 1985): Intrada’s 2008 CD release of this score became somewhat notorious for selling out its entire 3000 copy run in just a couple days. Other than a suite on a very rare Goldsmith tribute CD, the score had not previously been released and was pretty in demand among Goldsmith’s fans. While the film (and early release under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label) had been a pretty major bomb, the score is an exceptionally good example of the composer’s style during that time period and was also one of his own personal favorites.
The score is orchestral, but enhanced with significant electronic elements. This is an approach Goldsmith often took during that time period and he had a pretty distinctive way of doing so that made his scores pretty quickly recognizable. The fairly simple, but infectious, main theme is frequently rendered primarily via synthesizer, with fully orchestra picking up to give it a fuller sound when needed. I generally find this approach in Goldsmith’s scores to be quite appealing and this theme is one of his best of this type. The most complete presentations of this main theme are during the cue entitled “Dragon’s Breath” as well as during the extremely impressive ending cue “Just a Legend”, which wraps up the score as a good summary of its key themes, concluding with a truly impressive fanfare.
The movie had a somewhat odd mix of heartwarming, family drama along with some fairly intense action material. As was the case with several of the early PG rated Touchstone releases, the filmmakers didn’t quite seem sure if they should be making a family-oriented Disney film or a more adult action movie. Goldsmith did a remarkable job of addressing both sides of the film, while still maintaining a cohesiveness to the score. Several of the cues, such as “The Family” and especially “The Rescue” contain some of Goldsmith’s better action writing, with lots of percussion and brass. The main theme and variations are still intermixed with these pieces sufficiently to keep it feeling like part of one piece.
This CD is rare and likely to fetch high prices. The Amazon link above does show several copies available, but starting at around $50. Depending on how big a Goldsmith enthusiast you are, it might be worth those prices. Otherwise, hopefully the score will get another re-issue someday for those that didn’t manage to get a copy during its brief window of availability.
Bachelor Flat (Johnny Williams, 1962): This very early score by John Williams, back when he was still credited as Johnny, is a lively and fast paced comedy score that still hints at the much weightier work in the composer’s future. The score was released on CD by Intrada in a 2-disc set that also includes his score to the 1966 film How To Steal a Million.
The score is a charmingly melodic orchestral work, with some occasional romantic elements. The score is dominated by brass and strings with a very up-beat quality. A bit of Williams’ jazz background is also evident in the cues “Transistor Radio” (possibly a source cue in the film), “Home Cookin’” and “Mambone”, which feature solo saxophone backed by a smaller ensemble.
Bachelor in Paradise (Henry Mancini, 1961): Mancini’s score for this Bob Hope comedy was released by Film Score Monthly on a 2-CD set that also includes John Williams’ score for Penelope. It has nearly an hour of Mancini’s music, including the complete score as heard in the film and another 20 minutes or so of bonus material.
The Main Title introduces the title song, which is performed by a chorus and features lyrics by Mack David. The song is very typical of the type of light pop sound that Mancini favored in the 1960s. The song was Oscar nominated, but lost to Mancini’s own biggest hit, “Moon River”. The rest of the score is built around the melody from the song and generally has a light jazz/pop sound. It isn’t fully orchestral, but instead played by a smaller ensemble. The bonus tracks include an original demo version of the title song as well as a variety of source cues.