Soundtrack Collection: Braveheart to By Love Possessed

Braveheart

Braveheart (James Horner, 1995): 1995 was a pretty big year for James Horner.  That year, he scored two highly-acclaimed films, both of which were front-runners at the Academy Awards.  While Apollo 13 was the bigger hit at the box office, Braveheart was the Best Picture winner and both the film and score have retained an extremely loyal following, with the soundtrack album remaining one of the top sellers of the genre.  Somewhat famously, Horner’s two scores apparently split the Academy’s vote for Best Original Score, resulting in the award going to Luis Bacalov’s Il Postino, instead. 

Horner has always been influenced quite a bit by Scottish and Irish regional music and the Scottish theme and setting of this film certainly gave him a major opportunity to directly exercise those influences.  Thus, the score is pretty heavy on bagpipes, pan flute, and other instruments from that culture.  Choral elements are also included and are used sparingly enough to be quite effective.  That Horner has a tendency to sometimes mix Scottish and Irish influences in the score is somewhat of a minor quibble for most fans/viewers.  The scores overall style is one that Horner has continued to revisit from time to time, most famously with his enormously popular Titanic score.

One element of the score’s popularity is Horner’s noble and evocative main theme, which is first introduced as a bagpipe melody during the “Main Title” cue and is presented in a variety of orchestrations throughout the rest of the score.  Horner also provides a couple of effective, more romantic themes which are brought together very well in the cue “For the Love of a Princess”.  The films’ several battle sequences are scored with a mix of fairly typical Horner action motifs along with some percussion-driven ethnic elements.

The soundtrack CD runs for a little over an hour and 17 minutes and features quite a few pretty lengthy cues.  At that length, I think it very effectively covers the important parts of this score and may even be a bit long, considering that the score does repeat itself a fair amount.  The ongoing popularity of the score resulted in the release of a second More Music From Braveheart album that contained some more of Horner’s music as well as various source cues from the film.  I’ve always felt that the first release was enough, though, and have never felt the need to pick up the second album.

Breakheart Pass

Breakheart Pass (Jerry Goldsmith, 1975): In the 1960s and 1970s, Jerry Goldsmith was given many opportunities to score westerns, although his projects generally were less prominent projects than the assignments his contemporaries like Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone tended to get.  This Charles Bronson western was one of the latest ones that he worked on, coming out at a time when audience interest in the genre was definitely on the decline.

The highlight of the score is definitely Goldsmith’s brassy and upbeat theme, which was pretty typical of his themes for the genre, but also extremely entertaining.  The theme is fully developed in the terrific “Main Title” cue and also wraps the score up very well during the end credits suite.  Goldsmith peppers the rest of the score with bits and pieces of the theme as well, although he doesn’t use it quite as regularly as he sometimes has with other main themes in his scores.

The score also has some good action music, with my favorite being the fast paced and exciting cue “On the Move – Runaway”, in which Goldsmith is able to musically very successfully evoke the image of a runaway train.  The moving train motif is one that he returns to in several other cues as well, including “The Casket – Box Car Fight”.  Overall, the score is a bit more driven by suspense cues, although periodically punctuated by some bursts of fairly exciting action.

One somewhat surprising aspect to this score is that Goldsmith fairly rarely uses common western conventions (the harmonica is almost entirely absent), instead giving the score a somewhat more modern sound, even using electronics occasionally.  The main theme is generally pretty brassy and the action sequences are dominated by brass and strings.  Some of the score’s quieter moments include some sensitive acoustic guitar and woodwind music as well.

La La Land Records released a limited edition (3,000 copies) CD containing 45 minutes of the score.  The CD is sold out, but copies can generally be found in the $25-$30 range.  This is a good score and definitely worth seeking out for Goldsmith’s fans, particularly those that especially enjoy his western themes.

The Bridge at Remagen

The Bridge at Remagen (Elmer Bernstein, 1969): This World War II adventure score by Elmer Bernstein was released by Film Score Monthly as a Silver Age Classics limited edition, paired on a single disc with Maurice Jarre’s score to the 1964 film The Train.  Bernstein’s score only runs for slightly under 30 minutes on the CD, but the liner notes indicates that to be a complete presentation of the music that he wrote for the film.

The score opens with a very impressive “Main Title” cue featuring an exciting, military-style march with lots of brass and percussion.  It is the type of theme that really grabs your attention.  While I haven’t seen the film, I would imagine this theme was a very effective way to get the audience pumped up and attentive.

Bernstein does occasionally return to the main theme during the rest of the score, but other parts of the score are quieter and more subtle in nature.  Often times, the score shifts to fairly intimate, string and/or piano focused melodies, often intermixed with periodic shifts to brass and percussion that signal more action oriented segments.  Particularly good examples of this mix are the cues “Defenses” and “Confrontation/More Madness”.  The combination is quite effective and very enjoyable.

Broadcast News

Broadcast News (Bill Conti, 1987): This film was a big critical and financial success and a major contender at the Academy Awards in 1987 (and is a personal favorite of mine), yet there was no soundtrack album released until 18 years later when Varese Sarabande released a limited edition as part of their Soundtrack Club series.  At the time that I’m writing this, copies are still available from their website, although they warn that less than 500 remain.

The score is fairly small in scale, composed mainly for piano with occasional orchestral elements usually played by a relatively small ensemble.  Playing to the film’s newsroom setting, much of the music does have a tendency to bring to mind local news themes, and not just in the couple cues that actually are the fictional news themes from the film.  The film is very dialog-heavy, so it doesn’t really lend itself to larger scale scoring and that is probably a big part of the reason why no soundtrack was released at the time.  The album also contains quite a few source cues (composed for the film) used in various party scenes and other similar settings.

Another likely big driver on the delayed soundtrack release was that the film underwent quite a bit of re-scoring prior to release.  This included composer Michael Gore being brought in to re-score some parts of the film in addition to Conti providing some alternates himself.  Another composer, Michel Cimilo, was brought in to write one cue entitled “News Theme Ballad”. The CD ends with about 20 minutes of alternate score takes after the complete presentation of the score as used in the film.

The end result is a score that is interesting and does evoke positive memories for fans of the film, but it doesn’t really hold together exceptionally well.  The re-scoring combined with the film’s talky nature results in a score that doesn’t really establish strong thematic threads or generally provide an overly cohesive listening experience.  The album is worth getting for big fans of Conti or of the film, but it is understandable why it hasn’t had a more widely distributed release despite the popularity of the film.

Broken Arrow

Broken Arrow (Hans Zimmer, 1996): Back in 1996, Hans Zimmer’s rock-infused style of action music sounded a lot fresher than it does today.  I saw the film soon after it was released and the music had caught my attention sufficiently that I quickly went out to buy the soundtrack album.  While I was already familiar with Zimmer from his scores to Backdraft and The Lion King, this was really my first exposure to the action score style that would ultimately become his signature.

The score is primarily performed using a mix of synthesizers and electronic instruments, with a pretty heavy emphasis on bass guitar, featuring soloist Duane Eddy.  More purely orchestral moments do poke through occasionally, such as during the introduction to the cue “Stealth”, but they are few and far between.  This is definitely primarily a synthesizer and rock instrument score.  Zimmer also uses wordless choral elements occasionally to pretty good effect.

Some parts of the score, particularly the major theme for John Travolta’s villain, have a western sound that is obviously inspired by Ennio Morricone’s classic Sergio Leone film scores.  The cue entitled “Mine” is a particularly strong example of this aspect of the score, particularly during the early part of the cue.

Broken Lance

Broken Lance (Leigh Harline, 1954): Over the last few years, the specialty soundtrack labels have released quite a few golden age scores from composer Leigh Harline.  While Harline scored many films, he generally wasn’t as well-known as many of his contemporaries.  His biggest claim to fame was his work on Pinocchio, including writing the music to “When You Wish Upon a Star”, but his scoring career covered a pretty wide range of genres and styles.

Film Score Monthly released Harline’s score to the western Broken Lance as part of their Golden Age Classics limited edition series.  The score tends to minimize most of the expected movie western conventions, instead going for a pretty broadly orchestral approach, although still with a certain sense of Americana.  Much of the score is built upon a simple 5-note motif that is introduced as a fanfare right at the start of the “Main Title” cue.  Harline develops a lot of other orchestral ideas throughout the score, but this primary motif remains central to it.

The score includes some very tender, melodic themes, sometimes enhanced by subtle choral elements that are almost angelic in approach.  I tend to be pretty partial to this kind of choral scoring.  The early cue entitled “The Home Place/Desolate Home/Conversation With Portrait” as well as the late cue “Burial/Joe and Signora” are very good examples of this aspect of the score and are among my favorites on this soundtrack.

Brother Bear

Brother Bear (Phil Collins and Mark Mancina, 2003): This Disney animated feature re-united the musical team of songwriter/singer Phil Collins and composer Mark Mancina, who had previously worked together on Tarzan in 1999.  While neither the film nor the music were as popular or well-received as that earlier one, the soundtrack is still quite good and I actually find it a bit more varied and, thus, a more enjoyable listen.

One advantage of this album over Tarzan is that Collins didn’t choose to perform all the songs himself this time.  While I like Collins voice and I actually think it worked pretty well to have him serve as effectively a musical narrator in the earlier film, the soundtrack is pretty repetitive, particularly since most of the songs are presented  both in “film” and “single” versions which pretty much sound the same.  While Collins’ voice is still prominent in both this film and soundtrack, there are also performances by Tina Turner, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and The Bulgarian Woman’s Choir. 

This album does once again present two versions of many of the songs, but only in the case of the ballad “No Way Out” (one of three songs that Collins sings solo in the film) are the two versions both performed by Collins.  In the case of this song, the two versions are pretty substantially different, with the film version (which is only about 1/2 the length of the single) featuring lyrics that more directly reflect the events in the film.  The other two Collins solos in the film are "Look Through My Eyes” and “On My Way”, but each are presented only once on the soundtrack.

In the film versions, Turner performs “Great Spirits”, The Blind Boys of Alabama (backed up by Collins) perform “Welcome” and The Bulgarian Woman’s Choir performs “Transformation”.  The album also includes Collins’ solo versions of the latter two songs, which have more of a straightforward pop style than the more exotic arrangements used in the film.  Collins did record a version of “Great Spirits” as well, but it was only included on a version of the soundtrack that was exclusively offered at Best Buy stores.  The very infectious “Welcome” is my pick for the best song from the film.  This catchy song was even used as the primary theme for Disneyland’s daytime parade for a few years.

Typical of many Disney animated features, Mancina’s score is somewhat under-represented.  The soundtrack contains only three score cues, although they are pretty lengthy adding up to a relatively generous (for a Disney soundtrack) 19 minutes of score.  The score is orchestral, although with some segments that have a bit of a pop beat that connects it a bit more with the Collins songs.  The film’s rustic setting is reflected in parts of the score with some jungle-rhythms and exotic wordless vocals, while other parts are more gently melodic.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Stu Philips, 1979): The pilot for the early 80s Buck Rogers TV series was released as a theatrical feature in 1979.  A soundtrack LP containing selections from the score by Stu Philips as well as the theme song performed by Kipp Lennon was released at the time of the movie.  In 2008, Intrada reissued the LP program on a limited edition CD that is still available from their website.

The song, which is titled “Suspension” but billed on the soundtrack as “The Song from Buck Rogers (Suspension)”, is a fairly cheesy 70s pop song with a bit of a waltz rhythm to it.  The album includes both the main title version of the song as well as a slightly shorter end title reprise.  An instrumental-only version of the song became the TV theme song.

The score is mostly a very brassy and high-energy swashbuckler-style score with lots of fanfares and crescendos.  Action cues dominate, with exciting-sounding cue names like “Pirate Attack”, “Buck Vs. Tigerman” and “Tailpipe Torpedo”.  No, this isn’t sophisticated, but it definitely is quite a bit of fun.  The score also includes some very 70s electronic music in a few places, with hints of it in "Introducing: Twiki and Dr. Theo” and more fully in “Something Kinda Funny”.

A Bugs Life

A Bug’s Life (Randy Newman, 1998): For Pixar Animation Studios and director John Lassiter’s second film, they brought back Randy Newman, who had provided the popular score for Toy Story, their first big hit.  This time, the movie was more of a lush, outdoor adventure and called for a score that was a bit grander in scope and less folksy than that previous score.

While A Bug’s Life wasn’t a musical, Newman did write one original song for the film.  The song is entitled “The Time of Your Life” and his own vocal performance of it opens the CD.  The melody of the song does get incorporated into the score pretty regularly and essentially serves as a  main theme to the score.

When played as an instrumental, the song’s melody features a brassy fanfare, with the main melody then usually presented via jazzy trumpet solos with a piano counterpart.  This theme is repeated pretty frequently throughout the score’s running time, essentially providing the main framework on which Newman hangs most of the film’s action and adventure oriented cues.  A somewhat similarly orchestrated secondary theme underscores most of the more emotional segments of the film and the two themes often intermix well.

A key secondary theme that Newman creates to represent the quirkier side of the film’s main character, Flik, takes the score in a pretty significantly different direction.  This theme, which is fully developed in the cue “Flik’s Machine”, has a pretty full-on swing style to it.  Newman brings the two fairly different aspects of the score together fairly memorably in the cue “The City”. 

Bushwhacked

Bushwhacked (Bill Conti, 1995): About 25 minutes of Conti’s score from this largely forgotten Daniel Stern comedy was included on a Varese Sarabande CD Club limited edition (1,500 copies) that also included Conti’s scores to Rookie of the Year and A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon

The score opens with a cue entitled “Whacked!” which is a rock instrumental heavy on synthesizers, electric guitar, and rock percussion.  Conti returns to this same style periodically during other parts of the score, including the cue “Devil’s Peak” which is pretty much a heavy metal instrumental, but the bulk of the score actually is more fully orchestral.  

The second cue in the score, “The Fire”, demonstrates the overall range of styles.  The cue opens with a brief western-style harmonica riff before going into an orchestral piece dominated by strings and woodwinds. This is followed by a brass-dominated section and then it ends with a return to the rock style from the first cue.  A cue entitled “Max Meets Kids” is pretty much a brass and percussion dominated march, a style that tends to dominate the later part of the score.  One thing I found a bit surprising was that a key motif in the finale cue “The Big Finish” very closely resembles Conti’s main theme from The Right Stuff.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Burt Bacharach, 1969): Burt Bacharach has only scored a handful of movies in his long career and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is almost certainly the most famous and popular of those scores.  The relatively short (just under 30 minutes) soundtrack album is widely available.

The best known part of this score is, of course, the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, which is performed by B.J. Thomas both in the film and on the soundtrack CD.  This song is so familiar that there isn’t really all that much to be said about it.  The album features two versions of the song performed by Thomas, the familiar single as well as the cue “On a Bicycle Built for Joy”, which is the version as used in the film.  It also includes an instrumental arrangement of it.

The rest of the score generally has the late 60s pop sound that is usually associated with Bacharach’s music.  The cue “South American Getaway” features wordless vocals that give it a sound that essentially resembles a scat version of a typical Bacharach song.  The tune “Not Goin’ Home Anymore” has an Italian style to it and features an accordion as a primary instrument.  The other tunes are all very melodic with a jazzy style.

By Love Possessed

By Love Possessed (Elmer Bernstein, 1961): This is one of the most lushly romantic of Elmer Bernstein’s scores.  Varese Sarabande released it as part of their CD Club series in a limited edition of 1,500 copies, which has sold out at their website.  Copies can still be found on Amazon for under $30, though.

Much of the score is a highly melodic, classical-style work with an emphasis on some very impressive string melodies.  One of the best cues is “Full Circle”, which includes some well-played statements of the score’s primary theme on solo violin.  Another good variation is in “Last Quiet Moments”, which has solo violin and piano statements of the main theme eventually joined by a more fully orchestral presentation.  This score contains some of Bernstein’s most beautiful compositions.

The score also has some jazzy portions as well, including the cues “Veronica”, “Timber’s Jazz”, and “Sex Hex”.  These cues include a lot of solo horns combined with some spirited piano and percussion. 

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