Soundtrack Collection: The Clearing to Cocoon

The Clearing

The Clearing (Craig Armstrong, 2004): As I know little about the film, it is fairly unlikely that I would have bought this soundtrack myself. It is one of several that I was given by a friend who works at the movie studio and it is a pretty good score.  My only previous familiarity with Craig Armstrong was mainly through his projects with Baz Luhrmann, which tended to be pretty song-oriented.  It is interesting hearing a more full score.

Much of the score has a very dark and moody quality.  The opening cue is a solo violin presentation of the score’s main theme.  This kind of low-key presentation of the theme establishes a pretty distinctive mood right at the start.  The theme is a fairly simple motif, built around a fairly simple 8 note melody with the first 3 notes repeated.  This motif is woven throughout the score, often either via the solo violin or via piano (including a stand-alone solo piano cue of the theme). The soundtrack ends with a full orchestral arrangement.

Armstrong includes some electronic elements as well, introducing a bit of a modern style to some parts of the score.  The early cue “Arnold On His Way” especially showcases this aspect of the music and comes as a somewhat interesting shift in tone after the moody, more classical instrumentals of the first couple cues.


Cliffhanger (Trevor Jones, 1993): Trever Jones’ Cliffhanger is one of my favorite action scores of the early 1990s and it comes from what I think was probably the most purely entertaining action film of Sylvester Stallone’s career.  I’ve always found it a bit puzzling that Jones didn’t make a bigger name for himself as an action composer.

The score is built around an absolutely thrilling main theme.  The theme is built around a series of very brassy fanfares backed by some absolutely soaring strings.  This is one of those themes that really sticks in your mind after listening to the album or seeing the film.  The opening cue of the album is a terrific concert arrangement of the theme.  It may have played over the main title, although I don’t recall for sure.  Either way, it gets the album off to a rousing start while firmly establishing the score’s primary musical voice right from the beginning.

Stallone’s action movies often tended to have something of a brooding quality to them and Jones’ score does reflect this with some cues that are fairly moody.  This is pretty effective scoring, with Jones retaining a melodic quality that never strays excessively far from the style of the main theme.  This helps to keep the darker side of the score from becoming oppressive and also retains a cohesive sound to it.

One thing that might be a tad surprising about the score is that it doesn’t have a lot of extremely high-adrenaline action music.  It isn’t completely absent, of course, but even some of the core action cues like “Bats” or “Helicopter Fight” still stay very anchored in melody and are a bit heavier on tension and mood than on what you might usually expect for a big-budget action movie.  When more actively percussive music comes into play, it tends to be particularly effective due to its fairly sparing use.

Cloak & Dagger

Cloak & Dagger (Brian May, 1984): I haven’t seen it for years, but this was a movie that I especially enjoyed when it first came out.  I was 15 years old and already a definite computer/video game nerd by then, so the film connected with me pretty well.  What I don’t remember was ever really thinking too much about the music in the movie, particularly since there was no soundtrack released.   Intrada released Brian May’s score for the first time earlier this year and I found the music to have a certain familiarity, although not as much as I might have expected from a film that I saw a number of times back when it was reasonably new.

May provided a pretty charming adventure score for the film.  It is a fully orchestral score with a somewhat old-fashioned sound.  Considering the computer and video game theme to the film, it is actually a bit surprising that the score is so traditional and lacking in electronic elements.  The score is dominated by some very active string and piano melodies, with occasional militaristic brass and percussion brought into some of the action sequences, including a pretty great march that appears occasionally during the score and then gets a full performance in the end credits cue.  Gentle woodwinds often accompany piano during the more quiet parts of the score.

The score is very energetic and fast paced, although it is somewhat limited in thematic elements.  May does introduce a very short primary motif that serves as something of a main theme for the score, but it isn’t one that is especially distinctive and, thus, probably not one that will stick in your mind too much after seeing the film or hearing the album.  In fact, this fairly minimalist main theme is probably the reason that I didn’t find the music exceptionally memorable based on multiple viewings of the film.  This isn’t necessarily a negative, though, as the music is pleasant to listen to and likely served the film well.

 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Collector's Edition)Close Encounters of the Third Kind (original)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (John Williams, 1977): If pressed to pick my favorite score (and favorite movie, for that matter), I inevitably end up picking Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  In the early days of my soundtrack collecting (when I was around 10 years old), I remember calling around to every record store in town until I found one with the LP in stock and then convincing my father to drive me across town to buy it.  On the day that I purchased my first CD player, this soundtrack was the first disc that I bought to play on it.  I simply love this music.

The film gave John Williams one of the most complex structures that he has ever had to work with, allowing for a score that has a pretty wide variety of styles.  “Nocturnal Pursuit” (I’m using the cue names from the original 1977 soundtrack release) contain exciting, militaristic chase music full of dynamic brass and fast paced strings.  “The Abduction of Barry”, on the other hand, is as scary and disquieting as any horror score, with its dissonant choral vocals mixed with deep blasts of brass and screeching strings.

Of course, the most famous motif in the score is the 5-note Williams-composed tune that the aliens use as a base for their attempt to communicate.  This motif has a key role in the film’s plot and, in fact, is probably on the short list of examples where an element of the score has been critical to a film’s storyline.  The amusing and clever “The Conversation” represents this motif’s most prominent use, with Williams later making extensive use of it during the finale sequences.

Finally, Williams provides a hopeful, incredibly memorable primary theme for orchestra and chorus for the alien visitation.  that is first introduced in “I Can’t Believe It’s Real” and then developed spectacularly during the amazing finale pieces “The Appearance of the Visitors” and “Resolution and End Title”.  This theme is composed in a way that it blends exceptionally well with the famous 5-note motif during these concluding cues.  The visitation theme also intentionally has a slight resemblance to the key melody of Leigh Harline’s “When You Wish Upon a Star”, which Williams actually subtly, and very effectively, incorporates (with credit) during the finale as well.

There have been three different CD releases of the Close Encounters soundtrack to date.  The first release was by Arista Records and contained a direct transfer of the old 40 minute LP program, but without the disco arrangement of the main theme that had been included as a separate 7-inch single with the LP package.  A few years later, Varese Sarabande licensed and re-issued the same program, but with the disco track included at the end.  Finally in 1998, Arista released a “Collector’s Edition” CD that contains a full 77 minutes of music from the film, presented more or less in film order.  This edition also included some of the music that scored sequences added to the 1979 “special edition” version of the film, including a gorgeous orchestral performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star” that was incorporated into that version’s end credits suite.

While the collector’s edition release is definitely the one to get if you are only going to purchase one version of the Close Encounters soundtrack, the CD of the original LP program really is worth obtaining as well.  Back when program lengths were limited somewhat by the capacity of an LP, Williams (or his music editors) had a real talent for putting together excellent programs that really highlighted the best of the music as the best possible listening experience.  While the original program isn’t complete and often presents the music out of film order, it really is an exceptionally good organization of the score and I still find myself choosing it over the collector’s edition fairly often.


Cloverfield (Michael Giacchino, 2008): The surprise hit monster movie Cloverfield had no score during the film, due to its format as supposedly being found home video footage.  For the end credits, composer Michael Giacchino (the usual collaborator of the film’s producer J.J. Abrams) wrote a 12 minute original musical suite entitled “Roar!”  Not surprisingly, there is no soundtrack CD, but this end-credit suite is available for download from iTunes.

The suite of music is great fun!  It really sounds like Giacchino jumped at the challenge of essentially writing an exciting, fully-developed monster movie action score compressed down to 12 minutes.  The suite contains dynamic brass and percussion themes along with soaring strings, some stirring choral segments, and even some sensitive, introspective thematic material.

It is exciting, thrilling orchestral bombast and incredibly cool considering that it was all written strictly for the end credits.  For a 99 cent download, this is pretty much a no-brainer for any fans of Giacchino, or this type of orchestral thriller music in general, to purchase.

The Cobweb

The Cobweb (Leonard Rosenman, 1955): This very early Leonard Rosenman score (it was only his 2nd) was released by Film Score Monthly as part of their Golden Age Classics series, paired on CD with music from Rosenman’s score to Edge of the City.  According to the liner notes, the score is presented complete at a running time of a little under 37 minutes.

The score is dark and often dissonant, using a full orchestra to create a frenetic and at times unsettling sound.  The film was a dramatic feature set in a mental institution, but the score, taken alone, sounds more like music from a horror film or a dark thriller.  In many ways, the style of the composition seems to have more in common with chamber music than with the more fully symphonic film scores that were typical at the time.  Fairly atonal strings and woodwinds dominate, with occasional bits of brass and percussion used for emphasis.


Cocoon (James Horner, 1985): Ron Howard’s Cocoon was an especially creative blockbuster, mixing alien visitation science fiction with a human interest storyline about the process of aging.  The film was particularly notable for reviving the long dormant careers of veteran actors including Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for the film), Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy.  The film was also the first of several acclaimed collaborations between Howard and composer James Horner.

Horner provided a score that has something of a mix of his typical 1980s science fiction scoring (it is very reminiscent of his two Star Trek scores at times) and some more nostalgically tender scoring for the character-driven aspects of the film.  The science fiction scoring is particularly evident in the fairly dynamic early cue entitled “The Chase”, while the more tender side is especially well represented by the tenderly melancholy cue “Rose’s Death”.

At the heart of the score is a memorable main theme that is initially presented in a fairly low-key piano performance at the beginning of the opening cue, “Through the Window”.  The theme is developed considerably over the score, frequently performed on different instruments and at a variety of tempos.  A tender, nostalgic secondary theme is often used in conjunction with the primary theme as well.  In most cases, the primary theme is largely associated with the science fiction aspects of the story while the secondary theme is used for the more character-driven material.

One particularly notable cue in the score is “The Boys Are Out”, which is a nostalgic, swing-dance type melody used during a night-on-the-town sequence.  This cue is a definite pre-cursor to the approach that Horner took to scoring the similarly themed film *Batteries Not Included (which featured some of the same cast) a couple years later.  The cue is impressive in that it fulfills an old-fashioned, nostalgic requirement, but still feels like it comes from the same family as the rest of the score.

The soundtrack album contains about 40 minutes of Horner’s score and is organized pretty far off from film order.  The album also includes one rock song, “Gravity” performed by Michael Sembello.  This was used during the famous dance sequence in the film, but is a bit jarring on the album due to its placement pretty much right in the middle.  The soundtrack is out of print and pretty difficult to obtain and this definitely seems like a score that is in need of a re-issue, preferably expanded and in a more logical order.

Cocoon: The Return

Cocoon: The Return (James Horner, 1988): The 1988 sequel to Cocoon re-united most of the original film’s cast (but not director Ron Howard), although the result was a somewhat lackluster re-tread.  James Horner was also brought back to score the sequel and delivered a workable score, but one that didn’t really expand much beyond the themes he had written for the original film.

The opening cue on the soundtrack, “Returning Home”, is essentially a re-visit of the “Theme from Cocoon” cue that closed the first soundtrack.  The orchestrations are a bit different which does show that the cue was likely newly-recorded, but it does pretty much immediately establish that Horner’s main goal with this score is going to be to repeat what he had provided for the first film.  The rest of the score has some definite changes in orchestrations and some occasional new melodies, but is still very familiar to those that know the first score well.

One key change in focus in the sequel score is that the swing-style music that was used in a single cue on the soundtrack to the first film is much more prevalent this time.  Multiple cues on the new soundtrack are presented in this style: “Taking Bernie to the Beach”, the lengthy “Basketball Swing”, and the last part of “Good Friends”.  These cues are based around the same basic melody used in “The Boys Are Out” from the first film, but develops it quite a bit for the sequel, adding a number of variations and supplemental melodies.  Fans of that cue in the first score, or of Horner’s *Batteries Not Included score, are likely to find this aspect of the Cocoon: The Return score pretty satisfying.

The soundtrack CD was released by Varese Sarabande at the time of the film’s original release and featured a generous 53 minutes of Horner’s score, presented in some pretty long cues, some 8 minutes or longer all the way up to a 11 1/2 minute finale cue.  The soundtrack is out of print, but is relatively easy to find at reasonable prices.  In fact, it is far easier to find than the soundtrack to the original Cocoon and is probably a reasonable substitute for those that like the music but don’t currently own either CD.

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