Soundtrack Collection: Chronicles of Narnia to A Civil Action

 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Special Edition Soundtrack)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2005): Obviously inspired by the enormous success of the Lord of the Rings films, Walden Media and Disney saw adapting C.S. Lewis’ classic Chronicle of Narnia book series as an obvious opportunity to create a similar, but more family-friendly, franchise.  Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson was a somewhat surprising choice to helm the first film in the series.  Adamson brought along Shrek composer Harry Gregson-Williams, giving him a welcome opportunity to stretch his talents quite a bit beyond the animation and contemporary action scores for which he was mainly known.

The film cranked up the intensity and scope of the action and battle sequences quite a bit compared to the books, which gave Gregson-Williams the opportunity to create some fairly intense action music.  The soundtrack gets off to a very fast-paced start with the opening cue, “The Blitz, 1940”, a percussion and brass driven action cue that accompanies the film’s surprisingly intense opening sequence.  This type of action music again will later dominate the final portions of the score, particularly the lengthy finale cue simply entitled “The Battle”.

The majority of the score has a more melancholy and moody quality, which is introduced in the second cue, entitled “Evacuating London”.  The first half of the cue introduces some simple piano-driven melodies before transitioning to an otherworldly, largely electronic theme accompanied by vocals by Lisbeth Scott.   A more gentle, traditionally orchestral version of the same basic theme is central to the next cue, “The Wardrobe”. Later, Gregson-Williams provides an appropriately regal main theme for Aslan the lion, heard particularly prominently in the opening to the cue “To Aslan’s Camp”.  That is the theme that eventually serves as essentially the primary theme for the film, with some fairly frequent statements during the battle music late in the score.

The entire score has a somewhat surprisingly modernistic sound to it, generally forgoing the more traditional British classical scoring approach to this kind of fantasy that Howard Shore had used for The Lord of the Rings.  Gregson-Williams introduces a number of ethnic elements and also uses a fair amount of electronic instruments as well as frequent choral and solo vocal elements.  I find it to be an effective score, although probably not what a lot of people expected for this material and, thus, it has tended to be a somewhat controversial one.

The album ends with four songs, all of which are very atmospheric and moody in style, with a somewhat modern electronica-ballad style.  “Can’t Take It In”, performed by Imogen Heap, and “Where” by Lisbeth Scott were both co-written by Gregson-Williams and are based on themes used in the film.  “Wunderkind” by Alanis Morrisette and “Winter Light” by Tim Finn are not connected with the rest of the film’s music.  With the exception of “Where”, the songs are each pretty long (4-5 minutes+) and they kind of wear out their welcome.

Note that there were quite a few different soundtrack albums for the film.  Two score albums were released, a standard and a special edition.The musical content is identical on both releases, with the special edition simply offering fancier packaging.  I have the special edition because I was able to get it at a decent price, but there is little reason to spend much extra for it.  There also were at least two song compilation albums released which were really just “inspired by” the movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2008): Composer Harry Gregson-Williams returned to the world of Narnia for Prince Caspian, the second entry in the series.  The score maintains stylistic continuity with the first one, including reprising a couple main themes, but it does also take a more action-oriented approach while downplaying some of the more otherworldly elements from the original.  The result is a score that is in the same family as the first one, but perhaps a bit more conventional.  While less of a creative leap, I also think it is a somewhat more listenable score.

Just like with the first score, this one opens with a driving, percussion and brass action cue.  The cue this time is called “Prince Caspian Flees” and it perhaps demonstrates Gregson-Williams’ background in Hans Zimmer’s scoring company more than any of the cues in the previous score.  The piece definitely has a quality that reflects Zimmer’s driving, orchestral/electronic approach to action scoring.  This cue sets the tone for the kind of action scoring that dominates a lot of this score.  This opening cue does also introduce a new theme for the title character, although it is only sparingly used during the rest of the score and feels a bit underdeveloped.

The key themes from the original film are reprised here, with the primary theme for the siblings that are the story’s central character first making an appearance in the second cue, “The Kings and Queens of Old”.  The regal theme for Aslan is used very frequently in this score, initially making its re-appearance in the cue “Arrival at Aslan’s How”.  As in the first score, that theme tends to serve as a victory theme in the battle cues which, as noted earlier, dominate this score much more than the original.

As with the previous soundtrack, several songs are included at the end of the album.  Once again, they are generally in that modernistic, electronic folk ballad style and really aren’t exceptionally interesting.  This time, Gregson-Williams is not credited as a writer on any of the songs and the performers, Regina Spekter, Oren Lavie, Switchfoot, and Hanne Hukkelberg, are all unfamiliar to me.

Prince Caspian was the last released film in this series at the time that I’m writing this.  As of this point, this will be the last film in the series for Disney, Gregson-Williams, and director Andrew Adamson.  The third film in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, is scheduled for release (by Twentieth Century Fox) later this year with Michael Apted taking over as director and David Arnold taking over the scoring.  It will be interesting to hear whether Arnold chooses to retain any of Gregson-Williams’ themes.  I tend to hope that he at least retains the Aslan theme in order to keep some musical continuity to the series.

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Soundtrack Collection: Chain Reaction to Chicken Run

Chain Reaction

Chain Reaction (Jerry Goldsmith, 1996): During the 1990s, Jerry Goldsmith frequently took jobs scoring 2nd tier action films.  These were usually medium-budget major studio releases with reasonably well-known actors, but they weren’t big budget tentpole releases starting top box-office draws.  Goldsmith delivered very competent scores for these films, even often helping to elevate the film’s overall quality, although they didn’t usually count among the composer’s most memorable work.  Chain Reaction, which starred Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman, was one of the more forgettable of these films and scores.

Goldsmith created a nicely melodic main theme, introduced during the opening cue “Meet Eddie”.  The theme is orchestral with a strong emphasis on strings, but also with a substantial synthesizer assist.  The synthesizer component gives the theme a bit more of a pop sensibility, particularly in its overall rhythmic line.  The rest of the score (as presented on the CD) is pretty typical Goldsmith action and suspense music, very competent but not extremely distinctive.  The cue “Ice Chase” is one of the better examples of Goldsmith’s approach to chase music during this period of his career, though.

Most of Goldsmith’s scores during that era were recorded in Los Angeles with union musicians.  At that time, the musicians’ union had a pretty rigid and costly re-use fee regulations that would greatly limit the viability of soundtrack album releases that were unlikely to be big sellers.  Various music labels, especially Varese Sarabande, did still put out albums of these scores, but with short running times.  This one runs just slightly over 30 minutes in length.  While some of the scores from that era have received expanded releases now that the union has adopted more favorable fee structures, Chain Reaction is one that has not been revisited.  It is possible that this is a score that would make a bigger impression with a more complete release.

Chaplin

Chaplin (John Barry, 1992): Chaplin was John Barry’s first major film score after his big, Oscar-winning success with Dances With Wolves.  While this is a smaller-scale score than this one, it does clearly come from the same era of Barry’s career, when his focus had shifted more towards lushly romantic melodies than big action cues.

The score is dominated by piano and strings, although with some occasionally very prominent trumpet sections.  The main theme has a gentle, kind of melancholy quality to it.  While the score is mostly fairly upbeat, the lush style that Barry utilizes often gives it a bit of an edge of sadness.  This actually reflects the film pretty well as it is a biography of a comedic genius with a bit of a dark side. 

Barry also provides some very lively music for the segments depicting Chaplin filming.  The cue “Discovering the Tramp/Wedding Chase” contains great examples of this aspect of the score.  The cue “The Roll Dance” is a particularly fun, old-fashioned turn-of-the-century nickelodeon style cue. This overall more up-beat approach becomes somewhat dominant during the later part of the score, as the film shifted its focus to Chaplin’s professional career.  This puts the score into a more upbeat territory as it progresses.

Central to score is a melodic love theme that suffers a bit from a perhaps slightly too close resemblance to the main theme from Dances With Wolves.  The theme starts off almost the same as the previous film’s theme before veering off with a different conclusion.  This theme is particularly prominent in the cue “Charlie Proposes”.

The soundtrack also includes instrumental, orchestral versions of Charlie Chaplin’s famous song “Smile” incorporated into the score at a few points.  The album also ends with a vocal performance of the song, sung by the film’s star Robert Downey Jr.  It is a kind of odd, modern pop arrangement and it would have been nice if the soundtrack had included a more straightforward performance of it as well.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)

The Charge of the Light Brigade (John Addison, 1968): This score was included in Film Score Monthly’s “MGM Soundtrack Treasury” boxed set.  The film was a remake of a 1936 Errol Flynn movie (with a score by Max Steiner) about the events surrounding England’s involvement in the 19th century Crimean War against Russia.

The album opens with a title song performed by Manfred Mann, featuring lyrics taken from Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem that served as a basis for the film’s storyline.  The song has a late-60s contemporary, folk song style.  The liner notes mention that it isn’t clear if the music to the song (which wasn’t used in the film) was written by score composer John Addison or by Mann, but the melody is not incorporated into the score.

The “Main Title” is a Victorian-style choral and orchestral work with a fairly royal sound to it.  This style continues to be incorporated into other parts of the score, with occasional repeats of this primary choral theme as well as other musical motifs that often bring to mind royalty. This includes some familiar, period-appropriate choral songs in the cues “War Fever” and “Across the Seas” as well as a very traditional sounding waltz in the cue “Lady Scarlett’s Ball”.  The score is heavy on brass fanfares and other brassy melodies. Strings are dominant in some of the more romantic sections of the score.

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Soundtrack Collection: Cartoon Concerto to Catch Me If You Can

 Cartoon Concerto

Cartoon Concerto (Bruce Broughton, 2003): I generally haven’t been including compilation albums in my reviews of my soundtrack collection (although I have many), but I am making an exception in order to call attention to this wonderful collection of cartoon scores composed by Bruce Broughton.  The scores are generally complete and not available anywhere else.  This is actually a promotional release, but copies can usually be tracked down with some searching.  At the time I’m writing this, there is one copy available at a reasonable price from the Amazon link above and Percepto Records (which, I believe, produced the album) has copies available from their website.

The CD includes complete scores to the Disney animated short “Off His Rockers” (which played with the Broughton-scored film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) and the two Roger Rabbit shorts “Roller Coaster Rabbit” and “Trail Mix-Up”.  Also included is an 18-minute suite of music from Broughton’s numerous scores to the popular Steven Spielberg produced TV series “Tiny Toon Adventures”.  The CD also includes another 18 minute suite entitled “Scherzo Berzerko in 3 Portions”, which isn’t identified as coming from a specific source.  This is most likely a suite compiled from a variety of sources and, since this is a promo disc, it may be partly or entirely example music composed specifically for the promo.

Considering that the majority of the source music was pretty clearly inspired by the classic Warner Bros “Looney Toons” shorts, it isn’t surprising that Broughton’s style throughout this album calls to mind the work of Carl Stalling.  The music is all orchestral and extremely brass heavy with a very fast paced and lots of quick stings and humorous motifs, including occasional samples of familiar melodies.  The music is exceptionally well organized on this CD and it really does play like a cohesive symphonic work.  This disc is simply a lot of fun!

Casablanca

Casablanca (Max Steiner, 1942): Casablanca is a pretty likely candidate for being the most truly beloved of American films.  I’m sure there are people out there that don’t care for it, but I can’t say that I recall encountering any.  The movie was a nearly perfect mix of drama, romance, intrigue, and humor.  Max Steiner’s score and Dooley Wilson’s entertaining performances of several classic songs contributed a lot to the film’s success.

Rhino Records released a soundtrack CD, which contains a mix of dialog, songs, and score.  A better, purely score and songs release would certainly be welcome, although the Rhino release is probably a more commercially acceptable approach for this film.  The condition of the recordings is also surprisingly poor for such a famous film, with quite a bit of static and noise in many of the cues.  The orchestral score portions are in much better condition than the songs and dialog segments and sometimes there is a noticeable shift in quality even within a single cue.  In some cases, it sounds like the music may have come from LP sources.

The most famous music in the film is, of course, the song “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld.  The song wasn’t originally written for the film, but is now pretty much inseparably associated with it.  In addition to Wilson’s famous performance of the song, Steiner very frequently incorporates the melody into the score.  The rest of the score is extremely romantic, with extensive use of lush strings and piano melodies.  Some ethnic elements come into play, particularly during the medleys from the Paris sequences.

I’m generally not a fan of dialog on a soundtrack album and do feel that there is too much here.  On the other hand, Casablanca has such a rich selection of exceptionally well-known lines and speeches that it isn’t hard to understand why it was included.  Very little of the album features score that doesn’t have dialog and/or sound-effects over the top and it almost plays more like a story album than a score soundtrack.  At the end of the album, there are 3 cues, running about 15 minutes, that do present some of the score cues without the dialog.  A better presentation of Steiner’s score is definitely needed, but at least the key parts are there.

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Soundtrack Collection: Bolt to Brave Little Toaster

 Bolt

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

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

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.

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Soundtrack Collection: Black Stallion to Blues Brothers

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion (Carmine Coppola, 1978): Intrada’s 3-CD set of the score to The Black Stallion may simply be too much of a good thing, at least when attempting to listen to it all at once.  The first two discs essentially contain everything that was written for the film: the score as heard in the movie, numerous unused cues, and various source cues.  The 3rd disc contains the 35 minute LP program that was released with the film.  The total of the 3 discs comes out to over 2 hours of music.

Fortunately, there is nothing that says that one has to listen to the music all at one time.  Certainly the score is very good and it is certainly not a bad thing that all of it is available.  For the most part, I’ve found that the album version is probably the best choice for listening straight through, while the other parts  might be better suited to playing in parts or to occasionally include in broader “shuffle play” mixes.

While Carmine Coppola (father of Francis, who produced the film) is the primary credit composer, the film also contained contributions from composers Shirley Walker, Nyle Steiner, Kenneth Nash, George Marsh, and Dick Rosmini.   The Intrada set includes appropriate credits for all the composers, thus making it possible to identify who wrote what parts.

Much of the score is very guitar-centered, with generally simple orchestration.  The score includes a fairly distinctive primary theme melody (which opens and closes the original album presentation), which features a solo guitar backing a main melody played by the orchestra, particularly the strings.  This theme is used throughout the score and generally establishes the overall tone of the presentation.  Other parts of the score tend to have a bit of an ethnic flavor, with a number of different instruments in use.  Some of the unused cues on the Intrada complete score discs are more fully orchestral than is generally heard on the cues used in the film.

The Black Stallion Returns

The Black Stallion Returns (Georges Delerue, 1983): Not too long after Intrada put out their CD release of The Black Stallion, they also put out a disc of Georges Delerue’s score to the film’s sequel.  While this score only required a single CD release, it still contains the complete score as heard in the movie as well as the original 1983 album presentation for a total running time of around an hour and 17 minutes.

Delerue doesn’t reuse the themes from the original film, but instead scores the film in his own distinctly melodic style.  His main theme for the sequel does have some similarity, at least in spirit, to Carmine Coppola’s theme for the original film, but it is significantly more fully orchestral, with an emphasis on strings and woodwinds.  The acoustic guitar that was fairly central to the first film’s score is not carried over to the sequel.  I overall think that Delerue’s score is an easier and more satisfying listen than Coppola’s outside of the film.  It tends to be more melodic and straightforward orchestral with a definite flare towards the adventurous.

A huge highlight on this soundtrack is the absolutely thrilling “Finale” cue, which runs for over 8 minutes in length and masterfully sums up all of the film’s themes on its way to an immensely satisfying conclusion.  Due to the discs format of presenting the complete score followed by the original album, this finale is presented twice on the disc.  It is good enough that I don’t really object to hearing it twice in one play through.

Black Sunday

Black Sunday (John Williams, 1977): For many years, Black Sunday was arguably the most significant John Williams score that had never received a soundtrack release.  In early 2010, Film Score Monthly finally corrected this by releasing a CD containing over an hour of Williams’ music from the film.  The CD is part of their limited edition Silver Age Classics series, but they produced 10,000 copies which should keep it available for at least a little while.

This score was composed during possibly the most important phase of his career.  The two other scores that he composed for films released  the same year were Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  His Black Sunday score does resemble his other scores from that time period, but it is quite a bit darker in tone as required by the disturbing subject matter of the film.

Building of tension is Williams’ prime role here and he is very effective at  accomplishing that.  For a good example, the cue “Nurse Dahlia/Kabakov’s Card/The Hypodermic” primarily features some low, fairly repetitive notes that build up a great deal of tension until the cue finally ends with a burst of shrieking strings reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s famous Psycho music.   Another interesting cue is “The Test”, which features chimes, initially by themselves and then later joined by the orchestra’s string section, an effect that builds a notably tense and foreboding atmosphere.

Other cues do have a more melodic style, such as the fairly sad melody that Williams contributes for the cue “Moshevsky’s Dead” or the more active string and brass driven melody in “Preparations”.  Williams also provides a melancholy, brass melody for the end titles, which the CD includes both in the film version and in a version without the underlying pop-style percussion.

The score also includes some very good chase and action music, particularly late in the score.  It is in the action cues that the connections to his other scores of that time period are most evident.  In particular, there is some noticeable similarities to some of the action cues from Close Encounters in this score.

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Soundtrack Collection (24 through Accidental Tourist)

24 Seasons 1-3 24 Seasons 4-5

24 (Sean Callery, 2001-2006): I have never actually watched the TV series 24, although I think I would probably like it and expect to eventually catch up with it on video.  The CD soundtracks for the series were given to me as a gift and I’m not sure I had actually listened to them before this.  I have two separate volumes of music from the series, one that covers seasons 1-3 and another that covers seasons 4-5.  All of the music is by composer Sean Callery, who I presume has done all the scoring for the show.

The series main title opens with some general beeps and other sound effects (only on the version on the season 1-3 disc) followed by some fairly atonal electronic music.  It then segues into a much more fully-orchestral and melodic theme than I was expecting.  Much more electronics are used in the rest of the scoring for the episodes, although there are orchestral areas as well.  Parts of the scores also include some rock elements (particularly electric guitars) and some techno beats.  A wordless choir is also used occasionally as well as some more chant-like vocals.  The music includes slower elements too, including some gentle piano melodies and some string-oriented pieces.

Without being familiar with the show itself, I don’t know what these various elements are meant to underscore, but the music is highly varied and a fairly unpredictable listening experience from my perspective as a non-viewer.  The track titles (for example, “’Copter Chase Over L.A.”) and the style of music do sometimes provide a pretty clear picture of what kind of scene is being scored and these clues suggest that Callery usually doesn’t stray too far from the conventions of how to score an action/thriller series.  The music is good, though, and I appreciate the fairly singular voice to the scoring of this series.  In recent years, it has become more common for a single composer to do all the scoring for a series and it is a trend that I very much like.

The 25th Hour

The 25th Hour (Georges Delerue, 1967): This score was released on CD by Film Score Monthly as part of their “Silver Age Classics” series and is paired on the disc with Delerue’s score to Our Mother’s House.  I’m not very familiar with the film, except to know that it was a drama that centered around the Holocaust.  As that subject-matter suggests, the music is pretty somber in tone, with a dirge-like main theme.  The dark mood is further enhanced by use of a wordless male choir.  Delerue’s scores are known for being extremely melodic and that is true of this one, although the melodies are definitely darker in character than is typical with his scores.  The whole album isn’t downbeat, though.  In particular “Johann in Budapest” and “Gathering of the Flowers” are very pleasant, almost waltz-like melodies and are very recognizably Delerue.

36 Hours

36 Hours (Dimitri Tiomkin, 1964): Film Score Monthly released this score as part of their “Golden Age Classics” series.  The CD opens with the song “A Heart Must Learn to Cry”, which is a fairly typical early 60s romantic ballad.  Tiomkin uses the melody from the song at various points throughout the rest of the score as well.  The score is generally melodic, with a strong emphasis on piano melodies.  The movie was a World War II dramatic thriller and the score does have some tense moments, although the majority of the score seems to put more emphasis on dramatic and romantic elements.

633 Squadron

633 Squadron (Ron Goodwin, 1964): This is another Film Score Monthly “Silver Age Classics” release.  I don’t know why they considered this one “Silver Age” while 36 Hours from the same year was “Golden Age”.  I’m guessing it had to do either with the era the composer is more associated with and/or with the fact that 633 Squadron is paired on a 2-disc set with Goodwin’s Submarine X-1 score from 1969.

The score is a very rousing, brassy war movie score with quite a few fanfares and soaring strings.  The sound quality is not the greatest, unfortunately.  This is certainly a reflection of the condition of the source tapes, but the music tends to have a fairly harsh sound to it.  The music is great and this recording is worth having, but it is a shame that higher quality elements weren’t available.  The majority of the album is a remastered stereo version of the original LP soundtrack program, but the disc ends with an 8 minute suite of additional material (in mono) taken from tapes provided by Goodwin.  There is also a fun suite of jazz source music.

7 Women

7 Women (Elmer Bernstein, 1966): This score for John Ford’s final film was released as a Film Score Monthly “Silver Age Classics” series entry paired on a single CD with Hugo Friedhofer’s score to Never So Few.  The film is set in China and Bernstein introduces a bit of an Asian flavor to the music.  The score has a lot of fairly quiet, sensitive passages, generally dominated by saxophone and flute.  There is also some fun action music that would sound very much at home in a western.

The 7th Dawn

The 7th Dawn (Riz Ortolani, 1964): This score was included as part of Film Score Monthly’s now out-of-print MGM Soundtrack Treasury, which was a boxed set of 12 CDs containing 20 different scores from the MGM library.  I’m not really familiar with Riz Ortolani outside of this score, but this score is very enjoyable and easy to listen to on CD.  The majority of the music is very lushly romantic and strongly melodic, largely built around a main theme that shares the film’s title.  Several tracks are different album arrangements of that theme, including one with vocals.  The film apparently has a war element to it and the score includes some energetic battle music as well.

84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road (George Fenton, 1987): Varese Sarabande released this score as part of their limited edition CD Club series.  Fenton provided a gentle, up-beat score, appropriate for a film that was a fairly small, character-oriented drama.  One particularly notable track is “Dear Speed”, a very sweet melody that is entirely performed on a solo piano.  The album does include a few tracks that were not composed by Fenton (although he did the arrangements), including the traditional “Sussex Carol” for a Christmas sequence, “Auld Lang Syne” for a New Year’s sequence and an excerpt from Correli’s “Church Sonata in A”.

9 to 5

9 to 5 (Charles Fox, 1980): The soundtrack to this hit comedy, which was released by Intrada Records as a limited edition last year, opens and closes with Dolly Parton’s extremely familiar and popular title song. The song isn’t incorporated into the score, although a few passages call it to mind without really directly quoting it. The score is by Charles Fox, who did quite a few comedy scores during the late 70s and early 80s as well as writing a number of popular TV themes, including those for Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and The Love Boat.

Fox’s score for this film is light and up-beat and occasionally even a bit silly.  The silliness is most notable in the track titled “Violet’s Fantasy”, which includes a lot of cartoonish-style music and even some wordless female vocals that sound like they are right out of an early Disney movie and ending with a chorus singing “Halleluiah”.    Bits of the score, particularly the track “Dora Lee’s Fantasy”, have a bit of a country feel, obviously connecting with Parton’s starring role.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (John Williams, 2001): I believe that this score is John Williams’ best of the 2000s and, in fact, I’m inclined to pick this score as the best of its decade.  The soundtrack runs a little over an hour and covers the most important parts of the score, although I definitely think this title should be a prime candidate for an expanded, complete release.  Some longer promo CDs (I’ve never managed to get a hold of one) were distributed for Academy Award consideration, but a longer commercial release would be extremely welcome.

The film is a very controversial one that generated pretty polarized responses (I was very much on the positive side), but the score was pretty universally acclaimed for its complexity and beauty.  The highlight of the score is a theme fully realized in the track “Where Dreams are Born”, which is one of Williams’ most distinctive and powerful melodies.  This theme represents the film’s central relationship, between the robotic boy David and the adoptive mother that abandons him.  The theme is first introduced in the impressive 10 minute long track “Stored Memories and Monica’s Theme”, which introduces it along side some gentle choral segments.

While the highly-melodic main theme is vital to the more dream-like last portion of the film, the earlier parts of the score tend to be darker in tone with less distinctive melodies.  Especially notable is some unusual instrumentation choices during “The Moon Rising”, including some electronics, strong percussion and wordless vocal chanting.  These definitely put some emphasis on the strangeness of the world depicted in the film’s second act.

The music adapts as the tone of the movie changes, ranging from very dark, percussive music during the mid-section of the film all the way to more traditional fantasy-style scoring, including female chorus, for later parts of the film.  Finally, the concluding scenes are scored with piano-focused versions of the main theme along with some gentle woodwind melodies.

Particularly during the early parts of the film, some of the score does bring to mind some of the musical choices Stanley Kubrick made for 2001: A Space Odyssey, particularly a few segments that somewhat resemble the Gayane Ballet.  Of course, A.I. was a planned collaboration between Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, who ended up writing and directing the film after Kubrick’s death.

The soundtrack also includes two versions of the song “For Always”, one performed by Lara Fabian alone and another that is a duet between Fabian and Josh Groban.  The song is not used in the film at all, but the melody is based on the theme featured in “Where Dreams are Born”.  The vocals lend it a fairly haunting quality that fits well with the overall tone of the score.  The solo version seemed a bit more effective to me, with the duet having a bit more of a pop style.  The duet was probably intended as a possible single from the film (perhaps originally intended for the end credits?), although I don’t think it was ever released as one.

The Abyss

The Abyss (Alan Silvestri, 1989): For James Cameron’s first underwater adventure film, Alan Silvestri composed my pick for the best score in any of Cameron’s films to date.  The film crossed several dramas, causing Silvestri to really exercise his flexibility as a composer.  The movie is part military/submarine thriller, part romance, and then concludes with a purely fantasy-driven finale that is more than a little bit inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Silvestri is very successful at providing the right music for each segment, while still making it all sound like part of the same score.

After a short, otherworldly choral “Main Title” cue, the military-thriller component of the score quickly comes into play with the highly percussion-focused “Search the Montana”.  Other strong action-oriented cues include “The Crane”, “The Fight”, and “Sub Battle”.  Silvestri’s tension-filled music for "Lindsay Drowns” added tremendously to the effectiveness of one of the film’s most intense sequences.  The film’s main theme then makes its first really fully-formed appearance in “Resurrection”, the follow-up to that scene.

One of the most interesting cues in the score is “The Pseudopod”, which underscores the film’s much talked about “water tentacle” sequence.  The cue starts off with pretty intense, almost horror movie style music.  Eventually it segues into the more fantasy-oriented music as the characters discover the nature of the visitor and start examining it more closely.  In the end, the music turns sinister as the military commander that served as the film’s antagonist comes into the scene.

The score goes into full fantasy mode with lots of brass and strings accompanied by soaring choral music for the last 3 cues of the CD: “Bud on the Ledge”, “Back On the Air” and “Finale”.  The nearly 7 minute final cue is particularly strong and exciting music and quickly became one of my favorites after I first got the CD back in 1989.  It is still a track that I like to re-play fairly often.

The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist (John Williams, 1989): While John Williams is best known for big, brassy scores for blockbuster action/adventure films, throughout his career he has also been periodically brought in to score much smaller, more dramatic films as well.  His compositions for these projects has typically been very sensitive and often quite beautiful music.

Williams’ score for Lawrence Kasdan’s late 80s drama is primarily built around variations of a distinctive primary melody.  This primary theme is introduced in the Main Title in a version that focuses primarily on piano, but later tracks do provide variations on other instruments, including full orchestra.  Williams does an interesting job of varying the pacing and instrumentation on the theme in order to reflect the changing moods of the main character.

While scores built predominantly around a single theme like this can sometimes feel very repetitive, that really isn’t the case with this one.  The theme is varied sufficiently at various points during the score and Williams does include additional material bridge and counterpoint the main melody as needed.  The relatively short 40 minute running time of the soundtrack also helps.

John Williams: A Hollywood Legend (Concert Review)

Hollywood Bowl – August 30, 2008

John Williams’ annual concert of film music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl has been an annual tradition for me as long as I have lived in Southern California.  I’ve been a huge fan of Williams’ music since I was a kid and I love these regular opportunities to hear his music live, particularly with Williams conducting it himself.

Even though I have continued to attend, and thoroughly enjoy, the concerts every year, my last review was of the 2005 concert.  The concerts are great fun, but the content is basically similar from year to year.  The concerts tend to be targeted more towards the fans of Williams’ mainstream blockbusters than at film score enthusiasts, which results in the selections usually being drawn from a somewhat limited subset of Williams’ exceptional repertoire of compositions.

Williams typically includes a section featuring additional material besides his own during his concerts, sometimes including guest performers.  My interest in those parts has varied from year to year.  Generally, I have most enjoyed those segments when they have been very focused on classic film music that clearly influenced or otherwise connected strongly with Williams.  The second half of this year’s concert featured a lengthy tribute to musicals directed by Stanley Donen, with each piece introduced (in person) by Donen himself.  This was easily my favorite "extra" yet from the Williams’ Hollywood Bowl concerts I have attended.

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