Soundtrack Collection: Diamond Head to Die Another Day

Diamond Head

Diamond Head (John Williams, 1963): Diamond Head was John Williams’ first feature film score to receive a soundtrack album release (some of his TV work was released earlier).  The LP was originally released on the Colpix Records label and is currently available on CD from Film Score Monthly, paired with Lalo Schifrin’s Gone With the Wave.  The Diamond Head album runs a little over half an hour and features a mix of Williams’ original score and various Williams-composed source cues.

In the 1960s, Williams most frequently scored comedies and most of his scores tended to have a light, pop/jazz style.  Diamond Head was a drama, though, and featuring a score that much more closely resembled Williams’ later highly thematic symphonic sound. Cues such as the “Main Title” cue as well as “Sloan Strolls” and “Sloan’s Dream” are very recognizably in line with Williams most recognizable style of music.

The inclusion of the source cues makes the album into something of a hybrid between Williams’ early and later approaches to scoring.  The source cues have more of a small ensemble, somewhat jazz-influenced sound to them with an emphasis on piano, horns, and underlying percussion.  The cue “Catamaran” is a particularly interesting hybrid, starting off with a lighter jazz piano melody before eventually seguing into a string-dominated orchestral conclusion.

The album opens with a title song written by Hugo Winterhalter and performed by James Darren, one of the film’s co-stars.  The song is a pretty typical pop song of that era, although with a bit of a Hawaiian tropical influence to fit the setting of the film.  Williams does occasionally incorporate Winterhalter’s melody into the score cues.

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry, 1972): Diamonds Are Forever was the 7th film (and the last to star Sean Connery) in Eon Productions’ James Bond series.  By this point, the musical style of the series was firmly established by John Barry, who had worked on all of the previous films and was the sole credited composer on all but the first.

As was often the case with the Bond scores, the central melody here comes from the title song, written by Barry with lyrics by Don Black and performed by Shirley Bassey over the opening title.  This was Bassey’s second Bond theme song after her famous performance of “Goldfinger”.  While she would only return to the series one more time (for “Moonraker”), her vocal style remains the one that is most associated with the Bond films.

The song itself is a textbook example of Barry’s James Bond sound, with his distinctive mix of strings, piano, and blasting horns.  The lyrics to the song are loaded with sexual innuendo, even a bit more so than usual for a James Bond theme.  The theme has a distinctive melody that Barry uses well throughout the rest of the score.  Of course, the classic James Bond theme is also incorporated into the score periodically, including an electric guitar rendition that played over the usual gun barrel opening and more orchestral versions in other parts of the score.

The score is very typical of Barry’s Bond scores, with a very melodic, but often boldly energetic approach.  As expected, it is dominated by lush strings and extremely active brass.  As is usual for Barry, there is a bit of an underlying jazz influence, particularly in the occasional saxophone riffs.  The score does have a few interesting variations, particularly the unusual female choral music featured in the cue “Slumber, Inc.”

The most complete and readily available soundtrack release is an expanded CD that was released by Capital/EMI records back in 2003.  This disc contains about 75 minutes of music from the film (including a number of alternate cues), definitely a dramatic expansion over the original 35 minute LP release.  The CD is rather oddly sequenced, though, with the music presented in a seemingly almost random order.  While the title song does at least open the CD, the gun barrel opening doesn’t appear until track 13!  Throughout the album, the music is way out of film sequence.

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Soundtrack Collection: Delta Force to The Devil’s Brigade

The Delta Force

The Delta Force (Alan Silvestri, 1986): Alan Silvestri’s score to the Chuck Norris action film Delta Force is one of the most prominent fully-electronic scores of Silvestri’s film career.  There are no orchestral elements in the score at all.  It is instead entirely performed on a Synclavier synthesizer, giving it a very energetic, modernistic sound.  Silvestri’s musical style is definitely evident in the score, but the electronics gives it a somewhat different flavor.

The “Main Title” cue starts off with some very rhythmic, fairly dissonant material before eventually transitioning into a melodic, anthem-style main theme.  This theme melody is worked into other parts of the score and Silvestri also provides some other effective melodic elements, such as the music heard in the cue “First Class”.  Rhythmic action music is definitely the dominant feature of this score, though, and the album is pretty much packed with high-energy action cues.  The  main theme is often well woven into the action cues, as in the excellent cue “Rescue”.  The theme does a good job of providing a solid anchor for the score.  In several cues, Silvestri also programs the synthesizer to present a melody in a style that resembles a bell choir, providing an occasional bit of gentility during an otherwise intense score.

Intrada’s 2008 limited edition CD release is somewhat notorious among film score fans for the fact that all 1,000 copies had sold out within about 15 hours after the announcement.  This title is often cited as a case study for the growth of the soundtrack fan community and the demand for titles by major composers (particularly titles from the 80s and 90s), even when the movie and/or score isn’t thought to be particularly popular.  Used copies of this CD now regularly sell for well over $100, a price probably defined more by its reputation for rarity than by the quality of the score itself.  

The Intrada CD contains the complete score and runs for about an 1 hour and 15 minutes.  A 38 minute LP of excerpts from the score was released at the time of the film’s release.  A previous CD release on the Milan label paired about 32 minutes of the score (it was missing one cue from the LP release) along with excerpts from Jerry Goldsmith’s score to “King Solomon’s Mines”.  The Milan CD is generally easier to find at more reasonable prices, although the Intrada release is definitely a preferable presentation of the score.

Demetrius and the Gladiators

Demetrius and the Gladiators (Franz Waxman, 1954): This biblical epic was the sequel to The Robe, the hit film that had famously introduced the CinemaScope widescreen format to theaters a year earlier.  While The Robe featured a score by Fox’s music director Alfred Newman, the sequel was scored by Franz Waxman.  While Waxman does occasionally re-use some of Newman’s key themes from the previous film, the majority of the sequel score consists of original compositions.

The score is pretty much what you expect from biblical epics during that era, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.  The score is a large-scale orchestral work with lots of strings and brass as well as some dramatic choral elements.  The central theme is an exciting march that is loosely derived from Newman’s music for the earlier film, but with orchestrations and surrounding material that is original to the new film. 

Waxman’s most substantial original themes include a lush and seductively charged theme for the character of Messalina and a darkly menacing villain’s march for Caligula.  Messalina’s theme is first heard in a short presentation in the cue “Messalina” and is developed further during several later cues, some of which contain the character’s name.  The villain’s march is prominently featured in the cue “Caligula Enters”.

The soundtrack CD was released by Film Score Monthly as part of their Golden Age Classics series.  It is a limited edition of 3000 copies, but still readily available.  The score is presented in stereo with generally decent sound quality, considering the age of the recording.  A handful of damaged cues are presented as bonus tracks at the end of the CD.  Other bonus tracks include some original temp tracks that were provided by Newman and some brief alternates.

The album ends with a 5 minute cue from Film Score Monthly’s previous release of Newman’s The Egyptian, repeated on this release in order to correct a mixing error that was present on the previous release.

Demon Seed

Demon Seed (Jerry Fielding, 1977): Jerry Fielding’s score to Demon Seed was released on CD by Film Score Monthly in a Silver Age Classics limited edition that was paired with Fred Myrow’s score to Soylent Green.  The result was a CD release that definitely tends towards the strange.

Fielding’s score definitely falls into the weird category.  The score is dark and atonal, pretty frequently straddling, or even crossing, the line between music and sound effects.  Much of score is performed on synthesizers, although even the orchestral elements are rarely melodic. Only very rarely are bits of melody introduced, including in the final segment of the album’s first cue as well as much of the surprisingly brassy “End Credits” cue.  The overall effect of the score is definitely creepy and fairly unsettling.

Some of the motifs are presented on the CD both in electronic and symphonic versions, with the liner notes explaining that some of these electronic bits were unused in the film in favor of the symphonic versions.

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Soundtrack Collection: Day of the Locust to De-Lovely

Day of the Locust

Day of the Locust (John Barry, 1974): The soundtrack to this early 70s John Schlesinger drama contains a mix of of John Barry’s light and breezy scoring and a variety of old standards, which are meant to establish a stronger connection to the film’s 1930s period setting. Barry’s score represents around 20 minutes of the just over half hour running time of the soundtrack album, which is available on a 2,000 copy limited edition CD from Intrada.  The CD is a direct transfer of the contents of the original LP release from the time of the film’s release.

The score is primarily centered around a warm and gentle main theme, which is a very recognizable example of Barry’s usual lush approach to dramatic scoring.  The score contains a wide variety of variations on the theme with a number of different orchestrations, resulting in a number of cues that are given a parenthetical subtitle of “Theme from Day of the Locust”.  The theme is generally presented in a fairly straight-forward orchestral performance, heavily dominated by strings and woodwinds.  The cue “Fire and Passion” includes an interesting arrangement that primarily features acoustic guitar.

Barry does provide some period flavor in some of the cues, such as the big-band style swing music that opens the cue “A Picture of Love” as well as the bouncy tune provided in the aptly titled “Soft Shoe Salesman”.  The cue “The Flying Carpet” has a fun, almost circus-atmosphere to it, even including a whimsical use of slide whistle at time.  These types of cues give the score an appealingly playful quality.

The songs included are all very recognizable standards of the era.  These include Louis Armstrong’s performance of “Jeepers Creepers”, “Isn’t It Romantic” by Michael Dees, “I Wished On the Moon” by Nick Lucas, “Hot Voodoo” by Paul Zabara, and “Sing You Sinners” by Pamela Myers.  The songs are interspersed throughout the album and the sequence seems well selected.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann, 1951): Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still is definitely a milestone in movie science fiction.  In a time when the genre was dominated by cheesy monster movies, this was a serious, dramatic story with a powerful and resonant message.  Bernard Herrmann’s score is also a milestone, establishing a style that is now immediately evocative of alien invasion storylines.

The score’s distinct and signature element is its frequent use of the Theremin, an instrument with a distinctly other-worldly sound.  Herrmann uses it frequently throughout the score.  The score’s familiar main theme has an especially eerie quality, with throbbing strings and low brass played under a primary Theremin melody.  It clearly establishes a tone over the “Prelude” cue and then is used very effectively at key moments during the rest of the score.  Most of the score tends to build a tense, atmospheric mood with a certain hint of dread.  Bits of effective and propulsive action music do come at key moments, though, such as during the cue “Escape”.

In addition to the other-worldly, Theremin focused music, Herrmann also includes some effectively melancholy and melodically regal music for the cues “Arlington” and “Lincoln Memorial”.  These cues have a strong dramatic weight and are very effective at grounding the score during the key moments that need it.

The soundtrack CD was released on CD under a short lived Twentieth Century Fox Classics series (distributed by Arista), which is now out of print but still easy to find.  This CD contains about 35 minutes of music, which covers pretty much the whole score as heard in the film.  Much more difficult to find (I don’t have it) is a special CD that was only available packaged with the Laserdisc release of the film.  That CD contains about 18 minutes of outtakes, rehearsals, and alternate mixes.

Varese Sarabande released a re-recording of the score under conductor Joel McNeely, which is still readily available and apparently contains pretty much the same program as the soundtrack album.  I don’t have that release, but based on the quality of McNeely’s other re-recordings I would imagine it is a competent performance and likely has a better sound quality than the original soundtrack cues.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Tyler Bates, 2008): For the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Tyler Bates had the unenviable job of following in the footsteps of Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score for the 1951 original.  While I doubt it was a conscious decision, it seems like Bates’ main way of distinguishing his effort from Herrmann’s was to make it as conventional as the original score was unconventional.  There isn’t anything substantially wrong with Bates’ score, but it just isn’t all that memorable or distinctive.

Bates approach to the score is fairly action-oriented, mix of orchestral and synthesizer music.  The score tends to be pretty heavy on brass and percussion and not especially thematic.  The synthesizer music tends to also become more dominant as the score progresses.  For the most part, Bates sticks more to modern action and tension scoring and avoids the type of moody, otherworldly qualities of Herrmann’s score, although with a few exceptions, particularly the cue “Surgery”.  Some cues have more of an electronic rock sound to them as well, such as the later part of the cue “You Should Let Me Go”.

Herrmann’s themes were not used at all in the remake’s score.  In the one likely homage to the original, there are bits of a Theremin used occasionally, although it is pushed far enough in the background that it isn’t particularly noticeable.  In fact, I wasn’t even entirely sure if a real Theremin is used or if its sound was just approximated via synthesizer.

For the most part, the score is listenable and holds up generally well for the 50 minute running time of the soundtrack CD.  If it hadn’t been written for a remake to a film with such an iconic score, it would probably have been an easier score to simply dismiss as an okay sci-fi/action effort.  Knowing what Bernard Herrmann did with the same material, though, it is easier for Bates’ effort to seem like a missed opportunity.

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Soundtrack Collection: Cutthroat Island to David & Bathsheba

Cutthroat Island

Cutthroat Island (John Debney, 1995): Cutthroat Island is one of those movies that is best known as a legendary flop.  In this case, it is particularly notable as the film that killed off Carolco (the previously successful production company behind films like Basic Instinct and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and the one that led to a conventional wisdom that movies about pirates were box-office poison, at least until Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Johnny Depp changed everyone’s mind a decade later.  I actually think it is a film that is better than its reputation, but it still is pretty severely flawed and it isn’t too difficult to see why it didn’t succeed.

Had the film been a hit (or at least less of a bomb), I think there is a good chance it would have propelled composer John Debney solidly onto the film composer A-list years before his acclaimed score to The Passion of the Christ finally did.  Debney provided an old-fashioned, fully orchestral swashbuckler score that was largely in the Korngold tradition.  His score supported the film wonderfully, giving it a sense of adventure and fun that the screenplay and performances didn’t always live up to. 

The score is very brass heavy, much of it built around an exciting main theme that served as a primary theme for Geena Davis’ lead character.  The theme is quickly introduced in the opening cue “Main Title/Morgan’s Ride”, initially as a brassy, orchestral opening march.  This version of the theme is so big and bold that it seemed unlikely that it could get any bigger right up until the point where Debney adds in the choir during the second part of the cue.  The result is wildly over the top, but in a very good way.

This is not a score that is very into subtlety and the quieter moments are somewhat infrequent.  When they do come, Debney pretty deftly changes the orchestration on the main themes, keeping a tonal consistency to the score.  In particular, the primary romantic theme (first introduced in the second cue, “The Rescue/Morgan Saves Henry”) is really just the primary theme with its tempo slowed down and transitioned primarily to strings instead of brass.  The score also includes some occasional, lower tone suspense music, such as what is heard during parts of the cue “Anclee Plots/To Spittlefield”.  These are effective, but the brassy adventure music is never far behind during these segments.

The soundtrack CD released with the film contains a generous 1 hour and 10 minutes of music and covers the key parts of the score.  The CD was released by Silva Screen Records in the UK and Nu.Millennium in the US.  At least in the US, the film’s box-office failure resulted in the soundtrack not being very widely distributed to stores and I recall that this was one of the first CDs that I ended up purchasing online from a soundtrack specialty store.  Despite this, the CD isn’t especially rare and can pretty easily be obtained at very reasonable prices even now.  In fact, Silva Screen UK still lists it in their active catalog. The Amazon link at the top of this review is to that edition.

Cutthroat Island (Expanded)

While the original soundtrack contains a good, generous representation of the music, the film was pretty much continuously scored, meaning that a lot of music was missing.  In 2004, Prometheus Records released a 2-CD expanded edition of the soundtrack that runs an amazing nearly 2 1/2 hours in length and contains essentially all the music from the film as well as bonus tracks including a synth demo of the main title and a few tracks with the choral portion removed.  This may be a bit much for casual listeners, but is definitely the best choice for major fans of the score.  This release is still possible to obtain, but is rarer and typically quite a bit more expensive than the single disc version.

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (Hans Zimmer, 2006): For Ron Howard’s blockbuster adaptation of Dan Brown’s hugely popular novel, Hans Zimmer provided an intense score that provided an interesting mix of his own typical thriller scoring and some traditionally classical religious sounding themes.  The result was one of Zimmer’s most effective and melodically diverse scores of recent years.

The film was pretty firmly steeped in classical traditions and, thus, the score is much more fully orchestral than most of Zimmer’s recent efforts.  Electronics aren’t completely absent, but are used very infrequently, usually to unobtrusively add a bit to the tension.  This gives the score a somewhat different and refreshing quality compared to the somewhat repetitive nature of some of Zimmer’s recent thriller scores.

The majority of the score is very string-focused with frequent choral elements, with male choir often underscoring the more intense moments while female choir is used for the more spiritual.   Solo vocals also come into play occasionally, as with the haunting female vocal used in the cue “Rose of Arimathea”.  Many of the cues have a definite resemblance to classical religious hymns, but with Zimmer occasionally strengthening the intensity of the strings or adding bits of brass to build tension.  Particularly good examples of this include the final portions of the cue “The Paschal Spiral” and “Fructus Gravis”.

The most familiar theme in the score is also its most modern sounding, a propulsive, drivingly rhythmic theme that is first introduced during the opening cue, “Dies Mercurii I Martius” and closes the score as well.  This theme serves as kind of a primary theme for the story’s puzzles and is used most often during the sequences with that focus, although it actually appears very infrequently on the soundtrack album.  This is also the primary theme that survived in the somewhat more typically Zimmer-style score for the sequel, “Angels & Demons”.

The album ends with a choral hymn entitled “Kyrie for the Magdalene” by Richard Harvey.  Although not written by Zimmer, it fits in fairly well stylistically with the rest of the music.

Damien: Omen II

Damien: Omen II (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978): Jerry Goldsmith’s one and only Academy Award was for The Omen, a particularly impressive accomplishment when you consider the Academy’s usual lack of attention to horror movies.  After that major creative success, it isn’t too surprising that Goldsmith returned to the material for the 1978 sequel (and later for the third film), providing a leaner and more action-packed score that is related to the original more in stylistic approach than in the specific musical content.

The score to the original Omen was particularly characterized by its choral pieces that brought to mind the dark, demonic flip side to a religious hymn.  The sequel score extensively uses this same approach and, in fact, the dark choir is present almost continuously during the score, with only occasional brief respites.  The orchestral accompaniment is dominated by strings, percussion, with occasional bursts of harsh brass.  Organ and electronics are also used to effectively add to the unease on occasion.  The famous “Ave Satani” from the first film is only occasionally re-visited, although much of the new music resembles it in style.

Goldsmith completely eliminated any use of the melodic “Piper’s Dream” love theme from the first film, which also removes the earlier score’s primary source of release from the dark tension.  The score does have a few quieter moments, but Goldsmith manages to weave a certain underlying tension even to those pieces and typically they end with bursts of dark mayhem.  In particular, the cue “Thoughtful Night” features some of the score’s most melodic and emotional music, but ends with an abrupt return of the demonic choral music.

The original soundtrack album released with the film actually contained a re-recording of the score instead of the actual film tracks.  That album was released on LP at the time of the movie’s release and was later released on CD by Silva Screen Records.  In 2001, Varese Sarabande released a deluxe edition that contains both the original album and the film tracks on a single CD. 

The film apparently only contained a little over 35 minutes of original music and the original film tracks only run a couple minutes longer than the album presentation.  The main differences in the two versions are in some of the orchestrations, the presentation order, and some performance details.  In particular, the organ tends to be more intense and dominant in the film tracks than in the re-recording.  The differences are mostly fairly subtle, but it is good that both sets of performances are now available.  One major oddity on the film tracks is the cue “Snowmobiles”, which is a melodic, upbeat orchestral piece that seems totally disconnected from the rest of the score.  It comes as a definite surprise on the album.

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Soundtrack Collection: Con Air to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Con Air

Con Air (Mark Mancina & Trevor Rabin, 1997): Teaming up Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin, two of the major composers to come out of Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures film score company during the late 1990s, Con Air features a pretty hard-driving, largely electronic score that echoes the film’s intense, adrenaline-fueled action.

At the very beginning of the soundtrack, the score’s intensity is established with the opening “Con Air Theme”.  The cue starts with some very rough, metallic sounding sounds that are closer to sound effects than to music.  This transitions into the score’s primary theme, which is melodic but very much in a rhythmic, rock-instrumental mold.  The main theme somewhat resembles Mancina’s well-known Speed theme, which suggests that he probably was the primary driver on it.  Most of the rest of the cues continue in this rock-based style and the Hans Zimmer influence is pretty evident in this score as well.

The second cue, entitled “Trisha”, introduces a softer, very melodic theme for Nicolas Cage’s character’s wife, the only really significant female character in the film.  This theme is the primary deviation away from the hard driving nature of the rest of the score.  At least on the soundtrack album, the theme only appears very rarely after this initial presentation of it.

Oddly, the final cue on the soundtrack album is entitled “Overture”, suggesting that the album producer doesn’t know the meaning of that word.

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian (Basil Poledouris, 1982): Although he had been around for quite a while, and even scored some high profile projects, this extremely popular score did quite a bit to elevate Basil Poledouris into the upper tier of composers and established him as a solid choice for scoring high energy action films.

The best known theme from the score is the highly percussive “Anvil of Crom”, which is the opening cue of the soundtrack album (preceded by a brief spoken prologue).  It features a very rhythmic drumbeat which is overlaid with a brassy march-type melody.  It is a recognizable theme that had a pretty obvious influence on a number of future action score themes, particularly Brad Fiedel’s The Terminator and Jerry Goldsmith’s Total Recall.

The whole score is mix of some very active and dynamic action music, dominated by brass and percussion as well as some pretty impressive choral elements.  The entire score maintains a very strong melodic quality, with strings generally brought in to enhance the more emotional portions of the score.  Poledouris establishes some pretty strong thematic material here with some very distinctive melodies.

The original LP release of the soundtrack from the time of the movie’s release ran around 49 minutes and was later re-issued on CD by Milan Records.  That CD edition is still pretty easy to come by and is also available as a download or as an in-demand CD-R release from Amazon.  Varese Sarabande also released an expanded CD edition back in 1992 that ran over an hour in length.  That edition is out of print and relatively difficult to find at reasonable prices.  I only have the shorter Milan release.

Congo

Congo (Jerry Goldsmith, 1995): This adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel was seriously panned by critics (although it did reasonably well at the box-office), although I think it actually is a film that is a lot better than its reputation.  Possibly its strongest component was the exciting, ethnically-appropriate score by Jerry Goldsmith.

The score closely reflects the setting of the film, with the use of a lot of African-style percussion and rhythms.  These are integrated carefully with Goldsmith’s typical style of fast paced and melodic action music.  The primary theme is based around the song “Spirit of Africa”.  Popular African vocalist Lebo M, best known for his arrangements and performances for The Lion King, provided mixed African and English-language lyrics and performed vocal versions of the song that open and close the album.  It is a very cool song, particularly if you  and the melody is used frequently throughout the score.

The soundtrack CD contains only a little over 33 minutes of the score and, thus, an expanded release would be very welcome.  Now that Paramount has recently started working with specialty soundtrack labels, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if an expansion of this score shows up at some point in the future.

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Soundtrack Collection: Cohen & Tate to The Commitments

Cohen & Tate

Cohen & Tate (Bill Conti, 1988): Intrada very recently released a CD containing the first ever album release of Bill Conti’s score to this late 80s Roy Scheider thriller.  It is a surprisingly dark and aggressive score for Conti and isn’t immediately recognizable as his work.  It is an effective score and an interesting look at a different side to a popular composer.

The score is dominated by some very aggressively low piano music, which generally serves as the primary theme for the score.  Harsh strings and some very deep brass, particularly French horn, additionally build upon the foreboding atmosphere that is established by the primary piano music.  Much of the score is fairly dissonant and non-melodic, instead going for more of a rhythmic approach.  There are some exceptions where Conti does introduce more melodic elements, such as a fairly cold, but definitely melodic theme that is particularly clearly established in the cue “Tail Lights”.

The later part of the score includes some pretty intense action music, with percussion joining the deep piano and strings to create some aggressively fast-paced, very rhythmic music.  The short cue “It’s Really Them” is one of the first really strong examples of this aspect to the score and this approach is further developed impressively in the cue “Kaboom”.  In the end, all of the different elements of the score come together in the fairly impressive “The Last Battle” cue.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple (Quincy Jones, 1985): To date, The Color Purple remains the only full-length theatrical movie directed by Steven Spielberg that did not contain a score by John Williams.  Before Spielberg joined the project, Quincy Jones was already attached as a producer and wished to score the film as well.  Jones, working with a fairly large team of co-composers and orchestrators, delivered a score that fit the film exceptionally well and also plays quite well on CD.

The primary theme to the score is a beautiful melody that seems to be inspired by Georges Delerue.  In fact, the theme is perhaps a bit uncomfortably close to Delerue’s main theme from the 1967 film Our Mother’s House.  Despite this similarity, it is still an exceptionally nice theme that works extremely well in the film and the score.  The theme is initially introduced as primarily a flute melody, but is developed into more fully orchestral versions.  Much of the score has a pretty distinctively rural quality to it, particularly emphasized by the occasional use of harmonica.

The score also occasionally introduces some other ethnic elements, most significantly some African rhythms, starting with the cue “High Life/Proud Theme”.  Jones and his team are particularly effective at blending some of the score’s melodic themes with these African rhythms in order to retain a cohesiveness to the score.  This ethnicity is most impressively featured in the very powerful cue “Celie Shaves Mr./Scarifiaction Ceremony” which underscores one of the film’s most intense sequences. 

Songs play a key role in the film as well due to one of the key characters, dubbed by singer Tata Vega, being a singer in a 1930s juke joint.   The most important of these is the very distinctive, jazzy song “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” which actually opens the soundtrack album (as the first part of the “Overture” cue) and then is given a complete performance later.  Vega also performs the songs “Careless Love”, “The Dirty Dozens” and leads a choir in the lively gospel song “Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something”. 

Back in 1985, a 2-LP soundtrack album was released that was pressed on rather striking purple vinyl.  The same program was eventually released on a 2-CD set that still remains in print and readily available.

Coma

Coma (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978): Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Michael Crichton’s 1978 medical thriller Coma was generally one of the composer’s more dark and challenging scores of that era of his career.    The score somewhat straddles the line between the more atonal approach that Goldsmith sometimes took during the 1970s and the more melodic approach that dominated his later scores.

A distinguishing element of this score was that Goldsmith composed it using a limited orchestra, principally featuring piano, strings, and percussion as well as some occasional electronics.  Brass is entirely absent from the score.  The result is a score that has a sort of compressed, vaguely oppressive tone, reflecting the overall mood of the film itself.

While much of the score is fairly non-melodic and atonal, Goldsmith does provide a melodic, somewhat pop-inspired love theme that is only used very sparingly.  The theme is given a full performance in the cue “Cape Cod Weekend (Love Theme from Coma), but is rarely re-visited within the main parts of the score.  The expanded soundtrack ends with a song entitled “Sunday’s Moon” which adds lyrics by Goldsmith’s wife Caroline to the theme.

A 35-minute soundtrack album was released on LP at the time of the movie’s release and has been re-issued twice on CD, once by the now-defunct Bay Cities label and also by the Chapter III label, which paired it with Goldsmith’s score to Logan’s Run.  Most recently, Film Score Monthly released an expanded, 51 minute (including bonus tracks) program of the score as part of a 2-disc set that also included scores from two other Michael Crichton movies, Westworld and The Carey Treatment.  That release is still available.

All of the soundtrack releases have included an additional disco instrumental entitled “Disco Strut”, written by Don Peake.  This cue is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a cue by that title and is definitely a product of its era.  The soundtracks also include a disco version of Goldsmith’s love theme, which benefits from the strong source melody, but still is rather dated.

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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

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.

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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: China Syndrome to A Christmas Carol

The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome (Michael Small, 1979): Here is a definite oddity in my collection: a score album from a movie that had no musical score.  While it certainly isn’t the only album I have of a rejected score, this one is, I believe, unique since the filmmakers decided to replace the score with nothing at all.  They didn’t even go with a song or classical temp score or anything like that.  Instead, they decided that the film’s tension would be stronger and more effective without music.

A 30-minute program of Michael Small’s unused score plus about 7 minutes of original source music by Small was released by Intrada in a 2009 limited edition CD of 1000 copies.  The album is entirely in mono as stereo masters of the music could not be found.  The CD has sold out and copies on the secondary market generally sell in the $35 range.

Small’s score is primarily performed with synthesizers and a small orchestra.  It is a pretty dark, minimalistic score that was clearly designed to ratchet up tension and suspense.  The electronic sound of the synthesizers is frequently supplemented by low violins and occasional horns to generate a fairly grim style for much of the score.  One major exception is “Meltdown!”, which is a very fast paced and exciting action cue.  In this cue, the violins tend to move much more into the foreground while the synthesizer elements are played at a very rapid, pulse-quickening tempo.  Melody is largely absent from the score until the sensitive opening to “The Truth and Finale” closing cue, which then segues into a more pop-inspired conclusion.

Two cues entitled “News at 6:00” and “News at 11:00” are included in the main score section of the album and have a fairly pop-centric, newsroom sound complete with xylophones and timpani.  These cues are nicely done and help to break the tension a bit.  The album also ends with two suites of source cues, which mostly further build on the newsroom element of the story, including various news themes, bumpers, etc.  It also includes some extended, disco-style party music.

It is kind of hard to judge whether the decision to drop the score entirely was the right on without hearing the music in context, but the film works so well as released that it is a hard decision to criticize.  The overall mood that Small’s score creates even on the album makes it seem pretty likely that using this score wouldn’t have reduced the tension much.

Chinatown

Chinatown (Jerry Goldsmith, 1974): Chinatown was pretty high on the list of the most acclaimed films that Jerry Goldsmith ever scored.  The score is a perfect fit to the film and a major contributor to its success.  This is made all the more amazing by the fact that Goldsmith was brought in as a last minute replacement composer and, reportedly, only had 10 days to compose it.

The score is a very moody score composed for a relatively small ensemble, dominated by a solo trumpet.  Strings, piano and harp provide additional accompaniment while the score is notable in the absence of woodwinds.  The effect is a score that builds a very intimate, darkly romantic mood.  Central to the score is a melodic, romantic main theme which is introduced during the opening cue, entitled “Love Theme from Chinatown (Main Title) and then woven throughout the score.  The main melodic line for that theme is featured on the solo trumpet giving it a smoky, jazzy feeling that ultimately came to largely define the overall mood of the film.

The available soundtrack album only runs about 30 minutes in length and that includes three cues of period source music.  The soundtrack was originally released on LP at the time of the movie’s release and was re-issued on CD by Varese Sarabande.  Unfortunately, the CD is now long out of print and used copies tend to go for very high prices (approaching $100).  This is a score that desperately needs a re-issue.

CHiPs

CHiPs (Alan Silvestri, 1978): I’m a big fan of Alan Silvestri.  I have many of his scores in my collection and a lot of them get played frequently.  Before he broke through as a big-name film composer in the mid-80s, he spent quite a few years working in series television.  Probably his most prominent job was serving as the primary composer for the popular motorcycle police series CHiPs starting in its second season.

So far, Film Score Monthly has released three CDs of Silvestri’s music for the series, one for each of the second, third, and fourth season.  While I find the music to the series to be an interesting peek into the early phase of a favorite composer’s career, I also admit that one disc was enough and I haven’t purchased the season 3 or season 4 discs.  Note that the season 2 CD has a running time of an hour and 17 minutes and that seems pretty long for this material.

Upon hearing the music from the series without identification, fans of Silvestri’s famous symphonic scores would not likely pick it out as his work.  The scores are all disco instrumentals, performed by a small orchestra and continuously featuring the traditional underlying disco beat.  The score is consistently upbeat and does include a fair amount of melodic themes and those melodies do, every once in a while, contain a bit of Silvestri’s recognizable style.

The season 2 CD also includes one 6 minute suite, entitled “Trick or Treat” (from a Halloween episode) that was composed by Bruce Broughton.  This cue is stylistic consistent with the Silvestri cues and it isn’t especially obvious that it was by another composer, much less another composer with a very distinguished career ahead. 

The CD opens and closes with Silvestri’s arrangements of John Parker’s series theme as played over the main and end titles. 

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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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