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: Caboblanco to Cars

Caboblanco

Caboblanco (Jerry Goldsmith, 1980): This film was essentially a low-budget remake of Casablanca set in Peru and starring Charles Bronson in the Bogart role, so it isn’t too surprising that this isn’t a particularly well remembered movie.  This was the first collaboration between Jerry Goldsmith and director J. Lee Thompson (their best known project together was King Solomon’s Mines) and the composer delivered a pleasant, if unspectacular, Spanish-styled score for the film.

The soundtrack CD opens with a fun “Main Title” cue that establishes a primary theme for the film that is characterized by Latin rhythms and instruments, including acoustic guitar, tambourines,  castanets,  and a solo trumpet.  The theme is typically distinctive for Goldsmith, but isn’t developed very much during the remainder of the soundtrack.  Outside of the titles, Goldsmith’s main theme and Latin-influenced styling is on best display in the cue “Beckdorf’s House” and in a very nicely melodic arrangement in the opening portion of the cue “The Drowning”.

The primary romantic theme in the score isn’t actually composed by Goldsmith at all.  Instead, Goldsmith adapted the classic Nat King Cole song “The Very Thought of You”, which was written by Ray Noble.  The soundtrack includes a few different instrumental arrangements of the song’s melody.  Goldsmith also composed another period-appropriate song entitled “Heaven Knows”, which is sung by his wife Carol on the soundtrack.

A soundtrack CD for the film was originally issued in 1993 by Belgium film music label Prometheus Records.  That same label reissued the same program in a limited edition release in 2005.  Both editions are relatively easy to find at reasonable prices.

Cain's Hundred

Cain’s Hundred (Jerry Goldsmith, Morton Stevens, 1961): This early 60s TV series was one of the earliest scoring projects for Jerry Goldsmith (he was actually billed as “Jerrald” instead of “Jerry”).  Film Score Monthly released a CD containing the scores to the four episodes of the series that were scored by Goldsmith as well as one episode scored by Morton Stevens. 

The disc opens with Goldsmith’s end title cue, which is a full arrangement of his main theme and also includes a couple bumpers and alternate arrangements of the theme.  Goldsmith also pretty regularly incorporates the theme into his scores and even Morton uses it occasionally.  The theme has kind of a swing-style to it, while still being reasonably dark in tone.  It is a style that Goldsmith would return to pretty regularly for his TV series themes.

The music is very atmospheric and suspense oriented and is generally a precursor to the style that Goldsmith would use for a number of crime dramas (particularly for TV) over the course of his career.  Strings and percussion dominate as well as some occasional piano and some punctuating bursts of brass.  The scores seem to be played by pretty much a full orchestra, which is somewhat surprising for a TV series.  As is typical for TV scores, the cues tend to be short, although the soundtrack CD is organized to sometimes combine multiple short cues into longer ones.

The Morton Stevens score does follow the basic musical style that Goldsmith had established for the series, but is also recognizably the music of a different composer.  In particular, Stevens’ approach included a bit more use of solo instruments, particularly piano and violin.

Cannon for Cordoba

Cannon for Cordoba (Elmer Bernstein, 1970): Varese Sarbande released this Bernstein western/war movie score as part of their CD Club series on a 2-CD set that paired it with Bernstein’s score to From Noon to Three.  While a limited edition of 3000 copies, this set is still available from their website.

The CD opens with an absolutely tremendous “Main Title” cue.  The cue starts with some exciting percussion music before transitioning into a wonderfully brassy march.  While the little-known film that it came from has kept this theme from becoming very familiar, I think it is in the same league as Bernstein’s famous themes to The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape

The film is set during the early 20th century border skirmishes between Mexico and Texas and major parts of the score has a definite Mexican flavor to it, although mixed with some of Bernstein’s usual military-style action cues.  The main theme is brought in periodically throughout the score, although Bernstein does use it somewhat sparingly.  Acoustic guitar and trumpet are featured pretty prominently during much of the score.  There is a particularly nice secondary theme that plays regularly in the score, usually on the acoustic guitar.

The score includes some Bernstein-composed source music, such as the cue “One Man Band” that is a fun tune played primarily on the acoustic guitar and harmonica, while the later “One Man Band II” and “One Man Band III” are other Mexican-style cues that bring in a larger range of instruments, particularly violin and trumpet.  The last 25 minutes of the hour and 10 minute disc is all source music, mostly Bernstein’s arrangements of traditional street mariachi music, which is highly entertaining.  The last couple tracks also include a belly dance and a fairly traditional, patriotic-sounding march.

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Soundtrack Collection: Braveheart to By Love Possessed

Braveheart

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

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

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

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

Breakheart Pass

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

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

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

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

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

The Bridge at Remagen

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

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

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

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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: Big to The Black Hole

 Big

Big (Howard Shore, 1988): Despite the fact that the film was an enormous blockbuster that essentially led Tom Hanks’ transformation from light comedy actor to major movie star, no soundtrack album was released at the time that the film came out.  There wasn’t even a pop-song album with songs inspired from the film.  Howard Shore’s score to the film remained unavailable until 2002 when Varese Sarabande finally issued a limited edition CD (which is still available) as part of their CD Club series.

Those familiar with Howard Shore’s music mainly from his popular scores to the Lord of the Rings trilogy or for thrillers like Silence of the Lambs and Seven probably wouldn’t be too quick to recognize this score as coming from the same composer.  The Big score is light and pop-infused, with a bit of a new-age jazz styling to it.  In fact, hearing this score without knowing the composer, I would probably be more apt to guess it was by someone like Dave Grusin or Michael Gore. 

That isn’t to say that the score isn’t good.  In fact, it is very charming and fits the film perfectly.  The score is generally not fully orchestral, instead featuring piano as the predominant instrument, with synthesizers providing most of the backing for it.  The score is primarily built around a fairly simple piano melody that serves as a primary theme for Hanks’ character.  Shore creatively expands on the theme over the course of the film, with it essentially growing larger in scale, and becoming more fully orchestral, as the character becomes more a part of the adult world.  Particularly notable is the addition of strings to the theme during the cue “Falling In Love”, essentially growing it into more of a romantic theme.

The score does also include some fantasy elements, mainly for the scenes involving the carnival and the story’s central fortune telling machine.  The cue “Zoltar” is the primary example of this, with the music taking on a somewhat darker, almost creepy, tone.  The CD also includes alternate takes of several cues as bonus tracks.  These are all a bit darker in style and, interestingly, mostly more fully orchestral.  Shore likely chose to rework portions of the score to lighten the tone a bit, partly by scaling the score down a bit.

The CD does include a couple source cues, most notably the toy piano version of “Heart and Soul” that accompanied the film’s most famous sequence.  Shore also incorporates the melody of that famous song into the film’s end titles suite.  The album also includes an adaptation of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”.

Big Fish

Big Fish (Danny Elfman, 2003): While the film was definitely extremely quirky and off-beat, Big Fish is probably the least flamboyantly weird of Tim Burton’s films to date.  The film’s story of an adult son recalling the tall tales that had been shared by his dying father is very character-driven drama, but in a format that still allows Burton to allow his very skewed view of the world to shine through.  The variety of settings and circumstances of the recounted tales gave Danny Elfman a particularly rich set of opportunities and he delivers one of his more varied and complex scores.

The soundtrack album is actually a mixed song and score album, although Elfman’s portion runs about 40 minutes, which is roughly 2/3 of the album.  The songs are the first seven cues on the album, opening with “Man of the Hour”, a Pearl Jam song specifically written and recorded for the film.  The rest of the songs are period classics from Bing Crosby, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Vogues, The Allman Brothers, and Canned Heat.  It is a nice collection of songs, although, other than the Pearl Jam song, they are so common that it is pretty likely most people already have one or two in their collection elsewhere.

Those expecting the gothic styling or predominant choruses that are common in Elfman’s Tim Burton scores are apt to be pretty surprised by this one.  This is a much more intimately orchestral score, dominated by piano and strings.  A gentle and effective main theme is established in the title cue.  The theme is tender and melodic, bringing to mind the side of Elfman that was first noted in his score for Sommersby, but which doesn’t come out in too many of his scores.  His “Sandra’s Theme” is a romantic, major key theme that had an interestingly more downbeat ending to it.  Another highlight is “The Growing Montage”, which starts off quiet but builds into a brassy fanfare complete with a little bit of Elfman’s trademark choral writing.

The score does showcase a few different styles in order to accommodate the changing settings of the film.  “Shoe Stealing” has a bit of a country feel, including a featured solo guitar.  The cues “Leaving Spectre” and “Return to Spectre” have a bit of a sad tone, with the latter making very effective use of a solo violin.   “Returning Home”, on the other hand, has a much more optimistic style, complete with soaring strings and triumphant-sounding horns.  Pretty much the full range of the score is represented in the impressive 11 minute “Finale” cue.

Elfman does contribute one brief song to the film, which ends the soundtrack album.  The song is entitled “Twice the Love (Siamese Twins’ Song)” and is performed by Bobbi Page and Candice Rumph, who played the twins in the film.  It is a pretty typically goofy and quirky song, but pretty entertaining.  Of course, it will mean basically nothing to anyone who hasn’t seen the film, though.

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Soundtrack Collection: Basic Instinct through Beverly Hills Cop

 Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct (Jerry Goldsmith, 1992): Throughout his career, Jerry Goldsmith all too frequently was hired as the composer for bad movies  that failed at the box-office.  Basic Instinct was a rare case where he scored a bad movie that ended up being a big hit.  Obviously, there are probably a lot of people that disagree with my assessment of the film, but I also expect that most people will agree that Goldsmith’s score was among the film’s biggest strengths.

The score is very atmospheric, built around a fairly dark main theme that would be very much at home in a classic film noir.  Much of the music has a sensual, even erotic, quality, that contrasts intriguingly with the tension-filled suspense music.  Strings dominate the score, with woodwinds and piano providing considerable support.  Brass is used sparingly, mainly for the few action sequences as well as to provide a sudden sting to underscore certain shock moments.  

Varese Sarabande released a nearly 45-minute long CD of the score when the film first came out.  In 2004, Prometheus Records put out a 75-minute CD containing the complete score presented in film order.  The expanded version is actually somewhat easier to find than the original, so it is probably the best choice if you don’t already have a copy of this score.  Whether or not to upgrade if you already have the original release is a harder call.  The score actually becomes somewhat repetitive over the longer running time and I suspect the shorter release would be sufficient for most people.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Leonard Rosenman, 1973): For the fifth film in the original Planet of the Apes series, Leonard Rosenman returned as composer, having previously scored the series’ second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (reviewed later in this post).  Film Score Monthly released 35 minutes of the score on a Silver Age Classics limited edition CD (which is still available) paired with Tom Scott’s score for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth film of the series.

The style of the score is typical for the series, mostly retaining the mostly atonal, coldly intense symphonic approach that was first established with Jerry Goldsmith’s highly acclaimed score for the original film.  As you would expect, the music closely resembles Rosenman’s earlier score for the series, although he mostly introduces new themes for this entry. 

While most of the score does continue the atonal approach, this score does include some unexpectedly melodic material, which gives it a warmer overall sound than the previous scores in the series.  The “Main Title” cue actually is more melodic than expected for the series, opening with a fairly quirky, fast-paced march.  The melodic quality is also very well represented in the effective closing cue, entitled “Only the Dead”, which has a fairly upbeat, even optimistic quality to it.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind (James Horner, 2001): This Oscar-winning drama was the fifth collaboration between composer James Horner and director Ron Howard.  It was the most low-key and introspective of the films that the two have done together and Horner provided a suitably sensitive score, although one that will sound pretty familiar to fans of Horner’s work as it does use many of his favorite motifs.

One of the main strengths of this score is Horner’s effective use of female vocals.  Opera star Charlotte Church (who was only a teenager at the time) is the featured vocalist on the score and her considerable vocal talents serve to add quite a bit of weight to the score.  Church performed the song “All Love Can Be”, which was based on one of Horner’s main themes, but her vocals are a key component throughout the entire score, usually as a wordless vocal instrument.

The most prominent theme in the score is a rhythmic theme led by piano and vocals along with diverse instrumental projections.  It is a theme that is fairly difficult to describe in words, but is very reminiscent of a similar theme that was central to Horner’s earlier Sneakers score and which has also turned up periodically in some of his others as well.  This is a style that is distinctly and recognizably Horner’s and A Beautiful Mind may feature his most effective use of it.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Richard Sherman & Robert Sherman, 1971): Disney reteamed a number of key members of the creative team behind Mary Poppins for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, another musical that mixed live action and animation.  While not as successful either creatively or financially as the earlier film, it is still a film with many charms, including another winning song score by the Sherman Brothers.

Angela Lansbury was the lead in the film and her considerable vocal skills are very well used on the film’s signature ballad “The Age of Not Believing” and the peppy “A Step In the Right Direction”.  The male lead is David Tomlinson, probably best known as the father in Mary Poppins, and he is an especially entertaining performer.  He brings a lot of energy and fun to such numbers as “With a Flair” and the lengthy production number “Portebello Road”.  Lansbury and Tomlinson work together very effectively as well on “The Beautiful Briny” (from the film’s key animated sequence) and “Substitutiary Locomotion”. 

The soundtrack album includes a few bonus tracks, including “Nobody’s Problem”, another Lansbury solo ballad that was edited out of the film.  Demo versions of two other unused songs, “Solid Citizen” and “The Fundamental Element”, are also included.

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Soundtrack Collection: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Note: My discussion of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast ended up being so lengthy that I decided it would fit best as a separate post. 

  Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast: Broadway Cast (cover #2)

Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, 1991): Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of Disney’s animated films and on my short list of favorite movies in general.  The film’s music is absolutely critical to its success.  At the time, it was the closest that an animated film had come to duplicating the style of a modern Broadway musical and, thus, it was no big surprise when several years later an adaptation of the movie became Disney’s first Broadway show.

The film featured six songs, and two reprises, by the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who had written songs for Disney’s The Little Mermaid a couple years earlier.  One previously deleted song, entitled “Human Again”, was added back in to the film for the 2002 re-issue of the film in Imax.  Menken also wrote the film’s score, which is largely based around the song melodies, but also introduces a couple additional themes.

The film and soundtrack albums open with a “Prologue” with David Ogden Stiers reading narration that sets up the story.  Alan Menken’s musical accompaniment to this is essentially an (unfortunately) uncredited adaptation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from “Carnival of the Animals”.  The music fits wonderfully, although its pretty obvious source should have been credited.

The opening number is entitled “Belle” and serves as an introduction for both the film’s heroine and, late in the song, the villain Gaston.  This is an impressively-scoped number featuring an entire ensemble, led by Paige O’Hara as Belle.  During my first viewing of the film, I remember realizing during this sequence that my jaw was pretty much hanging open from the amazement that they had pulled off such a sweeping, Broadway-style number.  This really felt like something very new and unexpected for this medium and the song and sequence continues to impress even after numerous viewings.

“Gaston” remains one of the best villain songs from a Disney film.  It also has some of the most clever wordplay of Howard Ashman’s impressive career, even managing to work in the word “expectorating”, which may have been a first for a song lyric.  The song really captures Gaston’s distinctive traits while also being exceptionally funny, with Richard White’s (Gaston) and Jessi Corti’s (La Fou) contributing highly to that.  Probably because it really doesn’t mean much out of context, the song isn’t as well known as the others from the film, but it may actually be the most complex and accomplished.

The two best known songs from the film are “Be Our Guest” and the title song.  The former is presented in a big, Busby Berkley style showstopper.  The sequence is probably the most traditional for an animated music number, but it still is tremendous fun and aided greatly by the great vocals by Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth).

The Oscar winning title song is, of course, performed by Angela Lansbury and accompanies the romantic dance sequence late in the film.  The song has already become something of a standard and is easily one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney catalog.  The end credits’ duet version of the song performed by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion became a huge hit on the pop chart, but pales in comparison to Lansbury’s version.

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Soundtrack Collection: Batman

Batman66

Batman (Nelson Riddle, 1966): Although I am too young to have seen it during its original airing, the late 1960s Batman TV series became a childhood favorite of mine via the syndicated reruns.  The series was very campy and silly, qualities that made it very appealing to me as a pre-teen.  My fondness for the series actually made it a bit difficult for me to warm up to the much darker version of the character that was seen in the later film versions.

Nelson Riddle scored many episodes of the series as well as the full-length feature version that was released theatrically at the end of the show’s first season.  The score to the movie was released on a limited edition CD by Film Score Monthly in 2000 and was re-issued, with a few minutes of additional music, by La La Land Records earlier this year.  I have the earlier release and didn’t see a need to upgrade to the newer one.

Riddle was best known as a jazz and big band arranger, having worked with numerous big names ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra.  This background is evident in his approach to the Batman music, where he provides a highly jazz-oriented score heavily dominated by horns and guitar.  It is a fun and fast-paced score, which is pretty deeply rooted in the 1960s Rat Pack style.  The score is very thematic, with Riddle providing a separate, distinctive theme for each of the villains.  The film brought together all the major villains, so there is quite a bit of variation to the score.

The famous and highly familiar main theme to the TV series was written by Neal Hefti and is incorporated pretty regularly into the score.  The theme gets a pretty complete performance (minus the vocals) during the cue “Batmobile to Airport” and then is referenced pretty regularly, usually in shorter bursts.  The complete theme, including the “Batman!” vocals, is featured as a bonus track at the end of the CD.

Batman89

Batman (1989, Danny Elfman): Although Danny Elfman had already done a handful of film scores (including his first two projects with Tim Burton), his score for Burton’s 1989 Batman film really was the one that established him as an important voice in film scoring.  The score was so successful that Elfman has frequently been the first choice for other super-hero movies, to a degree that sometimes has come perilously close to type-casting.

Elfman’s main theme has fairly iconic and is pretty instantly recognizable and associated with the Batman character, despite that fact that it was only used in the two Tim Burton/Michael Keaton films and as the theme for the early 90s animated TV series.  The darkly ominous opening fanfare that transitions into a haunting, brass-centered march is a very distinctive construction that very effectively fits the portrayal of the title character as a mix of tortured angst and heroic action.

While the main theme serves as the primary theme for the title character, he also introduces very effective secondary themes.  Jack Nicholson’s Joker is introduced with some brassy circus music at the end of the cue “Kitchen, Surgery, Face-off” and the character’s over the top nature is also reflected in the fairly extravagant cues “Joker’s Poem” and especially the self-explanatory “Waltz to the Death”.  A darkly melodic theme is provided for the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Vicky Vale, fully presented in the cue “Love Theme”.

The cue “Decent Into Mystery” introduces a wordless chorus into the score in a darkly resonant manner that has later become one of the most recognizable trademarks of Elfman’s film scoring.  Well paced and exciting action music, of course, is also a hallmark of this score in very strong cues such as “Roof Fight”, “Attack of the Batwing” and especially the thrilling “Finale” cue.

At the time that the film came out, much of the emphasis was on the songs that Prince wrote and performed for the film and the initial soundtrack release only contained those songs.  Elfman’s score came out on a separate CD release a few months later.  Interestingly, today the Elfman score album is still in print while the Prince album is not, although it is still widely available on bargain tables or used copies.  I’m not really a Prince fan and never purchased his album, so I can’t really comment on the content.

BatmanReturns

Batman Returns (Danny Elfman, 1992): I’m well aware that my view is in the minority on this one, but I actually prefer both the film and score for Batman Returns to the more popular original.  After the enormous success of the first film, both Tim Burton and Danny Elfman were given a considerable amount of free reign and the result was a much more quirky film and score.

Of course, Elfman does reprise his main Batman theme in the sequel, but little else is repeated.  The new score is much more string focused than the brassy approach with the original.  Elfman also much more prominently features wordless choir in this score, particularly with his main theme for The Penguin.  In many ways, this score actually more closely resembles Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands score than the previous Batman score.

Elfman provides very distinctive themes for the film’s two primary villains: The Penguin and Catwoman.  As noted above, The Penguin’s main theme makes extensive use of wordless (and sometimes “la la la”) choir, providing something of an otherworldly quality to the theme.  The character’s theme is introduced during “Birth of a Penguin” and “Birth of a Penguin, part 2”, which open the soundtrack album and the film.  As these play over the film’s opening title, the theme is effectively interweaved with the Batman theme, at times with the choral elements actually layered over the older theme.

The Catwoman theme is introduced in “Selena Transforms” and “Selena Transforms, Part 2” and substantially developed further in “Cat Suite”.  This theme features solo violin, giving it a pretty distinctively feline quality.  The theme is melodic and haunting and generally sticks with me when I listen to the album.  As Catwoman doubles as Bruce Wayne’s love interest in the film, her theme also serves as the film’s romantic theme.

The album ends with the song “Face to Face”, which was performed by  Siouxsie and the Banshees and was used in the film during a ballroom sequence when Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle (Catwoman) are dancing together.  The song was co-written by Elfman and fits in very well with the score, including incorporating some brief references to the Catwoman theme.

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Soundtrack Collection: Recent Purchases

The soundtracks discussed below were discs that I purchased within the last few weeks.  Alphabetically, these albums should have been discussed in previous posts, so I’m highlighting them now.  I’m also going to go back and edit the previous posts so that these soundtracks still appear in the correct place.  Eventually, I’m probably going to want to set up an index to these reviews, so it seems wise to keep them in order.

99and44100

99 44/100% Dead! (Henry Mancini, 1974): Intrada recently released a limited edition CD of the soundtrack to this 1970s John Frankenheimer comedy.  Henry Mancini’s score is upbeat and fun with a very jazzy style.  The music is mainly performed by a relatively small ensemble, sometimes supplemented by electronic instruments.

The main title music gets the score off to a fast paced start with a tune that, somewhat surprisingly for Mancini, has something of a soft-rock beat to it.  The next cue, “Hangin’ Out”, shifts the music in more of a jazzy direction in a tune that mainly features piano, horns, and solo whistler.  That theme is reprised in “Bon Voyage”, the score’s concluding cue.    The score takes on a somewhat darker edge during some of the later cues, consistent with descriptions of the film (which I haven’t seen) as having a mix of comedy and drama.

As was common with Mancini’s scores, one of the central themes is built around a song.  In this case, the song is entitled “Easy Baby” and is a soft jazz number performed on the soundtrack by singer Jim Gilstrap.  The song features lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who were frequent collaborators with Mancini.  The soundtrack also includes a “single version” of the song that has more of a 70s disco beat than the film version.

Intrada’s soundtrack presents the score and song in mono, but the sound quality is generally very good.  In addition to the complete score, the soundtrack also includes a number of bonus tracks, including one all-electronic cue (closer to sound effects) and a few source cues.  Three of the source cues are carousel music versions of “Man on the Flying Trapeze”, “Over the Waves”, and “Listen to the Mockingbird”.  The bonus tracks also include a few alternate score tracks.

Around80

Around the World in 80 Days (Victor Young, 1956): When I wrote up my comments about the Trevor Jones score to the 2004 remake, I noted that I didn’t have a copy of Victor Young’s score in my collection.  Some quick research found that a deluxe soundtrack release of that score from Hit Parade Records was pretty readily available and I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. 

Young’s score is a highly melodic, very brassy adventure score with a main theme that is instantly recognizable.  Even without previously having owned this soundtrack, the main theme was extremely familiar to me from compilation albums, pops concerts, and even radio play.  I suspect that even those that aren’t film music fans would probably find the tune to be familiar, even if they have no idea where it is from.

As expected from the film’s subject matter, there is definitely some ethnic styling to some of the cues.  In particular, the middle eastern and Indian influences are extremely evident in “A Princess in Distress (Pagoda of Pillagi)” while “Royal Barge of Siam” features low-pitched male wordless vocals that definitely are evocative of the Asian setting.  The lengthy “Sioux Attack” cue contains a lot of traditional American western music, eventually ending with quotes from “The William Tell Overture” and “Yankee Doodle”.

The Hit Parade soundtrack CD contains a little over 70 minutes of music, including an Overture, intermission music, and the exit music.  Due to the length of the film, this probably isn’t the complete score, but it definitely is a substantial representation of it.  The music is in stereo, but it does have a somewhat harsh, kind of thin sound that is fairly typical for recordings of that age. 

ATeam

The A-Team (Alan Silvestri, 2010): It came as something of a pleasant surprise that Alan Silvestri was chosen to score the new film adaptation of the well-known 1980s action series, which was definitely a guilty pleasure for many of my generation.  The film seemed like a more likely project for someone from the Hans Zimmer factory or for a more song-driven soundtrack. 

Silvestri’s approach to the score is primarily synthesizer and percussion driven, but with some orchestral support.  The use of synthesizers is more prominent than is typical for Silvestri (although continues the approach he introduced with G.I. Joe last year), with some portions even having a techno sound.  Action is definitely the main focus of the score and the music is pretty consistently fast paced and adrenaline pumping in nature.  Most of the score is generally non-melodic, but Silvestri occasionally introduces some more melodic themes, with a primary one introduced at the end of “Court Martial”, which are generally fully orchestral and have a relatively high impact.

Stylistically, parts of the score do sound pretty consistent with 1980s action films, which is likely what the filmmakers were looking for based on reports that the film stayed pretty true to the tone of the original series.  Other portions are pretty distinctly modern in style, though, giving the score a bit of a disjointed quality.  The more orchestral action music shifts more to the forefront in the last part of the score album, particularly in the very lengthy “The Docks Part 1” and “The Docks Part 2”.

The original TV series theme composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter is only used on the album during the opening and closing cues.  The opening cue ends on a very short statement of the theme while the ending finally provides a very welcome, complete presentation.  The theme isn’t otherwise directly incorporated into the score, although there are suggestions of it that occasionally poke through.