Soundtrack Collection: Die Hard to Dirty Dancing

Die Hard

Die Hard (Michael Kamen, 1988): Today, the original Die Hard is considered to be an iconic action film.  Not only was it a blockbuster that kicked off a major franchise and established the film careers of Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, it essentially served as the prototype to an entire sub-genre of action movies that are now regularly described with a phrase starting with “Die Hard on a …”  At the time it came out, the film was viewed as having more limited potential, though, particularly due to it headlining Willis, who at the time was primarily a TV actor and mainly known for romantic comedy.

Likely due to the limited expectations for the film as well as the prominent use of non-original music, no soundtrack album was released along with the film.  Although the sequel scores were released with the films, Michael Kamen’s score remained unavailable (at least officially) until Varese Sarabande finally put it out on a 3000 copy limited edition “CD Club” release in 2002.  That release sold out fairly quickly and used copies today fetch prices well in excess of $100.  The soundtrack seems to be a pretty obvious candidate for a re-issue, but right now it remains one that is costly and difficult to obtain, if you don’t already have it.

Kamen’s original contributions to the score were dominated by stark, intense themes dominated by deep brass, vivid strings, and some very effective acoustic guitar.  The most recognizable component is a brief, guitar motif that is essentially the Die Hard series’ musical signature.  This motif is really too short to truly classify as a theme, but it is a distinctive element that is instantly associated with these films. 

A particularly interesting element to this score is Kamen’s use of the film’s Christmas time setting.  Kamen occasionally integrates sleigh bells or bell choir into the score as well as brief samples of familiar Christmas tunes such as “Winter Wonderland”.  These brief excerpts are presented in an almost chillingly menacing way.  The use of familiar holiday-associated melodies and instruments presented in this way makes for a very interesting effect.  The film memorably ends with the upbeat holiday classic “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” playing over the end credits and the song also closes the soundtrack CD, although in an instrumental version rather than the traditional version used in the film.

The most prominent and memorable non-original music used in the score is the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Bits of this familiar melody are regularly integrated into the score, essentially serving as a primary theme for the film’s villains.  The melody is then presented in full accompanying the key scene where the villains manage to open the safe that they came to the building to rob.  The disconnect between this emotionally full and usually joyful music and the temporary triumph of the bad guys is a bold, memorable and remarkably effective musical choice.  While “Ode to Joy” is not traditionally associated with the holidays, its use still served to vividly underscore the film’s unusual juxtaposition of festive/joyful elements with violence and peril.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Michael Kamen, 1990): For the first sequel to Die Hard, the filmmakers (led by new director Renny Harlin) didn’t stray too far from the formula established in the first film.  The sequel once again takes place during the holiday season and again has Bruce Willis fighting back against terrorists in a fairly enclosed complex (this time an airport instead of a skyscraper).  The film even included a few bits of dialog that directly addressed the implausibility of Willis’ character facing two such similar situations.

Michael Kamen was brought back to score the sequel and provided a score that is contains some similarities to the original, although with a few key differences as well.  One of the most obvious differences right from the start is that this score seems a bit more fully orchestral than the original.  Even the familiar Die Hard signature motif is generally performed by the orchestra’s violin section this time instead of on acoustic guitar as in the original.

The airport setting provided a more expansive setting, including considerably more outdoor sequences, so the somewhat larger scale of the score is fitting.  The first score tended to be dominated by stark, tension-filled cues, and there are similar ones here as well, the new one provides more opportunities for more dynamic, high-octane chase type music as well.  The cue “Snowmobiles”, which accompanies an almost James Bond style chase sequence late in the film, is a particularly good example of this side of the score.

Kamen did not repeat the use of “Ode to Joy” or the Christmas carol excerpts from the first film.  He does once again incorporate an existing piece into the score, though.  This time the piece that he uses is “Finlanda” by Jean Sibelius, which is certainly not as well-known or familiar as the Beethoven piece.  A full performance of the piece closes out the soundtrack CD, which was released by Varese Sarabande at the time that the movie came out.

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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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