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 (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 (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.