Score Season #11
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Die Hard with a Vengeance (Michael Kamen, 1995) * If James Horner was guilty of self-referencing, Michael Kamen makes it a crime. While it’s possible to extract the occasional highlight from Die Hard with a Vengeance, this is a bad score. From the bizarre, percussion nightmare “Taxi Chase” to some joyless recycling, I’d recommend sticking with the first two soundtracks from this series.
A little poem to sum up:
Hedge your bets on this Die Hard
I wanted something no-holds-barred.
What we got was less
Than the proverbial mess.
Tough to recommend this one
Certainly devoid of any fun.
Even the old themes sound weak
The melodies soft and ever so meek.
Time it got better
Get rid of this old letter.
Plenty of unreleased stuff
Choosing doesn’t have to be tough.
Giant (Dimitri Tiomkin, 1956) **** Directed by George Stevens, Giant concerns a Texas cattle rancher and the discovery of oil. The score was provided by Oscar winner Dimitri Tiomkin. For openers, “Main Title and Hunt Scene” sounds rather operatic. Do I like it? Emotionally, things pick up and I like what’s in store. It’s bouncy, fun and chaotic -- all indications that Tiomkin might be planning something significant. Next in line, “Love Theme” charts a course via sweet strings. It’s gorgeous but more importantly I felt connected to the score. So while Giant might underwhelm at first, there’s potential here. Warm feelings continue in “Thoughts of Leslie.” Actually, it felt like Tiomkin might delve into “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Thankfully, he veers away before the melodies overlap too much. Meanwhile, “Jett Surveys Little Reata” represents classic Tiomkin. Near the end of disc one, a little big cue “Jett Strikes Oil” features rousing fortissimo. It’s followed by the equally celebratory “Too Rich to Kill.” On disc two, “Birth of Jetexas” rotates upon a grand melody, while Tiomkin sensitively reveals character in the landscape. By contrast, “Wild Blue Yonder” comes across as filler best left unexplored.
Hellboy (Marco Beltrami, 2004) **** For anyone that enjoyed Marco Beltrami’s Mimic (pick me!) there’s a groovy surprise in “Meet Hellboy.” The latter carries all the pent-up emotion and expectation for something great. Notably, Beltrami’s Hellboy heats up during “Evil Doers.” This cue combines choral and symphonic forces with the same gravitas as a Christopher Young soundtrack (think Hellraiser). It’s a gothic marvel to hear the orchestra play so well, and they interpret notes on the page as a living synopsis. While score highlights tend to be marked by exceptional craft, “Fireproof” fits the bill handsomely. Ditto “Hellboy and Liz.” The first disc closes on the mammoth “Hellboy vs. Sam the 2nd.” Powerful horn arrangements and percussion combined with memorable string runs tell half the story here. Actually, it’s a highlight from Hellboy, and the ideal prompt for disc two. Next up, “Fish Boil” contains an atmosphere both eerie and enigmatic. Finally, those that enjoy overtures might appreciate “B.P.R.D. Suite.” Long story short: the pacing from beginning to end remains sublime. It’s a wonderful thematic collection. Beyond craftsmanship, a feeling of completion distinguishes Hellboy as a necessary purchase.
The Hindenburg (David Shire, 1975) **** A confusing start -- more novelty than overture -- disrupts David Shire’s The Hindenburg. Meanwhile, the story gains momentum and sweetness via “Main Title (Hindenburg Theme).” Hardly world beating stuff, yet it’s lovely in conveying a mood. Pressing on, “The Letter” feels like the most exciting encounter thus far. There’s weight to the orchestra, backed by solid pacing and emphasis. Of note, the eye-catching cover design from Intrada certainly prompts high expectations. Also, the track I couldn’t wait to hear was “Fin Repair Sequence.” According to Intrada, this sounds amazing. Here’s a sample of what they wrote:
“…Subtle figures for snare drum, bass drum, cymbals underneath clarinets. Idea builds… virtuoso display featuring dynamic, shrill ostinato for fortissimo flutes…”
The latter comes across as unnerving, original, cutting edge, mercurial and birdlike. There’s darkness here too, which Shire bravely confronts. To clarify, my final rating only applies to the highlights. By contrast, the song “There’s A Lot to Be Said for the Fuehrer” remains hideous.
Is Paris Burning? (Maurice Jarre, 1966) *** French composer Maurice Jarre contributes a prodigious, orchestral accompaniment for Is Paris Burning? The contrast between vivid harmonies and tender domesticity forms the master stroke here. Evidently, this score embraces all sides of the human condition. For example, “Overture” contains a sweet ambience. Meanwhile, dastardly forces occupy “Paramount Seal/Rastenburg/Hitler” and “Lonely Conqueror.” Bless the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for they have surpassed themselves again. Of special note, “Seize the Prefecture/Molotov Cocktails” elevates Is Paris Burning? to unforgettable peaks. There’s a joyful rhythm to the march that carries us on a journey. It’s beautifully done! Arguably, re-recordings of Golden/Silver Age scores can transcend their older counterparts by revealing musical inspirations lost to time. Overall, Is Paris Burning? joins a growing catalogue that makes such a debate fascinating and hopeful.
Outland (Jerry Goldsmith, 1981) **** Underrated and certainly overlooked, Outland proves to be a treat for Jerry Goldsmith fans. Those ghostly sounds over the “Main Title” and “The Mine” have always appealed to me. Meanwhile, the film takes place on the fictional space mining colony known as Io (eye-oh). Walking the planet’s surface without an environment suit can be a terrible proposition as several characters soon discover. Regarding Goldsmith’s contribution, this constant danger informs his writing. A particular score highlight must be “The Airlock.” Actually, I recognised the similarities between this track and a similar one by John Ottman. The latter’s score for The Usual Suspects contains a piece called “Payback Time.” Both cues enhance the rhythm and crescendo of a last elevator ride to eternity.
Another little rhyme:
Ruby gem in the rough
Picking favourites can be tough.
Jerry Goldsmith delivers an impressive score.
Outland left me wanting more.
Of “Hot Water,” I cannot complain
Melody and rhythm not the composer’s bane.
“Spiders” presented a new take
Horror music to slake.
An impression from “The Buy.”
Others might persevere, nice try!
Final thoughts on “The Airlock”
Ominous chords recall “Hideous Baloc.”
Sounder (Alex North, 1972) *** So what’s the story on Sounder? Above all, why was Alex North’s score replaced? According to Gergely Hubai’s Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores A Selected History, North delivered through-composed music. This style constantly adapts minus any repetition. Ultimately, the producers chose Taj Mahal to provide songs of the rural blues genre. With North’s attempt, I visualise workers in the field, hot sun baking their backs already aching from long hours of sweat. The music doesn’t seek to rejuvenate or provide uplift, merely to reflect harsh realities. As such, some beautiful moments emerge along the way, a short melodic idea here, and the pleasing harmonica there. Overall, this feels like authentic Americana, conceived by someone with a knowledge, understanding and sympathy for people that toil in the boil.
Volcano (Alan Silvestri, 1997) ** Delight turns to dismay as the expanded release of Alan Silvestri’s Volcano reveals a diminished score. Ouch! That “Main Title” moseys around, wasting staves. Clearly, Silvestri was on auto-pilot when he wrote this. Meanwhile, “St. Vincent’s/Steady Line” spends a few bars contemplating a more meaningful purpose only to resume the vapid opening. This could be a long soundtrack. Moving along, “Dragon Emerges/Steam Did That” offers a horror soundscape. It’s an improvement, though relatively brief. Then “Tunnel Search/Dr. Jaye” features extra tip-toeing. Evidently, the drama has yet to commence. Halfway through the latter, some suspenseful measures provide relief. Even that doesn’t last because there’s a reprise of -- you guessed it -- the “Main Title.” What was merely irritating has transformed into something hideous. Can anything be salvaged from this ash cloud? Well, “Bubble Bubble/Morning Commute/Fissure Queen” vaguely considers a Vangelis motif. However, it’s a far cry from Blown Away, the blockbuster that spun a delightful Silvestri tapestry. What about “March of the Lava” and Silvestri channelling the mighty Holst? It’s certainly appealing. Also, the final act consisting of “Tunnel Fever,” “Norm’s Medical Advice/Sacrificial VCR, “Roark’s Big Plan/Tommy’s Gone,” “Explosions” and “Roark Saves Kelly” generates goodwill this soundtrack sorely needs.
War for the Planet of the Apes (Michael Giacchino, 2017) I recently sat through Michael Giacchino’s interminable score for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Evidently, he was not the first composer to provide music for this reboot. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured a serviceable Patrick Doyle accompaniment. Nothing remarkable but hey it got the job done. Meanwhile, Giacchino has dealt with plenty of well-worn assignments. These include Jurassic World, Rogue One and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Regarding War for the Planet of the Apes, I’m reluctant to endorse a single cue. Like the previous entry, this soundtrack feels strange, even bestial at times. Actually, it’s a dunderheaded effort noteworthy for percussion, if little else. Reading the track list, my heart grew hopeful that the 11-minute “Apes’ Past is Prologue” would yield something extraordinary. Alas, it did not. One hour later, and my mood has dampened considerably. If you seek minimalist atonality from your piano scores then “Exodus Wounds” should suffice. Also, there’s a theme that ends up repeated via full orchestra and choir. Then it’s back to the fingers of ivory doodling. It’s a confusing trend made all the more vexing due to frequent dead spots. Check out the meandering “Apes Strong Together.” On second thought, don’t bother. Overall, there’s restraint to Giacchino’s approach that goes belly-up as soon as the volume increases. For that reason, War for the Planet of the Apes becomes a partial experience, beset by errors in development and execution. You have been warned.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
The Thief of Bagdad (Miklos Rozsa, 1940) ***** Thus, a conundrum presents itself: how to choose the best score of 1940 when there was so much great music. Between The Sea Hawk, Rebecca and The Thief of Bagdad, I wish you luck on that one. For the time being, I shall celebrate Miklos Rozsa’s effort. Truly, The Thief of Bagdad carries the elemental drive that would distinguish the composer’s output in later years, namely for film noir and historical epics. Above all, there’s a wistful tone to the proceedings that often reminds me of Disney soundtracks, such as Pinocchio and Bambi. So while the jury might be out, Rozsa’s work holds its own with the finest film music ever played.
Now for a stanza or two:
Stealing the honey
Because they lack money.
Two friends depend on each other
Done wrong by another.
Cling to what you hold dear
Wishes can make you happy or queer.
A musical love theme the best of all
When destiny is sure to call.
The voice to melt many moods
As a tree once concealed by hoods.
Such a romantic undertaking
The dream blends nicely into waking.
A storm by whips and rocks
Bouncing back from hardest knocks.
Genie delivers a great laugh
Many endearments he holds not just half.