Score Season #13
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Prokofiev, 1938) **** If I were judging Alexander Nevsky solely on the basis of “Battle on the Ice,” the score would net five stars. Yet I must take into account the entire symphonic work. Overall, composer Sergei Prokofiev performs well, yet invariably my first (and perhaps only) stop ends up being the major set-piece. Highly influential, the impact on later maestros such as James Horner (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) and John Williams (Hook) cannot be denied.
A rhyme to mark the occasion:
Next time you hear this rallying cry
There’s no need to be shy.
Sure to make heads swoon.
Alexander Nevsky carries elegant tune
Epic does not label “Battle on the Ice.”
A cue for true believers, not mice.
Majestic, emotional and tight
For me the singular highlight.
Cat People (Roy Webb, 1942) **** There’s more than a touch of Beethoven as Cat People gets under way. So what are my initial thoughts regarding Roy Webb’s score? Very nice, especially the romantic aroma from “Irena.” Woodwinds add significantly to the emotional impact. Even “The Cat People” seems gentle by default allowing dramatic seeds to flourish. Absolutely first-rate, “Irena and Oliver” captures the essence of love. It’s going on my playlist immediately.
Ghost Warrior (Richard Band, 1984) **** Based on everything I’ve heard by Richard Band, Ghost Warrior contains his finest work. There are emotional undercurrents that resonate across time. Quite fitting for a story where a Samurai warrior ends up revived after centuries encased in ice. Such drama filtered through character can have a lasting impact. While ignoring point of view might not dampen the chase or battle, it could reduce our investment in the hero’s plight. Although Richard Band’s Ghost Warrior might be obscure, I’m glad Intrada took a chance on this worthwhile project. Limited to 1,000 copies, the score sold out quickly. Therefore, finding this item on the secondary market could prove expensive.
Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (John Scott, 1967) **** A score carrying occasional perks, Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon reminisces about the stars, while thinking about Henry Mancini or even Maurice Jarre. Those with a penchant for the latter could appreciate John Scott’s classy if unoriginal effort. Stylistically, the drama remains earthbound as the Parisian flavour might disarm the need for more assertive measures. Overall, Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon didn’t excite me like Scott’s Lionheart nor did it attain the same brilliance as Man on Fire. Regardless, it’s a fine thing – dandy, unassuming and light-hearted.
Here’s a poem:
To the stars we venture
Check out John Scott’s adventure!
Those horns plunge deep
While woodwinds gently weep.
Regarding “The Great Gas Car Chase”
Easy does it with lace.
Bombastic? Perhaps a detour
With a theme to reassure.
Even Paris can be heard
Like a charming, if distant bird.
Step aside for scourge
Trial and error marked by courage.
Disney it might recall
Nevertheless, Scott made the call.
Might rise for a little dance
In future, there’s still a chance.
Kiss the Girls (Carter Burwell, 1997) How long can you stand terrible music? For seventy minutes, Carter Burwell unleashes his rejected Kiss the Girls soundtrack upon our ears. It’s agony. More so, the music lacks direction or basic character. The bigger question concerns what motivated Quartet Records to release such a bland effort. Even Mark Isham’s approved score comes across as hollow. Not even a wisp of intrigue.
Little Women (Thomas Newman, 1994) * The first theme we hear in Thomas Newman’s Little Women graced many film trailers during the 1990s. Classically inclined, it should appeal to the purist at heart. Given such a well-tempered opening, can Newman deliver on such promise? Sadly, it’s pretty safe territory for a composer whose lighter side gets the better of him. Still, this was a banner year in which Newman scored Oscar nominations for this Louisa May Alcott adaptation as well as The Shawshank Redemption.
Ruby (John Scott, 1992) *** Darker edges masked by seductive twang -- check out the saxophone -- enable Ruby to feel compelling rather than overbearing. Frequently, this score moves along, while evoking the stealth of James Bond. Elsewhere, composer John Scott reprises the love theme via woodwinds or strings. Although the CD might gather dust between listens, an occasional reunion between audience and score justifies Scott’s progressive styles.
On that note, here’s a poem:
Style and substance, the wondrous link
Like a lady in mink.
Some are fake, then there’s Ruby
Listen to those melodies, Scooby!
A bounty for ear and mind
Perfect if you wish to unwind.
Danger lurks too
Though such moods are few.
The Wolf Man (Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner and Charles Previn, 1941) *** A ripping mystery/horror effort where melody meets mania, The Wolf Man triumphs. Admittedly, I enjoyed this score more the second time because emotions defy consistency. Without a balance between inspiration and apathy, experiences run dry, only paying off on expectation while not allowing room for a surprise. Also, the majesty behind this soundtrack as interpreted by William Stromberg justifies the return. Just a thought: “Desperation” hovers, spelling the type of suspense later adopted by Danny Elfman for Batman. A stylistic influence, perhaps?
Zulu (John Barry, 1964) **** John Barry’s Zulu represents a masterclass in Spotting. The latter refers to a process by which the director and composer decide where music shall be heard. Indeed, Barry’s underscore covers less than twenty minutes of this two hour epic. As such, it’s easy to feel a little short-changed. Although Barry and director Cy Endfield chose the ideal places for musical expression, on CD the former’s work feels fleeting. Undeniably, the main theme nets crucial points. Nevertheless, a repeat or two might expand the limitations behind such a self-contained effort.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Wrongfully Accused (Bill Conti, 1998) ***** I love Wrongfully Accused, a surprise from Bill Conti that plays the spoof totally straight. He’s quite the showman here, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just as dramatic as the films being parodied. Regarding first impressions, few in any decade compare to “Lord of the Violin.” This cue comes across as insanely creative. Meanwhile, Wrongfully Accused bounces from one highlight to another like a greatest hits compilation. No fat, no clutter, just the fun stuff ma’am. I’m already thinking about giving this another spin, and I’m not even halfway through. On the Intrada release, you’ll find brilliant liner notes by Daniel Schweiger.
A rhyme to celebrate:
Feel like jumping for joy
But then… that might annoy.
If you like violinist Joshua Bell
“Lord of the Violin” does well.
Familiar elements now seem fresh
As wonderful toys hide in the crèche.
Tailored notes suit this mission
Bill Conti wrote minus commission.
"Wrongfully Accused" emits pleasurable sting
Unlike Ennio Morricone’s "The Thing."