Score Season #23
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
The 13th Warrior (Graeme Revell, 1999) ** Glancing at Graeme Revell’s résumé, I recognised certain titles which have endured rather well. One of his first efforts was the exciting Dead Calm, though it wouldn’t be the last film to throw actor Billy Zane into the ocean. Meanwhile, Revell’s distinctive style gave The Crow and its sequel identities which remain fan favourites. Personally, I enjoyed the double whammy of the Jean Claude Van Damme movies, Street Fighter and Hard Target. I am hoping the latter receives an expanded score release as the finest cue was left off the album. So to The 13th Warrior where he ended up replaced by maestro Jerry Goldsmith. What might be the reason for Revell’s dismissal?
A poem to illuminate:
Tingling bells meet shimmering waves
As warriors ascend from ancient caves.
Although Graeme Revell was sought
His contribution came to nought.
Next to Jerry Goldsmith’s breed
Revell undertook leisurely need.
The latter beheld the grape
Fairly authentic in shape.
Hold off on derision
The 13th Warrior free from poison.
The drums beat most fierce
Reflecting the way soldiers pierce.
On film, Ibn drew his sword
Throwing away poetic word.
While winds gently shrieked
Telling us bad things leaked.
From the dragon mists they came,
A kingdom no longer the same.
Knowing Revell would distribute,
The dance was tribute.
Followers of The Crow might like.
Against what was used, intense dislike.
More notes could impact the soul
Instead of making a hole.
Big Hero 6 (Henry Jackman, 2014) Only a poem this time:
An electric twang
Makes for unusual pang.
This felt like sound design.
The hook tends to undermine.
Those everyday sheep
Consign Big Hero 6 to a rubbish heap.
Something of a map gazer.
Timid, harsh, a multi-cultural blazer.
Heard Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas?
Mr. Jackman, do better next time, please.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann, 1951) **** Ever wonder where composer Danny Elfman got his strange sound, namely on Mars Attacks? It was the Theremin, and the film which immortalised this instrument was The Day the Earth Stood Still. The composer? Bernard Herrmann. Not surprisingly, the latter has attained a godlike stature. Popular culture embraced him for numerous Alfred Hitchcock collaborations. Remember the shower sequence in Psycho? Meanwhile, a little film about alien invasion set hearts into overdrive. Undeniably, the Theremin conveys an extra-terrestrial environment where the unknown can be both dangerous and seductive. Favourite track: “Gort,” a 45 second wave of chills and impeccable spotting.
Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) *** Renaissance filmmaker John Carpenter nailed horror in true style for Halloween. Like Friday the 13th, this low budget endeavour made millions and cast a whole new legion of fans. Meanwhile, Carpenter’s trademark synthesizer adopts a remarkable arc for “Halloween Theme.” He establishes the title track boldly, employing it on several occasions as a shock device. Above all, this motif represents a strong identity for Michael Myers, the masked killer wielding a butcher’s knife. Quite simply, the horror collective entered a new phase due to Carpenter’s innovation. I refer to him as a ‘renaissance filmmaker’ because his talents extend to directing, producing, writing, editing and composing. Remarkably, his theme for Halloween achieves a circular motion, rarely allowing such cadences or tones to resolve themselves. While embracing your imagination, the incidental flourishes make this particular element feel as creepy as the occasion it marks.
Lethal Weapon (Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton, 1987) * Firstly, I believe Michael Kamen’s manic orchestrations for “The Desert” unmade the whole score. His music was meant to accompany a dangerous rendezvous not the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It’s a classic example of overthinking. By contrast, choosing specific instruments for new partners Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) results in oversimplification. Quite simply, Eric Clapton’s guitar distracts from the perilous journey facing Riggs, while David Sanborn’s saxophone compromises the best visual sight gags involving Murtaugh. Dear Richard Donner, Glover’s face was all the music we required. Don’t get me wrong, I regard Lethal Weapon as a fantastic 1980s testosterone bash. However, the music I could do without.
Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith, 1968) *** In context, I rarely warmed to Jerry Goldsmith’s harsh audio mix for Planet of the Apes. Yet this finds a whole new life as a solo listening experience. Essentially, he’s playing about with rhythms, moods, percussion, individual chords, atonality and even the spaces between notes. Check out “The Forbidden Zone” and “The Revelation Part II.” Meanwhile, “The Hunt” features some colossal action writing. As Taylor (Charlton Heston) ends up captured by the monkeys, piercing horns ignite a rushing motif. Elsewhere, Goldsmith signals danger through a variety of unsettling effects. In the wrong hands, this could prove divisive. Right away, he establishes the tone sans sweeping main theme. To his credit, such an alien soundscape ends up transformed via imaginative means.
Thirteen Days (Trevor Jones, 2000) Somewhere between Speed and The Last of the Mohicans lies the theme for Thirteen Days. Without overstating it, the opportunity to score a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis represents something of a singularity. Using the full orchestra at his command, what does Trevor Jones give us? It’s like taking all the suction out of a squid, then watching the thing float slowly away… into the miserable abyss. Want something better? Check out Trinity and Beyond by William Stromberg. That score will blow your mind.
W.C. Fields and Me (Henry Mancini, 1976) *** Bless his romantic heart, Henry Mancini could charm the scraps out of a lion’s den. However, the CD released by Quartet Records comes with the annoying addition of dialogue over the soundtrack. Were it not for this slight, Mancini’s effervescent score would nab an easy four-star rating. Hearing the melodies unfold, the listener ends up transported to the 1920s; to the hustle and bustle of a city that’s alive with opportunities, even the promise of love.
Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island (Fernando Velazquez, 2016) **** Practically the whole enterprise moves along at a refreshing pace, and there are fine woodwinds in the offing. Overall, quite a marvellous contribution from Fernando Velazquez.
What illustrious tone!
Letting waves thrash and moan.
Left somewhat giddy
Like being a kiddie.
Could music sound any crisper?
Pray tell a whisper.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
The Big Bus (David Shire, 1976) ***** What can I say about the “Main Title” of The Big Bus? WOW! Talk about a rollercoaster. Let’s have that on instant replay! Undeniably, composer David Shire recognised the sheer absurdity behind the film’s concept: A nuclear powered bus full of passengers travels non-stop from New York to Denver. Chaos ensues when the driver loses control. Watching the film’s trailer, clearly no one is buying the gags nor the daft appearance of the behemoth. Regardless, Shire saw an opportunity and responded with his most vibrant music to date. Every note has something sly or clever in its DNA, whether it’s romance, spectacle, suspense or sheer, unadulterated craziness. All aboard!
A poem to close:
As unstoppable as the triceratops
A bus called Cyclops.
David Shire emits gamma radiation
His music heavy on instrumental population.
He worked doubly hard
For The Big Bus was lard.
Still his music shone
Proving he was the one.