Score Season #44
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Apocalypse Now (Carmine Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) *** In Score Season #18, I reviewed David Shire's rejected effort for Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. The film contains musical ideas by the director as well as his father Carmine Coppola. As an acid trip snaking through perilous jungles while surfing and hunting, the experience demands a psychedelic soundtrack. For this, the Coppolas develop a signature motive with mad plottings, clownish eccentricities and eerie woodwinds. The latter makes it seem like a nefarious cousin to George Bruns' The Jungle Book. Ideas are simultaneously character and story dependent. Because the music strongly conveys key moments from the film, the connection went deeper. Finally, contributions from Wagner and Jim Morrison must be counted towards the final grade. Few if any would dispute the effect achieved by synchronizing a helicopter raid with the diva's voice from "Ride of the Valkyries." Therefore, a classical track gains new life through such cultural placement.
For Love of the Game (Basil Poledouris, 1999) *** My respect for Basil Poledouris runs deep. However, the dreaminess behind For Love of the Game, which happens to be about baseball and not comfy pillows, made little impact. I'd be the first person to hold up the sentimentality banner, except little in the instrumentation or general atmosphere indicates the chosen sport. Comparing Poledouris' tryout to Randy Newman's The Natural or James Horner's Field of Dreams seems redundant. The former doesn't operate within the parameters of Americana. Now, it's not terrible music. Simply unremarkable. You listen and you forget. The experience hits you like smoke but you'll spend the remaining time trying to locate the campfire. For Poledouris, even though emotion was the priority, he could meander like the worst of them. With a curious case of deja vu in my soul, I wanted For Love of the Game to be marvellous. Towards the end, tracks such as "Lemonade," "Tuttle Part II/Memories" and "New Boyfriend" add considerable warmth. Overall, the difference in quality during the latter stages was immense, and sufficient to earn For Love of the Game a three star recommendation.
Fury of Achilles (Carlo Savina, 1962) **** Carlo Savina's work was unknown to me... until Fury of Achilles came along. Notably, Savina's score defies our expectations of pacing. He takes his time, only going robust with the brass and strings when necessary. Such discipline should be maintained across the spheres. Next up, woodwinds project an air of rumination and soulfulness. There's consequence to every action. Most commendable, Savina gives the orchestra a breathless, vulnerable quality. Between parry and death thrust, there's an ocean of choices a composer can make. Only the final track retreads certain thematic ideas needlessly. Finally, this provides evidence that more music by Carlo Savina should be heard.
The Giant of Metropolis (Armando Travajoli, 1961) **** Kronos Records have gifted the film music world with a rare thing: a collection of consistently stirring, obscure and high quality scores. The Gold Collection. Among them: Mario Nascimbene's La Garconniere and Armando Travajoli's The Giant of Metropolis. All are worth hearing multiple times, hypnotizing the listener via subtlety and character. Regarding the latter, some eerie space like textures brighten sequences built upon serious undertones. Romance crops in when least expected. As such, one of the most convincing aspects has to be Travajoli's willingness to risk new ideas so late in the game. Having established the musical grammar and tone then successfully developed a narrative, he sweetens the atmosphere. Lastly, I cannot wait to hear what Kronos Records are selling next.
Jarhead: Law of Return (Frederik Wiedmann, 2019) **** Composer Frederik Wiedmann has been very busy of late. His recent excursion Doom: Annihilation proved to be all rumble and no thunder. Showing greater promise, his contributions to DC in the form of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, The Death of Superman, Batman: Hush and Reign of the Supermen seem destined for imminent CD releases. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I expected little from Jarhead: Law of Return only to be knocked out. A strong male voice, backed by ethnic winds and strings ignites the score in beautiful fashion. Indeed, "Six-Man Team" equals everything I enjoyed about Wiedmann's Scorpion King: Book of Souls. Meanwhile, the duduk brings mystery, depth and colour to "Eilat." Being a straight to DVD release, Jarhead: Law of Return qualifies as a mystic sparkle in a mirage. Fleeting moments of tenderness and warmth are held for as long as humanly possible. The result? Transcendence. Matters turn sinister during the electronically enhanced "Pilot Down." A pained note simulates damage to the chopper, while cutting sounds and rhythmic blocks ascend in volume. A wet mix organically wrought, the score makes reverb a weapon in the melodic arsenal. Moving on, "Alone" felt harsher and a little more challenging. Still an excellent track, it was angry like an infidel with a blood feud. Memories of Johann Johannsson and Hildur Guđnadóttir's work on the Sicario movies looms large. Later, "The Informant" plays like a male vocalization of Lisa Gerrard. Such soaring lament reminds us that the human condition can be fragile and sturdy.
King Rat (John Barry, 1965) ** In 2019, record label Intrada released back to back John Barry scores, Howard the Duck and King Rat. The latter begins with a solemn "Main Title." For the next four minutes, I quickly gathered this would be a sobering experience. Enlightened like few in the mainstream, Barry has delivered iconic themes for the James Bond franchise, Dances with Wolves, Born Free and many others. Where does King Rat belong in this conversation? I like it just the once. Much like John Williams' Schindler's List, the score felt low-key and depressing. There are moments of beauty, such as "It's the Bunk," "Captain Grey" and "We've Done It." However, be prepared to have a sulk. The album also contains re-recorded versions of cues such as the march.
The Lion King (Hans Zimmer, 1994) * Did I like The Lion King? No, and here's why. Simply bizarre, "Didn't Your Mother Tell You Not to Play With Your Food" felt off-putting. For a moment, it was like one of Frank Miller's Sin City graphic novels had come to life. More reminiscent of barroom theatrics than a tale of kings, lineage and betrayal. Indeed, "Hyenas in the Pride Land" carries a similar coat of idiocy. A tropical vibe aided by percussion and woodwinds, this could belong anywhere. Nothing about it says The Lion King. Meanwhile, "Elephant Graveyard" plays into The Nightmare Before Christmas, sounding horrific and overwrought. What's up next? "I Was Just Trying to Be Brave." So were Davy Crockett and William Wallace. To be fair, the latter track conveyed its melodic ideas very well. Terrible by comparison, "Stampede" holds musical grains that would recur in Drop Zone and Crimson Tide, only it's an inferior ride. Also, he's channelling some fondness for Vangelis and Ennio Morricone in "Kings of the Past." If The Lion King possesses a score highlight, I would listen to this cue again. Much soul emerges from "Remember Who You Are" which frankly needed to be explored earlier. There are hints, yet this proves ineffective as an emotional hook. The score ends with "This is My Home" and "The Rightful King." The former reminded me of the tragic choirs in James Horner's Glory. As stirring as an idle lake, "The Rightful King" presents a faux classical basis for dramatic fireworks. On this occasion, you're better off hearing Zimmer's bombastic Backdraft, especially "Burn It All." Finally, The Lion King amounts to a lamentable, frisky, schizophrenic, staggered, depressing and unfashionable experience.
Ray (Craig Armstrong, 2004) ** Lament: the oil which courses through the nervous system; an expression of grief, mourning and the desire to recapture. The broken net fishes no more. The skipper retired. However, there's a promise of the healing song. Mistakes can be forgiven, put aside so the journey might resume on a positive note. Next, "Della's Theme" comforts Ray like a shoulder for overworked sadness. Doubtless, composer Craig Armstrong derives power from the life narrative of Ray Charles. Whether we want to explore such downbeat material another time... remains doubtful. Three times, "Dreams of Ray" dumps us outside the timeline of this story; the techno beat echoing a soulless rhythm untouched by human digits. Deducting a star felt mandatory while hearing these abominations.
Saladino (Angelo Francesco Lavagino, 1963) ** Sheer puzzlement at the prospect that Saladino, a once charming score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, has deserted me. It's similar to my reaction regarding the same composer's The Wonders of Aladdin. Perhaps sensationalism has a half life. Indeed, enthusiasm over what's new can cloud judgement, making leaps which a timely test cannot justify. Thus, the encore imparted little awe even with the choirs and brass at full volume. It's possible I wasn't in the mood for Saladino. Then again, I highly doubt a splinter of interest will stick given this negative sweep.
Time to rhyme:
Are we open to deceive
Because emotions leave?
All about mood and setting
Music can be flat or upsetting.
Saladino left me in limbo
Any decent posture akimbo.
Sad to see it fall
Like curling into a ball.
The future could rise
Making for excellent surprise.
For now I leave this one
Until another Score Season is done.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
K2 (Hans Zimmer, 1991) ***** Give an athlete the twenty seven mile marathon, and it's a test of endurance. Give a composer twenty seven minutes to capture the essence of a film, and you might well hear the entire breadth of human experience. In Hans Zimmer's K2, check out "The Ascent,'' a near thirty minute colossus. Such immersion left me in a new emotional place. Crucially, the music felt as gargantuan as the mountain. An electric guitar captures the adrenaline rush felt by Taylor Brooks (Michael Biehn, a personal favourite) and Harold Jameson (Matt Craven) as they navigate their objective. "The Ascent" closes with the most devastating violins... simply breathtaking. Prepare yourself for "The Descent" which was spectacular too.
Although I criticize Zimmer for not making the most of every project, it's only because I know how superb he can be. During interviews, he's upfront about his self doubts. Perhaps he should stop doubting and take the leap. Because when he does, marvellous scores happen. Check out Crimson Tide, The Rock, The Peacemaker, Gladiator and The Last Samurai if you don't believe me.
A poem to close:
A poem made for the mountain
Dipping toes in eternal fountain.
K2 was both mega and small
How two friends climbed the wall.
With much to lose
and egos to heighten or bruise,
For Taylor, it was beating the toughest
While Harold experienced the roughest.
Hans Zimmer overcame the impossible height.
Our emotions kept in sight.
He did well
Time to ring the victory bell.