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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #49
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Apollo 13 (James Horner, 1995) ** With a heavy heart, I regret to report that James Horner’s Apollo 13 was as vacant emotionally as the empty space surrounding the astronauts. While I understand and appreciate the spirited gusto wrought by the orchestra, overly simplistic and repetitive melodies stunt involvement. As I write this, I am seized by the knowledge that many soundtrack collectors consider Apollo 13 a holy grail. Admittedly, the touchy-feely nature behind Horner’s work probably clicked with many listeners. I can be quite sentimental but to experience the contrived, syrupy symphony on display here proves irksome indeed. Numerous times, he has come under fire for recycling familiar themes. As such, Apollo 13 merits inclusion. There were moments I was reminded of Sneakers, Aliens, Glory, Clear and Present Danger as well as many others. In particular, “Dark Side of the Moon” practically lifted an entire segment of “Cosmo… Old Friend” from Sneakers. Despite being well orchestrated, the score for Apollo 13 ultimately felt hollow and dull. If I never hear those trumpets again, it’ll be too soon.

Colossus: The Forbin Project (Michel Colombier, 1970) **** Quirky and oriental, Colossus: The Forbin Project could be an aleatoric treasure. Very few scores that I know of can master such relative unease and amenity. These contrasting forces make Michel Colombier’s work on Colossus: The Forbin Project delightfully atypical. At any one time, we might hear something cold and sinister, then there’s a U-turn all achieved via confidence and carefully calibrated mapping. It’s the deconstruction behind Colombier’s style -- the will to embrace spontaneous measures -- which makes the deepest impact. The good folks at La La Land Records have served the film score loving community with this release, which I highly recommend for your collection.

Dune (Toto, 1984) ** Soon, Denis Villeneuve’s version of Frank Herbert’s celebrated novel Dune will be unleashed upon the movie-going public. Apparently, Hans Zimmer’s working on the music. I hope it will be the long overdue return to form for this composer. Meanwhile, there’s the existing 1984 production to consider. Toto composed the score. Frankly, it’s all over the map. The first three tracks move between overwrought Vangelis homage, percussive meandering and a hazy atmosphere. Although this might appeal to New Age or synthesizer enthusiasts, I shook my head in frustration. There’s no originality here and the theme was interminable. I guess “First Attack” wasn’t too bad although Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien 3 did it better. Music entirely dependent upon atmosphere must transport the listener lest they become lost in space.

Escape to Witch Mountain (Johnny Mandel, 1975) * A victim of the forgettable transmission, I forgot what I was listening to. While composers should be encouraged to try out different genres, sometimes this can produce an unintentional parody. Exhibit A: Escape to Witch Mountain whereby Johnny Mandel, perhaps through no fault of his own, was directed to use synthesizers. This carries the conceit of acting like a baby whistling into a flute. Very distracting and amateurish. In fact, there’s little here to get excited about. When attention drifts back to this score, it comes across as rejected material for Federico Fellini’s I Clowns.

Hulk (Danny Elfman, 2003) *** Admittedly, I was more intrigued by Danny Elfman’s Hulk than expected. Having seen the film twice, it was clear that much of Elfman’s music failed to grip. Never fear as the racing orchestral beast soon made an impression. The composer’s dexterity at expressing multiple ideas in a single cue earns the spotlight. For example, “Betty’s Dream” contains a phantasm of emotions from hopeless longing to something ancient and sacred. I was touched very deeply. Granted, the main theme comes across as unimaginative, yet there’s no denying the energy wrought by the brass, strings, voices and percussion.  

The Hunt for Red October (Basil Poledouris, 1990) **** Inspiration rather than pride governs Basil Poledouris’ decision making process. He creates a musical language for The Hunt for Red October which respects the tone of Mother Russia, while paying off the dramatic needs. To this end, the choirs, electronics, horns, woodwinds and strings are vital. While “Chopper” indulges a longish tremor from the synthesizers, “Hymn to Red October (Main Titles),” “Nuclear Scam” and “Kaboom!” are among the most exciting cues in Poledouris’ career. Although one can lament the composer’s zero Academy Award nominations, simply hearing his music reminds us to treasure the priceless moments within.

The Night of the Generals (Maurice Jarre, 1967) **** Composer Maurice Jarre opens with a pretty good march for The Night of the Generals. The tone comes across as epic, sophisticated and precise. Meanwhile, the Love Theme establishes the emotional credentials on a solid front. So far, I like what’s being played. There’s a dancelike grace behind “On the Terrace at Versailles.” Already, Jarre has explored the military, romance and yet a fatalistic undercurrent prevails. This can be felt most keenly during “Lieutenant General Tanz,” “In the Museum,” “On the Bridge,” “War and Madness” as well as “Drive Around Paris.” It’s not a challenging score per se, just very ambitious in covering so much turf. Crucially, the romantic material felt sincere and every note tells a story. I liked it.

The Poseidon Adventure (John Williams, 1972) *** On its own terms, John Williams’ The Poseidon Adventure works well. It’s a serious score with a subtle primary theme. Suspenseful and humanistic, Williams concerns himself with the peril of passengers aboard the SS Poseidon. Brooding chords characterize “The Big Wave and the Aftermath.” Right away, I noticed the astonishing sound quality in the La La Land Records remaster. Grouped alongside Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure reveals a minimalist aesthetic. The degree to which he balances tragedy and hope allows this score to stand out from the pack.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Sol Kaplan, 1965) ** Following the hip “Main Theme,” Sol Kaplan settles into a dull “Piano Interlude,” uneasy “Control,” turbulent “Contact,” Godzilla in “The Compound” and more of the same. That’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Next!


Kubo and the Two Strings (Dario Marianelli, 2016) ***** From the lithesome “Story Time” to mega thrills behind “The Giant Skeleton,” composer Dario Marianelli extends the fantasy language in order to respect a cultural heritage. There’s a sense of music travelling through the ages, tradition as a mind set and personal expression. That’s plenty to convey in one score. Fearlessly, Marianelli allows clacking percussion in a cold, unsettling rhythm to empower “Meet the Sisters!” Horns, strings and assorted brass engage in a heated dialogue, and we recognize the peril facing Kubo. If any score threatens Scott Glasgow’s The Curse of Sleeping Beauty for best of 2016, then Marianelli’s contender should receive a standing ovation. Every great soundtrack carries its own unique emotions. As such, Kubo and the Two Strings reflects honest reactions direct from the soul.

A poem:

Hear what Dario Marianelli brings

To Kubo and the Two Strings.

A flair for ethnic authenticity

In line with relevant eccentricity.


I was left mute

By the wonders of the bamboo flute.

The shamisen a family heirloom

Radiating a fine perfume.


Music of such portent

Doesn’t succumb to torment.

The contrast felt strong

The time between moods wasn’t long.

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