Score Season #7
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
The Blue Lagoon (Basil Poledouris, 1980) **
Like Big Wednesday, The Blue Lagoon reveals a lighter side to composer Basil Poledouris. Frankly, such nice music carrying the odd dramatic flourish doesn’t prove endearing. Artistry requires time for magic to emerge. As such, it would be another two years before he broke out with the gargantuan, if slightly flawed Conan the Barbarian. However, for those curious to hear Poledouris before his big arrival, The Blue Lagoon offers passable refreshment.
Cleopatra (Alex North, 1963) **
An endurance test, Alex North’s Cleopatra holds a running time of 150 minutes. I listened to every second with headphones, a default method. First the good stuff: North’s artistry never appears in question, the great experimentalist constantly knocking down barriers, while overcoming problems that would tally a lesser composer. Now the bad news: Cleopatra offers a remote, inaccessible experience in terms of emotion. This gap between technique and depth proves to be a deal breaker for me. Listening to “Cleopatra Enters Rome,” a worthy fanfare teases prior to some meandering percussion. Whether you find this intoxicating or infuriating depends upon personal mood. In my view, it tends to get a little pompous.
Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (Frederic Talgorn, 1990) *
Some might view Frederic Talgorn’s Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection as something sacred. Then again, the irksome synthesizer theme rehashed endlessly throughout “The Chase” damages credibility. Despite a few soundtrack fans expressing delight over this release, the $30 asking price at Intrada means they will be paying for the privilege. Personally, I’d stick with Jay Chattaway’s Invasion U.S.A. which feels like the better score for a Chuck Norris blockbuster.
A Few Bullets More (Gianni Ferrio, 1967) ****
The Spaghetti Western made a lasting impact due to pioneers like Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone. I would add A Few Bullets More to this legacy because composer Gianni Ferrio’s soundtrack offers a unique mind-set. I had tremendous fun listening to it. Carrying romance, adventure and danger in every stave, A Few Bullets More proves to be an instant classic. I even like the title.
Gladiator (Jerry Goldsmith, 1992) **
Not to be confused with Ridley Scott’s historical epic, Gladiator depicts a world of boxing. The film stars James Marshall, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Brian Dennehy. Initially, composer Jerry Goldsmith got the project only to be replaced by Brad Fiedel. The former creates a rhythmic, grungy and percussive soundtrack. Quite hip and light on its feet, “I Owe” makes a pleasing start. Excitement continues during “The Diner,” yet the standout cue must be “Knock Out.” The latter reminded me of John Scott’s fight theme for Lionheart. Then it gets muddled. A number of tracks like “I’d Rather Walk” and “My Baby/My House” prove directionless at best. Meanwhile, the penultimate “No Gloves/Refund/Get Him” doesn’t provide a meaningful finish. Concerning the Goldsmith completist, owning Gladiator could be a no-brainer. However, I’d stop short of a full recommendation because this effort delivers a pinch rather than the much needed knockout.
The Guns of Navarone (Dimitri Tiomkin, 1961) ***
Not a score I would buy, Dimitri Tiomkin’s The Guns of Navarone functions very well inside the film. Taken away from the picture, I have problems with it, namely the emotional hook. It doesn’t give the same rush that distinguished The Old Man and the Sea as well as The Alamo. Despite some action music coming across as instrumentally creative, it's not enough to consider a second visit.
It Came from Outer Space
(Herman Stein, Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini, 1953) ****
An important science-fiction film, It Came from Outer Space features a remarkable score. That spacey sound spun from the Theremin remains the quintessential instrument for extra-terrestrials. Even Danny Elfman would use it in Mars Attacks! It gives us a sense of life beyond the stars, something potentially dangerous and awe-inspiring. Above all, It Came from Outer Space contains two special moments: the “Main Title” and the action-packed “Glob Frank Killed.” The former was composed by Herman Stein, while credit for the latter belongs to Irving Gertz.
Mr. Skeffington (Franz Waxman, 1944) ****
I felt enchanted by Mr. Skeffington. Composer Franz Waxman may forever be associated with scores such as The Bride of Frankenstein and Rebecca. Yet the beauty in this 1944 effort, stunningly re-recorded by William Stromberg, includes some of Waxman’s most deeply felt cues. Overall, various dramatic passages allow the happier moments to shine. Just a beautiful score from head to toe.
The Walk (Alan Silvestri, 2015) ****
Many times, Alan Silvestri has proven to be a wonderful composer. In my opinion, his finest work revolves around adventure, specifically Back to the Future, Predator, Predator 2, Blown Away and Judge Dredd. Yet his only Academy Award nomination for scoring was the runaway hit Forrest Gump. A fine effort to be sure. Many moons later, Silvestri reteams with director Robert Zemeckis for The Walk. Their collaboration focuses on an extraordinary individual, Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). A high-wire artist, he staged a daring coup in 1974. One morning, he fixed a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked across… not once but eight times. This true story resulted in a very good film. How to summarise Silvestri’s contribution? There’s a pleasant ambience overall, jazzy with a Parisian flavour during the early stages. As the story develops, some action can be heard in “Time Passes.” This reaches a high point during “The Walk.” Nearby, “I Feel Thankful” pays off such a good build-up. Crucially, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” kicks off this particular cue in beautiful fashion. It soon becomes a dance between awe, suspense and resolution. I liked it very much.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
War of the Worlds (John Williams, 2005) *****
Sometimes the worst movie can yield a fine score. Therefore, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds contains some of John Williams’ seminal action writing. Different in character to Leith Stevens’ 1953 effort, the former represents an artistic leap forward. Early atmospheric touches in “Prologue” avoid the gloomy excesses from Artificial Intelligence. Full disclosure: Williams’ contribution to that 2001 film left me cold. Back to War of the Worlds, and tensions broil inside “The Ferry Scene.” We hear twenty seconds of portentous material prior to an orchestral explosion. Elsewhere, the balance between fragile family dynamics and the apocalypse works on both fronts. Major highlights include “Reaching the Country,” which reminds us what the heroes are fighting for. It’s a poignant remedy that moves the soul prior to a heart sinking reveal at 2:13. Also, I enjoyed the Americana vibe throughout “Ray and Rachel.” Ditto “Refugee Status.” If you were hiding from something scary, then dread and heightened expectation would rise. Therefore, that’s the brilliance of “Probing the Basement” because you can sense the fear without really going there. Above all, my appreciation grows during “Escape from the Basket.” This nine-minute tone poem reinforces every cue, making me crave another dip.