Score Season #9
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (George Kallis, 2016) ****
The name George Kallis seems unfamiliar. Scanning this composer’s database, there are some documentaries and live action short films. Yet the most recognisable title appears to be Highlander: The Source, a TV movie from 2007. As introductions go, Albion: The Enchanted Stallion seems nicely done. Numerous changes in theme and meter reveal a fondness for creativity. As such, there’s passion and joy to Kallis’ trek that immediately puts a spring in your step.
The Constant Nymph (Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1943) ****
Melody was Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s gift as a composer. Whether he wrote for stage or screen, the theme relative to character and situation brought everything together. In 1943, he scored The Constant Nymph, a romantic drama starring Charles Boyer (Gaslight) and Joan Fontaine (Rebecca). If you loved Captain Blood then The Constant Nymph should play very well. My only wish: this music demands a re-recording. Maybe John Morgan and William Stromberg could bring their restorative skills to bear on another Korngold classic.
The Day of the Triffids (Ron Goodwin, 1963) **
Ominous horns and bubbling harp open The Day of the Triffids. It’s pretty effective if a tad obvious given the need to hook listeners quickly. Talking books, John Wyndham’s original bestseller spoke eloquently about the power struggle. Because the sightless are vulnerable to exploitation, the story reveals manipulation of power as well as inhumanity. Disappointingly, Goodwin doesn’t take much direction from the text because his score functions at the most basic level. Also, there’s a dip in quality following the “Main Title.” Essentially, he favours intellect over brute force. Although this can be difficult, exceptions to the rule include Bronislau Kaper’s Them! and Christian Henson’s Grabbers.
Hercules (Pino Donaggio, 1983) ****
Although composer Pino Donaggio might be associated with scoring Brian De Palma films, I prefer Hercules. A fanfare both original and bright sets the mood beautifully. In particular, the relationship between tender melodies and barbarism solidifies the score’s enduring appeal.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Trevor Jones, 2003) ****
An unusual effort from composer Trevor Jones, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen embraces the darkness. Like a Greek tragedy, the music hints at the past by applying layers of sorrow. Such context gives the spectacle meaning and balance. After all, such depth belongs to opportunities missed, perhaps even hope restored. Commendably, Jones creates an atmosphere of suspense, while heroic statements carry significant grandeur. While this might not prove fast enough for some listeners, those that favour such deliberate pacing could feel satisfied. Despite not being a classic like Danny Elfman’s Batman, there’s quality in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that cannot be denied. Inside Jones’ case file, the latter boasts a unique signature, and the complete score comes highly recommended.
Scott of the Antarctic (Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1948) *
Feats of human endurance deserve to be captured. Likewise, when filmmakers interpret such harsh environments or bitter cold, attention to musical structure must be paid. With Ralph Vaughan Williams’ work on Scott of the Antarctic, he sets an austere mood. However, it might be too gloomy for some. Objectively, there’s little to draw complaint. The themes tell a story, it’s all tastefully done but rather bloodless at the end. By contrast, I felt a greater connection to Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. The latter struck me as a powerful, non-film music alternative.
She (Max Steiner, 1935) ***
The “Main Title” for She carries a yearning King Kong vibe, scratching for the unobtainable. It’s possible that the 1935 version would be clouded by hiss, rarely giving listeners the chance to hear such music at its best. Notably, the re-recording supervised by William Stromberg sounds crystal clear. In the beginning, there’s a nice flow to the album, no doubt augmented by Max Steiner’s classy application of woodwinds. Actually, many tracks sound interconnected, carrying few signs of a break or transition. Based on observation, such markers allow fans to quickly access points of interest. Personally, I prefer the suite format where themes develop over an extended period. Also, this doesn’t involve shortcuts, a priority when hoping to get the most from a score. Coursing through Steiner’s music is genuine soul, a feeling that doesn’t lessen its grip until the ponderous second half. Occasionally, I found She rather hypnotic, especially during “The Queen, Tanya in Bed.” Such work clarifies tone, while developing the story on fascinating levels. However, would I consider a revisit? Perhaps not.
The Tree of Life (Alexandre Desplat, 2011) **
Following the rather drab and repetitive “Childhood,” Alexandre Desplat pulls out a surprise I wasn’t expecting. Arguably, “Circles” represents the pinnacle of his career. The contrast seems dynamic yet casual, capturing the purity of nature at its birth. What’s more, the composer strives for a hypnotic quality, and he succeeds marvellously. Beyond that, everything else pales. For me, the experience felt positive when hearing “Circles.” Less so during “Light and Darkness.” Apparently, director Terrence Malick believed that his film and Desplat’s music were incompatible. Therefore, most of the score was replaced by existing material.
Viva Zapata! (Alex North, 1952) **
Brief yet ambitious, Viva Zapata! wanders all over the map. Let it never be said that composer Alex North favoured complacency. Despite the reach, this effort achieves very little because it’s so forgettable. Above all, it doesn’t come close to a satisfying emotional payoff. Yes, there are big notes but few land home.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
The Specialist (John Barry, 1994) *****
Some scores I enjoy for their complexity, such as Marco Beltrami’s Mimic and Arthur B. Rubinstein’s Nick of Time. With John Barry’s The Specialist, I crave that indefinable quality that few soundtracks possess. Frankly, the media has invaded those secret spaces occupied by human beings at their most intimate. As for mystery, it’s long gone. So when listening to Barry’s The Specialist, I’m struck by how sexy it feels. In “May Dances with Tomas/Did You Call Me,” the piano and sultry saxophone proves stunning indeed. Very few romantic motifs throughout cinema history resonate with me in quite the same fashion. Adding to which, this could be regarded as an unofficial James Bond soundtrack. For example, there’s some audacious percussion when Ray (Sylvester Stallone) carries a package into his secret, high security lair. Overall, such eroticism and creativity gives The Specialist bragging rights unlimited.