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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #25
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Aliens (James Horner, 1986) **** By its very nature, James Horner’s Aliens tracks a slender gradient between haunted tones -- depicting Ripley’s nightmarish, psychological state -- and the robust collision between sonic forces. A wet, ambient mix augmented by brass, percussion and synthesizers determines Xenomorphic might long before those sleek, dark shapes burst from the wall. Above all, what registers the most are those no-holds-barred set-pieces. Prime example: Ripley stepping into the breach in a bid to save the endangered marines. Meanwhile, Horner’s accompaniment distinguishes this scene from all others in the Alien verse. It’s bold, Oscar worthy stuff.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (Nerida Tyson-Chew, 2004) **** The jungle, its scales so deep the green became a shade of uncertainty. Unsuspecting creatures dwell. They climb, saunter and hang from the earth branches, casting weary shadows. The future reaches for them, a fate decided in advance. Such coils of crushing importance rarely gain flab from extended solitude. Muscles expand, reshape and glisten – earthly sweat to lonely toil. A drum way out there in the pitch black spaces, expectant and all knowing. Woodwinds frown and flutter, answering the solitary tap as a whisper from serpent to serpent. Run from the thing you saw, it darts through the brush. Move to the right, it may trigger a silent rattle. Go left and the mating ball awaits your misstep. The tongue no longer reflex sharp, retreating into mute horror… as the depths call out their ancient song.

Brass Target (Laurence Rosenthal, 1978) *** It’s been several years since I heard Laurence Rosenthal’s labyrinthine score for Brass Target. The experience could be summed up by the harshness afoot. Perhaps I was startled by such malevolence. As of this writing, “Violence in the Bell Tower” couldn’t last long enough. What a tour de force. Yet the reserved closing measures add extreme poignancy. Although the music hasn’t altered, my perception has deepened. Meanwhile, the melodies affect a vibrant underlying texture. Maybe casual listeners shall dismiss what they hear as suspenseful road mapping or building blocks for something heavier. Nevertheless, I extend a hearty recommendation for all lovers of film music because Brass Target has more than one life.

The Caine Mutiny (Max Steiner, 1954) *** Following an altogether brief drum roll, “Main Title” rouses patriotic fervour. It’s the type of fanfare which came from the Golden Age -- romantic, optimistic and pure of heart. Although it’s a familiar path, I welcome it. By the time “Love in the Valley” arrives, some repetition feels inevitable. While there’s not a tremendous amount of fresh ground uncovered by Steiner, he’s a legend who keeps it simple. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Danny Elfman, 2005) From “Main Titles,” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory only gets weirder. It’s a symptom, both gift and curse, for composer Danny Elfman. His music, while battering the wall with strange effects can be simultaneously relaxing and obnoxious. Guess where Charlie belongs. Frankly, there’s no individuality to what we hear. This assorted toy box of rhythms, pings, sustains, off-cuts and jarring melodies might wow the ears of a toddler. For veteran soundtrack collectors, it’s a little slapdash, even cutie-pie lullaby. I read Roald Dahl’s book, allowing for strangeness to be a measure of its inner workings. However, what Elfman fails to grasp might be geometric progression. With better spotting, he’d contribute less music and such highlights might enhance the story. Instead, we experience a waterfall of mundanity.

The Day of the Dolphin (Georges Delerue, 1973) * Thematically, I find composer Georges Delerue to be on the muddy side. I hear and recognise his craft, yet rarely do I feel caught up in the storytelling. Expecting a whirlpool, the result hews closer to a swimming bath where the water was drained long ago. Ultimately, The Day of the Dolphin does little to alter the status quo. There are woodwinds -- pleasant yet boring. Even the darker material threatens to unravel when juxtaposed against a track of heart-warming complacency. For the future, I remain hopeful…

Lifeforce (Henry Mancini, 1985) *** With its structure gargantuan and its effect amorphous, Henry Mancini’s Lifeforce defies casual listening. Prepare yourself for the near operatic extremes to which Mancini rings every spring of creative juice and inspiration from this temple. These are phantoms, agents of sound whose mission to cajole, reassure and agitate draws from deepest life experience. After decades of charming us with The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Peter Gunn, he casts a blacker net. Imagine a haunted mansion where noises without source and mists without shape torment the silent spaces via darkish glee. Let the tics shiver on your skin. If skeletal faces could harbour the forgotten speech, the picture would recede into a white sphere. Secrets devoured. Mysteries no more.

What Dreams May Come (Ennio Morricone, 1998) Somewhere between heaven and earth, Ennio Morricone got lost in Dante’s Inferno. His score for What Dreams May Come went unused and small wonder. The melody meanders most of the time. For a love theme to work, we must fall in love with the music. That’s tricky, not to mention elusive. Even the finest get it wrong from time to time. Coursing through John Williams’ dour Schindler’s List was just such a motif, yet it left me cold and distant. What we hear from Morricone slips from elegiac into parody at a twitch.

Who’ll Stop the Rain (Laurence Rosenthal, 1978) ****Although Laurence Rosenthal can be a difficult composer to mark, his strengths lie outside the box. Perhaps the singular highlight from his career must be Clash of the Titans, a rousing adventure soundtrack. Meanwhile, Who’ll Stop the Rain ignites via slasher vengeance, sharp chords which break any previous tranquillity. By contrast, “Charmian’s Villa” offers light lounge relief. From there, we get the momentous “The Voyage Home,” unnerving “Dark Forces,” casual “The Mountain” and sobering “The Railroad Track.” In short, Who’ll Stop the Rain represents an enduring work, among the finest music Rosenthal ever composed.


Antony and Cleopatra (John Scott, 1972) ***** A double poem to close:-

Antony’s Final Thoughts:
Somebody loves me
Cleopatra is she.
Our song of wages
Dark days foretold by mages

Was it beauty
That made her such a cutie?
The subject of many a scholar’s pen
Even a muse at fiddler’s den.

Art might only reflect
What I alone could detect.
Eyes that raise the galleon
Hair the proud, floating mane of a stallion.

It was moments of peace
That allowed for such caprice.
Slowly our flame died
And the lonely falcon cried.

In this last breath
Before untimely death,
I see my dearest queen
Honoured and remembered upon a silver screen

Cleopatra’s Final Thoughts:
Bathed in reassuring hold
My knight so bold.
The moment we met
Our paths were set.

Antony lived by the sword
His ambition sewing discord.
Yes, our light grew fainter
As skill departs the best painter.

Fate finds the most feared
Victims of time, how they disappeared.
If our romance were a hymn
We would sing until our hearts dim.

Perhaps history might bless
A musician under duress.
In reading about us
He might pause.

Tapping his brow lightly
Before composing brightly.

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