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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #26
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

47 Ronin (Ilan Eshkeri, 2013) **** Honorable among failures, 47 Ronin achieves some staying power through Ilan Eshkeri’s soundtrack. A moving blend of culturally sound instrumentation combined with a thematic base makes for pleasurable listening. A cool beginning, “Oishi’s Tale” belongs with works such as Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hans Zimmer’s The Last Samurai. Thunderous and personal, “Kirin Hunt” features some Elliot Goldenthal brass at 1:27. Looking back, I remember the difficulties this score presented on its release. Since then, I have grown more accustomed to the horror genre. As a rule, the music fluctuates between spectacular measures and those promoting spook central. Only in the latter camp does the composer show any signs of faltering. Consider “The Witch’s Lie,” a decent period of contemplation minus any electronics. Overall, this proves to be a sturdy effort highlighted by dedication.

The Bad Seed (Alex North, 1956) **** Aching behind The Bad Seed as a dream ready to burst stood Alex North -- man, composer, sculptor. What does he sculpt? Emotions. Painful, passionate and powerless to resist. His gift to listeners might be an uncanny impression of the human heart. For as much care and deliberation as he ploughs into a given subject, the strings inside his own soul do the talking. He speaks where others might only wrinkle their foreheads in confusion. Perhaps The Bad Seed belongs to time, a fleeting reminder about the unpredictable natures which stir the animal within.

The Dark Knight (James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, 2008) * Film critic Stephanie Zacharek cleverly summarised The Dark Knight as follows: “If this is genius, give me hackery.” The same could apply to James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack. For example, “Why So Serious?” resembles a medieval torture device, straining a single chord across nine minutes. Ouch! If your eardrums survive, then the talisman of Odin should bless the days ahead.

Marked by a poem:

The Joker missing funny lines.

The music must pay fines.

They settled upon a dirge

To express Gotham’s scourge.


Film and score came out dry

Better left in deep fry.

At least there would be toast

Such inertia from coast to coast.


A wiser gentleman would have sipped

From another well that dripped.

Engine requiring a patch

The bolt lost from watch.

The Devil at 4 O’Clock (George Duning, 1961) **** Only a poem this time:

A feeling in the marrow

Like the point of an arrow.

George Duning made it nimble

He found the right symbol.


For some, security in the fateless

For me, the prospect of feeling weightless.

Fine music can lift

The way clouds shift.


Swimming near a coral reef

Capturing a good motif.

Such ingenuity took sand

Might start up the band.

Julius Caesar (Miklos Rozsa, 1953) **** The formal nature behind Miklos Rozsa’s Julius Caesar attests to discipline and fortitude. The theme, a grand processional march, recurs frequently. This conveys the heart of a doomed leader, and what his passing does to conspirator and disciple alike. If memory serves, Julius Caesar was my first exposure to William Shakespeare’s prose. At school, I got caught up in Macbeth too. Regarding the score, it sustains the cloth of melancholy which can be heard in numerous Rozsa symphonies. For example, “The Scolding Winds” perfectly captures the gusts of retribution, awaiting the ideal time to strike. The greatness inside Julius Caesar emerges from a wounded heart, and these conflicting emotions inspire the woodwinds.

Remember the Titans (John Debney, 2000) * While “Good Ole’ Boyz” plants some bluesy cool, John Debney’s discarded score for Remember the Titans resembles cheesy flash. Significantly underdeveloped, the music lacks charm or testosterone. Even the guitar during “69 Chevy Run” typifies restraint when a confident swing would strike more effectively.

The Steam Engines of Oz (George Streicher, 2018) *** Given such a fantastical universe, composer George Streicher could have copied Danny Elfman’s style. Yet he brought his own signature to The Steam Engines of Oz. In the early going, the scale might seem quaint. Trust that it will get bigger (“Tin Man Vs. Magnus”). The contrapuntal symmetry during “Prison Break” doesn’t feel busy as the melodic lines stay sharp. Actually, such enchantments can be deceptive. Because Streicher gives us only what the story requires, it feels refreshing. He’s to be commended for simplicity and economy of means. The best compliment I can pay him? He inspires a revisit to the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.

The Tempest (Elliot Goldenthal, 2010) As a servant to artistry, Goldenthal has chiselled some distinctive material -- consider Cobb, Sphere and Titus. The latter was a mess but it was an exquisite, incendiary effort. You could sense the sweat and pain the composer went through to achieve the simplest measure. That’s a state of mind absent from The Tempest. When Elliot Goldenthal isn’t wallowing in wispy ambiences (“Alchemical Lightshow”), he’s engaged in alternative rock (“High Day Two Step” and “Lava Dogs”). Neither serves the Bard very well. Even the most electrifying track “Hell is Empty” might better suit a cop thriller from Goldenthal’s past, such as Heat or S.W.A.T. Landing inside Shakespeare’s backyard, it provokes a troubled brow.

They Died with Their Boots On (Max Steiner, 1941) ** Keyed to the dramatic hoof beats of American cavalry and the shiny lustre of sabres in battle, They Died with Their Boots On features a classic Hollywood take on the last stand of General Custer. The latter was played by golden boy Errol Flynn. Immediately, two faults can be found. Firstly, Custer was a Lieutenant Colonel, not a General. Then again, the latter has the advantage of sounding better. Secondly, Flynn might be too cuddly and goodhearted to portray such an egotistical, glory seeker as Custer. Perhaps I have dillydallied enough, what of Max Steiner’s score? It carries the burden of familiarity, while lacking the shine of Steiner’s 1936 classic, The Charge of the Light Brigade. There’s just no comparison as the latter belongs with the most magnificent movie scores ever produced. Taken on its own terms, They Died with Their Boots On comes across as quaint.


Hercules (Enzo Masetti, 1958) ***** FANTASTIC. Sometimes one word can tell the whole story. However, I have only begun to mine the wonders which burst from every sinew of Hercules. Belonging with titans of 1958 such as Jerome Moross’ The Big Country and Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo, Enzo Masetti’s Hercules proves incalculable. Such unassuming bravado might catch the most nimble off-guard. Masetti, a composer unknown to me, has chiselled a glorious creation. Both adventure and love determine the musical content here. What I adore the most are simple lines smoothly played by the orchestra. Overall, an incredible discovery awaits and I share the spoils.

A poem to close:

Hercules the one and only

This music proves he’s not lonely.

That mighty warrior and his shield

Time to yield.


The sun demolishes any doubts

Of superior tactics taken by the scouts.

And a genuine heroic sound

Pays for the first round.

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