Score Season #33
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Destination Moon (Leith Stevens, 1950) * Musically, Destination Moon holds little heartiness or adventure for those far away places. Mostly, it's a solemn affair with the short route by way of eternity. Unbearably, "In Outer Space" clocks in at twenty minutes and feels every millisecond of it. Ideally, holding the listener's attention for ten minutes requires variety and heft. These seem lost on Leith Stevens. Although he would make a huge impact three years later on The War of the Worlds, Destination Moon was a taxing bore. Inevitably, emotional involvement orbits around an atmosphere promoting joyless chords akin to a migraine. Any emphasis proves perfunctory as the pacing slackens while resorting to conventionally bad habits. If it takes this long reaching the lunar surface, what might happen when we consider Pluto and beyond?
The Blob (Ralph Carmichael, 1958) **** Subverting expectations, “The Blob” features cheesy/charming lyrics against a hip arrangement, and it’s very cool. Check this out:
“Beware of the blob, it creeps
And leaps and glides and slides
Across the floor
Right through the door
And all around the wall
A splotch, a blotch
Be careful of the blob.”
More unsettling, “Violence” throws any goodwill into the waste paper basket then destroys the basket. It’s dissonant, a collision of urgent moods and riotous, racing rhythms. I encounter few problems when a composer wants to alternate between blackness and cream every other cue. It establishes a weight of expectation which demands the musical mind must answer with their best effort.
Dolphin Tale 2 (Rachel Portman, 2014) *** Beyond the feel good vibe, composer Rachel Portman earns my admiration for telling a good musical story. Her Dolphin Tale 2 causes the forced sentimentality behind Mark Isham's original effort to recede in importance. Much like Nerida Tyson-Chew's Return to Nim's Island, Dolphin Tale 2 wins over hearts via tropical effervescence. Some enchanting woodwind performances and the irresistible pace guarantee approval. Finally, Portman remains one of the most gifted and surprising artists in film.
Grizzly (Robert O. Ragland, 1976) ** Well, that's a curious start. The opening song "What Makes a Man a Man" and "Main Title" shield the listener from anything horrific. When "The Grizzly Attacks," the score certainly earns that moniker. Sinister with near stepwise tension and fortissimo flourishes, it's a departure for Robert O. Ragland. A composer with sixty credits, he worked mostly on dramas prior to Grizzly. Without contrast, the darkness would overpower, so it was wise making adjustments between the two modes. However, the only drawback involves a complete lack of interest in revisiting this world.
The Prince and the 108 Demons (Rolfe Kent, 2014) **** Charismatically, Rolfe Kent's The Prince and the 108 Demons promotes spontaneity, a gift of immediacy. Untethered by the expectation of what comes next, Kent's music evokes an ageless ambience of pure feeling. Spiritually, the themes glide via an Eastern sensibility. Not strictly percussion only, the range of textures and tonalities felt immersive. Such discoveries are tantamount to a gold mine of the heart.
Saddle the Wind (Jeff Alexander, 1958) **** If Julie London's deeply passionate vocals don't work a similar glow upon you, I cannot imagine what would. Ultimately, Jeff Alexander's unused score for Saddle the Wind rarely evokes the Western mythos quite like Victor Young's Shane or Dimitri Tiomkin's High Noon. A token experience, Saddle the Wind confronts the listener with a journey they shall never forget. Essentially, this Western shrugs off all notions of innocence to make a grown-up statement.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Daniel Pemberton, 2018) * It took composer Michael Giacchino to realise that the theme for Spider-Man required a brief melodic hook, something the audience could whistle in the corridor afterwards. This factor was lost on contemporaries Danny Elfman, the late James Horner and Hans Zimmer. For Daniel Pemberton's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, he doesn't fare very well. The relentless drum loops, animal screams and heavy metal percussion copies the mind-numbing, down-the-rabbit-hole experience felt by Neo upon re-entering The Matrix. If such an underachieving standard floats your cruise ship, then let Pemberton's sound design wash over the deck. Had this appeared on my radar sooner, a spot for Worst Score of the Year would be inevitable.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (Stephen Endelman, 2009) ** Facing stiff competition from Graeme Revell's Street Fighter, the nearest rival went to its brassy depot and only found plastic. While Revell demonstrated fearlessness, Stephen Endelman's Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li comes across as a lightweight countermeasure. Technically, Endelman does get some things right yet that's the problem. His orchestrations lack the batty craziness prompted by hand to hand combat. As such, the recurring motifs fail to excite the pulse.
Touchback (William Ross, 2011) ** What's missing from Touchback? Certainly not heart, there's plenty of that. A tight dramatic hook, perhaps? While the experience might appeal to the sentimental, I wanted more. Conflict can allow the more accessible emotions to land better because there's something at stake. If you're looking to relax or plan on spending an hour letting the worries of the world melt away, by all means spin Touchback.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
The Glass Slipper (Bronislau Kaper, 1955) ***** A symphony can remind us what’s beautiful about an encounter: how eyes meet and the way steps on a dance floor unite, reshaping an ordinary space. Every second I escaped into Bronislau Kaper’s The Glass Slipper felt like an enchantment, perhaps more so. If there’s any artistry left in the world, music secures the final legacy. Please don’t be offended when I say this soundtrack contains pretty themes. Goodness knows sentimentality can only go part of the way. Above all, Kaper told his story eloquently, such measures exciting the soul in ways the intellect can readily receive. Admittedly, chance led to this discovery. Here’s hoping The Glass Slipper finds you too.