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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #42
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (tomandandy, 2019) Why create a theme when you can have a drone? The default for modern composers means they must abandon sacred principles such as tone, melody, counterpoint and rhythm. They have sound libraries and manipulating these acoustics can allow for brief or extended measures of nothingness. I have known about the composing duo tomandandy (all small case) for quite some time. I wrote about their work in my film reviews of Right at Your Door and 47 Meters Down. Now the sequel arrives entitled 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. The trailer appears gripping enough. No doubt it will be standard genre fare. As for the score, tomandandy don't amplify the tension or drama due to their amorphous, meandering soundscapes. For example, "Altar" and "Chum" suggest an organ underpinning some ethereal base. However, the composers are confined by their admiration for Vangelis.They copy him via an echo chamber of forgotten sounds. These rarely form a shape beyond dreary background whispers. It's so heavy on the reverb that it gives the impression of underwater recordings. That's one thing at least. I find it increasingly bizarre how composers are encouraged to pursue such apathetic noise making. There are few if any musical qualities, causing the eardrum bleeding length to feel like an exercise in commercial torture. To a large extent, "Edge" took the whole blackboard/fingernail dilemma to a new level of eyeball rolling madness. Alongside Backdraft 2, 70 Big Ones and Men in Black: International, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged proves to be one of the absolute worst soundtracks of 2019.

Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (Robert Folk, 1991) **** A poem:

An all time high
Wrought such exquisite sigh.
Dar the Hero
Conquering foes worse than Nero.

He parts the red sea
Rewriting film music history.
It was a tale most grand
Which clarified a new brand.

Complex in the most subtle fashion
Modern scores favour the ration.
Yet music by Robert Folk
Proves he's no regular bloke.

Despite facing a bad sequel
The themes bare no equal.
Cultivating a rare spot truly
Involves carving the reputation unruly.

He holds pixie dust in the spring
A waterfall and eagle wing.
The man knows his beast
When they share a feast.

It was the unknown tradition
which caused a split decision.
Do we need the film? Not really.
It came off rather silly.

The Crow: City of Angels (Graeme Revell, 1996) *** Composer Graeme Revell can be commended for producing strange and intoxicating landscapes of sound. Rhythm and counterpoint matter to him, even though he adopts an abstract expressionist poise. Refusal to lift themes from The Crow (the exception being "A Dream on the Way to Death") proves admirable and risky. As such, I absolutely love the church choir during "City of Angels" and "Mirangula: Sign of the Crow." This pinpoints a brand new identity which seems fitting given that Brandon Lee's Eric Draven does not reappear. Parts of his music are atmospheric and highly provocative, while others represent industrial waste. Because we cannot have progress without experimentation, some cues land with the confidence of a seasoned bird.  

Cyrano de Bergerac (Dimitri Tiomkin, 1950) ** Greater fortunes would await composer Dimitri Tiomkin as the 1950s played out. The immense popularity behind High Noon emerged like the stuff of dreams. As an artefact from the Golden Age, Cyrano de Bergerac comes equipped with all the relevant pomp and ceremony. It sounds just as you would expect, so there's no surprise and precious little drama. For instance, "Love by Proxy" courts a genial atmosphere, the strings and woodwinds easy on the heart. With the innocence of a tea party, the music can be admired for its playful and consistent nature. At higher volumes, some hiss or distortion seems apparent. However, it's a minor problem. 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (John Debney and Germaine Franco, 2019) ** We live in the age of mimicry. The average blockbuster seems inseparable from the next due to established working practices. Don't make it unique, make it the same. With Dora and the Lost City of Gold, composers John Debney and Germaine Franco lack any originality in their foundations. Thus, the themes prove unexciting. Like many run-of-the-mill scores, emotional involvement was kept to a minimum. Adding thievery to the spike, they blatantly ransacked Jerry Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and John Williams' Star Wars, especially the battle motifs. Meanwhile, fantasy elements end up recycled from Alan Silvestri's The Mummy Returns. If one were judging the orchestration, not a boggle. However, a symphony only captures the heart and imagination if sincerity proves forthcoming. Alas, Dora and the Lost City of Gold was noncommittal. The remedy? Hear Debney's Cutthroat Island as soon as possible.

Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (Gerard Schurmann, 1963) **** Composer Gerard Schurmann certainly knows his craft. With an uncanny ability to capture emotion and subtlety, he's one of the most rewarding discoveries I have made since the inception of the Score Season. A tremendous showcase for his work, The Film Music of Gerard Schurmann contains tracks from Konga, Claretta PetacciThe Ceremony and others. Kicking off with eight compositions from Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow, a classical sensibility ensues. It's inspiring music packed with colour, drama and sophistication. Both Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold would appreciate the speed and precision behind "Flight from the King's Men." You cannot go wrong with themes designed to leave the listener in a positive mindset. Credit to the BBC Philharmonic under the baton of Rumon Gamba for once again performing with passion and respect. Bravo!

Meet Joe Black (Thomas Newman, 1998) **** All I remember about Meet Joe Black was the three hour running time (I had no trouble sleeping that night), Brad Pitt's blonde hair and something about peanut butter. As for Thomas Newman's score, very little stuck... until now. Regarding bias and expectations, I approached his music with a blank slate. Defining Newman's style can prove troublesome. On American Beauty, he conveyed ideas in a loose, repetitive and anonymous vein. By contrast, depth of feeling made Road to Perdition a surprise. With Meet Joe Black, the mood constantly reshapes. Likewise pacing and emphasis allow the tone to feel sincere. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this experience would be the theme heard during "Walkaway." It's casual, enlightened and transcendent. Finally, Newman's ability to make us forget time and wander immersed through such tapestries of sound deserves a standing ovation. 

Moonfleet (Miklos Rozsa, 1955) **** Like many scores in his filmography, Moonfleet finds composer Miklos Rozsa reacting with a biblical sense of pathos. I could barely catch my breath as "Prelude/Foreword" set sail at a world spinning pace. Indeed, his compositions tend to rush and tumble with the energy of a tempest. Throughout Moonfleet, he works three notes to obsessive variations. There are ancillary motifs which empower the experience. I wasn't bored for a second. Although Rozsa never lacked passion, one could say he pressed very hard to make a point. However, this rarely affected my enjoyment as balance and confidence were on his side. 

The Swan (Bronislau Kaper, 1956) **** Time to rhyme:

When life's most alarming
It's good to hear music so charming.
Most options seem irrelevant
So try one that's elegant.

How one wept
Across the starry sea and slept.
The joy in dancing the waltz
I am a sucker for schmaltz.

Sentimentality viewed as weak
Not sure what others seek.
The Swan flew into my heart
Gave the necessary start.

This music bewitched me so
Surpassing any woe.
You shall find treasure
In every note and measure.


Jack the Giant Killer (Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, 1962) ***** By now, choosing a "Score of the Moment" has become a test between what the heart wants and what the mind deems technically outstanding. Very often, the simplicity of one outweighs the complexity of the other. Factors such as ego, wish fulfilment and reputation cannot compromise the final decision. Most good film scores fail the ultimate test either because they lack depth or they were surpassed by another example in the genre. 

Probably the finest Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter soundtrack not to be released by Monstrous Movie Music (thank you Intrada), Jack the Giant Killer dominates via a flurry of high powered brassy fanfares. By contrast, there's romantic secondary material as well as the innocent sound of a music box. It's certainly the type of tune giants would demand to hear whilst munching on their supper. It's twice the length of their similarly outstanding It! The Terror from Beyond Space (see my video review here:

Above all, there's a whiff of the enigmatic suggested by "Elaine Transforms." The female vocal seems haunted, potentially dangerous and omnipotent. 

For all the strides made during the 1960s, Jack the Giant Killer comes across as one of the surest, most unassuming dandies. This enterprise moves along comfortably, ignited by precision and unpredictability. Exceeding eighty minutes, this might seem like a journey too far -- even great scores fall down at such interest rates -- yet Jack the Giant Killer rears confidently, a stallion as energetic on the backstretch as the starting gate.

A brief poem to close:

Jack the Giant Killer
What a thriller!
A melody fit for Quo Vadis
That oughta please Gladys.

Making a good tune
Something absent from Dune.
A steady and generous flow
Left quite a glow.


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