I admit I was cynical when I heard about this album, a new recording by Joel McNeely
with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra of the music from Michael Mann's curiously
flimsy 1992 version of The Last of the Mohicans. With so many great scores unavailable
in any form, why re-record an over-rated modern score already represented by a popular
soundtrack album? It was the popular part that made me cynical, the idea of re-recording
something not because it deserves it, but because it is virtually guaranteed to sell.
I became even more cynical when I discovered that, just as with Varèse Sarabande's 2CD
set of Superman, there was still to be lots of music missing. Surely the only point of
making a new album would be to issue the complete score?
I'm feeling a bit less cynical now. The Last of the Mohicans was a muddle of a movie.
Such was the production schedule that Randy Edleman was brought in to write extra music,
Trevor Jones simply not having time to score the entire picture. Jones' contribution
essentially consists of a great main theme, one of the finest of the 90's, and some robust,
stirring actions cues. Edleman's contributions were quieter, more reflective, and largely
forgettable. On the original soundtrack album Jones and Edleman contributed more or less
equally, the disc also featuring a song by Clannad which had no place either musically or
dramatically in the film.
The very informative liner notes to the new album, penned by Film Music on the Web's own
Paul Tonks, point-out that the Clannad song has been deleted from this year's
"Director's Expanded Edition" of the film on DVD. Whether this, and the
numerous edits, including the cutting of many 'one-liners' from the film can turn a
bad comic book into the serious dramatic feature The Last of the Mohicans advertised
itself as being is a matter for elsewhere. It does however seem that such was the
race to get the film into the cinemas that not even the director was happy with the result.
Given this unhappy background, what this new album does is restore the balance of the
music in favour of Trevor Jones. Jones wrote around 48.5 minutes of music for the film,
Edleman, 28.5. Almost without exception, Jones cues formed the most important part of the score.
This album contains 45.5 minutes of music. Just over seven minutes, consisting of three cues -
'Bridge at Lacrosse', Garden Scene', 'The Courier' - are by Edleman. That leaves 38 minutes of
Jones 48 minutes of score. The Edleman cues are definitely the best of his work on the film and
integrate well with Jones work. There are also several cues here that are not on the original
album, such that between the two discs it is probably possible to piece together the entire score.
Though I doubt anyone would want to. 45 minutes is quite long enough. Anymore music would
simply be more repetitions of the same material, diluting the overall effect. Hence the
reason I am now feeling less cynical. Unlike with Superman, Varèse Sarabande made the right decision.
The Last of the Mohicans is not a great score, and a full CD would be indigestible.
Varèse Sarabande albums have often be criticised for having muddy sound, the result of recording
in 'classical' fashion rather than close-miking. Given that the original soundtrack album wasn't
especially well recorded, with the military snares in particular sounding rather thin and dry,
Varèse have done a good job here. The bass has more power on the soundtrack album, but the
overall sound is rich, a good compromise between being clinically detailed and sweepingly grand,
which is just what this music needs. It isn't in any case the most detailed of scores.
So what do you get? That big, stirring, indomitable main theme, played here with considerable
verve and enthusiasm by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Some attractive folk-like writing
in 'The Glade', rousing set-pieces such as the 'Massacre' and 'Promontory'; and the romantic
'The Kiss', complete with a violin solo that sweeps and surges and comes and goes in the mix.
Otherwise, while it is a little too repetitive to be a really great score, Jones writing
effectively captures a sense of the elemental landscape; a worthwhile companion to such works
as Jerry Goldsmith's The Edge and Lee Holdridge's Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. Even so,
unless you are a really big fan of this score, or of Mr Jones, there is no real imperative
to replace your original soundtrack album. On the other hand, if you don't have the soundtrack,
this is now substantially the preferred choice.
And finally; I know Varèse Sarabande are in business and have to make money to keep putting
new albums out, but please, if re-recordings are on the agenda, how about some great scores?
How about Miklós Rózsa's Quo Vadis?
Gary S. Dalkin