November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Urban Legends (Final Cut)
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Even given that everyone wants to direct a movie, one really feels compelled to ask, "Why, John, why?" John Ottman rapidly came to everyone's attention with his second film, being not just composer but also editor on one of the best thrillers ever, The Usual Suspects (1995). He did a fine job in both departments. Since then he has continued to work on dark thrillers and horror movies, including Bryan Singer's follow-up to The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil (1998), and has delivered superior scores for such films as Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997) and Incognito (1997). Now he has made his directing debut, with Urban Legends: Final Cut, a sequel to a rip-off of a spoof of the film with which the multi-talented director, editor, composer, John Carpenter started the entire teen-slasher genre back in 1978. (The films I am referring to are, obviously, Urban Legend, Scream and Halloween).

Urban Legends: Final Cut is a post-modern (it doesn't have to take itself seriously, passing off a lack of originality as a virtue under the headings 'irony' and 'homage') horror movie about a group of airbrushed teenagers and a loon in a mask. So John Ottman, even given that everyone wants to direct a movie, why settle for this redundant slice of mediocrity? Last month it was Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri paying post-modern 'homage' to Hitchcock & Herrmann's Psycho in What Lies Beneath , today it is Ottman pointlessly referencing Hitchcock & Herrmann's Vertigo. Or as Ottman puts it in his notes, "Why else would I have had the writers put a bell tower in the script?!" Indeed, why, John, why? It's tired, it's lame, it's infantile, it's been done a million times before, and it really is time talented people started doing original work of the calibre we know they are capable of rather than pandering to the most idiotic teenager on the back row: Brian DePalma has already done the whole Hitchcock homage thing to death, and he had Herrmann and Williams and Donaggio and Morricone along for the ride. So why, John, why? Five years ago you scored and edited one of the most intelligent and original thrillers ever made, so why waste your talent directing and scoring this trash? Including Hitchcock's 'theme music', Gounod's "Funeral March of the Marionette" just makes it all the more pathetic.

The music? You want to know about the music? There is over 73 exhausting minutes of it, including two routine pop-rock songs, one Goth-lite, the other imitation REM, both written by conductor Damon Intrabartolo, who confusingly is credited with arranging the score, despite Ottman being credited with orchestrating it. There is also an uncredited, untitled song as the unlisted track 25, a silly ditty which plays like an update on Monty-Python's 'Lumberjack Song'. Otherwise the familiar Ottman suspense devices are here, combined with the usual dark-suspense/horror devices. A lot of the score does sound as if it could come from a new Alien movie, particularly a Jerry Goldsmith one, but you've heard it all many times before and will here many more. It is nevertheless polished and superior bang-crash-thud / creepy-atmospheric horror music for a by numbers slasher which really offers nothing to seriously distinguish it from other such scores, and offers little pleasure for independent listening. The sound, and performances are first class, the orchestra is big, and when called upon, deliver a truly nightmarish cacophony.

Gary S. Dalkin


Paul Tonks adds:-

It's hard to imagine when John Ottman got any sleep during the year or so he worked on this picture. His official credits are as Director, Editor, and Composer, but you can be sure they extended to many more areas than that. At the end of it all, the hard work has paid off in an hour's worth of score on this album. The running time is a perk of saving budget by recording in Germany and avoiding those pesky Californian re-use fees. For once, the fuller length of score is warranted. Most horror music tends to outstay its listenable welcome far sooner. The explanation for that is this doesn't consider itself a horror score. Although a few atonal passages shriek otherwise ("The Scoring Stage" ironically enough), Ottman's all-round savvy determined a thriller tone to his directorial debut.

This score may not be as breathtakingly catchy as The Usual Suspects, as wacky as The Cable Guy, as unnerving as Snow White: A Tale Of Terror, or as tongue-in-cheek as Goodbye Lover. But it's definitely got it's own 'something'. Perhaps it's the delicate use of "Amy's Theme", or the Herrmannesque techniques he admits are present in the booklet notes, or even the general sense of fun being had, which culminates in a finale on "Funeral March Of A Marionette" which Hitchcock made his own through association. One thing's for share, you rarely get the opportunity to so completely appreciate an artist's vision of something. This movie and this score are as personal as it gets in modern cinema. For that alone, this ought to be respected and extremely collectible!

Paul Tonks

*** (*)

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