October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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What Lies Beneath  
  conducted and orchestrated by the composer
  Varèse Sarabande VSD-6172   [29:58]

What lies beneath this new project from director Robert Zemeckis and his regular composer Alan Silvestri is the wave of supernatural thrillers exemplified by The Sixth Sense, Stigmata and The Haunting. It seems an unusual case of bandwagon hopping for such a prestigious director, previously responsible for the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump and Contact, and is according to advance reports a very ordinary and unambitious picture. That it stars Harrison Ford, who hasn't made a really notable film in a decade, would seem to confirm that this blockbuster is simply the latest hollow spectacle to roll out from the Hollywood machine-shop.

What lies beneath the score is the music of Bernard Herrmann. Certainly one can argue Herrmann underpins the sound of virtually every thriller and horror film made in the last 40 years. To be precise, since the moment everything changed with the release of Psycho (1960). The cover of What Lies Beneath depicts a bathroom scene, but it isn't a shower. Rather, a bath, more specifically, a woman's hand on the edge of a bath, as if the woman has been left for dead and is now about to pull herself out of the water and come looking for trouble. It is, of course, a calculated reference to Les Diaboliques (1954). (Forget the appalling Hollywood remake, and Fatal Attraction, which reused the device). But while the artwork goes back to Les Diaboliques (incidentally, a film based on a novel by the same writer, Pierre Louis Boileau, who penned d'Entre les Morts, the source for Hitchcock's Vertigo) the music is in debt to Psycho.

This is a very short album, offering 9 tracks in fractionally under half-an-hour. It's still quite long enough, for this is utterly generic post-Herrmann suspense fare. I'm sure it serves it's purpose well enough in the film, but there's absolutely nothing new. And I really do mean nothing. Just dark atmospheric orchestral textures and the occasional jolt, mournful flute and piano over strings, the sort of thing we hear a hundred times a year. All the expected devices are present, such that that there really is no point in listing them. Noting interesting happens until track 7, 'The Getaway', a spectacular set-piece we would all love it if it had been written by Bernard Herrmann. The driving string motif is a very close cousin to Psycho, while the blistering horns and percussion immediately call to mind On Dangerous Ground. As the cue develops we find ourselves in Vertigo territory heading towards the Mysterious Island. It sounds terrific, but if I didn't know better I would assume this was a Herrmann cue I had not previously heard. Likewise, the following 'Reunited' continues the Herrmann sound, while the 'End Credits' reprises 'The Getaway' before becoming a lengthy (6:33) mood piece restating what little thematic material Silvestri has previously presented.

For such a big name composer this is an astonishingly derivative score, and with such a short running time, offers very poor value in every respect. Why have an imitation when you can have the real thing, treat yourself to another Bernard Herrmann album instead.

Gary S. Dalkin



Gary S. Dalkin


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