|August 2000 Film Music CD Reviews||Film Music Editor: Ian
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************************************************************** EDITORs CHOICE August 2000
Lola Montez. Notre-Dame de Paris. Farandole.
- Suites of music from the films.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adriano
Marco Polo 8.225070 [63:33]
Crotchet Amazon UK
With these three scores Adriano reaches the third volume of film music by Georges Auric and, for me, it is the best so far in an outstanding series. In fact, this album is going to be a strong candidate when it comes to Film Music on the Web Awards for the year 2000.
The most substantial work is the 28-minute suite from Max Ophüls 1955 film of the life of the famous 19th century femme fatale - Lola Montez (1818-1861). This beautiful woman of Irish extraction had toured Europe as a dancer and acted as a political spy. Her conquests included Franz Liszt, Fréderic Chopin, Prosper Merimée, Alexander Dumas senior and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her life ended as a religious recluse but not before she had sunk to appearing as a circus act when her fortunes fell. It is this circus presence that is a strong feature of the film with the cynical ringmaster (Sir Peter Ustinov) exposing her loves and her shame.
The Main Title opens on a dramatic note with military material reminding us of the significance of Lolas spying activities. This soon segues into one of the waltzes that dominate the score. This one is slow and sombre and is associated with Lolas failed and lonely existence as a circus freak and, indeed, the music then soon becomes circus orientated, colourful and vibrant but with a cheap brassy feel heightened by the use of a chorus of five saxophones. In sharp contrast Lolas childhood and youth is a charming picture of youthful games and high spirits, Auric delightfully capturing the essence of a frolicsome little girl but there is pathos too in the material that underlines the disturbed relationship between Lola and her frivolous mother.
The Farewell Waltz is one of Aurics best-loved melodies (composed in the film by Liszt as a farewell present to Lola after their affair) and it is given two separate cues in this suite. The first begins with snare drums marking a strict tempo before the mood relaxes and the melody proceeds as a dreamy solo for piano (a beautiful, sensitive rendering by Stos Zabavnikov). The second cue takes up this dreamy romantic view of the tune and spins out its romantically yearning qualities.
Elsewhere Aurics versatility is shown in a number of vignettes: short tunes and dances, or character pieces, suggestive of the countries where her romantic adventures are set. There is much humour evident: Cossacks, for instance, is a bright, light-hearted confection with the saxophones prominent, leaning towards Satie; while the four square Germanic Minuet seems more suited to the beer garden. There is also a colourful and intoxicating Fandango.
Notre Dame de Paris was the 1956 French Technicolor remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Vilified by the critics, it miscast Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo and Gina Lollobrigida as the gypsy girl Esmerelda. It was not a patch on the two earlier Hollywood productions, particularly William Dieterles excellent version that starred Charles Laughton as the hunchback. The one bright element in the 1956 debacle was Aurics score.
The Main Title music begins imposingly with a peal of big bells supported by massive cymbal and tam-tam crashes that herald majestic awesome music for the huge edifice that is the Parisian church of Notre Dame. More intimate romantic music led by flute follows plus murkier material that is the Destiny theme. The March of the Vagabonds that immediately follows, is swaggeringly defiant and trenchant snare drums and trumpets to the fore. Auric is a master in simultaneously conveying multiple strands of character and plot. In The tryst the assassination attempt there is the lyrical tender music for the romance between Esmerelda and Phoebus counterpointed by the most odious figures for the jealous onlooking Frollo. His jealousy also blights another musically complex episode where Quasimodos unrequited love for Esmerelda is expressed as he offers her flowers while she is apprehensive fearing Frollos malevolence.
Much of the films score comprised songs and dances for Esmerelda by Francesco Lavagnino but Auric was also called upon to write a few additional dance pieces in the ancient style for an ensemble of two harps, two guitars and cello. These also underscored various scenes involving the hustle and bustle of the Beggars of Paris. Five of these dance movements are gathered to form a separate little suite including two lively fandangos and a Jota et Habanera.
Concluding the collection is music from Farandole (1944), an earlier version of Roger Vadims celebrated La Ronde. It was about a circle of illicit love affairs one person loving someone that loved someone else until a complicated circle is closed, the last person involved having an affair with the first.
The music begins somewhat ominously as though self-righteously censoring the lewd activities to follow but soon this mood gives way to the dizzy whirl of the love carousel; frivolous and comedic and ending by cocking a snook at the puritan attitude of its opening. Auric again shows he has a real flair for comedy with coquettish strings, lustful brass and furtive woodwinds etc. - this score is a charming soufflé with Poulenc-like insouciance rubbing shoulders with more romantic reveries.
An outstanding album; heartily recommended.
************************************************************** EDITORs RECOMMENDATION August 2000
Jaws (The Collectors Edition Soundtrack)
Conducted by John Williams
DECCA 467 045-2 [51:20]
Crotchet Amazon US
There are only a few film scores whose titles are like powerful magical incantations. Say Psycho, and everyone hears the shower murder strings. Say Star Wars, and everyone hears the bombastic opening crashing chord. And what do they hear if you say Jaws? Those 2 oh-so-simple notes but thats it. While regarded as one of the greatest scores ever written, Jaws suffers like any music accorded such universal praise in that 95% of the audience couldnt tell you what else makes it so special.
It is a testament to how fantastically iconic that theme has become, and says much about Williams intelligence as a writer. Yet to have the remainder of so remarkable a score overlooked is frankly criminal.
Williams has hardly helped the situation. His concert repertoire delights in presenting an extended arrangement of the theme, and his very specific hands-on approach to compiling an album has meant its been the theme and little else available. Until now. Its taken a milestone birthday, advancements in technology, and the tenacity of a Producer / fan to make an attempt to do this music justice.
The result is an album that makes MCAs original pale embarrassingly. Theres 20 minutes of additional music here. Its sequenced reasonably chronologically. The sound is crisp. And the packaging is exceptional.
As of writing theres no sign of Varese Sarabandes re-recording of the score, but its got a lot to do to eclipse this long-awaited gem.
CENTROPOLIS/HOLLYWOOD/edel HR-62258-2 [72:40]
Inevitably there will be the usual criticisms aimed at this score -- lack of a memorable theme; much self-quotation etc. It has to be said that all this is true but any Williams score is to be welcomed for its sheer professionalism, and the quality of its structure and orchestrations.
For The Patriot, John Williams has written music that is eminently suitable for the film that traces a story that must be indelibly printed on the minds of every American schoolchild and is not entirely lost over on us on this side of the Atlantic. As a 72 minute listening experience though I have to say that it becomes a tad tedious, and over-repetitive.
We are becoming accustomed to having a main theme stated as the opening track and having it repeated as the closing one. For Saving Private Ryan this was very acceptable but not for The Patriot. Frankly this opening cue sounds gauche; the tune is a not too distant relative for that of I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls dressed in alternating country and Celtic styles (slightly reminiscent of Angelas Ashes) with decorative twirls. It sounds vaguely 18th Century but is really more timeless which might have been the composers intention. From this coy, pastoral and serene mood the music proceeds via snare drums and fifes a foreboding of tragedy and conflict.
The Family Farm continues the homely, steadfast mood. There is too a hymn-like quality and a mysticism that reminds one of the music of Vaughan Williams. To Charleston is a nice equestrian evocation. With The Colonial Cause we have another example of Williams immaculately structured and orchestrated music; tense, exciting with much drive and energy, and the usual magnificent writing for brass choirs. Redcoats at the Farm is another impressively stage-managed cue with wide sound perspectives. It begins menacingly on low strings before the entry of brass and drums signalling the advancing foe. The aftermath is very affecting with deep bass drum notes and tolling bell, a tragic picture indeed. Equally horrifyingly evocative are the tracks entitled, The Burning of the Plantation and The Parish Church Aflame. As might be expected the cues covering the call to arms and the battles are all stirring and thrilling. Yorktown and the Return Home is another hymn-like cue with its music very much in the 20th century English string music tradition.
The Patriot score is all very imposing but there is little that is unique or original here; all the John Williams fingerprints, now in danger of becoming clichés, are all on parade. If you were hoping for something that would really move you and lift your spirits, then I guess this will disappoint.
Jeffrey Wheelers rating is kinder :-
More than Copland or Bernstein, Williams is the Maestro of United States patriotism. His many fanfares, from his soon-to-be-on-CD 'Jubilee 350' for the City of Boston to the somewhat jingoistic 'Summon the Heroes' Olympic centennial theme, bear elements of national pride. Comedy has the undervalued "1941." A brook of dramatic scores, from the vastness of "The Rare Breed" to the claustrophobic "Saving Private Ryan," brings sounds shaped by American music. There is his magnificent "The Unfinished Journey," summarizing the past 100 years of American history. Most recently, we hear "The Patriot."
Creative abeyances (a fancy way of saying Williams uncharacteristically pulls several paint-by-numbers measures) and limpid first impressions dent what strives to be a perfect match between Williams' action scores and his artsy-craftsy efforts. The straightforward approach of "The Patriot" is at first uninteresting; it contains bits & pieces from so many past Williams scores that it is a wonder it stays together with any degree of technical prowess. But there are Williams' time-honored intricacies and subtleties working on the inside, trying, and usually succeeding, to negate the faults. His individuality leaves an indelible mark, and the commonplace elements, with the possible exception of the "Unfinished Journey"-like Colonial theme, are not shameless or awkward.
Excellent orchestrations undoubtedly help. Contrasting with dramatic excerpts that call to mind Williams' work on "Born on the Fourth of July," "Rosewood" and "Saving Private Ryan" are serious action cues in the famous John Williams style, including one with a relentless motor theme -- a ruthlessly aggressive ostinato -- and a tension builder yielding a sudden dissonance of 'The British Grenadiers' verses 'Yankee Doodle' before permitting a noble release with a hint of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Aided by piccolo and drum, the music makes cursory attempt at recreating the period sound, though the real achievement is just being evocative of that time. It must also be said that Williams' brass writing is as lustrous as ever. "The Patriot" offers some stunning licks, and when the trumpets sound heroically there is a sudden urge to enlist! In addition to the masculine Colonial theme are three other major motifs: a tenderly concatenated love theme, best heard in a heartbreaking arrangement for flute, harp, and harpsichord, or soaring from the strings of fiddler Mark O'Conner; a chilling trumpet leitmotif for the horrors of war; and, regrettably, a somewhat corny fanfare that sounds like a marching flock of geese with bronchitis and that never varies. The last is rapidly growing on me, however; please tell me that is a good sign.
The score thankfully follows "Angela's Ashes" with a youthful pace and, in conjunction with last year's "The Phantom Menace," allows Williams to finally assuage memories of the mechanical-hearted "Stepmom." Nothing here will likely depress one to the point of meditating on implements of destruction...
Nothing musically, anyway. The sound mix is relatively soft and sometimes disconnected. This is especially true with track four, where the bold statements of the Colonial theme reach the ears in aural globs. I suggest skipping the first track; the cue plays better as the 'reprise,' and its absence from the beginning lets the album develop without climaxing prematurely. Redundant musical bookends are a senescent habit Williams is welcome to break. Those that want as much chronological order as possible can program the disc as follows: 2, 3, 5, 9, 6, 8, 14, 11, 13, 10, 7, 12, 4, 15, 16, 17... And where are the director's gush notes? The album design cries out for them.
The music is well composed and enjoyable. That is what's core. Williams continues his American tradition perhaps not by treading new ground, but certainly by tending the old. His music bears the satisfaction of a gallant achievement. Where he stumbles, he takes the standard and carries upward.:
Mark Hockley is not sure though:-
If I was to describe this new, much anticipated John Williams score as by the numbers I can imagine it will have some people up in arms (movie related pun intended). But then most of us expect a lot from this particular composer. He is unquestionably one of the most consistent and best respected in his field. And yet The Patriot, while being robust enough, fails to deliver anything more than reliability without that special extra, indefinable something present in so much of his other work.
The Patriot, featuring gentle acoustic guitar and a violin solo by Mark OConnor, introduces the main theme, an innocent, tender piece of Americana. But soon big strings take over and the inevitable patriotic flutes appear to accentuate the bombast in what is a rather appealing secondary theme. This is all quite stirring, without being particularly innovative. But a solid enough start nevertheless.
As one might expect, these two motifs reoccur in various other cues; The Family Farm is darkly dramatic at first, leading into a reprise of the main theme. Ann Recruits the Parishoners is low-key initially, then builds to incorporate both major motifs. Preparing for Battle has the brass out in force, backed by militaristic drum work. This is fairly rousing with the secondary theme getting an extended run through. Ann and Gabriel uses harpsichord and strings and then flute to produce a more reflective recap of the main theme. Yorktown and the Return Home after a forceful opening, gives way to a sense of bitter-sweet triumph and softer, subtle recalling of the key themes.
The scores best moments though feature in the vigorous action cues. Tavingtons Trap has a driving rhythm and fine string and brass work and suddenly Williams is in full flow. This is the kind of strong dramatic action music that we have come to expect from him. Martin VS Tavington is also another notable piece with more useful brass and some interesting shadings.
Now if it had all been like this, all would be well. But sadly, far too many of the remaining tracks are merely adequate and do not linger in the mind. Cues like Facing the British Lines, The Burning of the Plantation and Susan Speaks (despite another brief reprise of the main theme) come and go without really registering. As much as I might not like to say it, overall I was disappointed.
While this score will do the film itself no harm at all, it certainly isnt the composer at either his best or his most original. But then even below par Williams is worthy of attention. Maybe the real problem is that Ive just come to expect too much from him.
Gary S. Dalkin says:
In my review of The Perfect Storm, scored by James Horner, I mention that the music is in a similar idiom to parts of his Legends of the Fall. The Patriot has more than a little in common with The Perfect Storm, not only did the two films open simultaneously in America, together they are the work of the only two German directors currently producing Hollywood blockbusters, Wolfgang Peterson directing The Perfect Storm, Roland Emmerich, The Patriot. Effectively, the two movies set scores by the two most successful film composers in the world against each other. Not only that, but the folk-like violin-led main theme which opens The Patriot calls to mind the main theme of Legends of The Fall. Which is not to say that Williams has appropriated anything, only that the theme exists in exactly the same idiom and sound world.
Emmerich's film essentially fuses two elements, being another Brit-bashing Mel Gibson epic along the lines of Braveheart, and also, setting it's tale in the American War of Independence, acting as a thematic prequel to Emmerich's previous repel-the-evil-alien-invaders movie, Independence Day. Apparently Emmerich's regular composer, David (Stargate, ID4) Arnold was originally to write the score, but for whatever reason the task fell to John Williams. And a title theme which, while attractive in its own right, fares unfavourably in comparison with Horner's Legends of the Fall. The melody is evocative, and beautifully played by Mark O'Connor, but, by John Williams standards, curiously unmemorable. The title track then develops into a huge, rousing march complete with lots of heroic snare and military piping. Given that this is a 'war-is-hell' movie, it is a surprise to find Williams embracing the glory he so markedly rejected for that other war-is-hell movie penned by The Patriot's script-writer, Robert Saving Private Ryan Rodat. Whatever, the march is tremendously exciting, particularly in the extended end-title reprise version, and will doubtless become a concert hall standard..
The second track, 'The Family Farm', begins with what must be a sly little in-joke, a drone which tips a nod to the opening track on the Independence Day album '1969 - We Came in Peace'. 'To Charleston', as hinted in the title, evokes the Englishness of 'To Thornfield' from Williams Jane Eyre. The very words 'The Colonial Cause' expose the oxymoronic nature of the movie's title: one can not be a 'Patriot' to something which does not exist; a rebel alliance is not a country. Far from being patriotic to his rightful ruler, His Majesty The King, Gibson's character is a rebel, a state which consciously or otherwise, Williams references in the album's standout set-piece 'Tarvington's Trap'. The British villain Tarvington's is clearly musically cast in the Darth Vader role, a the piece beginning as close cousin of the 'Imperial March' from The Empire Strikes Back before exploding into a ferocious scherzo in the classic Williams mould. As in the Star Wars saga, it is obvious that we are supposed to be on the side of the rebellion. Still, this is the best battle music on the album, the more formless, presumably, 'Mickey Mouse' approach to 'Redcoats at the Farm and the Death of -' rather lazily ending with a disconcerting echo of a percussive fade from Jurassic Park. 'Preparing for Battle' is bold and brassy, and might even be suitable music for preparing to go out to sea and fight a great white shark, which is to say that it's enjoyable, but there is a sense in which Williams is treading water. Rather more of the action music later on seems also to draw on The Empire Strikes Back idiom, together with hints of the autumnal Nixon and most curiously a recurring trumpet figure echoing Nino Rota's mournful The Godfather - try 'Martin vs. Tavington'. There is also a lot of wistful Americana underscore, no more or less interesting than Saving Private Ryan, though containing more warmth in cues such as 'Yorktown and the Return Home'. Elsewhere sequences such as the opening of 'The Burning of the Plantation' are simply generic brooding suspense music and while doubtless effective in the film are tedious on disc. In fairness, the cue does build to a peak of powerfully intense emotion.
The result is very much a mixed bag, with some terrific music, some routine or even dull music, and for Williams a surprisingly unassimilated collection of sources showing: I haven't even bothered to mention Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Amistad. So, on disc at least a surprisingly disappointing offering from the world's finest living film composer. The sound is, of course, superb, with some fantastically deep and powerful percussion and a strong stereo image which is especially effective during the battle music. This is one case where I suspect a shorter album (assuming the right tracks had been chosen) might have made a stronger initial impact and received more praise. As it is, it simply takes more work to get to the gems, and doubtless the other tracks will grow. By year's end I imagine what now seems a little underwhelming will be reassessed as one of the year's best scores.
Gary S. Dalkin
Varese Sarabande VSD- 5264 [43:41]
[This is an established release it was issued in 1990]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
The Fury was an oddly dark, occasionally over-the-edge film that was self-indulgent even by the standards of its often self-indulgent director, Brian dePalma, who spent much of his early career making homages to Alfred Hitchcock. One of the films many excellent parts was the score by John Williams, who has described it as his own homage, of sorts, to Bernard Herrmann. This is particularly true of its main theme, a relentless, 7-note motif that, introduced on clarinet, pushes and pulls the viewer into the murky goings-on of this story about a young girls psychokinetic abilities and the corrupt powers who try to groom her for their own purposes. But while Herrmanns muse is clearly evident in this theme, the rest of the score is all Williams. The Fury was made in 1978, and thus was among Williams first scores after his Star Wars success. (The London Symphony was again his orchestra of choice.) Not surprisingly, there are traces of that blockbuster score here -- this is clearly the work of the master behind Jaws and Star Wars. Equally to be expected are a number of foreshadowings of such scores as E.T. and even Jurassic Park. One need only listen to the CDs second track -- For Gillian -- to hear a wealth of Williams both past and future. The cue opens with tripping strings followed closely by similarly played horns playing a sweet, light-hearted melody suggestive of E.T.
Throughout the film, Williams utilizes strings and horn combinations to good effect in building suspense or simply complementing the clear and present dangers faced by the likes of Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving and Carrie Snodgress as they play out dePalmas and author/screenwriter John Farris convoluted story that includes three truly over-the-top scenes: the first, in which Douglas tries to engineer Irvings escape from the clutches of the evil John Cassavetes -- only to have Snodgress wind up killed in a car accident after which the distraught Douglas shoots a passing jogger in frustration; the second, in which a carousel loaded with Arab tourists -- there was still an oil crisis in the late 70s, remember -- goes awry, flinging its human cargo hither and yon; and third, the films closing scene, in which Irving uses her unique telekinetic gift to explode Cassavetes head -- literally. (I swear, Im not making any of this up!)
Although he might taken a far different approach in scoring The Fury, Williams opted to hang right in there with dePalma, matching the punch of the visuals while at the same time underscoring the characters and their relationships so that we actually can care about them. (As Kevin Mulhall notes, " Williams arouses sympathy for the characters and helps increase the dramatic tension." The cue Search for Robin, for example, opens with a delicate theme played almost reflectively in the winds before becoming a flowing string statement that culminates in typical Williams bravado.)
So rich is the material in this score that Williams chose to compose an additional cue -- the 4 1/2-minute Epilogue, not heard in the film -- in which he expands on his main theme with an extended string treatment that stands on its own as a serious piece of music. (To my knowledge, Williams never conducted it with the Boston Pops, as Id hoped he would when, in 1980, he took over that post. It would have fit that venue perfectly.)
This Varese Sarabande release offers the original soundtrack recording from the initial LP, with two noteworthy improvements. One is the inclusion of the cue Williams originally wrote for the carousel scene, which is quite different from the one heard in the film. The latter version, offered on LP as well as this CD, utilizes electronics to mimic the main theme as the carousel begin to twirl out of control. It also concludes with a heart-pounding, rhythmic crash of chords that we were to hear again 15 years later as the victorious T-rex roars its final challenge in Jurassic Park.
The other improvement is Mulhalls informative liner notes. (The original LP by Arista had none.) Although I think Mulhall overstates his case when he calls The Fury "arguably Williams best film music recording," I certainly agree that it deserves far more consideration in the Williams oeuvre than it has thus far received, despite the fact this CD has been around for a while.
If youre a fan of John Williams, you need this one.
M:i-2 Mission Impossible 2
HOLLYWOOD/edel 0109692HWR [45.54]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
I always sympathise with composers writing for action films. In so many instances they must feel frustrated that their creations are often inaudible below all the clatter of the soundtrack and the limitations of the genre in only admitting the required tension and torso-flexing thuds and thumps. (When I saw the film I was hardly aware of Zimmers music beyond feeling some bass thunderings) It takes great imagination and ingenuity to come up with something different or, indeed, original. They must therefore grasp any passing straw; any opportunity offered by characterisation, humour or location etc to bring some life and colour into their scores. It feels as though Hans Zimmer is clinging to the straw of one or two early scenes set in Seville in this sub-James Bond action thriller (sorry Mr Cruise but thats what it appears to be). These scenes clearly provided providing the vibrant colour and rhythms of Spain that Australia, where most of the film is located, conspicuously lacks? Not that I am complaining for these Spanish cues far outshine many of the more dreary synth action tracks. I hasten to add that one or two of these do exhibit some imagination, even though they are once again show Mr Zimmers peculiar borrowings, like the Carl Orff orientated Bare Island. But, at least, it does have strength and a forceful forward impetus.
As Hans Zimmer explained in his interview with me, he had been working on three scores in rapid succession (perhaps overlapping his projects), i.e. The Gladiator, El Dorado and Mission Impossible 2. Zimmer uses a smaller ensemble with about a dozen performers including Lisa Gerrard doing her Arabian intoning thing again after some Rodrigo inspired Spanish material, I wonder if this was some extraneous Gladiator stuff? The Rodrigo influence is more pronounced in the track curiously labelled, Hans Zimmer featuring Heitor Pereira "Nyah [Film Version] Other Spanish numbers have the obligatory heel tapping and clapping, all very exciting. In one outstanding track, The Heist, this Flamenco material segues into a subtle statement of Lalo Schifrins original Mission Impossible theme, leading into a classy catchy jazz/synth treatment. The main treatment of Schifrins theme will make purists shudder though, for once more it is subjected to a very upbeat heavy rock treatment. In the final track after all the excitement, and the villain has bitten the dust, there is more relaxed and romantic Spanish material for Nyah and Ethan.
Overall a very atmospheric score, well assembled. The musicians blended well together in the Spanish music. I liked Zap Mamo a "Ika-Iko", especially with its rumba/samba rhythms. The more shadowy material, heavily synth, was often very dynamic. The heavily percussive Mano a Mano alternating with more poignant material was very thrilling with some fantastic drumming. Very interesting rhythmic shifts and patterns throughout. For the movie ****; as a listening experience
The Perfect Storm
SONY SK 89282 [79:14]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
Yes, we are holding over our coverage of this latest Horner score because (a) we Film Music on the Web reviewers in the UK have only just received our review copies from Sony and Jeffrey Wheelers review prompted some irate correspondence from James Horner fans. His review is reproduced again below.
Now I am not a Horner basher. I cheer when I notice a new score from him hoping for the quality of The Rocketeer or Legends of the Fall or Willow but I have to agree with Jeffrey Wheeler in that The Perfect Storm is anything but Horners perfect Score. I would also make a plea to Sony that every note of their A-list film composers scores is not sacrosanct and that 79 minutes of music of this quality is tedious in the extreme some sort of control over producers to bring in an album of about 60 minutes might do composers like Horner more of a service. An example -- the opening cue Coming Home from the Sea which is some nine minutes long. Although introducing too many clichés at the outset, it has enough interest to want you to battle forth through the other 70 minutes; yet at about 5 minutes in there is some very ugly rock/heavy metal material that is intrusive and incongruous. I cannot imagine this one-minute horror satisfying anyone, neither those who worship this type of music, nor the classicist who will abhor the intrusion.
I waited in vain for a theme to make me sit up. Time after time one is either let down by a sense of Ive heard that before or by the banality of anything that is remotely new. Once again, one finds oneself playing the game of where has he nicked that bit from? Britten, Copland, Stravinsky and Tiomkin to name but a few as well as much self-quotation. I cannot even agree with Jeffrey that there are many moments of excellence, there are too few. For a man of Horners knowledge and experience, The Perfect Storms craftsmanship disappoints both in harmony and orchestration. His usual high standards and imagination and innovation are slipping. I keenly looked forward to the big wave music but I was disappointed; the climaxes do not hang together as well as they should and surely the terror of a 120-mph gale and 10-storey high wave should create a much bigger musical impact. We should have been absolutely gob-smacked. To be fair, he creates a moment where you feel the lashing and shrieking of the gale but the odd on-board? noises he creates to counterpoint this howling are incongruous. All they do is jar and dilute the effect (I guess this is a bad sound balancing judgement). For effective storm music Horner might like to refer to Frank Bridge (The Sea) or Kurt Atterberg (West Coast Pictures Symphony No. 3). Then again perhaps not, Horners borrowings might put one off those excellent works.
Tedious and disappointing
Jeffrey Wheeler said:-
The opening track begins with uncreative music, full of roomy clichés and lacking any protean application, but almost two minutes in there is the musical symbolism of impending danger, a dark roll of low strings, timpani, cymbal and brass -- gathering storm clouds and thunder that made me remember how great Horner can be. That first magnificent moment is hardly new compositionally (raise your hand if you've heard Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2), it is even old symbolically (Beethoven's Symphony No. 6; and you can put your hand down now), but like the whole of what is contentiously Horner's best score, "Brainstorm," it slices through complaints of undue referrals with at least the illusion of individuality. Horner's craftsmanship shines, if not his artistry. The moment raises hope.
You know the expression "Hope floats." Well, "The Perfect Storm" ultimately sinks it.
I spent many of my younger days 'bashing' Horner, using terms that were at best brutally accurate and at worst indicative of teenage stupidity. Usually there were combinations of both. However, the basic dilemma remains for us to argue: James Horner is habitually not at his best.
Few listeners will be startled by the general lack of innovation. Some could thank Horner for compiling enough of "Apollo 13" and "Mighty Joe Young" that they can sell them for more shelf space. I would keep Mark Mancina's exceptional "Twister" score, though, as the quality of Horner's electric guitar use is questionable... Of course, all composers repeat themselves and others, but there is repetition that enhances, that is redundant, that plagiarizes, and there is that which doesn't bear repeating.
Interesting, then, how his soundtracks can be well acquainted, yet peculiarly inconsistent. There are more excellent moments than the one I fondly mentioned above awaiting brave adventurers, but "The Perfect Storm" basically panders to shallow musical standards. Let us start with the main theme. James Horner is the master of the complaining melody. It starts flatly in the middle range, moves up the scale to state a truly obnoxious phrase, returns to the tonal center, and then repeats its "I want! I want! I want!" styled refrain. It is a juvenile motif overused by track five (a patchwork cue virtually guaranteed to have those knowledgeable of classical music screaming, by the way), yet the orchestration shimmers! Shortly thereafter Horner introduces a secondary theme where it is the orchestration that dries and shrivels. He strips it down to the string section, accented horribly by arpeggios awkwardly played on piano. The action/tension music is uniformly exciting but ludicrously derivative... to the point of abstraction. Quiet moments and a handful of symphonic lightening bolts are what provide the core interest. Thus between a stormy sense of deja vu and the infrequency of themes meeting variations, the successes within the recording attract attention to just how washed-up it is overall.
Oh, and John Mellencamp sings the theme song.
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
There's something strange going on this summer. The blockbusters are out in force as usual and one after another they actually are, or promise to be, good if not excellent films. Gladiator, Chicken Run, Mission: Impossible 2, The Patriot, X-Men. Where, one wants to know, is the complete and utter rubbish? Add to this catalogue of unexpectedly welcome celluloid, Wolfgang Peterson's The Perfect Storm, by all accounts a return to quality film-making following the supremely silly Airforce One. The Perfect Storm and The Patriot (directed by Roland Emmerich) opened simultaneously in America, pitting the only two German directors to currently be making Hollywood blockbusters directly against each other, not only that, but pitting the two most currently successful film composers against each other. The Patriot is scored by John Williams (see my review elsewhere on FMOTW), while The Perfect Storm has music by James Horner, which coming after Titanic seems like the perfect typecasting.
Clearly Mr Horner thinks so, adopting a 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach to this latest true story of deadly peril on the Atlantic. This being a James Horner album, there are certain things to expect. A running time longer than some movies, in this case a remarkable 79:10. No one could ever accuse James Horner of skimping on the quantity, whatever one thinks of the quality. Long cues: there are only 10 tracks, giving an average running length of close to 8 minutes. This is really unusual in the often bitty world of film soundtrack albums, the long cues lending a welcome symphonic feel to the disc. An appallingly clichéd and populist end-title song designed to sell lots of singles. The song here, 'Yours Forever', is as bad as usual, but at least the arrangement and performance (by John Mellencamp) are more tolerable than the offering which ruined the last few minutes of Titanic.
As for the score itself, James Horner has forsaken the inappropriate 'Oirish musical affectations of Titanic. Even so, a yearning folksiness remains in the principle melody, which although not as memorable, is along the lines of his main theme from Legends of the Fall. While the quieter moments often feel like variations on tender moments from both the aforementioned scores. If, like me, you actually like Titanic, despite a nagging feeling that the score shouldn't really work, and regard Legends of the Fall as Horner's very best work, then you may find you enjoy The Perfect Storm rather more than some reviews have suggested it should be enjoyed. That said, other than the addition of an electric guitar and the deletion of Horner's trademark shakuhachi, this album does sound very familiar. Some of the big, full storm ahead music, featuring the percussion imitating the pulse of the ship's engine could almost come straight out of Titanic. The end result, an enjoyable if repetitive album which offers nothing new. Time I think for Mr Horner to move on.
Gary S. Dalkin
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