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