One of the obvious prerequisites for becoming a truly great film composer
(or indeed any sort of composer) is to have a uniquely recognisable musical
voice. No one at all familiar with film music would ever mistake Rozsa for
Herrmann, or Goldsmith for Steiner. Yet the other side of being a successful
film composer is a flair for mimicry, the chameleon facility convincingly
pastiche anything from a big band march to a tango, from the global diversity
of ethnic and folk music to the riches of classical tradition.
Now this present album offers two possibilities. Either the music is in Michael
Giacchino's natural style, and he was hired explicitly because he writes
in this way, or more likely, he was requested to compose to a very specific
brief. For if you were to play this disc without prior knowledge, you might
after your initial puzzlement, come to the conclusion that you were listening
to a great, hitherto unknown John Williams score, penned somewhere between
Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back. Without ever directly quoting
John Williams, Medal of Honor offers a breathtaking re-creation of
Williams late 70's style.
I have fellow critic Paul Tonks to thank, for he wrote the liner notes to
CD, and let me know of the existence of this music, even providing the review
disc for Film Music on the Web (UK).
Paul accurately told me that the score sounds the way Saving Private
Ryan might have, had it been made in the 70's. Given that introduction,
what is Medal of Honor? It is the closest the world will probably
ever come to a sequel to Saving Private Ryan, a Dreamworks Interactive
computer game inspired by that film, officially sanctioned by director
Steven Spielberg, and endorsed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Composer Michael Giacchino's soundtrack is orchestral, big, bold, and a stir
music with echoes of Jaws, Midway, Black Sunday, The Fury
and The Empire Strikes Back, recorded with a fine sounding 64-piece
How all this works with the game I can't say, but if it were a film soundtrack
I would be at the cinema the first afternoon. Quite simply, this CD plays
like the score to the greatest war movie never made. The 'main title' 'Medal
of Honor' is sweepingly grand, heroic and melancholy all at once. It will
send shivers down your spine.
'Locating Enemy Positions' could easily be music in anticipation of an imperial
attack, though the harp is suggestive of a certain familiar shark. 'Taking
Out the Railgun' is the first big action cue, a barnstorming set-piece soon
topped by the utterly thrilling 'The Radar Train', a wonderful showcase of
relentlessly driving propulsive action/suspense writing. And so it goes,
a sequence of magnificently crafted action and suspense cues.
The album contains 18 named tracks, plus 2 brief, unlisted (and uninteresting)
'bonus' tracks. The first 15 selections are fully orchestral, before track
16 'The Road to Berlin' offers an elegant laid-back big band jazz number.
Like the main score, this thoroughly enjoyable and evocative in its own right,
and is followed by an 'alternative version' of the title theme; which if
we were to think of this in terms of a film soundtrack could ably function
as a reflective and valedictory end title. Finally, 'The Road to Berlin (radio
broadcast)' is the jazz recording again, this time treated to sound as if
it is being played off a 78rpm record and broadcast by German wartime radio.
There are really only two drawbacks. One is that some tracks are clipped
just a little too early, before they have completely faded. The other is
that, given that this music comes from a video game, rather than a movie,
it is almost entirely predicated to action and suspense. Of necessity it
is not as varied as a film soundtrack. There is, for example, no love theme
to counter-balance the adventure, or indeed little of anything to evoke a
world beyond danger and combat. Thus listening to the entire album at once
can become a little exhausting, its sheer, energetic relentlessness begging
for some respite. Still, far better to have 73 minutes of music to chose
from, than 30 minutes and wish for more.
If you love the big orchestral sound of John Williams and don't object to
what is essentially a brilliantly wrought imitation, then this album is to
be thoroughly recommended. On the strength of this one release Michael Giacchino
should go from being an unknown (his only features to date are Legal
Deceit and My Brother the Pig) to taking a major step to becoming
one of the very top film composers of the next few decades. And if you don't
buy the album (which is available exclusively through Amazon.com), remember
the name. On the evidence here, Michael Giacchino is nothing less than heir
apparent to the world's finest living film composer.
Gary S. Dalkin