The colonated, state-the-obvious subtitle rather gives the game away that
this is the score to a TV movie. Nothing else does. This is an immense score,
and one which clearly reveals just how much, and for the better, TV scoring
has become in recent years.
American TV movies love the immediacy of true stories, and this 1997 film
is based on the stories of two fatal climbing expeditions to Everest in 1996.
Given the subject matter, the fact that people really died just the year
before in the events fictionalised in the film, the film-makers were faced
with particularly difficult problems regarding tone, sensitivity and respect
for the dead. From what I have been able to discover, they succeeded in making
a realistic, honest and compelling film imbued with a palpable air of tragedy.
Into Thin Air was very well received in America, though I have no
idea whether or not it has appeared in the UK, either on television or video.
It certainly seems to be well worth looking out for.
Composer Lee Holdridge obviously had to find just the right approach for
his score, and while I can not comment on how his music works with the film,
I would imagine two things. First, that the score on this disc could work
very well indeed, and that to be able to support such powerful music the
film must be a very strong piece of work. I say this because the sheer scale
of Holdridge's music would overwhelm a lesser film. This is music with all
the breadth of a major motion picture adventure score, a prime example of
my opening reference to the development in television music. The score is
fully orchestral, and performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra with augmented
percussion (which includes an array of gongs and diako drums). The sound
is breathtakingly powerful, and recorded, as Lee Holdridge accurately notes,
with 'wonderful immediacy'.
Not so long ago there would have been very little purpose in going to the
expense of recording the score to a television film on this scale, and with
such a fine orchestra - though of course such things did happen - simply
because the limited mono sound reproduction of most televisions would have
been completely incapable of doing any sort of justice to the music. Now,
with the rapid spread of NICAM stereo broadcasting and the acceptance of
various surround sound systems for home viewing, an epic score can be viable
on a TV movie. It is just one more example of the narrowing of the gap between
the more ambitious television productions and much theatrical filmmaking.
Holdridge's score is very much of a piece, with 18 tracks running just over
three-quarters of an hour maintaining moods of danger, suspense and lament.
The writing is lean, craggy, immensely bold and forbiddingly intense as Everest
itself. Here is the grandeur of the endless sky, the sheer physicality of
the ancient mountains, the palpable cold, the raging storms, the knife-edge
danger and unsentimental sorrow. Stern and implacable this music may be,
but it is also thrillingly dynamic, with a chillingly rhythmic and compulsive
main theme which by turns captures the absolute exhilaration of mountain
climbing, and the ultimate price people sometimes pay for that priceless
This may be an essentially monothematic score, interspersed with first class
suspense and action music, but what a great theme it is, seemingly capable
of every emotion from heroic victory to valedictory reflection. The forcefully
driving 'Main Title', the triumphant 'The Summit' and the uncompromising
'Decision Time' are magnificent highlights, but quieter moments, such as
the piano led 'Epilogue' have a power all their own. Play loud and passages
here will send shivers down your spine and make the hairs on the back of
you neck stand on end.
Into Thin Air is a superb score in its own right. It also makes a fine companion
to another score, which quite possibly was being written at exactly the same
time. Jerry Goldsmith's The Edge offers comparable and equal pleasures,
but rather different music. The Edge was another 1997 production,
this time a large-scale cinema release telling the fictional story of three
men stranded in the snowbound Alaskan wilderness. Again the strength of the
mountains, the endless blue skies, the beauty and the terror, are captured
in music. If you already know the Goldsmith score, then be assured that you
will enjoy Into Thin Air to approximately the same degree. If you
don't know the Goldsmith, treat yourself and buy two great scores.
One final note. Lee Holdridge's music is fairly new to me, yet he has written
music for at least 120 productions over the last 30 years. The reason I haven't
encountered much of his music is that the vast majority has been written
for American television films. Now at the risk of being accused of
discriminating, I am going to suggest that his talent is being wasted to
a certain degree, for here is a composer who has the compositional ability,
dramatic sensitivity and sense of musical scale to be a cinema composer of
the highest rank. On the evidence of Into Thin Air, plus the few other
scores I have heard, Lee Holdridge should be an A List composer regularly
scoring major theatrical releases. There was a period in the late 70's and
early 80's when he scored several 'name' features, but none were particularly
successful, and since then he has rarely ventured outside of TV movies. I
hope that one day in the not to distant future Holdridge will have the
opportunity to score a massive multiplex release, then the whole film music
community will sit up and be amazed.
Gary S. Dalkin