January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Joe HARNELL The Incredible Hulk orchestrated (with Don Davis) and conducted by the composer     PROMOTIONAL JHCD-02 [74:01]


Joe Harnell may well be an unfamiliar name to most film music fans. Born in the Bronx in 1924, he toured with the Glenn Miller Air Force Band during the Second World War, and afterwards studied composition with Nadia Boulanger, William Walton and Aaron Copland. He came to television comparatively late, being the Musical Director on The Mike Douglas Show (1967-73), then writing for, among other shows, The Bionic Woman, V, Alien Nation and The Incredible Hulk.

This lengthy promo album comes with some useful biographical notes, though the unlisted blurb writer argues against all reason for the dramatic credibility for the show, which lacking the resources to bring the Marvel Hulk comic book to life, settled for a ludicrous sub-Frankenstein variation on The Fugitive.

The disc opens with the urgent, percussive and semi-electronic main title (electronics appear here and there throughout the album, but never at the expense of the orchestra), a typical 1970's American science fiction / cop show type of tune, given a decidedly polished arrangement. It is followed by the 'Love Theme from The Incredible Hulk', and although the notes do note confirm this, it appears to have been the B side of a 45rpm single, the A side of which ends this album - a disco version of the main theme. This was the late 70's, when such was the popularity of disco that every other movie seemed to have to have a disco version of the theme. Jerry Goldsmith provided them on his Logan's Run and Coma albums, and a disco single was even included with the original LP of John William's Close Encounters of the Third Kind score. All they serve to do is demonstrate that when one attempts to attach film music to current trends the result rapidly becomes embarrassingly dated.

The most interesting part of the album is tracks 3-7, a 27 minute suite from The Incredible Hulk pilot TV Movie. Incomprehensibly, track 17 is also from the pilot, and it would make infinitely more sense had it been sequenced directly after the suite - just as it would have made more sense to programme the two sides of the single together at the end of the album. However, the suite does allow for 5 extended tracks which build considerable tension and excitment.

'Gamma Ray Treatment' opens with reverb-processed metallic percussion, creating a lugubrious, mysterious atmosphere of the sort one might have found in a Bernard Herrmann fantasy score. Deliberately paced, a repeated cymbal figure adds an understated menace to strings and aqueous piano, such that overall there is a dark tone not dissimilar to the near contemporary television science fiction of Stu Philip's Battlestar Galactica. 'Growing Anger' has a propulsive clockwork momentum looking froward to Miklos Rozsa's time-travel motif from Time After Time, a device which will recur in several cues. 'First Hulk Out / Second Hulk Out / Transformation' has a relentless acerbity reminiscent of classic 1970's Jerry Goldsmith, and is a splendidly constructed and sustained example of suspense-action writing. 'Growing Tension / Explosion / Hulk Rescue and Susan's Death' has something of the stark string writing of Goldsmith, together with the minimal, honed percussion of Lalo Schifrin. The music for Susan's death includes a simple, melancholy melody which became known as 'The Lonely Man theme', a piano version of which ends the suite from the pilot.

The album continues with a second version of the main theme, but unfortunately there is no explanation as to where or when this treatment was used. Next we have cues from several individual episodes. Two cues each from Married and Prometheus, are bizarrely placed apart from each other. Intervening is music from Ricky and Homecoming, together with suites from two episodes of a 1979 series called Cliffhangers. The reason for this is that Harnell reused his music for this show in later episodes of The Incredible Hulk.

The first cue from Married 'The Wedding' is simply ghastly. Dominated by a nauseatingly sentimental sugar-coated choir, the track is further degraded by a marked rise in the level of tape hiss. The second cue from the episode, 'Prelude to Tragedy/Death Scene' is rather better, the lead violin for the 'Death Scene' part of the track harking back to the Hollywood 'Golden Age'.

'Arrival at Project Prometheus' from Prometheus is suspense music given a military flavour by the presence of incessant snare, while 'Through the Floor / Hulk on the Rampage' offers more of the high quality writing found in the pilot score. The short suite from Ricky delivers an attractive melody balancing harmonica and string orchestra, while the remaining cues mix action and suspense with elements of light jazz and blues, and classic horror aficionados may detect brief homages to Franz Waxman's Bride of Frankenstein and Dimitri Tiomkin's The Thing (From Another World).

The album is in mono, apart from the two tracks released as a single, which are stereo. The music from the pilot generally has a fuller sound than the series tracks, and listening through good headphones reveals more background noise than listening through speakers. Overall the sound is perfectly good, and considerably better than some recent releases of an equivalent vintage. One additional point of interest, particularly given the spectacular rise to prominence this year of Don Davis, is that the composer of The Matrix and House on Haunted Hill is here credited as co-orchestrator with Joe Harnell. Davis must have been very young at the time, but even so, there is a complexity and solidity of architectural structure to the writing which today can be heard reflected in Davis' own scores.

This album does outstay its welcome somewhat, but then having too much music is always a better thing than having too little, and no one can complain at a disc running 74 minutes. The odd sequencing is irritating, but then can easily be rectified by simply programming the tracks oneself, and there is certainly some surprisingly good music here. What would be really nice is if some enterprising company produced a new recording of the best of this music with spectacular modern stereo (or surround) sound. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile release, and one which, unlike so many tv related albums, can be enjoyed by anyone interested in well-crafted action adventure music.


Gary S. Dalkin

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Gary S. Dalkin

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