May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/monthly listings/June/


EDITOR Recommends June 2000


Collection: Space 3 – beyond the final frontier
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus conducted by Paul Bateman and Nic Raine
SILVA SCREEN 2CDs (Dolby Surround) FILMXCD 332 [131:23]
Purchase from: Crotchet

Disc One: Aliens (James Horner), Ghostbusters (Elmer Bernstein), It Came From Outer Space (henry Mancini), Strange Invaders (John Addison), Judge Dredd (Alan Silvestri), Robocop (Basil Poledouris), The Time Machine Russell Garcia), Back to the Future (Alan Silvestri), The Cape (John Debney), Star Trek: Menagerie (Alexander Courage), Star Fleet Academy (PC game - Ron Jones), Insurrection (Jerry Goldsmith).

Disc Two: The Last Starfighter (Craig Safan), Silent Running Peter Schickele), Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (Barry Gray), Lost in Space (Bruce Broughton), Galaxy Quest (David Newman), Thing's to Come (Sir Arthur Bliss), The Matrix (Don Davis), Meteor (Lawrence Rosenthal), Deep Impact (James Horner), Armageddon (Trevor Rabin), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (John Williams)


Here is the latest Silva Screen double CD release, and the third entry in what appears (following Space: Above and Beyond and Space II: Alien Invasion) to have become a whole new science fiction franchise. Perhaps this is not so surprising, given the especial predilection among SF fans for collecting anything and everything related to the genre.

The pointless 'biological hazard warning' artwork is merely tacky, not the best approach to winning the unconverted to either film music or science fiction, though the superscripted 3 in the title is a nice in-joke: yet it should have followed that the album opened with music from Alien3, rather than Aliens. What we get is an atmospheric prelude complete with 'outer space' ambience, marred by some unwarranted distortion at 0:55, detonating into a really thrilling version of 'Ripley's Rescue'. It may not be sophisticated, but the visceral fury provided by James Horner creates is one reason Aliens remains the most exciting film ever made.

The second track is a surprise in what is otherwise a solidly science fictional collection. There is no way that Ghostbusters can be accommodated in the genre, though Elmer Bernstein's main theme is attractive and certainly a better way to remember the film than the Ray Parker Jnr. hit that dominated the pop charts in 1984. Track three takes us back to 1953 and It Came From Outer Space, with two selections from Henry Mancini's contribution to what was a collaborative score with Herman Stein and Irving Gertz. Different parts of this score have been recorded on Monstrous Movie Music (see the FMOTW reviews by Ian Lace and myself) with a rather more authentic 1950's sound. I don't believe for a moment a real theremin has been employed in Silva's recording, but these selections are certainly most enjoyable, offering a softer, more atmospheric side to the film. Following this John Addison's quite lengthy suite from Strange Invaders is nicely poetic in a knowing way, a 90's homage to the paranoid invasion films of the 50's, and thus a thoughtful piece of album sequencing.

Next-up, a quarter-of-an-hour section headed 'Superheroes', though I'm not quite sure either Judge Dredd or Robocop fit the bill. Alan Silvestri's suite from the former evokes a more romantic and rousing film than the mess which eventually appeared on screen (rumour has it that almost an hour was cut just days before release, so perhaps the film-makers are not completely to blame). Judge Dredd's music is polished formula stuff, lacking the distinction of Basil Poledouris' Robocop, but then Robocop offers far more character for a composer to get his teeth into. This is certainly one of the better combinations of orchestral pyrotechnics and electronics to grace an SF movie and the suite does a good job of capturing the essence of the score in just under ten minutes. The lush Silva sound augments the Herrmannseque melancholy romance of 'Home', while the action music has a vicious edge.

Eras meet again as Silvestri's Back to the Future theme contrasts with Russell Garcia's lovely pastoral Fibley's Theme from the 1960 production of The Time Machine. Some of Miklós Rózsa's superb Time After Time (1979) might have gone down well at this point, but instead, thrown-in presumably because there was no where else for it to go, and sticking out like a sore space shuttle, is an extended arrangement of John Debney's main theme from the TV series The Cape.

There is a level at which film and television science fiction music has become utterly formulaic and lacking in imagination, a situation which given the mediocrity of much film and TV SF is neither surprising nor inappropriate. However, I lose interest in listening to it when to often such music is either derived from the John Williams Star Wars / Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek model, or consists of cheap percussive electronics. Or both. As James Fitzpatrick's notes detail, the theme from The Cape was originally scored for acoustic and electronic instruments, and is here premiered in a fully orchestrated version. It is big, bombastic, utterly predictable and instantly forgettable. It sounds like left over Star Trek. So perhaps Disc One now has nowhere but to boldly go…

The eight minutes from Alexander Courage's The Menagerie (incorporating elements of The Cage, the first Star Trek ever) show that there are other ways of scoring space opera, a very accurate rendition of the famous original Star Trek theme music coming out the other side of kitsch to reveal that over-familiarity has hidden the originality of this work for decades. The entire suite will probably sound familiar because the music was recycled in various later Trek adventures, and polished up afresh here reveals the sort of musical imagination so frequently bludgeoned into submission by the crushing sound effects of more recent productions. Star Fleet Academy by Ron Jones is an orchestral setting of the introductory music for a 1997 computer game. It sounds exactly as you imagine, but then Star Trek fans seem to want exactly the same thing over and over again. Jerry Goldsmith partly circumvents the problem with a more pastoral approach to his end titles from Star Trek: Insurrection, all before the obligatory ending.

Disc Two balances the familiar two selections from Sir Arthur Bliss' Things to Come (still probably the greatest English film score ever written and seriously in need of a complete recording) and four of the five movements of John William's Phantom Menace suite (the main title is omitted [see below]) with some rarer items that increase the collectability of the set. Particularly appealing among these is a suite from Barry (Space 1999) Gray's score to the overlooked and under-rated 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (Doppelgänger), while there is a lot of fun to be had from David Newman's Galaxy Quest suite, not before time sending-up the entire Star Trek movie sound.

A section entitled 'Destruction From the Sky' features three rock movies, Meteor and it's two 1998 remakes Deep Impact and Armageddon. Lawrence Rosenthal's end titles from the original have a heroic grounding and musical solidity which make them sound as if they might come from a good film. Jame's Horner's 'The Wedding' from Deep Impact is typical romantic modern Horner, somewhere between The Bicentennial Man and the deep blue sea. There is a Coplandesque Americana feel to the trumpets, and some imaginative use of piano chords. Armageddon is one of the most wretched films ever made, and under the sensory assault I'm almost surprised to discover there was any music beyond the cod-Titanic Celtic pastiche and ear-splitting screeching of Aerosmith. In a former life Trevor Rabin was the guitarist who helped transform Yes from the most musically sophisticated rock band in the world into another crass bunch of rock 'n' rollers, and his contribution here is acoustic guitar-led orchestral bombast straight-out of the lowest common denominator crowd-pleasing Bruckheimer draw. The would be 'uplifting' choral writing is laughable, film music for people who wave cigarette lighters during stadium rock gigs, the sum of the parts crass orchestral rock fusion for a film without a clue for an audience bereft of taste. Fortunately Don Davis is on hand to show how a special effects dominated SF blockbuster can be scored with intelligence: 'Anything is Possible' from The Matrix follows the 2001 / CE3K approach to produce an eight-minute set-piece, a precisely controlled and thrilling maelstrom which ventures into Altered States.

The album ends, as perhaps it must with the aforementioned cut-down Phantom Menace suite. There is not much to chose between this and the version on the Varese Sarabande collection The Phantom Menace and Other Film Hits, though Varese just has it for clarity of sound, especially in the monumental 'Duel of the Fates'. It makes me curious as hear what the Surround Sound and HDCD encoded versions on this disc sound like.

This is a very mixed bag, an album which doesn’t flow as well, or contain as interesting a selection as the two previous entries in the series. One difficulty I have with this collection is it's diverse sameness. Perhaps I just like things a bit more neat and tidy, but the selections do seem to dart all over the place with little sense of organisation, while there is an increasing sameness in much of the pseudo-military Americana.

It is still a worthwhile album, with much to be enjoyed by both the SF fan and the film music collector, but perhaps if Silva are to continue with these albums they should look for a more coherent choice of material and longer, more substantial suites rather than trying to capture every part of a very broad yet paradoxically similar market. If they would go beyond the bombast and explore suites from Jerry Goldsmith's Seconds and Planet of the Apes, Miklós Rózsa's The Power, Leonard Rosenman's Fantastic Voyage and John Corigliano's Altered States then volume four might avoid the pitfalls of the ever more predictable sequel. Probably best to avoid anything from Alien Resurrection.


Gary S. Dalkin

[Note from Silva: I would just like to correct one tiny little thing in Gary's review. While it is true that we did not record the Main Title from PHANTOM MENACE, it is not quite correct that we omitted this from the suite, because the "Main Title" isn't actually in the Official John Williams "Signature" Series published suite from Cherry Lane Music. So, basically we recorded it as per the composer's wishes.]

Ian Lace is more enthusiastic:-

This is one of Silva Screen’s better collections with the Prague Philharmonic on great form – they keep getting better and better.

The generous compilation covers a period stretching from 1936 with a sparkling rendition of Sir Arthur Bliss’s charming ‘The Children’s Ballet’ and his wonderfully stirring march from Things to Come, to Don Davis’s score for The Matrix and John Williams’s music for Star Wars Epiode 1 The Phantom Menace. The excellent Don Davis score is hypnotic, enigmatic, darkly mysterious, sometimes violent, sometimes tender. The 14-minute John Williams Phantom Menace suite is highlighted by that arresting ‘Duel of the Fates’ music.

CD 1 crashes open with James Horner’s gripping, atmospheric music for Aliens with thrilling percussion music utilising anvil and cow bell. Gary has analysed the contents in his review above. I would hasten to add that practically all the tracks on this CD gripped me. I was amused by Elmer Bernstein’s fun, quirky score for Ghostbusters, intrigued with Henry Mancini’s spin on the typical Universal International mix and match score that was It Came form Outer Space; I was thrilled by the driving rhythms of Alan Silvestri’s Judge Dredd and the sheer exhilaration of his Back to The Future music. Strange Invaders by John Addison is a lovely spoof with gentle jibes at the sort of homely Middle America music and its wild comic glissandos spoofing the aliens. Nic Raine’s arrangement of the Robocop music for larger orchestra compels and John Debney’s noble The Cape March in its larger symphonic dress is very impressive. After all the bombast, Russell Garcia’s sweetly pastoral music for The Time Machine’s ‘Dawn of the new century’ sequence is most welcome. Of the three Star Trek selections, Alexander Courage’s ‘The Menagerie’ has cute historical interest but it is Jerry Goldsmith’s music for Star Trek: Insurrection that impresses most with that rousing, swaggering march counterbalanced by that lovely central section delicately scored for solo trumpet, harp, woodwind and strings.

CD2 kicks off with grand heroic stuff from Craig Safan – his music for The Last Starfighter. This second CD had a few longueres for me but in general was very good. Besides the Star Wars and Matrix selections already mentioned, I would single out Peter (PDQ Bach) Schickele’s quirky score for Silent Running, Laurence Rosenthal’s noble and graceful score for the graceless Meteor; James Horner’s delicate romantic ‘The Wedding’ music that is laced with more sombre material to remind one of the rapidy approaching meteor in Deep Impact and Trevor Rabin’s music (thankfully shorn of much of its synth component) for the film that bored me, personally, the most last year, Armageddon.

Great album, strongly recommended


Ian Lace


Gary S. Dalkin


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index