April 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Founder Len Mullenger

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James HORNER Enemy at the Gates OST SONY SK89522 [75:55]
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This is a typical recent James Horner album, which is to say that it is intermittently impressive, filled with long tracks, and outstays its welcome. Just like the composer's The Perfect Storm  last summer, sheer repetition finally dilutes any effect the score might otherwise have had. That said, and presuming one is prepared to overlook a striking similarity with John Williams' main theme from Schindler's List (1994), there is some large scale orchestral writing here that some will enjoy. Unfortunately, it simply isn't very original, or very memorable, and makes The Perfect Storm look like a classic by comparison.

Enemy at the Gates is Jean-Jaques Annaud's film of a conflict between two ace snipers during the Siege of Stalingrad. From The Name of the Rose (1986) through The Lover (1992) and Seven Years in Tibet (1997), Annaud has reliably delivered intelligent, good looking and sounding period drama. The first of those films was scored by none other than Horner, and now they have reteamed for what is claimed as the most expensive European film ever made; though in real terms surely the Russian War and Peace (1968) cost far more.

The opening track, 'The River Crossing to Stalingrad' is effectively a 15 minute suite which delivers all the expected elements for a large scale war movie with this particular setting, driving military snare and massed choir present and correct. It may not be especially subtle, but this is not a subtle film; yet it is relentlessly, implacably powerful. There is no gimmickry, or concession to current fashions in film scoring. Certainly nothing here to offend those horrified by Hans Zimmers approach to Gladiator. Unfortunately, there is also nothing of Zimmer's imagination or freshness. This is old-school CinemaScope brooding grandeur, though as the album progresses one can count the homages, references or rip-offs (delete according to preference). Surely the appearance of Prokofiev's 'The Battle on the Lake' from Alexander Nevsky (1938), utilised in 'The Dream', 'The Tractor Factory' and other cues, is deliberate homage. Elsewhere we find echoes of the military music from Horner's own Legends of the Fall (1994) and even the motor rhythms from Titanic  (and here) (1997), alongside hints of what might be Sir Arthur Bliss' Things to Come (1936).

Wordless choral writing in 'Bitter News' has a haunting, portentous effect, while the fugal 'The Hunter Becomes the Hunted' builds to a pitch of furious excitement. One shouldn't really complain about having too much music, but too much of it is too similar to sustain 76 minutes. More militaristic and action orientated than William's Schindler's List, the album is too long in much the same way the soundtrack to that film was too long, and while the music may work in the film (I haven't seen it yet) long sections are too shapeless to hold attention on CD.

A film with ambitions to the epic scale of Enemy at the Gates really should have a great score. This isn't it, being a patchwork with little strongly developed writing either in the suspense or action departments, and no memorable big theme of its own. While it is a relief to find there is no caterwauling 'pop diva' screeching over the closing titles, the end credits show a startling lack of creativity in beginning with balalaika playing the 'Schinder's List' theme in the style of Doctor Zhivago! Having listened to this several times I am surprised it was considered acceptable for such a lavish and costly film, that Horner wasn't sent on holiday to refresh his creative juices and a composer such as Bruce Broughton or Christopher Gordon brought in to do the job properly. As demonstrated by Gorky Park (1983) and even the Russian parodies in Red Heat (1988), Horner can do much better than this lacklustre and lazy effort. Rarely has such a big name film composer so rapidly declined from excellence into complacent mediocrity.

Gary S. Dalkin

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