August 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /Aug01/

Jurassic Park III  
  music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Don Davis incorporating original themes by John Williams
  DECCA 014 325-2   [54:27]

Enhanced CD containing film and game trailers, photo gallery, dinosaur comparison chart and text interview with Don Davis

Is there any reason we should be interested in this? Steven Spielberg clearly wasn't, handing over duties to Joe (Jumanji) Johnston then going off to direct the much more notable A.I. And presumably because Spielberg wasn't calling the shots, composer John Williams, who penned fine scores for Jurassic Park and the first sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park likewise wasn't interested, going off instead to score the much more notable A.I. When a $100 million addition to one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history is released simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic with virtually no publicity one is right to expect disappointment, and Jurassic III boils down to 90 minutes of rehashed set-pieces from the first two movies and Michael Crichton's source novels. Given that the movie is filmmaking-by-numbers it would be wrong to expect more than pastiche from Don Davis' score. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be professionally crafted and exciting stuff, while adding very little new to what has gone before.

The music on this album is much closer in spirit to John Williams' melodic and brass driven original Jurassic Park score than to the darker, more percussion music he penned for first sequel. Indeed, with a cover credit reading "Original Themes by John Williams" William's original Jurassic Park theme appears much more often and more fully than it did on The Lost World: Jurassic Park CD. Davis has the essentially thankless task of following in John William's footsteps, being asked to incorporate Williams' themes into his own new music and opening himself to all sorts of criticism - much as Ken Thorne did in adapting Williams' Superman music for the later instalments of that franchise. The fact is that, questions of originality aside, Davis has made a fine job of delivering the goods, however necessarily derivative they may be. His score, complete with wordless choir, is bold, rousing, dark, brooding and thrilling (at times sounding as if it might be equally at home in an Alien movie), and is exceptionally well recorded. If you want more monster fun, here it is.

This album is an "enhanced CD", which if used as a CD-ROM offers trailers for the film and associated computer game, a photo gallery, a dinosaur comparison chart, and a short text interview with Don Davis. Given that the album contains approximately 20 minutes less music than either of its predecessors one might complain; one buys the album for the score, not to be advertised at. But then this movie is half-an-hour shorter than its predecessors and perhaps there is no more music of interest. Davis tells us in the interview that he was recommended for the job by John Williams himself, who made all his original score materials available and discussed several new sequences with him when they saw them assembled. That counts for as good an official endorsement as you can get, and serious fans of either or both composers should enjoy the results. The question remains, do we really need this? Does it, combined with a summer filled with the likes of The Mummy Returns, Tomb Raider, Evolution, Pearl Harbor, and Final Fantasy signal that Hollywood is now capable of little but hollow, technically dazzling cartoons, or can we hope yet to see the undoubted creative talents in Hollywood deliver something worthy of those talents?

Oh, and the album ends with a song "Big Hat, No Cattle" by Randy Newman. It's not one of his best, and sounds very out of place.

Gary S. Dalkin


Jeffrey Wheeler adds:-

John Williams' classic score to "Jurassic Park" introduced me to film music, and although I rarely play the album anymore ("The Lost World: Jurassic Park" actually receives more spins), every recollection of it warms the heart. There is something to be said for a filmusic buff's 'first.' Don Davis' "Jurassic Park III" certainly brings back fond memories.

The history here is that Williams declined to score the second sequel due to his commitment to "A.I." and recommended Davis in his stead. However, Davis does not seem interested in failing a comparison with the first two scores -- he says as much in the CD-ROM section of the "JP III" disc -- and so he reprises, imitates and adapts. Such an effort is noble, but inherently flawed. The obvious way to invalidate comparisons is to not try being John Williams! But Davis does. The result is music with multiple personalities.

The resultant variety is not necessarily a terrible thing, but Davis offers a more contemporary style than Williams' dino dramatics, so when he quotes the original score nearly verbatim the disparity is distractingly apparent. As the music does in its more fleeting moments, the score could benefit from taking John Williams' themes and blending them more fluidly into Don Davis' capable, but decidedly different, sound. Several neat paraphrases along the way are clearly meant to further the intended musical continuity of the series, and while they succeed to some extent they also raise the question, "Would Williams do it like that?" How the modernistic tonalities of "The Matrix" appear in the first track supplies the answer almost right off the bat: Probably not. An overuse of the 'JP Fanfare' also takes some of the thrill out of the occasion. (Incidentally, Davis mostly ignores the soundscape of "The Lost World," except for a fun 'Visitor in San Diego' reference in Track 9.)

The new music is primarily action cues of an above-average nature, and if it weren't for the extraordinarily silly use of choir, some of them might be mistaken for pure Williams. They are big, frantic, brassy, and at times genuinely intense. There is a *lot* of action music -- obviously people prone to headaches may wish to listen with caution. The principal thematic addition is a puerile family theme that owes more to James Horner than to "Jurassic Park." Its orchidaceous melody and generic orchestration mean the series is still without a good family theme, despite the issue of family being a constant in the pictures.

The production on the album is fairly solid, with clear sound, plenty of movie stills, and terrific track titles. Randy Newman's 'Big Hat, No Cattle' is the obligatory second-rate song to finalize the album. The disc itself is an Enhanced CD, containing additional material playable on personal computers. The CD-ROM portion offers the theatrical trailer, a 'dino chart' to compare the film's dinosaurs, a link to the "Jurassic Park" website, an informative text interview with composer Don Davis, and a ghastly trailer for the video game. As an aside: Never click on the raptor's eye!

"Jurassic Park III" fails to fit together seamlessly, but it is enjoyable. Sometimes the oddest moments provide entertainment value; spotting all of the deliberate changes, paraphrases and technical traits is not just a walk in the Park. This is a release worth commending as a musical adventure, and that is how I recommend it.

Jeffrey Wheeler


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