May 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /May01/

Flyers / Fire On the Mountain

Prometheus PCR 510  [39:36]

Two works you're never likely to have heard of have been unearthed here. Very welcome they are too since they offer a far better display of the composer's ability than anything he's worked on for a few years now. Fire On The Mountain, which comes first, was a 1981 TV movie about an old rancher fending off the US military who want to buy him out of his property. What you therefore get is a gentle rolling feel for the glorious New Mexico mountain backdrop contrasted with bursts of Western cheer for every fluttering Government flag. It's the disc's subtler half, with the mournful piano solo of "Drop Off / Rascal" lingering pleasantly in the memory as well as a flute and strings combination of the utmost delicacy for "Boots / Cruza / Candle".

If that piece weren't obscure enough, Flyers is an IMAX film from 1983 that had an even more limited engagement than a TV broadcast. Its movie within a movie topic is of stunt plane pilots crafting a documentary of what they can do. Poledouris responded with enthusiasm to say the least, making this the engagingly upbeat half of the disc. There are lots of very exciting brass passages, including a comical excerpt from "The Can-Can" during "Stunt Work / More Stunt Work". There's also a regular element of grandeur that you'd expect from a film format designed to dazzle the eye with landscape. This is best shown off in "Night Flight / The Canyon". Then, just when you're enjoying the militaristic highlight "The Test", the album ends. And that's the only disappointment, in that 40 minutes for two projects doesn't feel like you've eaten enough of a very fine meal.

Paul Tonks

Gary S. Dalkin adds:-

Sometimes one hears a soundtrack from a never-heard-of film and knows at once that the music is so wonderful it just had to be released, never mind that barely a soul beyond the makers of the movie have the slightest inkling it even exists. And sometimes one wonders why music from movies so obscure even the most seasoned film buff has never heard of them should ever be issued. Such is the case here. Which is not to say that there is anything actually wrong with the music on this album, only that it is no better or worse than that from hundreds, if not thousands of other obscure movies, such that one has to wonder just who will want to buy it. One can only assume that in this age of plenty, where virtually everything seems to become available if one waits long enough, the name Basil Poledouris is sufficient to make the album a viable prospect.

The album couples two short scores from the same period in Poledouris' career, the pair further connected by the theme of military aviation. Fire on the Mountain is a 1981 TV movie about the conflict between an elderly rancher (Buddy Ebsen) and the US Airforce, who attempt to compulsorily purchase his land to extend the missile range at White Sands, New Mexico. The score, as presented here, consists of 9 cues totalling 20:42. This is writing dominated by a wistful, Americana main theme that harks back to earlier, simpler times of memory. It is clear that this, which reaches a warm, bittersweet climax in 'Good-bye, O' Horse' will be highly effective in the film itself. It is effective enough, in a rather sentimental heart-wrenching way, on disc. Orchestrated largely for strings and woodwind and harp, with a typically television movie small-scale sound, this is impeccably crafted, melodic and pleasant. Unfortunately there is nothing to seriously warrant replaying, sounding as it does so much like good quality folksy music for untold other heart-warming /breaking television melodramas.

Flyers dates from 1983, and while now equally as obscure as Fire on the Mountain comes from the opposite end of the production scale. This was a 35-minute IMAX drama about a WWII veteran who becomes a stunt pilot for the movies, thus providing the film makers with the pretext for a series of spectacular aerial set-pieces shot for the huge IMAX screen. The score runs 18:52 and comprises 7 tracks and is very much what one would expect, all bar the spark of outright inspiration that would make it special. These are sturdy cues designed to generate either excitement or a sense of wonder at the majesty of flight, and while they presumably do the job in the cinema (complete with assorted 'soaring' clichés and wordless male choir), they come across as enjoyable yet not in the same league as composers such as John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith might have delivered around the same period. It may be that for the IMAX format one hopes for truly lavish, bold and epic scoring, yet here that all important sense of vast scale is largely absent. Nor is the score helped by a sound which, on this CD at least, is less dazzlingly rich and rather more hissy ('We'll Talk' is particularly bad) than one would expect from 1983. Indeed, both scores on the album suffer from a sound which might charitably be called 'dry'. Nevertheless this is decent-enough all American film scoring with an attractive main theme, and will no doubt make especial fans of the composer very happy.

Gary S. Dalkin

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