February 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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John WILLIAMS
Heartbeeps  
  OST - Limited Collector's Edition of 3000 Copies
  VARESE SARABANDE VCL 1101 1001   [54:21]

Heartbeeps

Usually deemed interesting only for Stan Winston's Oscar-nominated make-up effects, the 1981 box office flop "Heartbeeps" does present a curiosity from another behind-the-scenes guru. As John Williams musically accompanied droids so well with "Star Wars" and worked with producer Michael Philips before on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", he had a special advantage for scoring this science fiction comedy in which two robots hit the road and fall in love (whilst aggressively pursued by a malfunctioning police robot).

The movie's eccentric underscore hardly fits among the upper tier of any point in Williams' career. He wrote it as an experiment, one that went a bit awry, and really quite a bit silly. There are ersatz-Goldsmith electronics, pop French horns, groovy beats, and an overall dramatic mood that is only half-serious, with Williams unfortunately prone to giving a wink during the score's curiously few intense moments, hinting that everything will probably be okay. Some of it consists of carryovers from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and, while the sweetness of its key melody suggests that it is a prototype for "E.T.", much of it is closer to later odds-and-ends (not necessarily good odds-and-ends) from "SpaceCamp" and "Always."

Yet the score is thematically charming, with at least four witty '80s period Williams tunes, including one cleverly built into 'Crimebuster', a discotheque scherzo for the copbot turned vigilante. The main theme is memorable, though slightly distant before being gradually fleshed out; a warm melody for the 'bots in love radiates perfectly well alongside the composer's other love themes from the period; the above-named baddie motif is simple, but assertively used; and then there is a jokey ditty that brightly recalls the droid music in "The Empire Strikes Back".

This release heralds the return of Varese Sarabande's Soundtrack Club for filmusic collectors, with a limited run of 3,000 copies. The packaging is rather unattractive; a reproduction of the cartoonish poster art is on the cover, and washed-out or overly dark stills from the film accompany the track-by-track booklet notes by Robert Townson. Sound is indicative of its period.

Williams originally wrote "Heartbeeps" as his first all-electronic score, but changed his mind someplace along the line. One can hazard a guess on the reasoning behind the switch. His tasteful synth writing that came before (and after) stopped far short here -- probably shocked by the profusion of goofiness. What this means for listeners is that the album requires a certain manner of hearing. So, some call "Heartbeeps" one of the worst film scores of all time. Others call it one of the most underrated scores of all time.

You can name it, but at least one aspect defies pigeonholing.

You can't call it unsurprising.

Jeffrey Wheeler

**(*)

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