June 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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John WILLIAMS
Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones  
  OST; John Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices
  SONY SK89932   [73:34]

Star Wars II

Perhaps, by the year 2010 we shall be able to see all George Lucas’s Star Wars episodes in sequence (maybe as a TV mini-series - we might have large flat wall screens by then with magnificent sound). Then we shall be able to appreciate John Williams’s grand design as it unfolds and builds in its true sequential structure. Will it really be regarded as something akin to Wagner’s Ring cycle? Whatever, here in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones he adroitly reiterates and develops much of the material of the preceding episodes, especially in the Finale, besides introducing much new material.

It has to be said that this new score while showing much invention and imagination does not contribute any spirit-soaring new themes. At the time of writing, the film has yet to be released so I cannot comment on how well it fits the on-screen action. The best of the music lies in its quiet introspective passages and the weakest in its more violent combative elements, some even becoming tedious. The fast and furious ‘Zam the Assassin and the Chase through Coruscant’, for instance, has some ear-catching percussive effects and it is an interesting mix of the eerie, the primitive, and the ‘popular’ cantina-like music we heard in the first Star Wars but it outstays its welcome. Once again I find myself complaining about Sony’s insistence on over-generosity, less is so often more.

‘Across the Stars’ presents the film’s love theme. It makes less of an impact than many of Williams’s other romantic offerings (like Superman’s for instance). Maybe this is because it is necessarily complex since the love between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala is forbidden and doomed. It begins tentatively, restrained, a harp solo implying its purity and there are liturgical strains in the texture, together with pointers of nobility and aspiration. There is turbulence too. But in ‘Anakin and Padmé’, there is a beguiling sense of serene romantic rapture with a beautiful flute solo

‘Yoda and the Younglings’ is very appealing in its quiet, understated nobility, lovely muted horn calls and that gorgeous women’s chorus delivered over thinned out but heavenly textures. This is Williams at his magical best. I would have this album for this track alone. Another slightly less inspired cue, is ‘The Meadow Picnic’, a dream-like pastoral evocation, slightly reminiscent of Vaughan-Williams, before clouds gather and thicken turning the idyll plaintive then uncertain and windswept.

‘The Tusken Camp and the Homestead’ has some inventive percussive effects. It is a weird and remote, then tense sound world. ‘Love Pledge and the Arena’ speaks of the passionate commitment of the lovers before Herrmannesque stabbing chords and drum roles introduce gladiatorial music much richer and more impactful than Zimmer’s.

A highlight of the finale is a melancholy, ghostly soprano solo that speaks of remoteness, alienation and non-conclusion before many Star Wars themes are paraded, including the Empire March and the new love theme - the saga goes on…

Ian Lace

****

Gary S. Dalkin adds:-

The"film" isn't strictly a film at all, being shot on digital video, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that while the soundtrack album arrives on a shinny five inch disc it isn't a CD. But more of that later, first what about the music?

For this fifth (or second) Star Wars movie John Williams has delivered the most enjoyable original album since the double LP for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), which was of course the second, (or fifth) Star wars movie. Unlike the original album for The Phantom Menace (1999), the titles on this disc stay close to the order of events in the film, with the only notable deviation being the obligatory concert arrangement. This is a new love theme called"Across The Stars", and is placed second on the album. Some have found similarities to Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet theme (1968), though other than in a general Italianate sensibility I don't hear any direct derivation. Likewise and more sustainably, some have noted parallels with Williams' own Nixon (1995) score. One particular phrase is very similar, but this is barely surprising given how closely Nixon strayed to The Empire Strikes Back. One might say Williams is restoring the material to the place it belongs. It seems to me, just as Anakin's theme in The Phantom Menace reverse engineered Darth Vader's theme from The Empire Strikes Back, that"Across the Stars" subtly serves as progenitor of both Princess Leia's and Luke Skywalker's themes from the original Star Wars (1977). Not only ingeniously crafted and constructed, it is an immensely stirring piece; romantic, impassioned and rhapsodic in the finest Wagnarian tradition, and one of Williams most winning themes to date.

Even though the titles of the cues conform to the unfolding story not all of the music does. It has been widely reported on-line that cues do not always come from where they say they do, while the music in the final third of the film is a melange of material drawn from the previous films in the series, with large chunks of action music from The Phantom Menace.

Back to the album, and highlights include a furious ten minute action cue, "Zam the Assassin and The Chase Through Coruscant", which brings Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) style percussion to Williams full scale orchestral arrangements. Played very loud, as no doubt it is in the film, its an exhilarating piece. Romantic cues in"Anakin and Padmé" and the"Meadow Picnic" offer variations on the love theme, some delightfully delicate pastoral writing and elegant Italian-renaissance touches. One look at some of the production art from the film suggests the Italian influence is entirely appropriate. The penultimate track opens with an intensely passionate statement of the love theme before delivering some of Williams most wonderfully intense and crushingly powerful battle music. Driven by a remorseless pulse this is the finest action music Williams has penned for a Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. The final track has a haunting soprano vocal evoking memories of the climax of Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica (derived from his score for Scot of the Antarctic (1948)), the thrilling return of"Imperial March" and an overwhelming statement of "Across the Stars". This leads into the end title, where the compulsory Star Wars main theme sounds rather light in comparison, breaking up the darker mood of the new film. It's splendid stuff throughout and apart from a slightly dry sound would normally would win an editor's recommendation of the month.

However, and this is where we came in. Sony, regardless of any notion of innocence until proven guilty, has decided its customers are potential thieves, and cripple the album in an attempt to combat piracy. The album bears a logo which defaces the front cover reading"will not play on PC/MAC". And it won't. At least, it won't play in either on my CD-ROM drives. It's a move guaranteed to annoy legitimate customers, and one which won't have the slightest effect on piracy. Just look around the web. The album is available for illegal down in MP3 format, and it doesn't take much finding. Anyone who buys a CD has every right to play it in their computer, and to make a digital back-up for personal use and protection in-case the original is damaged. But Sony don't acknowledge or respect this right. Not surprisingly Phillips, inventors of the CD format, have withdrawn the right for any company to use the CD logo on any disc altered so that it won't play in all drives - as required in the original Red Book specification for compact discs. There is no CD logo anywhere on the Attack of the Clones album.

There are two other points bound to make fans of John Williams feel that they are being treated with contempt. First, one track has been deliberately left of the album, so that in the UK it can be included on a more expensive limited edition, or appended to a version of the album sold only through Target stores in the USA. The cue is called"On the Conveyor Belt", runs 3.07 and is a strong action track with compelling percussion. I wouldn't suggest anyone download it and burn their own CD.

Finally, we all know there will be a complete, two CD soundtrack album next year - though obviously not whether this will feature John Williams' score as composed, or the music as edited in the film. Why not release it now along side the one disc edition, and give fans the choice of which version they wish to purchase? The single disc album for general fans, the two disc set for Williams and Star Wars collectors and more serious fans. The answer is of course that the mighty Sony Empire want to sell the same music this year and next. You pay your money…

Gary S Dalkin

***** - Score and no stars for Sony

Addendum: since writing the above it has come to my attention - in the July issue of PC Plus - that Sony have gone further. Several recent Sony CDs, including the new Celine Dion CD single go so far as to crash PCs and Macs. Apparently iMacs, crash and lock-up, proving un-rebootable without special measures. Strange to think it was this same Sony, so concerned about its customer's honesty, which was caught out only last year making up plaudits from non-existent critics to promote some of its less than well received films.

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