February 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / February /


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EDITOR’s RECOMMENDATION February 2004

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Secret Weapons Over Normandy  
Music composed by Michael Giacchino
  Orchestrated and Conducted by Tim Simonec
Performed by The Northwest Sinfonia
Taiko Drum Ensemble led by Stan Shikuma
  Available on La-La Land Records LLLCD 1013
Disc 1: 68.55
Disc 2: 14.02 (plus 'Quicktime movies' totalling 9.38 minutes)
Total time: 82.57

Available from La-La Land Records; or by post from La La Land Records, 150 S. Glenoaks Blvd. #9252 Burbank, CA. 91502

secret weapons over normandy

See also: Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor: Underground
Where Eagles Dare

Among the album credits for this release is the amusing statement, 'The most important thing Michael learned on this project is to never breeze through Customs carrying packages labelled "Secret Weapons"'. We smile as we imagine what horrors befell composer Michael Giacchino, but also because it provides another example of the humourlessness of officialdom.

First a grumble. Like U-571 (2000), the video game Secret Weapons Over Normandy is another project which attempts to claim heroic American involvement in WWII when as a matter of historical record the USA was firmly hiding behind an isolationist policy of non-involvement. Thus the game's heroic James Chase saves our British necks at 'Dunkirk Harbor' (sic), during 'The Battle of Britain', 'Operation Sealion' and at 'Zauara', all before the game ever reaches 'The Siamese Coast' in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Any British readers not mortally outraged by now many want to read on to find out about the music.

The first thing is not to think of this release as a double CD in the sense of two discs filled with music. Secret Weapons Over Normandy sells for less than many full price single CDs, and that's the way to consider any possible purchase. What you get is a full-length 68 minute album, plus some bonus material which is essentially free.

Anyone who has heard Michael Giacchino's scores for the LucasArts Medal of Honor video games will know what to expect. As the composer himself says in the bonus 'Quicktime movies', he approached this project in the manner of scoring an old fashioned heroic WWII movie he specifically cites 633 Squadron (1964) and Where Eagles Dare (1968) (both scored in rousing fashion by Britain's great Ron Goodwin, the latter score of which receives a spectacular issue this month from Film Score Monthly and is reviewed elsewhere on FMOTW). A brief tribute to Goodwin's 633 Squadron theme can even be heard in the closing bars of Giacchino's new "Main Theme".

As Film Music on the Web's own Paul Tonks explains in the booklet, each sequence of the game was scored with several alternative pieces depending on how play unfolded. Each mission has an opening "lead in", then Giacchino wrote pieces which include 'High Energy Combat', 'Panicked Combat', 'Near Victory Combat', 'Expectant', 'Victory' and 'Failure' for each segment of the game. Clearly this involves a vast amount of music which if it were all included would require a multi-volume CD release. For the album the composer has woven his themes into "mission 'suites'" and the "album has been painstakingly produced to represent the best of each mission's component pieces. After all, 15 cues ending on a 'Failure' would hardly be in the spirit of the game!" This is WWII as high adventure.

Where Medal of Honor stayed entirely in Europe and sounded like a top quality ersatz John Williams' score for a Steven Spielberg war adventure, Secret Weapons Over Normandy ranges over virtually the entire geography of WWII and features material to suit every location. It is bold, thrilling, grandiose and entirely enjoyable, from the muscular Where Eagles Dare style heroics of the blistering 'Operation Sealion' to the Arabian colourings of 'Zaura' (where we almost expect Indiana Jones to put in an appearance) to the Eastern textures of 'The Siamese Coast' before returning to Europe for action ranging from the Soviet Union ('Stalingrad', complete with vigorous chanting, sounds like a manic companion to parts of Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen (1976)) to Norway and finally onto Normandy. A cue entitled 'The Rescue of Pauline' no doubt from deadly perils, suggests how seriously we should take all this. With fanfares, romance and buckles swashed a plenty, there is little doubt if when the fourth Indiana Jones flick eventually goes before the cameras John Williams is not available for scoring duties, who should get the job. There can really be no higher praise.

As for the second CD. 14 short cues totalling 14 minutes give a flavour of the alternative material Giacchino penned for different variations within the game. The pieces are interesting once, but are unlikely to warrant regular play. Likewise the 'Quicktime movies', which give a brief look behind the scenes at the recording sessions. The best of these shows a complete performance of the main theme and is fun, though obviously the music sounds considerably better played through hi-fi than over PC speakers.

If you want great sounding, stylishly performed, deliberately retro music for some great 1960's sweeping war epic that never was, you've come to the right place. It's a wild ride, so book your ticket, but don't take your copy of these "secret weapons" on any plane journeys just yet.

Gary Dalkin

****(*) 41/2

Track Listings

DISC ONE

  1. Main Theme 4:56
  2. Dunkirk Harbor 3:20
  3. Battle of Britain 4:18
  4. Operation Sea Lion 3:53
  5. Zauara 4:12
  6. The Siamese Coast 4:25
  7. The Rescue of Pauline 4:16
  8. Midway 6:05
  9. Copenhagen 3:33
  10. Stalingrad 4:07
  11. East Prussian Factory Run 3:34
  12. Fjords of Norway 4:34
  13. Stealing the Me262 5:05
  14. Peenemunde 4:43
  15. Harz Mountains 3:07
  16. The Normandy Coast 4:39

Total Time - Disc One 68:55

DISC TWO

  1. Gold Guy Logo 0:07
  2. Prelude 1:05
  3. Dunkirk Harbor Extra 1:27
  4. Battle of Britain Extra 1:00
  5. Operation Sea Lion Extra 1:14
  6. Zauara Extra 0:32
  7. The Siamese Coast Extra 0:36
  8. Copenhagen Extra 1:32
  9. Stalingrad Extra 0:47
  10. Prussian Factory Run Extra 1:39
  11. Fjords of Norway Extra 0:19
  12. Harz Mountains Extra 0:43
  13. The Rescue of Pauline Extra 1:58
  14. Belgian Navy Song 0:28

Total Time - Disc Two 14:02

Plus 5 Quicktime Movies

  • Score - 1.08 Giacchino outlines the orchestral forces involved and we see a clip from the recording of the Stalingrad cue.
  • Chairs 0.29 sounds of the orchestra tuning up with speeded up film of setting up the studio
  • Simonec Says 0.58 Tim Simonec giving instructions to the orchestra
  • Danger: Nemesis 1.29 Giacchino talks about the Nemesis theme and we see the orchestra performing it as part of the cue "Peenemunde"
  • Main Theme 5.34 Giacchino explains his thinking behind the main theme then we see the orchestra perform it.

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