Summer 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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King Kong (1976)  
Music composed and conducted by John Barry
  Available on Film Score Monthly, FSM Vol. 8, No. 8
Running Time: 42:31
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • King Kong
  • The Son of Kong / The Most Dangerous Game
  • This disc is unusual among Film Score Monthly titles in that due to corporate ownership concerns it is restricted to being a reissue of the contents of the original soundtrack LP, rather than as per normal an expanded presentation of the soundtrack. For details see the FSM press release below this review. Though even so FSM are somewhat cagey about just what is missing, whereas normally the label tends to give very full details of what has been included, what has not and why. Not that any of this is ultimately of overriding concern, for this is as much of John Barry’s King Kong as we are going to get for the foreseeable future– this is after all the first legal CD release of this score, an event which has taken just over two decades since the launch of the format! If you want John Barry’s King Kong on CD this is the only place to come.

    Before I go any further I should say this score holds a particular place in my heart. The original album was one of the very first soundtrack LPs I ever bought, and I still remember doing so clearly. And that was after two viewings of the film where the music struck me very forcibly. I still have that original LP complete with attached foldout poster, all in pristine condition. So I really may not be the best person to judge John Barry’s King Kong with any detachment. It remains one of my favourite of all the composer’s scores. I also feel it more or less marks the end of Barry’s reign as one of the truly great film composers, the inventiveness of his writing and orchestrations going into decline after Kong. While Barry has done fine work since King Kong, the passing years since have seen him penning only the occasional inspired score compared to the plethora of fine and inventive soundtracks that issued from his pen during the 1960’s and first half of the 1970’s. Maybe the epic distaff romance of the piece particularly appealed, or perhaps the composer pulled out all the stops, knowing he was walking in the footsteps of Max Steiner’s score for the original King Kong (1932), one of the great defining landmarks of all film music.

    Whatever, Barry’s Kong owes little to Steiner’s, being overarchingly romantic whereas Steiner’s focused on action and spectacle. Barry’s central theme is both deliciously yearning and able to suggest just the right amount of foreboding. While assorting brass motifs suggest Kong’s character and bold percussion summons native ceremonies Sacrifice – Hail to the King’ with thrilling effect Barry rightly nails the drama as one of impossible love without ever slipping into the absurd. The clean lines of ‘Maybe My Luck Has Changed’ encapsulate a melancholy at the heart of the score, providing a classic Barry theme. ‘Arrival at theIsland’ lends the theme an otherworldly quality with dreamy flutes and a moody, floating organ hook quite unexpected in context and all the more effective because of it. Indeed, the organ provides an atmosphere of considerable trepidation in ‘The Opening’.

    With its echoed pianos and full scale lyricism ‘Arthusa’ proves one of Barry’s loveliest creations. ‘Full Moon Domain – Beauty is a Beast’ is filled with lugubrious shadows, pure musical fantasy suggestive of a rather better film than finally ended up on screen. If the final movie had lived up to Barry’s score it would have been fine indeed.

    The action begins proper with ‘Breakout to Captivity’, a finely crafted showcase for inventive percussion and brass which gains real character through its limited orchestral palette, demonstrating that everything and the kitchen sink is not necessarily the best way to score an action scene. The sound effects included were on the original LP, and whilst they may seem gimmicky to film music purists, there’s nothing we can do about their inclusion here. I’d prefer not to have them, but they are a small price to pay.

    The brooding ‘Incomprehensible Captivity’ paints a sombre portrait of King’s life in chains, before a real change in feel, the pop instrumental ‘Kong Hits the Big Apple – a real throwback to the days of disco’ yet itself not without a certain camp drama before the orchestra returns for the tragic grandeur of the final cues…

    So, this is one of my favourite film scores, but I still can not but think it is one of Barry’s best. I can’t think of any higher recommendation than that. Don’t worry that there isn’t any extra’ music. What there is is surely enough. And the sound is a revelation after the LP, exposing details and offering a clarity of sound which makes the music seem fresh and new. This disc should be in every self-respecting film music collection. A pity there are only 3000 copies, or that this reissue could not have been more mainstream.

    Gary Dalkin

    4

    FSM Press release:

    King Kong is one of Hollywood's most legendary creations, from the groundbreaking 1933 original to the highly anticipated Peter Jackson remake. In 1976 producer Dino De Laurentiis struck box-office gold with his own incarnation of the story, starring Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, and a colossal forty-foot model of Kong. The film was a massive production with ambitious special effects.

    Scoring the remake of one of the most famous films inHollywoodhistory was one of the few composers with the clout and talent to forge ahead with his own style: John Barry. The original's Max Steiner had practically invented the film score genre with the project, yet Barry was known for a completely different approach -- eschewing "Mickey Mousing" in favor of melody, mood and large-scale symphonic structures.

    De Laurentiis had sought out Barry for the composer's romantic touch, and Barry responded by making the centerpiece of his score a gorgeous love theme that evoked the "beauty and the beast" angle of the story rather than the widescale destruction -- although Barry's James Bond experience helped in casting the tragedy, menace and suspense with symphonic grandeur. The score produced one of Barry's loveliest themes and is one of his signature works of the '70s, completely different from the Steiner score but with an avid following all its own.

    This premiere CD of the 1976 King Kong features the original Reprise Records program of the soundtrack, running 42:30. Although collectors may have acquired a CD of this title on the "Mask" label, that album was an unauthorized edition believed to be mastered from an LP -- FSM's release is the first official CD mastered from the original 1/4" stereo album tapes.

    King Kong(1976) is an example of a soundtrack where the album rights are held by a different corporate family than that which distributed the film itself; therefore, we are unable to expand or remix the music beyond the original LP edition. We are offering the CD at a lower price ($16.95) as a result, and have made every effort to ensure the best-possible sound. This is, at last, the first authorized CD of one of John Barry's best-known works.

    Liner notes are by Barry experts Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker and Stephen Woolston.


    Track listing

    King Kong (1976)
    Music Composed and Conducted by John Barry

    01:  The Opening 2:14
    02:  Maybe My Luck Has Changed 1:48
    03:  Arrival on the Island 2:43
    04:  Sacrifice -- Hail to theKing 7:06
    05:  Arthusa 2:18
    06:  Full Moon Domain -- Beauty Is a Beast 4:22
    07:  Breakout to Captivity 4:06
    08:  Incomprehensible Captivity 2:52
    09:  Kong Hits the Big Apple 2:33
    10:  Blackout in New York/How About Buying Me a Drink 3:20
    11:  Climb to Skull Island 2:26
    12:  The End Is at Hand 1:41
    13:  The End 4:24

    Total Time: 42:30

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