April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Madison  
Music composed by Kevin Kiner
Original themes by Christopher Young
Conducted by Nic Raine
Orchestrations by Nic Raine and Kevin Kiner
Performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
  Available on BSX Records (BSXCD-885)
Running Time: 55:39
Available for purchase from BSX Records.

See also:

  • For Love of the Game
  • Bobby Jones
  • It seems sports movies are the only places where film scoring with symphonic sweep can be taken as a given. No matter whether the sporting activities are baseball, motorbike land contests, or cheetah racing, there’s a strong case for saying this genre is the last vestige of the kind of expansive orchestral underscore that could be found even in the most intimate of Hollywood dramas in less subtle times. In William Bindley’s Madison (2001), the sport is hydroplane racing, everyone wears yellow shirts (you’d think the small town they live in adhered to the same colour coding as The Village!), and the protagonists are young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and the Saviour of All Mankind (James Caviezel).

    The scoring model for the film is one we haven’t seen in films for a while – an established composer (Chris Young) sets down the themes for the project, while the principal composition goes to an untested composer (Kevin Kiner) who utilizes those themes throughout a more general underscore. The last film I can remember that did this (outside the Media Ventures crowd) was meant to be John Williams’ Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, though there’s a strong feeling that having set down the themes, Williams couldn’t quite get away fast enough to let William Ross do the rest. Before that, Dante’s Peak, with underscore by John Frizzell and themes by James Newton Howard comes to mind. The situation has become more common in computer game scoring of late, with celebrity composers providing a theme for a project that another composer will elaborate on (Fable, Mercenaries).

    Possibly it’s not a bad way to go as a training ground for young composers. It’s certainly a model used by the former Media Ventures group, and half the reason for the wide proliferation of that Hans Zimmer sound in current film scoring – he has disciples who can complete his work. With the right match of personalities, the younger composer gets access to the more established professional’s skill in the critical area of establishing the tone of the film through a theme. The right synergy can produce a score that draws on one composer’s melodic signatures, and another’s orchestration technique and dramatic instinct for appropriate variations on the theme. I’m assuming ‘Madison’ is a suite of Chris Young’s thematic material for the score – it is certainly a richly melodic starting point for Kiner if it is, with a Maurice Jarre-like jolly march, a more traditional fanfare ala Jerry Goldsmith’s Rudy in a variety of arrangements, and a dramatic theme that recalls John Williams’ Far and Away and The Patriot in its Celtic phrasing and instrumentation.

    Kiner extends these three thematic elements (and others) to a range of dramatic scenarios throughout the score. The tracks – which leave a great deal to the imagination with titles like ‘Jim Stalls Engine’ and ‘I Quit’ (no poetic abstraction here!) – include as highlights the minor key drama of ‘Leaving Town’, the attractive oboe solo of ‘Happy Anniversary’ and the piano-led ‘Grandmas House’. There’s a little mickey-mousing – or something involving low brass and woodwind flourishes that sounds remarkably like it in ‘Stealing / Porch’. And there are more maestoso highlights: the orchestral might of ‘The Gold Cup’, the dissonant orchestrations of ‘Atlas Explodes’, and the action writing in the final tracks from ‘The Gold Cup’ (the second track by that name) on through ‘Final Heat’.

    The City of Prague performs the material with great gusto – it’s one of their best handlings of any score they’ve done, though maybe the lack of a previous version of the score to compare it to masks the orchestra’s oft-derided technique. And yet somehow I go through this CD feeling incredibly cold about the material - none of the themes quite connect in the way it feels like they’re meant to, and even if they did, they’re more than a little familiar by the end of the story. Possibly I’m just a grump who doesn’t like sports movies, but while this score pushes all the right buttons, some of those buttons feel a little tired. Kudos to Ford Thaxton and Mark Banning for getting this released though – this is the sort of score that would probably slip away into the annals of lost last minute symphonies were it not for the dutiful efforts of business-minded collectors like themselves. And it should sell well – there’s much here to like, even if it didn’t really work for me. If Rudy, Seabiscuit and For the Love of the Game are your favourite scores, check this limited edition release out. (I’d prefer not to rate it – the discrepancy between my rating and that of many for whom this score would be the cat’s pyjamas is too great for my rating to be of much value.)

    Michael McLennan

    N/A

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