Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Joel MCNEELY The Avengers OST SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 304 [62:45]  


Crotchet (UK)

Very few people would argue the toss with just how big a let down this film was. After excitement over the casting, and a terrific trailer it seemed a sure-fire hit. Delay after delay instilled enough concern however, and so the final release was already an empty proposition before you go anywhere near Warner's disastrous attempts to keep critics off their backs. There was so much that was technically flawed about the movie too (although most criticism is aimed at the non-existent plot). For these purposes, it is the yucky sound mix that chiefly grates. Michael Kamen pulled out because of the delays and being committed to Lethal Weapon 4 (yawn), and McNeely stepped in with very little time at all. It is therefore inconceivable that there was time for a considerate or artistic dub. From out of all this came a great main titles sequence and the occasional dramatic high - both for film and score. The rest was just a fuzzy blur.

So hoorah for the States' new Compass III label, and double huzzah for Blighty's Silva Screen who have released it in the UK. They have championed an almost lost gem which has a lot more going for it than the film's reputation gives you inclination to appreciate. What this surprisingly lengthy disc reveals is one of those unfortunate situations in which a great score didn't save a film, but by no fault of its own.

First of all there's the issue of a main theme. Laurie Johnson's classic does feature as the final track - a bonus as it's not featured in the film(performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Mike Townend). Preceding that is an upbeat version by McNeely that was in there. After Mission: Impossible, The Saint, and Lost In Space it seemed all too likely that there would be a best selling techno version of the theme that would outsell and obscure everything else. Not so. Mr McNeely got to play, and what a fab time he must have had. "Main Title" immediately establishes that the score will follow David Arnold's drum and bass add-on style (Tomorrow Never Dies / Godzilla), yet keep a genuine sense of heroics through brassy fanfare and tightly orchestrated rhythms. Passing some red herring tinklings, a low mixed beat repeats for the build up of various sample overlays. Then the theme is introduced by a sampled whistle (very reminiscent of The X-Files), but is downplayed by repetition. As the drums go crazy, the strings take over for a very impressive showcase of the flexibility of the piece. A coda to the titles is a subsidiary action motif.

What next separates the men from the boys are some humorous pilferings. "Flight of the Mechanical Bees" dances from one fast paced passage to another and midway raises a smile with a variation on 'The Flight of the Bumble Bee'. Later, "Invisible Jones" playfully invokes the 'Sugar Plum Fairy'. It's a sense of devil-may-care anything goes that lifts this. Anything based on the Avengers was always going to require a helter skelter kookiness, and the darting about in one cue (like this) from militaristic marches to romantic theme variations to explosions of brass really does fit the bill.

After Shadows of the Empire, this is the most inventive I have heard McNeely get. Perhaps he thrives on tight deadlines. Or maybe after all those Varese re-recordings he was just itching to let loose on a film with very few stylistic limitations. Whichever, it is one to applaud as ultimately managing to escape its unworthy surroundings.


Paul Tonks

and another view from Rob Barnett:

This 1998 Warner Bros film continues the trend of taking the small screento the big screen. Traditionally such migrations have flopped particularlywhere the small screen series is still showing. However if the dust hassettled on the TV series (although repeats are OK) success can be an option. Look at what happened to Mission Impossible.

The new film stars Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery. The first two reprising the Patrick McNee and 'Emma Peel' roles. The Avengers was andremains a small screen cult artefact from the sixties and seventies. Sixties kitsch or retro is now acceptably fashionable.

The music is big and glitzy. Joel McNeely and his orchestrators have done a very sympathetic job with just enough sixties tinsel and big band to please the Avengers fans and enough nineties 'effect' to keep the score vibrant.

The Barry scores for the Bond films are an obvious reference for McNeely with their urgency and deep-pile romance to the fore. There is also a certain chromium dazzle and dynamism to match and carry the romance in the title track.

The music tracks are quite meaty. The Final Conflict (16) for example is 7:22 long.

The oleaginous slink of the sax and motor driven slammed percussion blows dominate track 2. This contrasts with the hoarse whispering of track 3, the cocktail piano charm of the next track and the snowy wonderland mystery of the De Winter Castle.

This is very varied score with a crushing tension released only by an eldritch waltz in track 6 which brings a return to steel foundry crashes.

In track 7 typical chase music is superimposed on the sumptuous fantasy romance theme for which Barry's You Only Live Twice is the archetype.

The Flight of the Mechanical Bees uses squat coal-black brass shouts which reminded me of the music from Blade and of Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still. A very obvious homage to the skittering chase music from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet also adds a further unexpected dimension to the score.

DeWinter's Waltz (10) has a gleam in the eye and a grandeur in the step - a big ballroom waltz which takes us back to Prokofiev's War and Peace and Ravel's La Valse.

The Stairway to Madness (11) uses fragmented hints of children's playground songs leading into Invisible Jones a militaristic gaze into gulf of negation lightened a degree or two by music in obvious homage to Danny Elfman's Edward Scissorhands. Emma's Ballroom Escape offers more big sound: romance, violence and danger on the lip of the volcano crater. The next track, Are you all right? is a tender and caring sequence with the solo violin looking down.

Track 15 (Avenging Crimes) blackens the skies with thunder cloven by sizzling and smoking lightning. The tread of some Jurassic nemesis thuds and crashes in heavy rock fragments smashed by great steam hammer rhythms. The hellish furnace is glowing and black smoke from hell billows out. There are synthesised underwater sounds like some intestinal drain awash with blood and pus.

 The Final Conflict (16) offers mountain top mayhem offset by prominent harp eddies and cross-currents.

 Track 19 is a bonus which is not included in the film score. It is the original Laurie Johnson TV series theme newly-recorded in the original arrangement and a sassy performance by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

The wispy insubstantial powder-puff notes are not very helpful. There is nothing from the composer. The pictures are good. That is about it.

This is a very good score which I count in the company of Frankel's Battle of the Bulge (soon to recorded by CPO in all its complete glory) in both mastery and approachability. If there was ever any doubt about McNeely's standing as a film music composer let it now be well and truly dispelled.

This is a classic score shimmering with a tapestried richness and gripping immediacy rarely encountered these days; a disc greatly enhancing the contemporary film music landscape.


Rob Barnett

Paul Tonks

Rob Barnett

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