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.
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
The music tracks are quite meaty. The Final Conflict (16) for example is
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.