Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


September 1999 Supplement

Stu PHILIPS Battlestar Galactica   Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by the composer   VARESE SARABANDE VSD-5949 [48:33]



There are successful films, and there are hit movies that inspire a handful or so of imitators, then there are those occasional films that strike such box-office gold as to kick-start an entire cycle. In the 1970's the most notable examples were: The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws and Star Wars. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman and Alien were already in various stages of production when Star Wars was released, but they were soon followed by a veritable good, bad and ugly of space opera. Major releases included Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Black Hole and Flash Gordon, while among the B-movies were Star Crash, The Humanoid and Battle Beyond the Stars. Further still down the cinematic food-chain came Battlestar Galactica, not a real film at all, but the TV Movie pilot to the one Star Wars imitator so derivative George Lucas seriously considered legal action.

Battlestar Galactica was the creation of Glenn A. Larson, who in the 1970's built a successful career producing television series inspired by popular movies: Alias Smith and Jones was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in all but name, The Dukes of Hazzard was Smokey and The Bandit with new number plates. For television Battlestar Galactica was an enormously lavish and ambitious production, even offering special effects by Star Wars' John Dykstra. With cinema managers hungering to show anything offering a glimpse of a spaceship, Universal re-edited the pilot movie and added the surround-sound process developed for Earthquake to the soundtrack in an attempt to lend the film some spurious excitement. Following Rollercoaster and Midway this proved the fourth and final outing for this forerunner of modern cinema sound systems. Two more Battlestar Galactica features were released, but neither with surround-sound.

While, on a smaller scale, the TV series captured something of the look of Star Wars, it utterly lacked the spirit of adventure which made the Lucas film so exhilarating. The rating quickly plummeted and the very expensive show was cancelled after only one season. Now, in the wake of The Phantom Menace, Mr Larson is, almost inevitably, planning a new Battlestar Galactica, this time as a genuine silver screen blockbuster.

Which brings us to this new album, essentially a remake of the soundtrack album of the pilot film, with the composer himself conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. This orchestra is by now well-versed in dramatic film score recordings, having given us many fine film music recordings including an excellent version of Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo under Joel McNeely three years ago. The sound here is terrific, clear, detailed and with tremendous visceral impact in the action cues, while the playing is energetic and vigorous with the percussion accurate and the brass all but spitting fire. The music, much of which was, according to the notes by Paul Tonks, recycled regularly throughout the series, is cut from a rather Williamsesque cloth. The main theme really is a rousing, memorable affair, while cues such as 'Fighter Launch/Mysterious Derelict/Zac in Trouble' seem to echo both the dark textures of Williams The Fury (1978) and Herrmann's Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Indeed, in the rather solemn lyricism of the quieter moments 'Sex at Last/ Cassiopea & Starbuck' for example, there is a decided echo of Herrmann. Nevertheless, given the nature of the film I think it is safe to assume that Stu Philips was commissioned to write in this idiom, and that on the whole the influences are assimilated rather well, the overall result being, certainly not a great score, but a rather good one, and certainly far better than the mediocre film/pilot/series ever deserved. If you enjoy muscular, well-crafted action scores in the Williams, Goldsmith, Poledouris vein, you will find Battlestar Galactica a worthy addition to your collection.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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