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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #28
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

Big Wednesday (Basil Poledouris, 1978) **** I may have underestimated Big Wednesday. The debut of composer Basil Poledouris carries all sorts of hidden benefits. There’s folksy guitar, a swelling orchestra to underline oceanic majesty and it feels really nice. Above all, it’s soulful which seems fitting for a story of friends who love to surf and party. From this, we gain a sense of evolving seasons, pals moving on and the desire to preserve youthful abandon. For example, “Aloha, Jack” indicates that life has finally intruded and responsibility calls. In summary, Big Wednesday was the catalyst for a remarkable collaboration between Poledouris and director John Milius. Their work would continue on Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn and Farewell to the King.

Don Juan DeMarco (Michael Kamen, 1994) *** I like it when a composer tries something outside their comfort zone. However, there’s no getting past the fact: Michael Kamen remains the kitschiest choice ever to approach a story involving the great lover Don Juan (Johnny Depp). Not much to impress at first, then a silver lining. Between “Don Alfonso,” “Arabia” and “Dona Ana” there’s over twenty minutes of captivating themes. Overall, this material inspires the need to return.

Eraser (Alan Silvestri, 1996) **** When Alan Silvestri obeys the director’s wishes, we hear a serviceable if fleeting account known as Ricochet. Despite Eraser bearing all the hallmarks often tied to a genre blunderbuss, that’s not how it feels. A robust fanfare, amplified by sustained development in all the right areas even includes smooth electric guitar riffs. Apparently, Silvestri lost the assignment of scoring Mission: Impossible. If Eraser contains the missing score, I am glad. Ergo, such measures better suit the exploits of John Kruger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), witness protection extraordinaire, than they do a message set to self-destruct in five seconds. Overall, I found Eraser easy music to love. Like every great effort, recalling the musical/pictorial associations gives endless pleasure. I’ve got goose bumps just thinking about that crocodile now.

The Exorcist (Lalo Schifrin, 1973) **** Astonishingly, only a few minutes exist of Lalo Schifrin’s malevolent, avant-garde soundtrack for The Exorcist. What this composer delivered proved more than the film and its director William Friedkin could handle. Normally, when music overpowers the picture it’s a negative comment. Not so in Schifrin’s case. This was bold, intelligent work at a time when few such measures were dreamt of, let alone executed. Bringing the argument up to modern day, we hear endless variations as noise, droning or worse. Perhaps that’s why Schifrin’s The Exorcist remains outstanding. In order to achieve the fullest expression, the creator must free themselves from any formality or expectation. Accidents may occur. Above all, ideas resonate with the listener in surprising ways. This score accomplishes such a feat via consistency and disharmony.

The Legions of Cleopatra (Renzo Rossellini, 1959) *** Tell-tale drums as the strings and flutes engage in dialogue of war. Fragile, frugal and frightful, steps clamour against hot beds of silk, amazon red. Tremors met by the call where allies join, veering off into dutiful sentimentality. The cost? A moment in time. Warriors duel for preservation of an elapsed sunrise. Every soul bore lines to be plucked, the harp a reminder to feel joy… endlessly. However, the tooth grew long while shockwaves unmade the seam.

Mosquito Squadron (Frank Cordell, 1969) ** Time for a rhyme:

A composer of some renown

Eventually let me down.

Mosquito Squadron began as a flood

By the end, there was little blood.


Nary a note in vain

It came across as plain.

Even the symphonic reinforcement

Could not overthrow such embarrassment.

Sky Pirates (Brian May, 1986) **** At the beginning, I thought “Sky Pirates ain’t half bad.” By the end, it was clear that Brian May poured tons of love into this project. It’s a classic celebration of orchestral music -- beautifully flamboyant, pitting tones and moods next to one another -- the sole purpose: to entertain. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, especially the harp playing.

Sleuth (John Addison, 1972) ** Only a poem:

A rather curious beast

Included itself in this feast.

It was neither grand

Nor in a simplistic way bland.


A mind independent from thought

Emotion unburdened by sport.

Sleuth left impression dim

The odds of returning? Slim.

The Thirteenth Floor (Harald Kloser, 1999) *** A trio of ideas are announced right away. During “Downtown LA, 1937,” a large orchestral ambience builds. For “Jane’s Theme,” the saxophone signals a key character’s loneliness and melancholy. Then we get “Downloading.” Notably, harsher technological undercurrents and some major fantasy writing emerge. Thus, the key elements inside The Thirteenth Floor have been established: character, context and credibility. I’d say there’s replay value, not to mention durability. Frankly, composer Harald Kloser hasn’t been warmly greeted by film score collectors or critics. The general vibe seems to be that he’s underequipped. Franchise pictures such as Alien vs. Predator and Independence Day: Resurgence met with icy stares and indifference. Reassuringly, The Thirteenth Floor goes a long way towards lighting a beacon for naysayers. At least, there’s good storytelling and various moods to kick-start the escapism.


Jupiter Ascending (Michael Giacchino, 2015) ***** It’s rare for a film score to be composed well in advance of the later post-production stages. Perhaps this gestation period allowed composer Michael Giacchino to achieve unprecedented emotional and thematic development for Jupiter Ascending. Ergo, core feelings of destiny, intrigue, romance and conflict end up synchronized. Imagine space where these dots on the stave promise life while holding the potential for something even more extraordinary: transcendence.

Time for a rhyme:

Moving the way it should

Striving to be good.

Such highs and lows

Michael Giacchino knows.


Much to remember from this text

Opera the closest context.

Heightened curiosity as such

Enjoying this very much.


A career-making line

Everything just fine.

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