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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #43
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.

The Concorde... Airport '79 (Lalo Schifrin, 1979) **** If Airport '77 was prone to toil and broil, then The Concorde... Airport '79 carries more whip on the lip. In other words: spectacle. The music felt dramatic, though never less than expertly wrought. With the bite of a horror film -- minus any lingering aftertaste -- and the ambience of a classical symphony, the musical textures were developed boldly by Lalo Schifrin. Such extravagance might offend if it sounded tinny or forced. Not so as he allows "Violent Aerobatics" to maximize breathless tension. Therefore, anxiety and romance co-exist. This normally uneasy relationship maintains balance through the composer's craft which emphasizes the drama at important junctures. In "Supersonic Confrontation," I could practically feel the electricity buzzing through the bald spot on my head. All joking aside, Schifrin plans with meticulous care and peerless execution. 

End of Days (John Debney, 1999) ** I am split over End of Days. Emotionally, I felt oppressed rather than invigorated. By devoting so much airtime to the crackly, distorted, unholy growling of demons, any clear motive for Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) dissolves like quicksand. The lack of humanity except for the finale makes it more akin to footnotes upon Dante's Inferno. Granted, John Debney's palette seems more instrumentally diverse than his dark yet insipid The Relic. However, praise comes with a sticky compromise. I sat through the entirety of this score wondering if some asylum patient had been let loose on the scoring stage. In retrospect, it's evident that Debney wanted to inject listeners with a serious case of the heebie jeebies. While the notion appears sound, jump scares took the safe path to scary land. For my video review of Debney's End of Days, click here:

A poem:

Don't judge it too harshly
For it succeeds partially. 
Wander the maze
And discover End of Days.

Going round the same bit
Refusing to sit.
Satan was accompanied fully.
The remainder treated cruelly.

Judith (Sol Kaplan, 1966) **** A poem:

I was charmed indeed
By Sol Kaplan's marvellous deed.
Of Judith, he should be proud.
Don't keep this one under a shroud.

Intrada made a worthy set
Only to be sold out, you bet.
"Damascus" proved most striking
Conjuring chords to my liking.

Once the spinning spur
Made for more than motion blur.
Kaplan's enviable skill
For that, some might kill.

Learning from a master
Wisdom echoes like the blaster.
Judith I shall keep
Dashing harmonies by the leap.

Mars Attacks! (Danny Elfman, 1996) **** With turbulent horns, cheeky theremin countermeasures, homicidal strings, swirling harp glissandi and 'A-Ha!' nods from the brass, Danny Elfman's Mars Attacks! secures classic status. Adoringly, Elfman winds back the flux capacitor to the 1950s. Various high and low budget B-movies sported innovative soundtracks, with the theremin being a prize item. He applies this instrument behind the Martian invasion without pretense or a hint of the precocious. Despite the film's farcical nature, Elfman follows it with a serious musical backbone. Sure, he has fun but why not? He establishes the tonal parameters early. This allows him to build upon wonderfully creative ideas while reflecting the on-screen anarchy. Meanwhile, there are nicer themes dotted around the map. Lastly, fans of Bernard Herrmann, Walter Greene, Nicholas Carras, Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter and others shall delight in the way Elfman's music spins... like a flying saucer sounding notes of excellence through the speaker system. 

Off Limits (James Newton Howard, 1988) A very early James Newton Howard score, Off Limits barely hints at the mythic, fantastical and majestic heights he would soon traverse. Consider Waterworld, Signs and Maleficent. Regarding Off Limits, it's chillout time for Howard whose mission beyond setting a basic mood rarely departs the familiar comforts. If you find yourself drifting into an early slumber, I sympathize completely. As a test, compare these synthetic notes to the high energy dynamics compiled by Hans Zimmer for Black Rain. It's a shocking contrast. For those exploring the early days of Howard's film scoring, I'd suggest bypassing Off Limits and making a beeline for Grand Canyon. You can thank me later. 

Rambo: Last Blood (Brian Tyler, 2019) *** Ultimately, two types of review could exist for Brian Tyler's leap into the musical wilderness of John Rambo. Firstly, one might wish to compare Tyler's style not only to his 2008 effort but also the three instalments which Jerry Goldsmith developed throughout the 1980s. Personally, I believe this would unfairly bias the critique. Plus, there are plenty of Charlie the Joyless types who will seek to diminish Tyler's contribution relative to the established musical vernacular. For the second and more effective method, simply judge the score on its own terms. It's nothing new for Tyler. There's an action ostinato which appears in nearly every score. It's rhythmic yet rather bland. However, during the early part of the soundtrack, it was a surprise to hear such pleasant melodies. This helps us become more invested in the drama, and I applaud Tyler for his sensitivity. In terms of spectacle, my pulse rarely quivered. 

Revolver (Ennio Morricone, 1973) ** Quite frankly, composer Ennio Morricone has always struck me as hit and miss. Undeniably, he made an indelible impression with his Dollars trilogy. I also thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a Time in the West and Nostromo. Beyond this bunch, it gets hazy. Notably, Revolver got on my nerves through its tedium. What was purpose behind the 12 minute "Revolver"? It's loud, repetitive and fully deserving of scorn. However, I read another review where the critic claimed to love this particular track. I guess musical tastes are as infinite and varied as the cosmos. After that dodgy start, the quality improves considerably. For example, "Anna" conveys a lovely harmonious atmosphere. However, it's a curiosity at best.

Sands of Iwo Jima (Victor Young, 1949) ** As a motion picture, Sands of Iwo Jima tends to precede itself, at least in terms of reputation. It was one of the few productions for which superstar John Wayne received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Meanwhile, "The Battle of Tarawa Island" shimmers with promise, yet it's rather conservative. Did I picture soldiers skittering like angry ants across the screen? No, it's dramatically anonymous wind making which could support any number of scenarios, except war. 

A poem:

Of this I shall say little
Any impression was brittle.
How these foundations cracked
And important elements lacked.

Valhalla (Ron Goodwin, 1986) **** Ron Goodwin was one of the most gifted composers ever to grace a scoring stage. Never BAFTA or Oscar nominated in his lifetime, his legacy nevertheless inspires awe. With Valhalla, his final project for the big screen, he left a huge smile on my face. His thematic roots define character, plot and drama seamlessly. Like the very best, he understood the value in restraint, of not overscoring a movie. Check out Where Eagles Dare and Battle of Britain for similar excellence.

Time to rhyme:

Valhalla broke spear and hammer
Rounding up enemies for the slammer.
It was bold and courteous
The playing precise, even virtuous.

Ron Goodwin spoke clear
About love and fear.
His goal ambitious, occasionally fraught
With delirious abandon, hardly caught.



Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Leonard Rosenman, 1973) ***** Leonard Rosenman happens to be a bruiser. He gets down and dirty by shaming the timid who refuse to find the original melody. Never one to mince notes, he looked beyond making listeners comfortable. If he could unsettle or agitate that was gravy. What does Battle for the Planet of the Apes bring to the front? Everything. It sits firmly alongside Rosenman's established classics, including The Car. It's a moody tone ballet, shifting gears at a pinch. Yet the juxtapositions are clearly defined. You can tell when a monster has entered the room and the protagonist must escape. He's as confident as Alex North regarding context, build-up and crescendo. For "Mutants Move Out," drums and brass gather like men of iron and blade upon the battlefield. For the casual observer, this might seem alienating. Personally, I view the musical journey as complete. He allowed me to feel immersed in this struggle. Music which makes you think has value too.

A poem to close:

Dig out your favourite tapes.
Check out Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
A thoughtful experience shivered
Like the archer whose bow quivered.

It was emotional and brassy
Applause for one so classy.
Those in any way offended
Might not agree it's splendid.

Feeling every note
Like getting a new coat.
Wear it well
Fear not oppressive quell.

I judge music by the beat.
Whether I left my seat.
Restless or moved
This one grooved.

Forget your pre-conceived notion
Become lost in emotion.
I am grateful for the dive
And give it five.


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