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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Score Season #64
by Richard Jack Smith

Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.  

Escape from Alcatraz (Jerry Fielding, 1979) *** Those with avant garde tendencies should study Jerry Fielding's Escape from Alcatraz. Fielding liked to experiment. Indeed, the atonal flow and snarling disposition behind horror music suited him. Although Escape from Alcatraz concerns real life events, it bristles and aches with the feeling of the supernatural. Verily, Alcatraz was no fairytale milieu, its dank conditions conducive to theatrical menace. Right away, Fielding wipes away all possibilities for hope. A close cousin might be Lalo Schifrin's The Hellstrom Chronicle, a score I detested. The latter eliminated all opportunities for contrast. While Escape from Alcatraz shows a little more promise, this proves to be "musique concrete" at its most unwelcome, abrasive and experimental. It's a divisive work, meant to convey uncomfortable emotions. Prolonging the agony somewhat are three additional cues at the end. These add little to the mix. How do I rate such an experience? Not easily. After all, this musical stench makes the environment a character. It's a quality which neither words nor pictures can adequately convey. Although the extra ten minutes oversell the organic construction, Fielding generates tension to nearly unbearable extremes.  

Free Willy (Basil Poledouris, 1993) ** A great theme will only take a score part of the way. Although composer Basil Poledouris scores a hole in one for Free Willy, the remaining material comes across as generic filler. Some electronic counterpoint around 9:30 into "Farewell Suite" runs dangerously close to low end distortion. Meanwhile, channeling his inner John Barry, Cliff Eidelman would create a far more compelling musical narrative in Free Willy 3: The Rescue. It's a cycle of life made intelligent and emotionally vibrant. In particular, big emotions during "Birth" surpass the embryonic phase of Poledouris' original effort in every conceivable way.   

The Ghost of Frankenstein (Hans J. Salter, 1942) **** A score of high value, Hans J. Salter's The Ghost of Frankenstein has been re-recorded with love by William T. Stromberg and John Morgan. These two have preserved numerous golden age movie scores as new recordings. Regarding Salter, I was delighted to learn that he received six Academy Award nominations, including Christmas HolidayThe Merry Monahans and It Started with Eve. His themes for The Ghost of Frankenstein prove instantly catchy, enhanced by dark undercurrents and blossoming melodies. Check out "Ygor's Scheme" for rasping woodwinds which entice through flavour, tone and quality.   

Last Embrace (Miklos Rozsa, 1979) *** Unsurprisingly, Last Embrace flows with the regular theatrics which composer Miklos Rozsa sculpted over a long and distinguished career. The structure appears cyclical like figure eights drawn in the sand, each one chained to the last. Above all, there are waves of sudden expectancy as a suspenseful scene caught in medias res. One moment he's in shallow water, the next diving to the grey black depths where sunlight cannot reach. It's entertaining enough, though hardly prototypical for Rozsa. Indeed, he could be relied upon for stylistic consistency. Although he had a very singular way of working, it would have been nice for him to deviate from the set pattern now and then. As a result, it's highly unlikely I'll be spinning Last Embrace again.   

The Legend of Bagger Vance (Rachel Portman, 2000) ** Drama should intrude as a fleeting shadow to tempt the composer into more exciting realms. When lighthearted scores resort to easy mode for their entirety it can be difficult to remain alert. In many ways, Rachel Portman's themes for The Legend of Bagger Vance echo The Cider House Rules. For the latter, she crafted a major musical identity which immediately struck a chord. Although The Legend of Bagger Vance has the spirit it lacks the gift. Rarely breaking from the trance long enough, there's warmth minus any electric current. Time for some high contrast, no holds barred horror music.   

Morituri (Jerry Goldsmith, 1965) **** Tonal colour: the selection, arrangement and pattern taken by instruments which answer, interrupt or seamlessly overlap. Also, consider how a painter blends certain colours in order to achieve a desired effect. Regarding Morituri, Jerry Goldsmith comes across as a matador, dodging the scary intentions of a horned fiend. A brave and original score results. He succeeds because the ideas both fascinate and beguile. Good pacing too, and plenty of opportunity for rests, which remains an art unto itself. On the downside, Morituri ends without much fanfare.  

Ulzana's Raid (Frank DeVol, 1972) ** A rather unexceptional jaunt, Frank DeVol's music for Ulzana's Raid felt relatively commonplace and systematic. It seems to flow without any regard for event or mythmaking. As such, the brass and woodwinds were the most mundane, despite a lesser role occupied by the strings. The theme comes across as loose and forgettable. Ultimately, Ulzana's Raid proves to be less exciting than DeVol's The Flight of the Phoenix.   

Pope Joan (Marcel Barsotti, 2009) ** Given Christian Clemmensen's enthusiastic review on Filmtracks, I had high hopes for Pope Joan. Although there are some dramatic moments, they lack gravity and weight as contrasting moods. Overall, it's a pleasant experience yet that doesn't make for a deeply resonant score. Sadly, composer Marcel Barsotti misses the ferry entirely.  

A poem:   

Where did the passion go?

Doubtful it was on this no show.

I wanted to be moved by Pope Joan

Yet I felt all alone.  


Art with missing hues

Sure felt like the blues.

Others say it was very good

For me a plank of wood.  

The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo (John Scott, 1997) **** Time to rhyme:  

 I emerge from slumber

To hear a pleasant number.

John Scott earns which rank?

The status of a tank.


   The Second Jungle Book floors

 Those who knock on doors

. Such purity I treasure

The one and only measure.  


References to George Bruns were few

Because Scott made his own stew.

 A fiddle and the march

Removes unwanted starch


 Themes which quickly etch

Waves of sand, a worthy sketch.

Originality carries its own price

For some an irreconcilable vice.  


A talent that flowered

Harbouring niceties, simply overpowered.

Such joys remind me of fresh fruit

I say it's cute.  


DeepStar Six (Harry Manfredini, 1989) ***** The paint has not dried on Harry Manfredini's enigmatic and riveting DeepStar Six. Also, Intrada's original CD release includes more music than you will hear in context. Regarding the film, all was working fine until the monster's big appearance. Fake looking practical effects were shamed by better examples from the 1980s, namely John Carpenter's The Thing. Meanwhile, chiaroscuro foundations define warm human tones against a backdrop of danger and panic. As such, Manfredini's modus operandi seems to play like a brooding Bernard Herrmann score from the 1950s. Against the catalogue of distinguished B-movie classics, the music for DeepStar Six stands out for several reasons. Firstly, there's the atmosphere and pacing -- both remain faultless. Secondly, the narrative and musical developments form a symbiotic relationship whereby suspenseful timbres suggest changes in temperature. For a cold, deep sea adventure, the composer conveys the chill running through your bones as sinister forces run amok. Thus, every track works in conjunction, causing the entire album to feel seamless and expansive. More so than the brute force expressed in his Friday the 13th scores, DeepStar Six allows Manfredini to catch his breath, while plotting areas of anxious and frenetic spectacle. A single playthrough won't be enough to satisfy your curiosity as raging waters harness the power of the unknown.  

Postscript: Manfredini also scored the survival horror game Friday the 13th in 2017. When a player dies, they can be randomly selected to return as Tommy Jarvis. Interestingly, the latter's entrance music closely resembles the final bars from "The Saga of Osborne and Hodges" in DeepStar Six. Quite a cheeky touch.

PHOTO: Richard Jack Smith

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