Score Season #18
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Apocalypse Now (David Shire, 1979) As a sound experiment, David Shire’s rejected score for Apocalypse Now operates inside the same universe as the final film mix. However, such heavily manipulated electronic effects including jungle drones amount to a gutless experience. By contrast, I enjoyed what Carmine Coppola brought to the film. The latter complemented Jim Morrison’s song “The End” as well as Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” Strangely, Shire doesn’t attempt such unity. In fact, his style closely mimics every John Carpenter soundtrack from Assault on Precinct 13 to Prince of Darkness. Overall, this qualifies as self-indulgence and then some.
Blade Runner 2049 (Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, 2017) Because Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was difficult to make, such agony was reflected in the music. On the cutting edge of synthesizer technology, Vangelis responded to Jordan Cronenweth’s high contrast imagery via extreme depth. Such a style cannot be easily replicated (pardon the pun). Even Edgar Rothermich’s re-recording fell short because Vangelis’ distinctive soundscapes remain singular. Fast forward to 2017 and composer Hans Zimmer was well beyond phoning in the basic requirements. Frankly, such laziness wouldn’t justify an eleventh hour text message. Knowing that Zimmer can do impressive work makes Blade Runner 2049 all the more disheartening.
Time to rhyme:
A weight unable to bear
Miserable orchestrations we hear.
The original Blade Runner was gold
Yet the sequel left me cold.
Perhaps it was a universe too far
Or maybe Vangelis set the bar.
Not much here but pain.
Might try Singin’ in the Rain.
Chain Reaction (Jerry Goldsmith, 1996) **** One of my favourite movies from 1996 was Chain Reaction, starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman and Rachel Weisz. This scenario proved equal parts thought-provoking and adrenaline pumping. Remember the chases? Good stuff. Admittedly, my expectations were muted regarding Jerry Goldsmith’s score. However, the expanded release from Varese Sarabande reveals stunning character. Special highlights include: “Be Safe,” “Ice Chase” and “System Down.” The sum total: Even Goldsmith on a bad day stands head and shoulders above 80% of what’s out there.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun, 2000) *** Time has allowed my distant heart to find Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There’s passion, mystery and longing behind the central theme. However, its merits may prove divisive as liking or disliking any artistic achievement depends on temperament, even if it rained that day. Mood has become a mercurial state, flowing into new spaces and keeping alive what we love… maybe even shielding what could be. At first, “Through the Bamboo Forest” failed to connect. Actually, this remains one of the more mystifying tracks… emphasis on mist. The last few seconds increase in volume and dissonance to what effect? Very little. In 2001, composer Tan Dun received an Academy Award for scoring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While it’s not the monolith such a reputation would suggest, I’d recommend this music.
A poem of reflection:
Legacy of mood
Remembering delight or feud.
Themes Tan Dun built
Have chosen not to wilt.
A sparrow gliding on rain
Defying godly bane,
Sang to reflect
Upon a love we inspect.
Damnation Alley (Jerry Goldsmith, 1977) A curiosity for the Jerry Goldsmith completist, Damnation Alley felt uninspired. Dial back your expectations and the experience proves diverting enough. Considering what lay ahead – specifically Star Trek and Rambo – this seems like a minor entry… something executed quickly then forgotten about.
The Last Wagon (Lionel Newman, 1956) *** A slippery character, the music for The Last Wagon proves refined, not to mention old school impressive. As such, Lionel Newman’s score functions as a time capsule. Despite lacking originality, there’s much to gain from the casual listen. For starters, “Red Rock Crossing” has it all: foreshadowing, aching human emotion and a touch of romance. The drama continues with “Tragedy” and “Canyon of Death,” a pair of significant cues. Give it a whirl.
The Man Who Would Be King (Maurice Jarre, 1975) A common feeling infects the themes from Jerry Goldsmith’s The Wind and the Lion and Maurice Jarre’s The Man Who Would Be King: indifference. Plenty of orchestral vim, yet I remain unmoved. Why? Such melodies lack the earthiness that defined Lawrence of Arabia. If presented with the correct mixture of heart and complexity, a motif can exist in your mind for a long time. Understanding that a loyal fan base might dispel my lack of enthusiasm; let it be known every Score Season reflects the subjective opinions of yours truly.
Yes, you will hear strumming
Though not a tune I’ll be humming.
For The Man Who Would Be King
Misses much needed bling.
Only thing to commend was the length.
A mere 30 minutes, I need strength.
A shame Maurice Jarre couldn’t inspire
Overall, this experience felt dire.
Thunder Road (Jack Marshall, 1958) Perhaps a shade too Wacky Races in order to be taken seriously, Jack Marshall’s Thunder Road comes across as a mixed bag. A seamless transition would aid such jarring mood swings. Overall, I felt unmoved by this clichéd, jittery and hyperactive endeavour.
All’s well on Thunder Road
Even for the endangered toad.
Yet few venture close
Because it’s so morose.
Sad or upbeat
Please take a seat.
Tired of old shoes
This music gave me the blues.
A Troll in Central Park (Robert Folk, 1994) **** Although his talents seem as constant as the north star, composer Robert Folk hasn’t achieved the same prestige as John Williams, James Horner or Jerry Goldsmith. Meanwhile, Folk can deliver contrapuntal writing that renders sheer excitement. Among his major accomplishments, there’s the unassuming and beautifully crafted A Troll in Central Park. If you enjoy Easter Eggs, check out Danny Elfman’s theme from Batman which appears at the end of “Gnorga in the Park.” A cheeky homage, yet it works.
Unsure whether to play?
Folk leads the way.
Enthusiasm at all times
Even with creepier chimes.
Charming as the limitless brand
Priceless upon the illusionist’s hand.
Joyous from go to stop.
Folk a good old fashioned fop.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Dragonslayer (Alex North, 1981) ***** According to the Cambridge online dictionary, the word “originality” means “the quality of being special… and not the same as anything or anyone else.” Although this suits Alex North’s Dragonslayer, there’s more at stake. He rocks the foundations which have signposted musical taste for centuries. Above all, he causes us to rethink how we receive musical information. With every measure, he’s advancing the story via techniques which seem atypical. In my view, Dragonslayer is the culmination of everything North has felt and intellectually acquired. Yes, it’s a dark effort conjuring imagery relative to dungeons, even fearsome firedrakes. However, such creativity remains peerless. So, move over Spartacus because there’s only one Dragonslayer.
In celebration, here’s a poem:
Sounds like magic.
All the elements gentle and caustic.
Alex North made infinity.
Numerous stars in this telemetry.
Challenged you may be.
Wait and see.
Dragonslayer has its haters.
Confine them to lofty craters.
Whether sharp or flat,
a tip of the hat.
Rallying that impressive horn
to the manner born.