Score Season #5
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Anthony Adverse (Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1936) ****
Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold dreamt big, and this comes out in his lush orchestrations. Alongside classics such as The Constant Nymph and Kings Row, Anthony Adverse carries greatness in its veins. Originally made in 1936, the music ended up being rerecorded decades later under the baton of conductor John Scott. The latter remains an excellent composer in his own right. Check out Lionheart for proof! Around 1991, record label Varese Sarabande released Scott’s version, and it sounds mint. While earlier tapes included hiss in a mono format, digital works wonders for this score. As such, every piece harmonizes into a significant whole. Want to feel good? Listen to “The Lovers” and “Anthony is Born.” Your heart might just melt at the frequency of Korngold’s poetry.
The Great Waldo Pepper (Henry Mancini, 1975) ***
Trust composer Henry Mancini to lift our spirits. His music in The Great Waldo Pepper never wants for enthusiasm or heart-warming arrangements. The first highlight occurs in “Free as a Bird.” It’s followed by the gentle “When You’re Away,” unwavering “The Big Stunt” and ambitious “Hollywood!” Truly, Mancini’s incomparable talents allowed him to conquer the skies like no other.
Ice Station Zebra (Michel Legrand, 1968) **
Isolated away from the picture, Michel Legrand’s Ice Station Zebra lacks the support in order to feel truly satisfying. A great deal of effort and craftsmanship can be recognised here. However, beyond the striking central motif, this destination proves cold indeed. For an alternative, I recommend Legrand’s outstanding career achievement The Mountain Men.
The Jungle Book (John Debney, 2016)
A strong contender for worst score of 2016, John Debney’s The Jungle Book imitates but does not equal the music of John Barry. Additional nods to George Bruns’ 1967 soundtrack seem tepid at best and unimaginative at worst. Right away, Scarlett Johansson misfires with her terrible rendition of “Trust in Me.” She’s flatter than a broken instrument.
For the record, I consider Debney’s Cutthroat Island a guilty pleasure. By comparison, his music for The Jungle Book resembles a thousand other styles. There’s no trace of creativity, heart or originality in a single measure of it. I am very disappointed.
The Mountain Men (Michel Legrand, 1980) ****
What a discovery! I cannot thank record label Intrada enough for putting together a gem like Michel Legrand’s The Mountain Men. The joys behind this particular soundtrack are not exclusively action-based. Firstly, there’s a romantic overture that proves both charming and sophisticated. While this theme undergoes numerous variations, there’s plenty of air time given to the main melodic message. Meanwhile, album producer Douglass Fake describes the spectacle as “virtuoso passages for upper brass featuring lightning fast triplet figures in high registers.” Overall, The Mountain Men comes across as a pulse quickening effort, mixed with home grown love and affection. Talk about a game changer.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (Brad Fiedel, 1988) *
Brad Fiedel’s The Serpent and the Rainbow struck me as a deceptive score. I liked Fiedel’s musical ideas at first, only I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was overusing a dull rhythmic device. Don’t go looking for a theme as every cue offers room tone blandness. Frankly, I found this score insufferable the second time around. While I encourage listeners to embrace the unfamiliar, The Serpent and the Rainbow takes more than it gives.
S.W.A.T. (Elliot Goldenthal, 2003) ***
Imagine what composer Elliot Goldenthal could bring to a James Bond film. Perhaps the closest thing would be the action-packed S.W.A.T. Like Heat, the music for S.W.A.T. acknowledges the on-screen mayhem with manic energy. He utilizes percussion, atmosphere and rhythm most effectively during “Bullet Frenzy.” This ten minute suite summarises every creative weapon in Goldenthal’s arsenal. Equally, “Crash Landing” and “That Cop Stole My Car” represent two sides of an exciting melody. Regardless of the heavy rock vibe, S.W.A.T. belongs with the finest Goldenthal soundtracks.
Timeline (Jerry Goldsmith, 2003) **
Originally, composer Jerry Goldsmith was meant to provide the final score for science fiction thriller Timeline. Ultimately, he was replaced by Brian Tyler. The latter has since enjoyed a diverse career. As film music, Goldsmith’s Timeline comes across as sentimental, and this approach defines much of his output. Indeed, cues such as “The Dig” and “Cornflakes” suggest a serene atmosphere. Yet the lengthy “Prepare for Battle/Victory for Us” squanders a bigger opportunity. Despite the orchestral drive, it doesn’t move me. Ergo, the score rarely ventures beyond the normal radar of Goldsmith’s soundscape. For that reason, Timeline feels like a curiosity more than a necessity.
The Wild Bunch (Jerry Fielding, 1969) ***
Ultimately, Jerry Fielding’s The Wild Bunch should have a greater impact on me. However, these melodies -- with the notable exception of “La Golondrina” -- manifest themselves poorly on CD. In general, this phenomenon can affect many soundtracks, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Avatar. Meanwhile, Fielding lends a folksy ambience to this story of bank robbers and their pursuers. Because the listening experience lacks a few magical touches, watching the film offers the finest alternative.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Helen of Troy (Max Steiner, 1956) *****
The storytelling in Max Steiner’s Helen of Troy qualifies as something new. By comparison, Gabriel Yared’s Troy (read Score Season #1) cannot measure up against Steiner’s behemoth. The 1956 effort could be the perfect film score. While the complete soundtrack spreads across ten tracks -- the longest being “Preparations for War” at twenty one minutes -- depth and scale co-exist. Although the recording for Helen of Troy contains imperfections, the experience makes up for it. Nearly thirteen minutes into “Preparations for War,” Steiner unleashes ferocious battle rhythms that equal the classic swashbuckling style of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. In Steiner’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, there were reports of musicians experiencing blistered fingers and cut lips. Likewise, Helen of Troy strongly indicates that he’s using the largest orchestra imaginable. Mind you, that’s a fair compliment he pays to this yarn of brotherhood, conflict, love and destiny. Speaking of romance, the underscore behind Helen (Rosanna Podesta) and Paris’ (Jack Sernas) affair remains dazzling.