Soundtrack Picks: ‘GALAXY QUEST‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR APRIL 2012
Also worth picking up: BEN-HUR, THE BLACK CAULDRON, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, HOSTEL PART III, MEAN GUNS, NOWHERE TO RUN, TITANIC and THE WAR OF THE BUTTONS
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
What is it?: If the granite-jawed manliness of Charlton Heston made him the anointed prince of Hollywood widescreen pictures with “The Big Country,” “55 Days at Peking” and “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” then it was Miklos Rozsa’s ability to fill the screen with equally rapturous melody that turned him into the epic court composer of “Knights of the Round Table,” “King of Kings” and “Sodom and Gomorrah.” And while Heston and Rozsa would get in the Spanish saddle together for the mighty “El Cid,” nothing would match the other teaming of these two larger-than-life talents like 1959’s “Ben-Hur. It was an eleven Oscar-winning picture (including Best Actor and Score) that still stands as the religious sword and sandal movie to rule them all. Having been transfigured from mere movie into the stuff of pop legend, Rozsa’s cosmically lush music has received several issues and re-performances over the decades since, nearly all of which are seemingly gathered for Film Score Monthly’s five-CD sermon on the soundtrack mount. Delivering pure old-school score bliss for over six hours, this incredible box set is enough to convert any unbeliever to the power of film music.
Why should you buy it: Along with his “Robe” compatriot Alfred Newman, Rozsa’s jam-packed orchestrations and beautiful themes hit all the beats of religious music, among them soaring choral hosannahs, transcendent strings and psalm-like melodies, all of which gave an uplifting sense of a greater purpose and reverence to “Ben-Hur.” It’s a sense of destiny that also drives this massive film’s story, which links the fall and redemption of Heston’s regal Jew with that of his legendary kinsman. It’s a succession of soaring, iconic themes that connote the power of worship, right down the chorus and organ that have the greatly moving resonance of a risen savior. But don’t forget that “Ben-Hur” is as much a historical action picture as it is tale of conversion, with Rozsa unleashing bold Roman marches, the cruel, swirling drama of a friendship gone wrong, and our hero’s brassy, Job-like punishment that will lead to the cinema’s most famous fanfare before he gets payback in the famed chariot race. While that scene is unscored, “Hur”’s action highlight is the throttling orchestral battle between Roman and pirate ships, a showpiece of relentless rhythmic builds and ebbs that make the listener feel like he’s chained to the massive rowing paddle along with Chuck, the music finally going to full ramming speed. It’s a cue that still stands as one of the most thrillingly breathless, and wearying musical sequences ever written.
Extra Special: Every note that Rozsa wrote for “Ben-Hur” is here, and then some in this set that never proves tiring in spite of its hours of repetition. Collecting the original score onto the first two CD’s with better sound than ever before, FSM reserves the third platter for the “original” “Hur” soundtrack LP, an understandably thinner performance that ends up paling before the sonic presence of the two Kloss albums that hit record stores soon afterward, given the soundtrack’s immense popularity. Filling out the discs are well-assembled alternates, and unused Rosza cues. While the CD-sized case of this “Hur” might prevent it from having the physical polish of the Rhino set from 16 years ago (as well as its unbreakable binding), FSM’s release is a worthy last word on a score that illustrates the power of a film music like few others. As spiritually uplifting as it is exhilaratingly brawny, “Ben-Hur”’s soundtrack will likely live on with the grace of that other Prince whom Rozsa’s work ultimately celebrates.
2) GALAXY QUEST (3,000 edition)
What is it?: If there was ever a geek desert island movie, and score, then it would be 1999’s “Galaxy Quest.” Beyond its brilliant high-concept of throwing Classic Trek’s “ has-been actors into a real outer space adventure, what made the movie work was just how much love it really had for Kirk and company- a determination to make the premise anything but a shabbily extended “Saturday Night Live” skit. For with just a few less degrees of satire, one could actually, almost buy these actors being on a spiffed-up Enterprise bridge, fighting Gorn to David Newman’s trumpeting theme for a cult TV show that never was- its “fake” fanfare equally endearing to “Quest” fans as Alexander Courage’s real deal is to Trekkies. Now Newman’s previously, promo-only s”Quest” gets launched as a limited edition from La La Land records, proving resoundingly just how many meta-levels his music works on.
Why should you buy it?: Like this big-budget production that really did its homework on how to amplify the original show’s sometimes cheesy charm, Newman’s “Galaxy” plays like a checklist of the great CT scores by the likes of Sol Kaplan, Gerald Fried and Fred Steiner (not to mention the movie scores by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner). There’s the proud military percussion, the noble strings of going boldly, spectral choruses, and drop-kick percussive action music- all given the symphonically grand, big screen life that makes “Quest”’s cast’s mouths drop when they step onto the Thermian version of the N.S.E.A. Protector. And having come up with a memorable theme that never becomes tiring, Newman is sure to have it every step of the way. But what also made him the perfect composer for “Galaxy Quest” was a talent for antic comedies like “The Flintstones” and “The Nutty Professor.” Indeed, few composers this side of Carl Stalling has written such dense, screwball “cartoon” music, Looney Tune antics that Newman crosses with the tongue-in-cheek derring-do he brought to his glorious comic book score for “The Phantom.” The result is a soundtrack that’s simultaneously hilarious and truly thrilling, having at it with the musical conventions of “Star Trek” while playing them straight. And it’s exactly this musical gravitas at a death of a kind Thermian, the humiliation of a cowardly captain, and the cast members’ final rise to true heroism that gives “Quest” the stuff of real greatness- a la Elmer Bernstein’s work for the similarly themed “Three Amigos.”
Extra Special: Once as requested an item as a videotape of the original Kirk-less pilot to “The Menagerie,” “Galaxy Quest’’s promo has now been given a bit more music in the bargain, with a truly retro Easter egg at the end of the album. Tim Greiving’s terrific liner notes feature a new interview with David Newman on the score that would likely earn him a place of honor at any Star Trek convention, especially for musically taking their idols seriously in the name of satire.
3) TITANIC (2CD Anniversary Edition)
What is it?: “My Heart Will Go On,” and on and on and on with the popularity of the most waterlogged movie to win Best Picture, especially for the concurrent 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking and the 15th years since the movie’s release. So what better time to make hay of all things musically “Titanic” than with multiple releases of its Oscar-winning score and song? While a four-disc soundtrack set offers copious source music and extra instrumentals, chances are “Titanic” non-fanatics will be sated with this 2CD anniversary edition, which contains the lion’s share of Horner’s score, and, of course, Celine Dion. But it’s a new, shining musical star that really steals the refurbished boat here.
Why should you buy it?: All Celine over-exposure aside, there’s still no denying the epic, emotionally thematic power of “Titanic”’s song and score. Carried by what’s likely the cinema’s most romantically iconic melody next to “As Time Goes By,” Horner’s music captures a similar feeling for pure love, as caught amidst the grandeur, and self-sacrifice of one of history’s greatest tragedies. As a composer whose nautically influenced style could be heard all the way back to “Star Trek 2” and “Cocoon,” Horner also brought a sense of seafaring adventure to “Titanic,” while also ensuring James Cameron’s goal of making the music feel “timeless” by combining his strings with ethereal synths, as well as Uilleann pipes for the liner’s Irish port of origin. But all compass points will lead to the fateful iceberg, with Horner unleashing, terrifying, metal-rending percussion and orchestral thrills that could easily have played in Cameron’s “Aliens.” Yet amidst the score’s desperation to abandon ship, it’s old-fashioned emotion that truly floods through every passage of the score, music that achieves a beautiful sense of transcendence from the tragic.
Extra Special: With so much conversation about the captain’s table, and even more commotion going about on deck, it’s little wonder that the source music performed onscreen by I Salonisti didn’t get the recognition it deserved. But now this chamber quintet for strings and piano gets a well-deserved, solo-disc spotlight on this set, their music proving as impressive as Horner’s in its own right. Accomplished composer John Altman (“Funny Bones”) commanded the group as “Titanic”’s historical music advisor, his knowledge of the popular tunes of the day making for a lilting, spot-on replication of the White Star Line’s shipboard band, whose on-demand playlist he whittled down from over 200 songs to about 25 for the picture. Their repertoire of waltzes and “pop” tunes is still eminently recognizable, from the “Blue Danube” to cartoon stalwarts like “Pop and Peasant,” as well as a top-ten number like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” But no melody is as moving as “Nearer My God to Thee” as the somber hymn rises with emotion as the ship goes down. While most chamber music of this sort can become grating very quickly, I Salonisti’s soulful playing has the resonance of a full orchestra, not only transitioning between numbers with beautifully classical ease, but transporting the listener on board the Titanic itself to relax in the company of its house band. Not only does this replicated music carry the sense of refined civilization, but it also helped provide a sense of order that likely resulted in saving more than a few lives. Never has a conductor’s appreciation for his band been more moving.
4) THE WAR OF THE BUTTONS (LA NOUEVELLE GUERRE DES BOUTONS)
What is it?: Cute kids go to fake war again in the fourth adaptation of Louis Pergaud’s 1912 novel, which was first made in France in 1962 before having its non-fatal action moved to the Irish countryside for a 1994 version. Then in 2011, the story traveled back to its country of origin twice, which might be some kind of record for retelling the same story. For director Christophe (“Les Choiristes”) Barratier’s version, Gallic composer Philippe Rombi takes up the musical charge from Jose Berghmans, Rachel Portman and Klaus Badelt with a score that’s hoists a flag of victory in anyone’s interpretation.
Why should you buy it?: A French composer that Hollywood needs to hire immediately, Philippe Rombi has impressed in his homeland with such scores as “Swimming Pool,” “Joyeux Noel” and even the LA-set “Hollywoo.” And like his compatriots, Rombi has shown a wonderfully unabashed love for themes and lush orchestrations, an affection that was also very much alive in America during the 1980’s, as particularly practiced by such composers as Bruce Broughton, James Horner and David Shire in the likes of “The Boy Who Could Fly,” “Cocoon” and “Return To Oz.” Wonderfully possessed by those scores’ luxurious power, Rombi’s “War of the Buttons” will provide an instant flashback to the same soundtrack fans that dug Michael Giacchino’s astute referencing of John Williams in “Super 8.” But as opposed to an orchestral beast beating out the rhythms of “Close Encounters” and “Jurassic Park,” Rombi’s WWII-set “Buttons” beautifully evokes the sound of symphonic children’s adventures from 80’s era, particularly Broughton’s “Boy.” It’s all about the theme here, and Rombi’s got one of the loveliest I’ve heard in years, a gentle, gossamer tune that’s all about youthful innocence at play, of course in the kind of sun-drenched little town where no one’s going to get hurt. That being said, Rombi’s bucolic score isn’t devoid from un-cloying sentimentality that evokes the real war games around the characters, with military danger, the tragic sound of fallen comrades and the heroism of bruise-inducing combat. Creatively using flute, chorus and drum rolls with his orchestra, Rombi’s music has a vibrant sense of nostalgia, not to mention unabashed melody that not only gives a sense of poignancy to the days of youth, but also to a time when scores of this type could charge into battle fully armed with an unabashed orchestra, without getting slaughtered.
Extra Special: Not only is “The War of the Buttons” one of the best releases yet from France’s upcoming Music Box Records label, it also might be the nicest, most peace-inducing soundtrack to have the word “War” in its title- or “Geurre” as the French pronounce it.
5) WHITE FANG
What is it?: Just like the confident bear who tangles with an upstart white wolf, Basil Poledouris’ old-fangled orchestral score was given a proper mauling by the Disney execs, who wanted to make their period Jack London adventure seem a lot more contemporary. But where it’s usually the veteran creature who’d lose the fight when thrown into the fight pit of studio politics, quite a bit of both composers’ work ended up in 1991’s “White Fang” (even if Zimmer somehow went uncredited). Yet props can also be given to Disney for allowing Intrada to release both musical “Fangs” for a double album that most fans thought they’d never see, especially given the sticky nature of the situation.
Why should you buy it?: Whether its bear baiting or rooting for the new dog-wolf on the block, “White Fang” offers both musical camps equal satisfaction. As the composer who was originally meant to be in the wild, especially given his lushly naturalistic score for “Fang” director Randal Kleiser on “The Blue Lagoon” (not to mention his spectacular orchestral waves for John Milius’ “Big Wednesday”), Basil Poledouris provides a score of sweeping, melodic vastness as big as the great outdoors, his lush, string-heavy themes conveying the magical wonder, brassy danger, and most of all the bonding emotion between man and beast. If anything, there’s the throwback feeling of the good old Disney “nature” adventures in Poledouris’ approach that makes the studio’s reluctance even more confounding, as “Fang”’s music has a shimmering, heart-tugging quality that could just as much suffice for Big Red and Old Yeller as it does an Alaskan wolf. When it comes to danger, Poledouris’ Americana feel strongly echoes his work n “Red Dawn,” another tale of youth in the cold forest, even if the “Fang”’s threats aren’t Stravinsky-inspired.
Extra Special: While Poledouris certainly offers ethnic wind instruments and electronic pads, his use of synths pales before Zimmer’s wall of sound, an ultra modern (if since far evolved from here) combination of pop-rock beats and a thematic orchestral sensibility that would become the face of face of film scoring in years to come. Zimmer had impressed with his percussive sound with the likes of “Black Rain” and “Driving Miss Daisy” before applying a raging symphony to “Backdraft” in 1991, the year that marked a major leap forward in Zimmer’s approach. Heard fully here, Zimmer’s flexing of orchestral and electronic muscle (greatly abetted by orchestrator Shirley Walker) might seem anathema to turn of the century Yukon, but it’s as mesmerizing and melodic as Poledouris’ work in its own way, right from its incorporation of a period player piano in the opening cue. “Fang” is a rousing catch all of The Zimmer Sound, incorporating the ethnic winds of “Rain Man,” the rhythmic, Vangelis-y washes of “Paper House” and the pounding action of “Black Rain.” Where Poledouris’ “Fang” might have distinctly orchestral peaks and valleys, Zimmer’s approach is more about a mesmerizing flow between awe-inspiring musical vistas and rhythmic suspense. Jack London probably would have been a heck of a lot more familiar with the first approach, but there’s no doubt that he wouldn’t have been just as intrigued by an anachronistic one that would end up sending many grizzled musical trappers into the great white north, Poledouris included. With Intrada’s “White Fang,” you can be the judge as to the better approach.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BEL AMI
Rachel Portman, the mistress of costume drama scoring, takes on the French Bell Epoque era for “Bel Ami.” And in the stylistically seamless company of Indian co-composer Lakshman Joseph De Saram, Portman shows off her musical trademark of dance-like rhythms and emotive, feminine strings. Her Baroque classicism very much suits “Ami”’s elegant social stratification a few centuries hence, and the seductive cunning of the ex soldier who finds his way to success through society’s hemlines. Going for a tone that contrasts poetic beauty with the darkness that lies under the characters’ finery, Portman and De Saram’s music is impressively fashioned with equal parts beauty and amorous amorality, with swelling, sorrowful passion at their beck and call. While there’s nothing particularly “French” about the score (especially given that few actors here attempt the accent), Portman and De Saram convey a mesmerizing sense of time and place, especially with their charming detours into the salon’s chamber music. But in the end, it’s the composers’ memorably brooding, nearly villainous theme that the score yields before. If Portman never gets to handle another remake of “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Bel Ami” does her costume repertoire very well with its stain of masculine ill repute.
. THE BLACK CAULDRON
Even if Disney animation didn’t exactly get their answer to “The Lord of the Rings” with this 1985 fantasy spectacle, “The Black Cauldron” did brew up the last epic genre score that Elmer Bernstein would compose for a major studio. There’s certainly no mistaking his inimitable touch during the era, as “Cauldron”’s theremin-like Ondes Martenot, playful electronics and bold, brassy statements are part of the same, tasty brew from whence the likes of “Saturn 3,” “Spacehunter” and “Heavy Metal” sprang. But if there’s one Bernstein score that “The Black Cauldron” really shares its lifeblood with, then it’s the over-the-top sound of “Ghostbusters,” as played for somewhat straighter ends here. Listening to much of “The Black Cauldron”’s stormy evil orchestrations makes one feel that they’re marching up the steps of Spook Central to confront Gozer the Gozerean, let alone being in the presence of Slimer’s pokey synths. Not only do these thunderous qualities make “Cauldron” a score that cult comedy’s fans shouldn’t miss, it also offers far more gonzo pleasures beyond it. While giving a tap of the choral and organ shield to the kind of sword and sorcery material he played straighter for “Heavy Metal”’s Taarna, “The Black Cauldron” is more of a potpourri of Bernstein goodness, frothing over with rollicking western heroism worthy of John Wayne, imposingly soaring orchestrations to part the Red Sea by, incongruously jazzy bits and even a tango for good measure. It all coalesces into a thoroughly fun score that’s another supreme demonstration of how Bernstein’s youthful energy brought him a career rebirth in the 1980’s. “The Black Cauldron” has been a rarity since that decade, with its 30-minute Varese CD worth its weight in gold. In another glorious example of Intrada getting in to mine the Disney vaults for all they’re worth, the label has expanded Bernstein’s score to 75 minutes for this unlimited edition, complete with a picture-filled booklet and Jeff Bond and Randy Thornton’s appreciative liner notes. It all makes for a Bernstein spell that’s as captivating as ever.
. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
When it comes to Whit Stillman’s arch comedies of manners, the filmmaker has found a pleasant cocktail partner in composer Mark Suozzo, who’s brought musical class to the quips of “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco.” But Suozzo’s stylings for Stillman’s bon vivants have never been more cutely enjoyable then when he hits the college campus of “Damsels in Distress,” as abetted by Adam Schlesinger (“Music and Lyrics”). On a campus whose not-so mean girls speak and behave as if they were from an era well outside the 21st century, Suozzo and Schlesinger come up with the kind of spot-on 60’s doo-wop sound that one might hear whilst “parking.” An Esquivel-like rhumba and voices fit just as well on Don Draper’s stereo system, love themes carry a 70’s easy listening vibe, while sentimental strings and violin daintily date back even earlier for a French kiss. Like Stillman’s genteel approach, Suozzo and Schlesinger’s talent is all about playing this sort of droll comedy with a gentle smile, as opposed to a self-mocking laugh. “Damsels” also offers Lucy Jules’ Martha and the Vandellas’-inspired “Devil in My Heart,” the Reggae rhythms of Jeff Young’s “Sambola! International Dance Craze” and the downright naughty rave groove of Victoria Aitken”’s “Weekend Lover.” There’s no real distress in this listen. Perhaps more like pleasantly mild all-era pop consternation.
. HOSTEL: PART III (1,000 edition)
Intended horror franchises never die. They just go straight to video, where, if they’re lucky, they’ll end up in the bloody musical hands of Frederik Weidmann. With a ghoulishly refined ability that’s made his soundtrack sequels to “The House on Haunted Hill,” “Mirrors” and “Hellraiser” into scores whose quality is worthy of the big screen, DV’s go-to-it composer has more than proven that his work is anything but torture to listen to. That craftsmanship is no more apparent than in the passing of the “Hostel” baton from Nathan Barr for the franchise’s third time out, this time in Las Vegas. While there’s nothing glittering about Weidmann’s treatment of the evisceration club amidst tonier surroundings, what “Freddie” does give his “Hostel” entry is its own, fast-paced identity. Most surprisingly, “III” plays much more like a dark suspense score. For instead of getting strapped into a chair here, Weidemann’s strong orchestral approach conveys the feeling of running for one’s life alongside Jason Bourne, his suspenseful approach abetted by propulsive samples, haunted voices and a surprising reliance on melody as opposed to the kind of musical shrieking that’s the true torture porn of so many horror scores today. Sure the sequel might be downsized as such, but “Hostel Part III” sounds positively epic in scope. It’s a throttlingly menacing and well-performed score that once again shows how Weidmann’s impressive genre chops belong on the big screen first. In the hopefully short meanwhile, be sure to throw your gore-soaked chips down on “Hostel Part III”s quickly disappearing Varese limited edition, or via iTunes.
. MEAN GUNS (500 edition)
After putting out Tony Riparetti and Jim Saad’s unreleased score for Albert Pyun’s “Cyborg,” Howlin’ Wolf continues to offer up Riparetti’s work for this indefatigable director, of whose 47 pictures (and counting) the composer has scored 30. But arguably the cleverest approach that Riparetti’s taken for one of Pyun’s better-received movies belongs to 1997’s “Mean Guns,” which had Ice T’s mob boss pitting 100 stone cold murderers against each other in a prison for the prize of 10 million dollars. What makes the ensuing low budget mayhem particularly catchy is Riparetti’s call to play a great deal of the mayhem like a dance-off at Latin music night. Think Alan Silvestri’s mambo approach to “Soapdish,” except here the snazzy tangos, rhumbas and assorted Spanish beats are being used like black-humored bullets. Riparetti’s winningly satirical score also brings out the western gundown stylings for further ironic measure, complete with guitar, gong, chorus and a shriekingly fateful trumpet. The music might not remotely belong here, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting, and fun than just layering synth slayings over the ludicrous corpse count. Further adding to “Mean”’s south of the border body beats are Robert Amaral’s well-produced Latin songs, all of which help make Riparetti’s work into a rhythmically fun battle royale.
. NOWHERE TO RUN (3,000 edition)
Jean-Claude Van Damme would get one of his best starring roles in this successful, if now relatively unsung 1993 film that sees his ex-con step into Shane-like shoes (via motorcycle), taking on the evil mining barons out to murderously toss out attractive homesteader Rosanna Arquette and her kids. “Run”’s impressively subdued and intelligent handling can be squarely credited to director Robert Harmon, who wisely reteamed here with his “Hitcher” composer Mark Isham. Where the composer had handled that picture’s visceral atmosphere with ethereal, electronic tones, “Nowhere To Run” saw Isham significantly beef up his approach with the weight of a full orchestra, one capable of unleashing waves of percussive fury upon the bad guys (even if “Run” has an almost shockingly low body count). But like “The Hitcher,” atmosphere is the key to Isham’s mostly understated approach, beginning with the tentative strings and tender bells of Van Damme becoming a father figure. With the family’s waves of grain, Isham’s music also takes on a soothing Americana quality, with the story’s western aspects captured by a guitar. But ultimately, action’s the thing here, with Isham unleashing brassily punishing hits, a victorious symphonic pounding that he’d next take to even more punishing heights for Van Damme’s other great vehicle “Time Cop.” Leave it to Perseverance, a label who’s shown much love to the Muscles from Brussels with their releases of “Kickboxer,” “No Retreat, No Surrender” and “Death Warrant” to give what’s arguably the action star’s best score the full treatment, including alternates and informative liner notes by Gergely Hubai, which offers new observations from Harmon and Isham.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Perseverance Records, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande