Composer: John Debney
Label: Sony
Suggested Retail Price: $ 9.99
Grade: B+

As the popularity of videogames surpass movies, it’s no wonder that every platform from X-Box to Wii and PS3 are attracting major film composers like Howard Shore (Sun) or sending game-based musicians like Michael Giacchino (Medal Of Honor) into the ranks of bigtime film composers. Well, that’s all fine and good. But no matter who composed it, try listening to that great piece of music over and over as you try for hours to escape some nefarious level. And because I’m presently battling my way out of Resistance: Fall Of Man (whose motifs have imprinted themselves on my brain by now), I doubt I’ll get to see how well John Debney’s score works for Lair on my PS3 anytime soon.

Thankfully, I can get through every level of Lair’s score by simply downloading it through iTunes (with hopefully a cd hardcopy to follow). And after listening to over an hour of gigantic orchestral music that would be as much at home on the cinematic cockpit of a T.I.E. fighter as the wings of a PS3 dragon, you realize that the new home for rampagingly cool orchestral scores could easily end up on your game console.

For 25 years, Debney has proved himself as a versatile journeyman composer, and then some. Whether it’s the wacky comedy of Liar Liar, the swashbuckling adventure of Cutthroat Island, the monster rampage of The Relic, or the animated antics of Barnyard, there’s no genre that Debney hasn’t approach with professional polish. And while he’s always gotten the job done in style, there are scores where Debney breaks through with impressive inventiveness, such as the 50’s style sci-fi comedy of Jimmy Neutron, Sin City’s noir stylings and the spy kitsch of Dick.

Lair occupies that Debney space between originality and a Memorex ability to cop a style with real panache. And this is a bang-up cross between Star Wars, El Cid, Willow, The Sea Hawk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and every other action epic to come down the pike- all funneled down into the baton of a player’s remote control. If you dig any of these scores, then chances are you’ll love Lair, videogame system or not.

Lair takes place in one of those fanboy fantasy kingdoms, where the good and bad warriors solve their differences with dragons that you ride. Somehow, I didn’t think you’d hear something as classy from a game with a “rage meter” and “carnage counter.” And a huge selling point of Lair is its magnificent sound, courtesy of 90 musicians playing their guts away at London’s Abbey Road Studio. Doubtless that many of these people did duty on the Star Wars scores, a musical sheen that adds to Lair’s Williams-esque heights. It’s one thing to write good music, and it’s another thing to make it sound great. And on that end, Debney scores major points here as he traverses the majestic land of the maestro, in addition to Miklos Rozsa, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, James Horner and Tan Dun- all of whose musical voices coalesce into one wallopingly cool musical ride here.

The one thing these composers have in common is that their work is distinctly old orchestral school. And there’s something great about giving game players (whose musical vocabulary might be limited to Slayer and Green Day) a taste of the real symphonic stuff. Lair’s musical vibe doesn’t take place in the kind of dark realm that Lord Of The Rings inhabits. Rather, this is fun, soaring stuff, full or string heroism, brass thrills, villainous marches and lush melody. And like most fantasy scores that now strive to be politically correct, Lair has an exotic sound that’s fantasy-ethnic, from using a Chinese Erhu flute to a female voice singing in her native language- whatever that might be. There are some beautiful, lulling moments in Lair, the kind of stuff you hear when a boy-hero puts his sword down for a moment to wax poetic to his land and ladylove. But for the most part, Lair is musical adrenalin, pounding into your head with one symphonic attack after the other. And while the effect leaves you more than breathless, Debney never lets the near-constant of it all excitement get at all bland.

Probably the best thing to say about Lair is that it never sounds like a videogame score, but rather the soundtrack to some gigantic fantasy epic that’s just around the corner- the kind of place that Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker would feel right at home in. And that just might be the biggest compliment to how good mere “videogame” scores have gotten, especially when John Debney is at the reigns, paying due homage to every musical fantasy warrior of the past, all while putting his own neat spin on the ride. It makes me hope to get past those damn Resistance mutants to get the music’s full PS3 experience. And even if I have to hear a cue over and over and over before I finally reach for Lair’s cheat sheet, I think I’ll actually enjoy it this time. For everyone else, an iTunes listen of Lair will do just fine.

To buy the soundtrack for Lair, go to the Apple iTunes store here.