Composer: Mark Isham
Label: La La Land
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
La La Land has been showing a lot of soundtrack love to the silliest shoot-‘em-ups from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s – a period when buddy cops, car flips, self-reloading guns, endless body counts and knowingly goofy scripts transformed the action movie into a red-splattered comic book. Now after releasing the era’s grooviest scores with Mark Mancina and Harold Faltemeyer’s soundtracks to Bad Boys and Tango And Cash, La La Land has unleashed what might be the holy grail of action music with Mark Isham’s score to Point Break.
Perhaps no formulaic flick reached Break’s Tsunami-like peak of high concept, as Keanu Reeves’ FBI agent Johnny Utah hung ten with Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi and his band of surfer dude bank robbers called “The Ex-Presidents.” Filled with enough insane plot twists and howlingly awful lines to inspire the currently running parody show “Point Break Live!” (now playing in LA), the film’s jaw-dropping idiocy was balanced by the bravura creativity of director Kathryn Bigelow’s action scenes, and Mark Isham’s legitimately terrific score – a inventive mix of orchestra and Zen electronic vibes that still stand as a high-water mark in creative action scoring. Just ask director Edgar Wright, who used its “Foot Chase” in Hot Fuzz – a compliment to the enduring glory of Point Break if there ever was one.
When Point Break swept his way in 1991, Isham had been steadily transforming himself from the star trumpeter/composer of the concept album “Vapor Drawings” into the creator of hauntingly ethereal scores like Never Cry Wolf, Mrs. Soffel, and The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk. But it was Isham’s scores for The Hitcher and The Beast that showed he could play it mean, as his talent for surreal samples, percussion and ethnic music created haunting atmospheres for films about psychopathic motorists and savage Soviets. It was a vibe that Bigelow knew would make Break into more than just another surfing shoot ‘em up, and Isham delivered a score that would bring future thrillers like Timecop, Don’t Say A Word and Next his way – if not with the cultural zeitgeist that Point Break would represent for his career.
The majesty of the ocean is what drives the thrill robbers of Point Break, and Isham conjures the lure of the waves with lush orchestral and electronic movements. Yet military drums are on top of the crest, signifying the FBI dude who will be busting up their violent partying. Their ill-gotten gains are meant to be spent on surfing the ultimate wave in New Zealand, a nirvana that Isham plays with soothing rock guitar and a didgeridoo. Its indigenous, throaty wind sound is but one of the many sonic elements that help push Break’s psychedelic feel, a perfect sound for a Zen Master gone very wrong.
But whether it’s the music’s mellow connection to the ocean or its full-throttle percussion during its crazed bank robberies and chases, Point Break’s score is all about the rush. And Isham’s highlights here are undoubtedly its sky diving sequences. In the score’s first leap, a majestic, horn-driven orchestra takes over, “bird cry” samples and electronic percussion propelling the music ever downward. It’s an amazing melodic representation of the glory of taking one huge jump, music that’s so palpable you can practically feel the wind and blue sky rip through your ears. While the first Break sky dive is nothing but fun, its second leap in “No Parachute” takes place with Bodhi as the last President left, with the sky dive meaning life or death. Isham lays down the amazing sequence’s ever-frenetic grooves, his militaristic, pounding orchestra expertly playing a duel of wills for the rip chord, the sense of impact continually vamping with breathless, brassy danger.
Point Break’s score is so wondrous because it’s always playing another level beyond the action. For as ridiculous as Johnny Utah and Bodhi might be, the flowing spirituality of Isham’s music turns the popcorn characters into student-master warriors, their noble horns, spacey electronics and Americana orchestrations speaking for the eternal battle between staying on the patriotic, law-abiding ground or being the bad boy who always wants to party. Sure, maybe I’m getting too heady for a score that accompanies one of the goofiest cult action films ever made in the days of bad hair. But Isham’s genius is to hear beyond the awful dialogue, and catch the wave of Break’s undeniably cool visuals. Swimming in his own ocean of musical invention, Isham rides Point Break home on CD after 17 years to true action score timelessness.
Catch the wave with Point Break’s limited-edition soundtrack HERE
Then try to be the Keanu of the night for “Point Break Live! HERE