‘RISE OF THE GUARDIANS’ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR NOVEMBER 2012
Also worth picking up ASSASSIN’S CREED 3, THE BAY, BLACK SABBATH, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, THE FOUR POSTER, THE HOT POTATO, KING KONG and MAN ON A MISSION
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the album cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE HOT POTATO
What is it?: John Barry was the king of jazzily sophisticated scoring when his lush rhythms captured the swing of 60s London, especially as he indulged in the era’s favorite past times of spying and comedic carousing. But nowadays when composers pay tribute to Barry’s inimitable sound in the course of a modern score they tend to add all manner of techno beats to pep up what was already hip in the first place, sounding almost apologetic in their urge to play up Barry’s elegant style for the questionable tastes of today’s pop audiences. So perhaps we can credit the 1969 East End setting of “The Hot Potato” for just how perfectly Guy Farley has nailed the Barry sound in a wonderful, unadorned way. In fact, you’d think that you’ve come across some long-buried Barry score for a jocular Harry Palmer adventure, as opposed to the truth-based tale of two blokes trying to sell a spud of Uranium on the international black market.
Why you should buy it?: The theme was The Thing for Barry, where every style from pizzicatos to sensual romance revolved around an instantly memorable melody. And Farley’s got a great, swaggering one that inflects nearly every piece, exuding the sly confidence of East Enders who think they’ve got the world on their fingers, as opposed to a world of hurt that comes chasing after them. “The Hot Potato” is mostly played in the key of jazz, from the full, brassy strains of a big band to more intimate nightclub vibe. The strings go down with seductive taste, along with an off-kilter sax to humorously break the mood. Farley’s spy games veer from pokiness, evoking the shimmering strings that accompanied 007 as he skulked about a villain’s lair, all while cimbaloms recall Cold War menace with far more humor.
Extra Special: There’s nothing tastier on one’s musical plate than a mashed “Potato” that whips together the likes of “The Knack,” “The Wrong Box” and “The Ipcress File” with spot-on success, yet allows you to hear Farley’s own witty, well-performed Abbey Road voice through the brilliant Barry homage. One senses the master would get a chuckle out of how well his original sensibility has been kept alive and well in the retro scoring present.
2) KING KONG / KING KONG LIVES
Price: $24.95 / $19.99
What is it?: Leave it to the glorious hubris of producer Dino De Laurentiis to remake one of the greatest films of all time with a guy in a gorilla suit, then attack it again a decade later with a sequel that negated the most famous monster death scene in movie history. But just try being the Englishmen tasked with following in the paw prints of the Max Steiner score from which all other soundtracks evolved. But while critics might debate the merits of “King Kong” and “King Kong Lives,” there’s no denying the quality of John Barry and John Scott’s respective soundtracks that paid tribute to Steiner’s primal symphonic power, while going on their own, divergent rampages, the fury of which can now be felt on Film Score Monthly and Intrada Records.
Why you should buy it?: With his penchant for gracefully slow, and majestically melodic themes (not to mention an Oscar win for the wildly popular score to the African-set “Born Free”), John Barry was an ideal choice to musically capture this far more romantic take on damsel and big ape. His resulting score is an epic masterwork, creating a suspenseful build to the big Rick Baker reveal as his score approaches Skull Island with low, growling brass to instill a sense of foreboding. Barry’s always-lush melodies take on a particularly lumbering sense of pomp and circumstance in “King Kong.” But there’s also a lyrical softness to the score as it accompanies the fetchingly sympathetic personage of Jessica Lange, music that brings real emotional layers to an unlikely relationship that goes way past the heavy petting stage.
For if Steiner’s 1933 score made you fear the big gorilla, Barry’s score is about making you truly feel for him. So by the time that Kong is causing chaos in the Big Apple, the theme that once made you dread the simian has now brilliantly turned to play his perspective. It’s a suspenseful sense of oncoming fate, as captured in an unstoppable march of doom as the military comes to claim him atop the World Trade Center. Indeed, Kong’s death cue is positively Wagnerian in its mythic sense of tragedy before segueing to a lyrical theme for orchestra and piano to tell us that beauty really did love the beast. Rarely a label to double-dip, Film Score Monthly make’s it’s-next-to-last-stand by one-upping its first “King Kong” release with a spectacular two-CD edition, not only revealing the full thematic vastness of Barry’s score, but also replaying the original album (complete with Kong roar), offering up alternate tracks and even more a tribal feeling, especially with extended native dances whose drumming and chants are frenzied enough to make you think that Kong was about to burst into your living room at ritual’s end.
Extra Special: Having employed a classical English tone for “Greystoke’s” man-ape, and played symphonically robust action for a blonde caveman in “Yor, The Hunter From the Future,” John Scott had more than shown musical grace for high, and low art, especially when it came to noble savages. It’s the kind of melodic class that’s the highpoint of the so-bad-it’s-good “King Kong Lives,” music that’s been hunted with far more fervency than the film itself since the score’s impossible-to-find CD release from Japan. Now Intrada finally unleashes Scott’s work in all of its orchestral might, its sound more spectacularly impressive than ever. Hearkening back to Steiner’s first “Kong” score in a more chest-thumpingly sympathetically way than Barry’s approach, Scott’s main theme conveys heroic might, varying from pounding orchestral ape-suit action to a near Arabic-sounding waltz rhythm. While this “Kong” is more melodically visceral, his trumpeting score is also full of Scott’s bucolic touch, soothing, lyrically lush strings that can turn any jungle into the British countryside. It’s a gossamer elegance that makes “King Kong Lives” a close cousin to the composer’s career masterwork of “Greystoke,” recalling that character’s soaring return to the jungle. Except here it’s Borneo, with another happier difference being the addition of a baby Kong, whose delivery Scott gets to playfully herald with brass trills and lullabye bells, the score giving Kong’s bloodline the happy ending he always deserved. Ditto this score’s many deserved fans.
3) LALO SCHIFRIN: MY LIFE IN MUSIC
What is it?: Jazz scoring came to Hollywood long before an Argentinian named Lalo Schifrin made his way Los Angeles. But that combo of brass, beat and orchestra likely never blew with as much energy as Schifrin gave it, a raucous spirit that could play it straight down home in New Orleans for “The Cincinnati Kid’s” card game, unleash the groovy Asian chopsocky of “Enter the Dragon” or become Harry Callahan’s police siren funk for “Magnum Force.” Jazz was also the gateway for Schifrin to show off his dazzling versatility, whether it was with the sensual flutes of “The Fox,” soaring romance in “The Eagle Has Landed” or the reflective country theme of “Brubaker.” The list of modern day classics goes brilliantly on and on when you factor in scores like “Bullitt,” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Kelly’s Heroes,” let alone what’s arguably Schifrin’s most iconic theme in the blazing jazz-pop countdown for TV’s “Mission Impossible.” It’s more than enough material to fill four CD’s in this terrific box set salute to Schifrin’s 80th birthday, hours in which styles slam into each other with no rhyme or reason other than to dazzle listeners with the kind of prolific creativity that could easily make up more than a few musical lifetimes.
Why you should buy it?: Beyond assembling just about every one of the composer’s greatest soundtrack hits that one can think of, a huge attraction for fans are several unreleased cues that whet the appetite for potential full releases. Chief among them are numerous cues from Schifrin’s scores for Clint Eastwood, ranging from the combo of old-style banjo and big city grooves for “Coogan’s Bluff” (just fully released on Intrada) the modernistic period-set blend of vibes, electronics and fuzz guitar for “Joe Kidd,” or the impressionistically eerie use of harpsichords, strings, slurred brass and pipe organ that play the psychological horror in a Civil War era girl’s school for “The Beguiled.” “My Life in Music” also offers such rarities as the ironic stride piano and harmonica main theme for the criminally underseen prison drama “Fast Walking,” the tingling, horn-inflected strings that simmer with just a bit of sympathy for George C. Scott’s “Rage,” and the symphonically proud suite from “Concorde: Airport ’79.” But my long-awaited highlight here is easily two cues from “Charley Varrick,” Don Siegel’s gritty 1973 heist thriller-cum-dark comedy that featured Walter Matthau as a ladykilling bank robber. Schifrin rips off the vault with jazzily urgent suspense for brass, piano, tabla and cimbalom, then flies a plane with a uplifting strings. It’s the height of rebellious glory, a sense of hip defiance that made Schifrin Hollywood’s king of antihero scoring.
Extra Special: Beyond the numerous score selections on hand, “My Life in Music” pays equal tribute to Schifin’s world, and era-spanning jazz works, from the cool be-bop stride of “Invisible City” to the tender flute and percussion of “Love Poem For Donna” and the contemporary, sultry Medieval-ism as excerpted from “Return of the Marquis de Sade.” “Music’s” fourth CD is mostly solely reserved for Schifrin’s extended swing, including the smooth use of electronics in “Resonances,” “Agnus Dei’s” stirringly religious chorus and the breathless, Latin swing that salutes Schifrin’s mentor Dizzy Gillespie in “Panamerica” and “Toccata.” It all adds up to a musical “Life” that’s topped off with a photo-filled booklet, and appreciative words from Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame that wonderfully sum up the decades-long appeal of Schifrin Cool.
4) QUO VADIS / THE RED HOUSE
Price: $27.95 / $19.99
What is it? While it’s always best to have the original golden age recordings, especially with the wonders that modern sound restoration can work on near-deteriorating music, there’s also nothing more satisfying then having the notes restored to new, vibrant life through performances by top-notch orchestras, especially for a composer that made use of all of a symphony’s swirling, lush power like Miklos Rosza. Two labels that have kept the maestro in appreciable, string-filled hands are Prometheus and Intrada, now with powerhouse performances of Rozsa’s relatively unsung scores to 1951’s “Quo Vadis” and 1947’s “The Red House.”
Why should you buy it? Album producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus had most recently done an epic recreation of Rozsa’s Spain-set “El Cid” before tackling the similar Christian fortitude that fills the unlucky Roman denizens under Nero’s rule. But while there’s no shortage of choral voices, blasting trumpet fanfares or the wild ethnic percussion of pagan dances, what makes the Oscar-nominated “Quo Vadis” particularly interesting in Rozsa’s resume of Hollywood spectacles is how positively underplayed it all seems. Take his first shot at the religious sword-and-sandal genre, Rozsa pioneered his way of capturing “authentic” historical music with the Hollywood-friendly idea of what Roman times might have sounded like, without being an ethnomusicologist about it. While the gold-helmeted Empire is given suitable heraldry, the most effecting element of the score is its lilting, contemplative love theme. Its gracefully melodic, violin-topped strings and winds are as much about the love for a general and a Christian convert as it is her belief in God’s love for humanity. “Vadis” has a copious amount of choral Latin hymns, their pipe organ accompaniment often making the album often feel like a church service. What come through in Rozsa’s alternately tender and sweeping emotion is a sense of steadfast spirituality that can triumph over a little thing like the burning of Rome. While the far more stupendously blazing score that would win Rozsa an Oscar for the similarly themed “Ben-Hur” was down the Appian Way a bit, this beautifully performed “Quo Vadis” serves as a warm-up well worth getting, with Fitzpatrick and company once again delivering a rousingly full sound.
Extra Special: It’s been way too long since we’ve seen a release from Intrada’s “Excalibur” collection, which offered spectacular performances of such Rozsa classics as “Ivanhoe” and “Julius Caesar.” Now conductor Alan Wilson follows up his excellent performance of “Spellbound” for the label with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for “The Red House.” And what a work out it is for this infinitely more turbulent score, wherein Edward G. Robinson’s hobbled farmer does his furious best to keep everyone away from the titular abode’s black secret. Like his gateway score for “Quo Vadis,” “The Red House” was a notable gateway for Rozsa’s other great talent at symphonically stormy film noir scores like “Brute Force,” “The Naked City,” “Last Embrace” and “Eye of the Needle.” The spirit of “Spellbound” is also very much at hand within, particularly in its foreboding brass and the eerily humming sound of the Theremin, a red alarm for murderous mental illness if movie scores ever had one. Few composers of Rozsa’s rank could veer so quickly between soaring beauty and brassily pounding danger like Rozsa, his constantly unsettled fluctuations making “The Red House” one his most thrilling mystery scores. This wonderfully melodramatic stuff is given a rippingly good performance under Wilson’s baton, with orchestral miking that pulls off the feat of being simultaneously archival and decidedly of the here and now, music that makes Rozsa’s often beautifully turbulent style feel more alive than ever.
5) RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
What Is It?: Alexandre Desplat has proven himself to be the hardest working composer in show business, racking up an astounding nine projects in 2012 (though tying himself for scores done in 2011). But unlike such equally prolific composers as Ennio Morricone who achieve high quality each time out, Desplat has the astounding ability to make each score sound completely different from the other, their tone solely linked by his striking sense of thematic melody, which can be heard from the dramatic whisper of “Rust and Bone” to the superheroic thunder of “Rise of the Guardians.” But what makes the latter his best score for Desplat this year (as well as one it’s the year’s best, period) is his ability to convey epic action through the spirit of Christmas, jetting from gentle childhood wonder into full-on “Avengers” mode as a team of iconic holiday superfriends take on the Grinchian forces of darkness.
Why You Should Buy It?: After the likes of “The Golden Compass,” “Twilight: New Moon” and the last two “Harry Potter” movies, Desplat has more than shown an ability to paint Williams-worthy scores onto giant, genre tent pole canvases. But “Rise of the Guardians” arguably provides Desplat with his most important opportunity to play both magic and high adventure, maintaining a charming, intimate sweetness amidst dizzying orchestral thrills, all of which are tied together with a number of truly memorable thematic ribbons. Desplat’s always had a thing for bells, which could be heard in his breakthrough Hollywood score for “Birth” to the spellcasting halls of Hogwarts. And their warm percussion, joined by the piano and heartwarming strings, is perfect at conveying the innocence of Christmas and every other holiday in between, with horns at hearth and home in Santa’s workshop. Except this difference here is that St. Nick’s tattooed and wields twin swords like a Cossack. And if Desplat’s moving emotion makes you believe in such personages as Jack Frost and The Tooth Fairy, then the score’s sweeping battle cues with the Boogey Man will convince you that Christmas-style scores can kick ass as well. Not too dark, and not too sweet, Desplat’s “Guardians” mixes the wide-eyed wonder of a kid who still thinks St. Nick and The Easter Bunny are real in a way that makes the little one feel like playfighting while putting a tooth under his pillow.
Extra Special: Opera superstar Renee Fleming brings her belief to “Still Dream,” taking the usual top 40 pop quality of toon theme songs into an interesting, classical realm that just might be the most traditional musical quality of “Rise of the Guardians.” But when it comes to Desplat matching Santa’s simultaneous globe-hopping powers, “Tooth Collections’” hellzapoppin’ segues between Parisian enchantment to Russian balalaikas and the hand-clapping Latin rhythms of NYC truly show a composer who can be everywhere at once.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ASSASSIN’S CREED 3 / SKYLANDERS: GIANTS
Lorne Balfe continues playing the videogame sagas of two heroes, one of whom zaps bad fantasy guys with colorful G-rated bursts of color, and the other who vivisects the British in blood-red gouts of gore. As tonally different as they are effective, “Skylanders: Giants” and “Assassin’s Creed 3” shows of Balfe’s dexterity at switching from family friendly music to killer action with a twist. One couldn’t think of a better tribute to Balfe’s days with Team Zimmer than the world music beat of “Skylanders,” whose merrily rhythmic world music recalls his boss’ early, synth-string driven scores like “Rain Man” and “Green Card,” as imagined for cute animated toys. Sparking, Afro-Calypso-accented rhythms seamlessly merge with chorus, claps, Irish jigs and an overall, enchanted neo-Celtic flavor that manages to be sweetly adventurous without being cutesy, with just a bit of ominous spice and rapid-fire percussion thrown in for the over-eight crowd. Better yet, it’s never condescending, especially in an epic choral-orchestral climax that Caribbean pirates could easily be sailing off to.
Period adventure is the driving force of “Assassin’s Creed III,” a symphonically muscular score that proves once again that historical hack and slash is right up Balfe’s armor after his score for the Medieval film “Ironclad” and the Ottoman-set “Assassin’s Creed Revelations.” Here he’s playing Revolutionary War-era America, with such rustic 17th century instruments as the fiddle, joining them with the a fusion of symphony and sampled percussion that’s all the rage for dark action games, or action movie scoring for that matter. Authentically evocative of a place that most games of this sort don’t visit, while having the percussive modernity gamers expect from their scores, “Assassin’s Creed 3’s” score has melodic (and even pensive) conscience to go with the thrill killing.
. THE BAY
Marcelo Zarvos has scored many idiosyncratic projects for Barry Levinson since the filmmaker’s career has taken a more indie-centric path with the likes of “What Just Happened” and “You Don’t Know Jack.” But neither has attempted anything as remotely horrific as “The Bay,” a full-blown (or rather inwardly infested) eco-terror picture that stands as probably the most disturbing, and believable entry in a way-overdone “found footage” genre. As numerous characters recall a parasite pandemic that wiped out a bayside town, Levinson’s deftly conveys a creeping, ever-escalating sense of an apocalypse that seems truly possible. Burrowing under the skin with just as much pulsating dread is Zarvos’ score that marks one of the more successful metamorphoses between music and sound design. Humanity is represented through the piano, its reassuring, melodic quality gradually reversed via echoing, eerie electronic trickery as the bugs hit the fan. Zarvos’ samples are just as chilling, with guitar chords, voices, piercing percussion and God knows what else drawing the listener into the story with unusual subtlety, yet not forgetting when to shriek out of one’s mouth. Unnerving in its weirdness while always been musically interesting, “The Bay” has the freshness from a composer, and director who are dipping their tones into an overdone genre with the determination to do something different.
. BLACK SABBATH / THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
When it came to American International Pictures’ house of horror (not to mention beach movies), the company known for cranking, or acquiring one B-picture after the other, couldn’t have asked for a more versatile court composer than Les Baxter- a musician as capable of pouring out Tiki bar music as he was hep rock for Frankie and Annette, let alone the chilling strains to accompany horror stars who’d seen better days. As particular fans of Baxter’s AIP work with their releases of “House of Usher” and “Master of the World,” Intrada now releases two of the composer’s more striking scores for the company, beginning with Mario Bava’s 1963 horror trilogy “Black Sabbath.” As Baxter was wont to do with AIP’s Italian acquisitions, the original overseas score by Roberto Nicolosi (available on Digitmovies) was replaced for more musically sanguine American tastes. Baxter’s task was made all the more interesting by playing to the strengths of each terror tale while sounding of an unholy whole. Intrada divides them into elongated, but flowing suites that might have the longest cue lengths for any of their titles. A nurse being driven insane by “A Drop of Water” has gentle harps and trembling strings grow into strident, shrieking brass and percussion that captures the growing madness that can be unleashed by the simple sound of a buzzing fly. The vamping film noir sax of “The Telephone” doesn’t seem like it belongs in a horror score at all. Yet Baxter’s delightfully trashy, “Stripper”-esque jazz combo fits an endangered prostitute to a T, especially when the brass goes out of control for murder. Baxter is on more familiar horror scoring ground with “The Wurdalak,” which features Boris Karloff as a family-minded vampire. Baxter marches out of the crypt with “Dies Ire”-like strains, his grim theme alternately lurching and racing about to militaristic percussion, its frenzy also coming across like some Eastern European dance. A good half an hour is spent twisting about the cobwebs of ominous string and brass effects to transfixing effect, the spell broken when Chopin’s “Funeral March” leaps in for a crazed, unexpected jig, topped off with no less than a very recognizable bit of American patriotism. It’s a climax akin to having The Stooges bursting in on Christopher Lee’s moment of triumph.
1964’s “The Comedy of Terrors” was an all-out, black-humored lark for such AIP stalwarts as Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in this black humored tale of an undertaker who decides to drum up much-needed business by taking still-living necks into his own hands. Baxter’s score shares the ghoulish enthusiasm that the stars gave to this “macabre romp,” playfully varying between loopy sad-sack brass, pipe organ, satiric orchestral chills, Looney Tunes slapstick for a player piano and chopstick percussion that could just as well befit Bugs and Elmer running through a haunted mausoleum- if Joyce Jameson’s hilariously warbled funeral song “He Is Not Dead” wouldn’t scare them right out of it. You can be sure that Chopin’s “Funeral March” is also present to be quoted aplenty in music that’s 99% comedy, its distinct lack of “Terror” making for one of Baxter’s most delightfully off the beaten hearse scores.
. THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS
When it comes to your one-stop symphonic shopping for lurching, snarling, pouncing or otherwise electronically beaming horror / sci-fi scores from the 50s and 60s, then Monstrous Movie Music continues to be the label of choice with a wonderfully overwrought slew of classic creature double feature scores. But in a new batch of releases that include such late night TV chestnuts as “The Last Man On Earth,” “Missile to the Moon” and “Destination Moon,” the battiest pick of bunch is undeniably Walter Greene’s score to 1957’s “The Brain from Planet Arous.” With a battle of glowing craniums as fought between the good / evil dura matter who possess a scientist and his wife’s dog, it’s likely that Greene wasn’t approaching the material with a straight face either. Though mostly busy on such Saturday matinee oaters as “Cheyenne Takes Over” and “Shep Comes Home,” Greene approached “Arous” with a beguiling combo of pop jazz and the frantically menacing orchestrations. The result is a thoroughly fun, horn-inflected musical monster mash that more often than not comes across like a Halloween episode of “Batman.” “Brain” also benefits from being more melodic than most of its ilk, a one-two combo of slutty 50s hepness, creeping suspense and snarling brass that makes “Arous” an enjoyable, and varied listen. Also of note is a romantic theme that’s two notes removed from “West Side Story’s” “Somewhere,” though it’s doubtful that Stephen Sondheim ever saw “The Brain From Planet Arous.” The CD’s double feature score is Greene’s more typically lurching horror entry for “Teenage Monster” (ending his triptych of “Teenage Thunder” and “Teenage Doll”). Monstrous’ sound is impressive as it unleashes one of the more memorably unsung scores in the annals of B-picture weird science, with label head David Schecter’s always copious liner notes doing their-always entertaining cross between MST3K comedy routine and revealing insanely detailed information.
. COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES
In an age when mix n’ match movie titles like “Sharktopus” are more mad libs than actual movies, or scores or that matter, it’s possible to understand one’s trepidation when confronted with an album called “Cockneys Vs. Zombies” – music that at first glance promises to reek more than a bloke at the end of decade-long pub crawl. But any hints of stank are immediately dispelled by the surprisingly upscale quality of Jody Jenkins’ score, music that takes itself even more seriously at being satirically funny than the soundtrack for the far more famous zombie siege Brit flick “Sean of the Dead.” Not that Jenkins isn’t in on the ridiculousness of the enterprise from the start with his rocking spaghetti western licks, which seem just the right tone for a bank robbery gone ghoulishly wrong. Jenkins keenly balances muscularly percussive orchestrations that would befit a horror action movie with a less jokey title, along with growling samples, retro synth melodies and a heroic chorus, music that goes adrenalin bonkers in hilariously clichéd fashion for “Zimmerframe Chase.” Cheeky enjoyable in the tradition of such other English horror score homage mash-ups as “Attack the Block,” Jenkins’ “Cockneys” kick arse with a musical wink of a moldering eye while not forgetting the visceral punch of a shotgun blast to the brains.
An American doctor gets kidnapped while in Thailand by rebels who hope his medical skills will save their leader. But if you’re expecting the typical throb of Asian action percussion for star C. Thomas Howell grabbing a machine gun to blast his way to freedom, “Escape” has something more emotionally interior in mind, especially from in its unique score by Viennese-born composer Edwin Wendler. There’s definitely the sinister combo of orchestra and ethnic drumming as the plot gets set up, but once star C. Thomas Howell is in stir, Wendler goes for a spare, haunting blend of western melody for piano and strings with Thai instruments, a musical ethnicity that’s not usually explored in movie scores, and all the most striking for its eerie, emotional use here. Though many cue lengths go over the six-minute mark, Wendler’s subtle writing and tenderly anguished use of melody makes “Escape” into a thoroughly engaging ordeal, powerfully charting a hero’s rise from his own inner grief at losing a child, along with the more palpable goal of getting away from his captors. “Escape” marks a major step up Wendler’s work, as well as scoring that finds a common, humanistic sound in an exotic way.
. THE FOUR POSTER (1,000 edition)
Where it seems like the majority of Dimitri Tiomkin scores to recently get released are for such dramatic heavy hitters as “The Alamo” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” it’s nice to know that the grand Russian composer (who also happened to have scored “It’s A Wonderful Life”) could score a rollicking comedy. A breezily pleasing case in point is 1952’s “The Four Poster,” a screen adaptation of a popular romantic play that relied on the real-life chemistry of then-married Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer as a couple whose history is charted by the titular conjugal bed. The keyword is “sweet” in Tiomkin’s utterly charming orchestrations, full of intimate piano, lilting strings and tender violins, always-thematic fluff that gets a bit of dramatic gravitas for the sadness of losing a son to war. But what really makes “The Four Poster” unique in Tiomkin’s filmography is the movie’s way of breaking out of its one-room, stagebound origins by employing cartoons by the masters behind UPA studios (home of “Mr. Magoo”) as a way to show life revolving around the lovers. Hence, Tiomkin is often called on to sound like Carl Stalling. Mickey Mouse’d animated pratfalls and whirlwind chase music make Tiomkin’s score take on the shape of everything from tooting trains to the jazz swing of The Roaring Twenties. However, of the “Poster’s” most beautiful passages belongs to Palmer as she sings the theme song “When You’re In Love” to piano accompaniment. A thoroughly charming example of a very serious composer unbuttoning his collar to put on a couple’s pajamas, “The Four Poster” is the latest golden age confection to get released by Screen Archives’ own label. And it sounds pretty good for a score of its age, with Jim Titus’ attractively designed booklet containing entertaining and nostalgic liner notes by Ray Faiola that even manage to reference Count Chocula.
. GODZILLA: THE ULTIMATE EDITION
When it seems that soundtracks that sell out in three hours are getting re-released by another label in the space of three months, “Godzilla: The Ultimate Edition” is perhaps the most gargantuan example of excess to satisfy collectors, compiling not only the already-released complete score and alternates on two-CD’s, but also its originally intended soundtrack on a third disc. But if all of that’s too much, then so is David Arnold’s score, perhaps the best overly busy soundtrack to accompany what’s arguably the worst summer movie of all time. But while saying that Roland Emmerich missed the mark in Americanizing a Japanese icon is like saying that Christopher Columbus missed India on his sea voyage, Arnold’s wildly overwrought score is perfectly in tune with the effects popcorn excitement of another, far better picture. Namely the sequel for “Independence Day” that will hopefully happen one of these days. Massive, militaristically screaming orchestras signal the arrival of the roaringly imposing Big G theme as if the motif was a horde of spaceships emerging from storm clouds. It’s an exuberantly entertaining sense of symphonic panic that’s somehow maintains its memorable themes amidst an untamed cascade of notes. There’s also great mock spy suspense, wildly patriotic brass, sweet humor and deliriously titanic chases, all of which go down fine when not thinking what this business was attached to. “Godzilla” more than anything is the ultimate edition of Arnold excess, which is a mighty good thing if you enjoy blockbuster scores that shout their wonderfully loud excess to the rooftops, going to town and destroying it with rousing energy to spare. Now if Emmerich can just bring back those aliens and put this score on top of it, then the world will be all right again.
. HATFIELDS & McCOYS
In one of the biggest television surprises this year, what looked to be a gun-totin’ action miniseries about bad behavior on the hillbilly /redneck order of “Gator Men” turned out to be an emotionally gripping, and universally humanistic tale about the mutual pointlessness of history’s most famous vendetta. The composing team of John Debney (“The Passion of the Christ”) and Tony Morales (“Over There”) more than demonstrated their regional chops, while making an often-familiar backwoods sound as urgent, and tragic as today’s news about needless blood oaths. The tempo of a multitude of regional instruments like the hammer dulcimer, country fiddle and dobro vary from the oncoming percussion of galloping vengeance to the slowly drawn and plucked sound of doomed. As mixed with strings and contemporary beats, it’s a haunting and thematically complex score that’s full of dramatic import, especially when joined by the lovely voice of Lisbeth Scott. As often heard in “True Blood,” Scott’s angelic, wordless singing serves as an elegiac Greek chorus for the “Hatfields,” bringing a sense of the poetic to a very rough crowd. Her rendition of “The Long Road Down” is as beautifully weathered as a mournful folk tune sung on a rickety cottage porch, a quality shared by the “McCoy’s other lyrical theme song “I Know These Hills,” a duet affectingly shared by Modern West’s Sara Beck and star Kevin Costner.
. MAN ON A MISSION (500 edition)
Where Richard Garriott used money made developing video games to fulfill a lifelong dream of following his astronaut dad into space, this documentary that chronicles the son’s decidedly un-couch potato adventure also marks a welcome new frontier for co-composers Brian Satterwhite and John Constant, whose “Man On A Mission” marks the duo’s blast off at having their work released on a physical label. And it’s a well-deserved ignition that delights with a welcome, quirky voice. Blending throwback “Tron”-era synths with mesmerizing bell percussion and patriotic snare drums, “Mission” thematically plays both the urgency of Garriott’s quest with the sheer unlikelihood of this spaceman whose test piloting was done on a PS3. At times pensive, and at others blasting with Vangelis-like power for the big count down, “Mission” has an enthralling rhythmic quality that sounds like a collection of funky gadgets clicking away, yet does so with a noble eccentricity that’s always rooting for this self-made zillionaire to fulfill his dream. One of the cooler, and groovily surreal scores to reach for the stars since Fall On Your Sword’s “Another Earth,” Satterwhite and Constant’s “Mission” makes a notable splash down with alternative style to spare.
. STAND UP GUYS
If you’ve got to have your best gangster buddy take you for a last ride after spending the last 28 years in stir, then it’s harder to think of a better mix tape to reminisce to than this Motown dive bar of a CD. Indeed, few soundtracks since the 70s-set “Dead Presidents” have assembled such a palpably grungy funk sound as these classic tunes that drive the made “Guys” about for their final, wild night, the soul-blues vibe of such tunes as Baby Huey & The Babysitters’ “Hard Times,” Charley Bradley’s “How Long” and Sam and Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” speaking for the characters’ mutually sad, if ironic sense of realization that the good old days of life-saving loyalty are long since behind them. But the “Guys” tunes are far from being completely glum, a deceptively happy pace provided by the howlin’ r & b of Wayne Cochran’s “Get Down With It,” and the grooving organs and beat of Rex Garvin and the Mighty Craver’s Sock It To ‘Em JB,” which is likely the only time a soul song has shouted props to 007. The precious slices of underscore by “Superbad” composer Lyle Workman once again show his ability to play that mighty fat brass–organ-harmonica vibe, though with a decidedly darker, and self-reflective edge. But the civilian draw here will undoubtedly be two songs by Jon Bon Jovi. Though not the first pop star when it comes to NYC gangster top 40, the singer’s talent for slow, country-style ballads fit in well with the big city period tunes, his two songs movingly expressing the contrition of a criminal who knows his time is up after serving it.
. STAR TREK: GENERATIONS
Where the music for “Star Trek” went into its five-year, three-season mission with a boldly musical voice, the scoring for the more prolonged voyages of the decent “Next Generation” and its mixed bag of spin-offs were decidedly more low key, to the point of being melodic amorphous. Doing his best to pioneer this far more mellow sound was Dennis McCarthy, a longtime TV veteran of such genre shows as “V” and “The Twilight Zone” reboot. And while it was commendable that the show’s loyal producers gave McCarthy his shot with Picard and company’s first big screen voyage, “Generations” incomprehensible story and bungled killing of Captain Kirk infuriated longtime fans like myself to the point where any appreciation of McCarthy’s work was muted by the din of our outrage towards the picture itself. Yet time can heal some wounds, at least when it comes to music. Not that hearing “Generations” in its entirety has revealed some maligned classic, as opposed to a pleasantly soothing, souped-up rendition of the music that was motoring the new Enterprise along. With Alexander Courage’s theme thankfully along for the ride, McCarthy’s score is suffused with a main theme that proves to be its strongest asset, conveying the eternal franchise’s sense of familial warmth and nobility for captain and crew. Much like the “Nexus” that drives the inscrutable plot, McCarthy’s work is a mesmerizing weave of textures, with glistening voices and strings evoking a trip to Superman’s crystal fortress as much as it does addictive cosmic power. Villains receive a Holstian military darkness, while ominous suspense glides about the captivating musical starstuff until heroically pounding action lifts he score’s pulse by several warp speeds. Yet while all 75 minutes of “Generations” envelops the senses in an admirable way, there’s the small screen sense of the score just never going as boldly as it should. However, the two-CD presentation of “Generations” is worth a second chance from even the movie’s most vehement detractors. Longtime Trek album producers Lukas Kendall, Mark Banning, Ford Thaxton and James Nelson, along with liner note music authority Jeff Bond, are onboard to apply equal professionalism to this release, as well as an elongated suite of sound effects that can let one play-act their own alternative sequel to the next Gen movie that should have been.
Probably the most seditious animated film ever to be released by a major studio, 20th Century Fox’s 1977, inexplicably PG-rated “Epic Fantasy of Peace and Magic” was a bizarre fusion of Swastika-filled political satire and hyper violent “Lord of the Rings” sword and sorcery. But then, what else would one expect when iconoclastic “Fritz the Cat” animator Ralph Bakshi got handed the keys to the kingdom? For a picture that defied expectations for better and worse, one of the more enticingly bizarre elements was Andrew Belling’s underscore. An arranger for such acts as Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles before beginning to score for TV in the early 70s, “Wizards” auspiciously marked the beginning of a cult genre run that would include the likes of “Zoltan, Hound of Dracula,” End of the World” and an X-rated musical version of “Cinderella.” With its budget, it wasn’t likely that “Wizards” wasn’t gong to get the resources of The London Symphony Orchestra, who accompanied Fox’s other big science fiction release that year. And while Belling would actually get the LSO’s resources down the line for “Starchaser: The Legend of Orin,” their bombastic sound would likely have been as out of place for Bakshi’s eccentric vision. Instead, “Wizards” comes across like Jethro Tull jamming with their take on “The Hobbit,” conjuring a collage of progressive rock guitars, flute-y folk music, evil organs, farting calypso comedy, militaristic ensemble percussion and 50s be-bop, all topped off with the wonderfully dated sound of 70s synths for its quest to the future Fourth Reich heart of darkness. It’s an infectiously weird, lo-fi, high concept vibe that suits Bakshi’s unhinged, rudimentary beauty that would take a major step up next for “Lord of the Rings.” In fact, it’s pretty much safe to say that there’s never been a cartoon score like “Wizards,” music that’s equal parts cheese and pure inspiration, as headlined by a quite lovely theme song “Time Will Tell,” which performed by no less than “Goldengirl” Susan Anton.
. WRECK-IT RALPH
Among the next-gen Zimmer acolytes to break out into their own scoring games, perhaps the most impressive up and coming Hollywood player is Henry Jackman, an Englishman who had a great time hyping up a 50s sci-fi sound for “Monsters Vs. Aliens.” Arch genre salutes have continued to provide Jackman with his most inventively entertaining work, from the epically rocking wannabe superhero music of “Kick Ass” to the real retro deal of “X-Men: First Class” and the historically vengeful horror of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Jackman’s ability to play wacky ideas for real with a combo of fanboy affection and pop-symphonic earnestness wins again with “Wreck-It Ralph,” especially in the way he incorporates the classic, Casio-like 8-bit sound of old-school arcade music with a full on symphony orchestra. Even better, Jackman jumps between the titular game theme into the dark electro-rhythms of the “Halo”-inspired “Hero’s Duty,” and then the knowingly sappy music of “Sugar Rush,” But more often than not, it’s Jackman’s mastery at combining Carl Stalling slapstick with the thrills and spills of heroic action (along with an ingenious organ theme for the true bad guy) that powers “Wreck-It Ralph’s” continuously delightful score. For if the similarly enjoyable 8-bit anarchy of Nigel Godrich’s score to “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World” played for today’s indie rock dweebs, Jackman’s score is manna for the first generation who played Donkey Kong in between runs to the local cinema to watch the first run of “Star Wars,” a cross-pollination between wonderfully primitive melodies and the full power of a orchestra that makes “Wreck-It Ralph” the best of both stylistic worlds, helping the movie achieve the high score of being Disney’s best non-Pixar movie.
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