CD Review: October Soundtrack Picks
‘Greystoke‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For October, 2010
Also worth picking up: Dark Prophecy, Hachi, Howl, In The Wall, Let Me In, The Music From The Lord Of The Rings Films, Medal Of Honor, The Town, Uncommon Valor, In The Wall and The Wicker Man
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) GREYSTOKE (3,000 edition)
What is it?: Where the music of Tarzan movies had always been about jungle
brawn, CHARIOTS OF FIRE director Hugh Hudson gave the mythic saga a true touch of English class with this superior, revisionist take on the man-ape, which for my yodel stands as the best Tarzan film yet made. With the aim of is restoring the “Lord” to its hero, in as much of the aristocratic sense as the ape one, Hudson couldn’t have found a more elegant composer than John Scott to realize its very British ambitions.
Why should you buy it?: A musical classicist in the best sense of the word with his nobly-blooded melodies for the likes of ENGLAND MADE ME and THE SHOOTING PARTY, Scott also could play rugged, fantastical adventure with such scores as THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT and KING KONG LIVES. Both animalistic, and posh sides brilliantly come into play here, first as Edward Elgar-ian pomp and circumstance sends the Earl of Greystoke and his pregnant wife on their fateful African voyage. But as opposed to going native with the their baby boy’s new adoptees, Scott turns traditional brass and percussion into howling, pounding savagery a la Igor Stravinsky. Yet he’s always sure to balance this action with beautifully lush themes, making the jungle as enchanted a place as any musical imagery that Claude Debussy conjured in “La Mer,” let alone the numerous nature scores that Scott himself provided for Jacques Cousteau. With this kind of rapturous talent, Scott balances the genteel and the beastly upon Tarzan’s return to so-called Victorian civilization, with sweeping, concert hall-style music, an unabashedly thematic approach that’s sorely missed.
Extra Special: La La Land has been sure to make GREYSTOKE’s long-awaited, official CD release sonically roar like never before, while adding Scott’s theatrically unused Overture and End Titles to the program, all while Jeff Bond’s liner notes smartly detail the Tarzan score with true symphonic pedigree.
2) LET ME IN
What is it?: After getting to indulge in a delightful homage to GODZILLA’s music for the end titles of Matt Reeve’s CLOVERFIELD, Michael Giacchino now gets to score his first outright horror film for that director’s Americanized version of the post-pubescent Swedish vampire movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
Why should you buy it?: If you crossed the child-like tenderness of Elmer Bernstein’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD with the pounding, imminent dread of Howard Shore’s SEVEN, then you’ll get the effective tonal mix between innocence and inescapable killer instinct that Michael Giacchino provides here. Though it remains debatable if the original classic should have been remade at all, Giacchino’s eerily powerful work represents the care on every level that’s gone into the Hollywood take. But it’s the difference between assured polish and the transgressive that represents the biggest difference between Giacchino’s sound and that of original composer Johan Soderqvist- the jumping off point between lush orchestrations of an obvious vampire and disturbing, off-kilter approach that paints her as the deceptively innocent little girl next door. Giacchino lets you know she’s out for blood right off the bat with an orchestra as romantically ominous as anything you’d expect to hear in a Hammer horror score (whose moniker makes a welcome return here as LET ME IN’s production company). Dies Irae-like choruses flit about aching violins, snowflake-like percussion, gentle pianos and the big moments of musical attack for when the kid gloves are off.
Extra Special: While LET ME IN’s emotional ebb and flow between subtlety and shock that will remind Giacchino’s fans of his creepy work on LOST, old school horror fans will doubtlessly also appreciate this vital return to unabashed macabre melodies, the score’s strong thematic whole nicely developing through the CD’s generously 78 minutes.
3) MAO’S LAST DANCER
What is it?: The year’s best scores got roaring out of the gate with Christopher Gordon’s majestically brooding soundtrack for DAYBREAKERS. Now the Aussie-based English composer can add another to the list with this far less sanguine score for a film from down under, which is moving in more ways than one as it depicts the oppressive balletic upbringing, and ultimate defection of Li Cunxin, one of Communist China’s greatest dancers.
Why should you buy it?: To play a gentle, conflicted soul who’s caught between the East and West, it’s fitting that Gordon should employ an array of traditional Chinese instruments and percussion with a sweepingly lush orchestra, an approach that literally soars to the stage-bound heavens as the music helps Li jump out of his politically-induced shell. This is as beautiful as film scoring “Orientalism” can get, yet manages to feel more emotionally real in the bargain. And Gordon hits just about every style of ballet here as he charts his dancer’s progress, from the intimacy of rehearsal pianos to bombastic propaganda numbers and the ultimate, spiritual reconciliation of a now-freed Li’s return to his homeland. Without any heartstring manipulatios, Gordon’s stunning grasp of melodic emotion works in perfect tandem with director Bruce Beresford, creating a Pas de Deux of sound and image that will have you reaching for your handkerchiefs
Extra Special: MAO’S LAST DANCER might just be the best ballet film since THE TURNING POINT. And it’s a testament to Gordon’s grasp of classical styles that you won’t know when his score is segueing into the album’s equally gorgeous excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” Mozart’s “Sonata in D” or Burgmuller’s “Giselle.”
4) THE MUSIC OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS FILMS
What is it?: Where blockbusters usually are sure to get a coffee table companion, it’s rare to see tomes detailing their music, let alone one a book that’s released years after the fact. But THE LORD OF THE RINGS saga proves to be the gift that keeps on giving, especially for musicologist Doug Adams, whose work was sterling enough to have Howard Shore bring him on to witness to the creation of his epic scores. Now Adams’ observations have been bound into an impressive literary debut that will thrill both RINGS and soundtrack fans, especially with its accompanying 79-minute CD of Shore alternates and outtakes.
Why should you buy it?: It was Shore’s dark, symphonic flourish that made filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh think he’d be right to accompany the long-awaited cinematic translation of literature’s most famous fantasy quest. And Shore proved them right with his Oscar-winning work, over ten-hours of music whose thematic construction and scope was a world unto itself, complete with Elvish languages, pounding evil, Valkyrie-worthy choruses, lilting songs and soaring nobility. Taking his own expounding road that’s thankfully more entertaining than scholarly, Adams breaks down Shore’s work in a way that any movie, or music fan without a music degree can understand, complete with film artwork, behind the scenes photographs and musical charts. Adams’ writing is as meticulous as it is entertaining as he talks about Shore’s initial brainstorms their realization at the RINGS scoring sessions, even giving biographies for the principle orchestral players. It’s a MUSIC read that’s the last word on making the RINGS films the most lavishly documented pictures in every respect next to STAR WARS- a saga that itself took no small note from J.R.R. Tolkien’s work.
Extra Special: Shore’s RING stands as the movie answer to Wagner’s own little opera, its grandeur previously revealed on three “ultimate” RING score box sets. But wait, there’s more! For a beginning is a very delicate time, as can be evidenced in the numerous synth mock-ups presented here. It’s a cool inside glimpse into the themes that would become the stuff of orchestral legend, while the final product is heard in such unreleased alternates as “The Eaves of Fangora” and “The Siege of Gandor,” with even the trailer music from THE RETURN OF THE KING put into this 21 cue CD. The last two are devoted to a conversation between Adams and The Man himself, their insights providing an insightfulclosure to Shore’s masterwork.
5) THE TOWN
What is it?: After subtly taking on the sleazy Boston underworld of Ben Affleck’s directorial outing GONE BABY GONE, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, along with rising throb-suspense composer David Buckley (FROM PARIS WITH LOVE) up the musical ante for more criminal doings in Beantown for the star’s even more successful filmmaking follow-up.
Why should you buy it?: While he may have hit Hollywood by blasting explosive beats for Hans Zimmer’s crew, Williams has certainly shown he can pull other jobs beyond the rhythmic action, a talent that quickly allowed him to break from that gang. Yet when you’ve got inherent adrenalin chops few can match, directors are always pulling you back to those familiar chases. But what makes Affleck’s action so different, especially in a testosterone-fueled movie like THE TOWN, is that he’s trying to keep it real. And Williams once again responds to that documentary-feel with a seething sense of propulsion, working with Buckley to depict an atmosphere of constant plotting and betrayal. It’s a near techno-sound that the composers effectively layer with strings, especially when its armed robberies swing into breathless motion, all while never screaming “movie score!” in the bargain.
Extra Special: Perhaps the most notable aspect of THE TOWN is how Williams and Buckley’s affecting main theme details the reluctant, and then full-blown relationship between bank robber and unknowing victim. It’s tenderness that’s most aching in the somber piano and strings of “The Letter,” yet always displays the emotional maturity and single-minded determination of its anti-hero career criminal.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
IN THE WALL
MASTERS OF HORROR editor Mike Williamson’s cross between EC comics perversity and the post-mortem guit of Edgar Allen Poe’s work make for one nastily effective horror short, which certainly gets the bloody most out of its apartment setting. Another powerful attribute of IN THE WALL is that the great-looking DVD comes attached with a separate CD featuring its score by no less than REQUIEM FOR A DREAM’s Clint Mansell. It’s easy to see the ghoulishly peverse quality that attracted a composer of Mansell’s often maniacal stature to this little (in more ways than one) picture’s expotential body count. Most recently playing psychological disintegration in BLACK SWAN, Mansell gives IN THE WALL no less than his compulsive all, with a strong theme that’s either pulsing with oncoming insanity, or relying on low, nerve-wrending tones for the seat-jumping crash chords that rip through the plaster. Fans of grand guignol, as well those who appreciate Mansell’s unhinged rhythmic tones will certainly want to dive into this nightmarish WALL.
As a rising composer who keeps getting propelled into the heart of darkness with the likes of THE DEVIL’S TOMB, the videogame WOLFENSTEIN and his episodic scores for CSI: NY, it’s almost amazing that Bill Brown’s able to keep his melodic head up high given the suffocating evil he’s often dealing with. It’s also likely the media his music has atmospherically graced won’t get more intriguing than the origins of DARK PROPHECY, a combo book / online series created by CSI’s Anthony E. Zuiker, all of which deal with a detective’s dogged pursuit of another of those fiendishly clever serial killers. Brown’s score for the “cyber bridges” that link the printed pages and video adventures of Zuiker’s “Level 26” series is intriguingly cohesive, with a listenability factor that’s surprisingly high for music that plays such gruesome doings. Combing surreal samples, a female voice, watery percussion and beautiful piano playing, Brown mines PROPHECY’s despairing depths to achieve the kind of rustic, soaring somberness that Thomas Newman found within the walls of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and GREEN MILE- a symphonic, spiritual transcendence that once again shows Brown’s music belying the darkest pits of humanity.
HACHI: A DOG’S TALE
If there’s one composer who’s incapable of playing stupid pet tricks, then it’s Poland’s Oscar-winning Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (FINDING NEVERLAND). For HACHI, he applies a universal tone of tender, intelligent melody to this true tale of an Akita who waited for his master until the bitter end. While the dog’s nationality is unchanged, the train station has been moved to America (with its title changed from “Hachiko” to “Hachi.”) so Richard Gere could be the animal’s owner. Yet there are still Asian inflections to Kaczmarek’s soothingly beautiful score, which stands tall as an example of musical simplicity at its finest. Stripping down the eternal bond between man and mutt to piano solos and the sparest of strings and brass, Kaczmarek conveys the playful, and utterly devoted nature of this relationship. It’s a vibe of soothing sincerity and tenderness that’s very much a trademarked sound for Kaczmarek, a musician with the ability to turn real life into a lilting fairy tale, where deeply felt relationships are the true magic. Previously only available as an import CD, Varese now thankfully releases this gently remarkable score to coincide with HACHI’s debut on the Hallmark Channel (though true devotees might also want to get the Japanese soundtrack edition for those dog-bark bonuses).
If you’re a Frenchman and the zombies are pounding at your apartment door, who ya gonna call? Thankfully, SUPERNATURAL composer Christopher Lennertz makes international house visits, as he brings on a barrage of undead-killing music for Gallic flesh eaters. Sure there’s lot of white, chaotic monster-busting noise on hand. But what thankfully distinguishes THE HORDE are its quieter, creepier moments, first as the beautiful siren voice of “Prologue” ironically sets the onslaught to come. Lennertz also makes eerily exotic use of the duduk (an instrument that you don’t normally hear in a soundtrack like this), while cool urban percussion marks a “Badass Alliance” between cops and gangsters. And when it’s time for “C’est finis,” Lennertz hits the breakout with an arsenal of thrash guitars, military percussion and voices, the kind of swirling madness that signals the survivors’ last stand. It’s an international language of zombie music madness that THE HORDE speaks well.
It could be said that Carter Burwell is one of the original film scoring hipsters with the likes of RAISING ARIZONA, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and FUR. The NYC-based composer’s unique is well suited to hear that city’s most offbeat poet and his most notorious work. Burwell’s orchestra uses violins, rock guitars, pianos and spectral synths for a score that ebbs and flows with the free jazz word associations of The Beat Generation, with dark strings standing in for the conformist society that tried to smother the first true American stirrings of gay pride. But the neatest trick of Burwell’s HOWL is that it captures those vibes without every truly becoming them, finding its own free-wheeling way of expressing what might be the most acclaimed, and revolutionary poem of all time.
LES DEUX MONDES
After exploring the mythical worlds of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS for TV, composer Richard Harvey ventures to France to play his version of STARGATE. Except here it’s a henpecked husband instead of Kurt Russell who has to liberate another dimension, in between dealing with more mundane matters at home. But musically speaking, it’s all wonderfully epic stuff, as the majestic, magical quality of Williams-esque adventure gets a good dose of laughing gas. MONDES’ playfully lush sound might also make it the most fun otherworldly “savior” comedy score since Jerry Goldsmith had MOM AND DAD SAVE THE WORLD, not to mention displaying what might be the most delirious runs of aggressive percussion and tribal voices since Danny Elfman’s NIGHTBREED. Richard Harvey himself has always been a talented, if underrated composer with the likes of ANIMAL FARM and COLDITZ. With MONDES, he truly shows he’s got the stuff of symphonic greatness for a whimsical, culture clash that makes for one of this year’s happiest soundtrack surprises.
MEDAL OF HONOR
After having IRON MAN wipe the Middle Eastern sands with terrorists, let alone using gigantic percussion for Perseus to rid mythological Greece of some sandy scorpions in CLASH OF THE TITANS, it seems natural that Ramin Djawadi would be an ideal recruit to take on a videogame scoring mission for the latest military campaign in the eleven-year saga of the MEDAL OF HONOR series. But what makes this ninth entry particularly interesting is that it moves its musical theater of operations from WW2 to Afghanistan, where “Tier One” operatives take down the bad guys. While you might not be fighting as the Taliban anymore for this politically corrected version of the game, the German-born Djawdai brings on the Arabic thunder with all of the regional instruments you’d expect, along with rocking metal guitars and no end of exciting percussion. But while you get the kill-frenzy fanboy rhythms, there are far more thematically emotional dimensions to this MEDAL than you might expect, from the so-wrong song “Enemy Down” to Latin choruses and soul-searching orchestral patriotism on patrol. Djawadi’s action chops continue to impressively grow in the series that helped give Michael Giacchino his musical start, with a technical polish and variety that’s been put into this particular MEDAL shine in a surprisingly thoughtful, button-mashing way.
Whether his genuinely chilling strains are stalking the RETURN TO THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL or snuffing out the horror film lovers who make THE HILLS RUN RED, Frederick Wiedmann has been showing that soundtracks done for direct-to-video horror films can have the killer impact of scores done for much larger screens. A particularly good case in point is Weidmann’s MIRRORS 2, a sequel that once again has very nasty things happening to those unfortunate enough to peer at supernatural glass. Weidemann comes up with a truly huge symphonic sound that compares very well with Javier Navarette’s work on the original. These new MIRRORS shake with throttling, and surprisingly melodic suspense, while also retaining the genre’s pouncing percussion effects and moaning female voices, all of which deliver particularly ghastly kills with the panache of a composer on the rise. Hopefully, MIRRORS 2 will be the score that shatters him into fully projected horrors to come.
TOBRUK (2,000 edition)
Rommel’s war machine has never sounded more monolithically menacing, or the men taking on in the desert fox’s forces as soaringly noble as in Bronislau Kaper’s rip-roaring WW2 score. Best known for the lush period scores to MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and LORD JIM, Kaper unleashes a battery of orchestral percussion that’s all about the struggle of completing The Mission as it pertains to the baking desert, with a terrific march theme that keeps driving its allied soldiers through the kind of sun-baked orchestrations that recall the biblical epics of yore. Kaper expertly plays his main motiff in both keys of heroism and evil. And when he’s going for the dark side, Kaper gives the march theme a dark swagger that Darth Vader and his Empire pals would be proud to call their own. Though scored in 1967, TOBRUCK blasts through with incredible vibrancy, music that’s also notable for gloriously playing its theme over the “When in Hollywood, Visit Universal Studios” logo. Just ask for Bronislau.
UNCOMMON VALOR (3,000 edition)
As the Paramount music mountain continues to open, record labels are going on increasingly daring missions to rescue their long-missing soundtrack buddies. Intrada is the latest to pull a seemingly lost, and much-requested score to the light after decades of being MIA. Twenty-seven years later, UNCOMMON VALOR reveals itself as a primo example of early James Horner goodness, a swaggering example of the dynamic, trademarked style that was propelling the former Corman composer up the scoring chain of command. You want ethnic percussion, a la GORKY PARK? Check. Do you want the ominously tingling suspense of WOLFEN? Check. Do you want the kind of soaring, nautical heroism that fueled the Enterprise’s second time out? Check. But where VALOR truly stands out as a Horner first is in his recruitment to full-on military realism, strains which also accompany the first major studio film where we went to Vietnam to rescue our imprisoned boys from the Commie bastards (with no less than FIRST BLOOD director Ted Kotcheff at the helm). Horner’s trailblazing work in this he-man genre is inspired right off the bat, incorporating Asian instruments with drum timpani and rollicking patriotic action – the kind of mix he’d soon play again with powerful earnestness in GLORY, not to mention the Calypso-flavored camp adventure of COMMANDO. And if you dig those throaty post-battle songs, VALOR’s got an affecting one with Ray Kennedy’s “Brothers in the Night.” Even after all of this time, UNCOMMON VALOR’s score stands with the best of Horner’s work, a suspenseful, gun-blazing score that shows every reason why this buck private musician would become a four-star general in an arena of full-throttle patriotism.
THE WICKER MAN
With the English pagans’ honor having been besmirched by an American remake most infamous for Nicolas Cage’s bee freak-out, it’s now time to turn back the harvest festival to the original 1973 film and its music by Paul Giovanni. Newly remastered by Silva Screen, THE WICKER MAN stands taller than ever as one of horror’s most unique “scores” as such. Here the fear becomes lyrical folk tunes (performed by the group Magnet), music that gives a deceptively light and joyful approach that’s very much part of the early 70’s acoustic, back-to-nature sound. Except here these pagan free love islanders have a particularly nasty agenda for a mainlander police man, the hints of which can be heard in any number of bawdy, Irish-flavored songs performed for such rustic instruments as the guitar, Jew’s harp, fife and drums- with even cult head Christopher Lee revealing an amazing singing voice (the only cinematic time he get to practice it beyond his appearance in that other cult flick THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE). There’s true ancient enchantment to the numbers of THE WICKER MAN, their elegantly simple melodies designed to lure the listener to an awful fate. It’s an album, and film that remains truly one of a kind (ditto the hilariously frank liner notes by original musician Gary Carpenter), though fans can now perk up for the forthcoming WICKER TREE- a sequel of sorts that features an orchestral score by John Scott. Thankfully, this one will grace a WICKER spin done by the original’s director Robin Hardy, who doubtlessly won’t be employing bee head-cages.
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, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande