March Soundtrack Picks
‘Jane Eyre‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For March, 2011
Also worth picking up: Beastly, The Big Bus, Cuckoo, Ironclad, Megaforce, Monsters, Source Code, Spellbound, Sucker Punch And Wrongfully Accused
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) THE BIG BUS
What is it?: By 1976, David Shire was a straightforward master of disaster with THE HINDENBURG, not to mention a composer who knew how to keep musical speed with a hijacked subway in THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. Both scores prepared Shire well for his trip aboard THE BIG BUS, a disaster spoof which stuffed the era’s cinematic fascination with fiery dirigibles, airplanes, skyscrapers and ocean liners into a nuclear-powered bus behemoth named The Cyclops, complete with an all-star passenger list that coped with a rapid-fire onslaught of one-liners and sight gags.
Why should you buy it?: Though not nearly as popular as 1980’s even more slapstick-y AIRPLANE, the thoroughly amusing BIG BUS is far more than an also-ran, especially when it comes to Shire’s bombastically driving score. Propelled by a surging theme that spells swaggering adventure, Shire’s brass clangs about with cliffhanging action, with the kind of blaringly hard-broiled jazz that would also signal Ira Newborn’s approach for THE NAKED GUN spoofs. Shire’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER disco moves also abound in the garishly colored Cyclops, while making always-melodic detours for the bus’ neo-military might, swooning romance and religioso music a la Elmer Bernstein’s TEN COMMANDMENTS. If anything, Shire’s hugely enjoyable BUS score is even more manfully over-the-top than what Bernstein achieved with AIRPLANE, making Film Score Monthly’s release of this soundtrack after 35 years a real discovery of comedy music gold, with the BUS’ history (not to mention blueprints) well-chronicled by Scott Bettencourt, Jeff Bond and Alexander Kaplan.
Extra Special: If THE BIG BUS went unsung, then so did its lounge singer Murphy Dunne. Best known as a member of THE BLUES BROTHERS movie band, the character actor-cum musician also finally gets day with hilariously cheesy piano bar medley that includes “Six Months to Live,” “Doggie Doctor” and “Tangerine,” raconteuring that shows Dunne off as a lounge lizard to equal Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer.
2) JANE EYRE
What is it?: Such composers as Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and Richard Harvey have dared to see what lies hidden in the stone walls of Edward Rochester’s keep in the twenty and counting EYRE adaptations that have been done for film and television over the last ninety or so years. Now it’s Dario Marianelli’s turn to light the candle and venture through the dauntingly gloomy halls and wind-swept moors in this beautifully done, if somewhat still-life production that takes a more realistic approach to Charlotte Bronte’s now-eternal 1847 story of female oppression and empowerment. But with the shining light radiating from Marianelli’s Oscar for ATONEMENT (not to mention a nomination for scoring the adaptation of sister Jane’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), this is one musician who knows his way around such romantic haunts- not to mention the incredible talent to give cinema’s literary “respectability” real passion- in this case with a soundtrack that sends chills up the spine, even as the movie itself valiantly tries to achieve them.
Why should you buy it?: Though she’s a woman who endures the trials of Job before coming out on top, Jane Eyre wasn’t written as a women’s libber. Yet she’s no wallflower either as Marianellli fills her with lilting chamber violins and piano, music that’s always yearning for salvation, yet not about to shout it to the heavens. It’s a subtle, beautifully somber approach that certainly doesn’t lack for empathy, especially when a stirring orchestral theme kicks in to play the unspoken, desperate desire that Eyre and Rochester have for each other. Fans of Marianelli’s consummate V FOR VENDETTA will recognize a similar tone to the stirring, spiritual rebirth he gave to Natalie Portman’s political fugitive in that film. And it certainly works here as well for a caged bird like Jane. Marianelli’s elegant approach also does a nice job of playing the period without resorting to lavish cliché. Yet what just might make this the best JANE EYRE score done to date (and one of the year’s best scores right out of the gate) is how Marianell sees this as the ultimate ghost story, its characters tormented by specters of the past both psychological and palpable. It’s an atmosphere full of haunted voices and anguished, overlapping strings that’s as eerie as it is romantic, once again proving no instrument can extract emotion like the violin (stirringly played here by soloist Jack Liebeck).
Extra Special: Dario Marianelli never fails to astound with his melodic and emotional sumptuousness, with each score like JANE EYRE almost impossibly besting the other. The Bronte sisters couldn’t have found a better man to musically speak for their heroines in the form of an Italian who can so beautifully play England’s agelessly repressed class system and the mental wreckage it reaps.
What is it?: There’s always reason to celebrate when a new soundtrack player enters the room. And the debut of Music Box Records couldn’t be more buoyant, with the French newbie label offering a two-fer CD release of L’INCORRIGIBLE and VA VOIR MAMAN, PAPA TRAVAILLE, soundtracks that are full of the lush joie de vivre of their country’s lauded melodist, Georges Delerue.
Why should you buy it?: Few composers were able to capture, and translate the more joyous aspects of classical music into the film scoring idiom like Delerue, whose best works like DAY OF THE DOLPHIN and A LITTLE ROMANCE positively waltz with Baroque delight. Ditto his many scores for director Philippe de Broca, whose delightful KING OF HEARTS helped put Delerue’s music in the international eye. 1975’s INCORRIGIBLE is one of their bouncier collaborations, as Delerue gives Jean-Paul Belmondo’s con man a devil-may-care strut that segues from the brassily regal to café jazz and twinkling circus melodies. Delerue’s music is as effortless as it is effervescent, with his playful themes flitting about for strings, flute and the piano, with the composer’s voice even introducing his lyrical love theme at the keyboard. YOUR TURN, MY TURN is full of gently aching affection, with the tinkerbell melody of a child at the center of an illicit affaire d’amour. Delerue conveys a muted, yet still swooning tenderness that portrays the rush of true love and its stakes for a devoted mother. If TURN’s music begged for lyrics, Delerue makes you feel like it just might be medieval plainsong, as significantly updated for the heartstrings of far more modern Parisians.
Extra Special: Music Box certainly delivers pristine sound worthy of their name, with INCORRIGIBLE also offering an eight-minute German opera aria. But if one thought of Delerue’s tastes as being old fashioned, said fan will get a kick out of how the composer works TURN’s theme into sprightly and spooky disco funk, wonderfully dated rhythms that nicely balance out his more familiar source approaches for harmonica waltzes and circus dance music.
What is it?: Sure there’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. But Barry Bostwick’s most outrageous exercise in retro-camp might just be 1982’s MEGAFORCE, a proto-G.I. JOE exercise in souped-up spandex do-gooding, blessed with extra oh-so 80’s musical oomph by composer Jerrold Immel.
Why Should you buy it?: Immel had the macho sound of TV scoring down with the likes of HARRY O and POLICE WOMAN when America’s first line of motorized defense came knocking at his studio in the tight-fitted form of Bostwick as “Ace” Hunter. Immel rose to the not-too-serious challenge with the rocking synth pads that any connoisseur of the decade’s action cheese would dig- “dated” electronics whose awesome, unrepeatable sound such scores as SCOTT PILGRIM and TRON LEGACY are now doing their damnedest to replicate. And of course, a score like this has also got to have those overly heroic orchestrations you half expect to be interrupted by a commercial break. But once you get over your sniggering, so-bad-it’s-good self, MEGAFORCE, taken for what it is, is actually really good. As DALLAS could attest to, Immel certainly had a way with themes. And MEGAFORCE’s have a punchy, camp-catchiness to them, starting right off with a trumpeting brass section. Immel then gets his groove on for this parade of mega-vehicles and good guys with bad hair, giving the synth and symphonic action (complete with disco-ready romance) the kind of boisterous energy that puts some of today’s more evolved, but by-the-numbers sample-driven action scores to shame. With exception liner notes by Randall Larson that treat the film and soundtrack with knowing respectability, the bleeps and brass of MEGAFORCE’s danceable action stylings make for a refreshing blast from the mullet past.
Extra Special: Fans of Barry Bostwick’s more renowned cult movie can wear their black fishnet stockings with pride. So if you delight in the electronic whooshing and swaggering strings that embody all that is wonderful about 80’s “silly” scoring, then buy and blast MEGAFORCE with pride.
5) WRONGFULLY ACCUSED (1500 edition)
What is it?: Shirley you can’t be very, very serious. But that’s exactly the approach that Bill Conti took on his second slapstick outing with Leslie Nielsen after SPY HARD- this time for an all-out goof that placed the star in THE FUGITIVE’s shoes, with a violin in one hand to boot as the unjustly implicated musician Ryan Harrison.
Why should you buy it?: Where Conti got so necessarily close to replicating the movie spoofs with SPY that he actually had to sign an indemnification clause, WRONGFULLY ACCUSED’s equally continuous movie goofs conversely allowed Conti to compose more in his own voice, with gigantic action cues that wouldn’t be out of place in his equally rollicking score to MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. Yet Conti more than captured the spirit of the composers he was poking fun at, from the lush romance of TITANIC to the take-charge military pace of THE FUGITIVE itself. But better yet, Conti reached even further back to into the musical well to vamp the film noir stylings of Miklos Rozsa and Max Steiner, even getting to have his way with CASABLANCA’s “La Marseilles.” Rather than stopping for each gag as is the case with so many slapstick scores now, Conti’s ACCUSED is about the mock-thrilling thematic whole instead of the slapstick bits, something that makes ACCUSED stand respectfully next to the likes of Elmer Bernstein’s AIRPLANE! to prove the adage that the less funny something sounds, the funnier the music is.
Extra Special: WRONGFULLY gets its straight-laced approach down from the start as Leslie Nielsen shows his dexterity as the “Lord of the Violin,” a virtuoso mini-concerto that Conti makes perfectly suitable for any symphony hall- until the rock guitar overload comes in to hilariously obliterate that illusion.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Composing in musical footsteps where Alan Menken, Georges Auric and Lee Holdridge didn’t fear to tread, rising composer Marcelo Zarvos has written what might be the most unexpectedly pleasant score to accompany a tale as seemingly old as time. His sprightly, alt. stylings of BEASTLY are especially happy given the Goth advertising that’s accompanied this tween update, which throws the characters into a magical high school setting. Zarvos strikes an often lilting, if not sometimes downright pokey mix between lush strings, tender piano playing and subtle rock stylings. Rather than his music reflecting a beauty throwing herself against the dark resistance of a bully bound for a nice-guy transformation, Zarvos’ nicely thematic score is mostly about the enchantment of falling for a really cool tattooed guy. It’s a soundtrack that continues to show Zarvos’ highly listenable talent for gossamer, repeating rhythms, gently swirling melodies that quickly pull listeners into BEASTLY’s none-too-primal spell
COPERNICUS STAR (1,000 edition)
If there were a composer who literally shot out of the film music firmament in the past few years, then it would be Poland’s Abel Korzeniowski. Beginning with his sweeping, intergalactic work on the woefully underrated animated sci-fi’er BATTLE FOR TERRA, then getting far more recognition with his sleek, Herrmann-esque stylings that captured the woes of A SINGLE MAN, Korzeniowski stands poised, a la Alexandre Desplat, as a thoroughly talented foreigner on the edge of that big Hollywood break, Hopefully it’ll come soon. But in the brief meantime, Korzeniowski’s equally powerful lighter side can be heard in his score for the Polish animated feature COPERNICUS STAR. If TERA and MAN had understandably weightier material for him to work with, the starstuff that this legendary Polish astronomer sees through his telescope here is just plain fun. In fact, the rollicking melodies, epic-sounding chorus, glistening percussion and cute piping about might seem better fitted to a pirate movie, with Korzeniowski and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra sounding off like a sweet swashbuckler. Except this is a journey of galactic discovery, one that Korzeniowski conveys with an always-melodic sense of the epic. CORPERNICUS’ score more than proves the composer’s worth, along with Earth’s position in the solar system.
Strings bring good things to psychos, let alone notable composers like Andrew Hewitt. A classical musician with more than a bit of movie session playing and lauded British television scores behind him, Hewitt’s impressive feature debut is as suited for the concert hall as it is the steadily crazed mind of an attractive student, who fears her teacher has the lethal hots for her. But since we’re talking a slow-burning English thriller instead of the crasser approach we’d get over here, Hewitt is able to take an elegant, suspensefully intelligently approach to the sound of a person becoming the title. Though his two-note theme might not be JAWS, Hewitt makes scarily identifiable use of his tick-tock, bird cry motif, while hushed tension and black-humored percussion bring to mind the sparer, ironic work of Howard Shore and Danny Elfman as much as it does that score by Bernard Herrmann. Yet Hewitt always makes CUCKOO his own, unhinged animal, his background making him perfect to capture the weeping, inexorable mental breakdown that only the razor-sound strings of a chamber orchestra can provide. As creepy as it is classy, Hewitt’s CUCKOO sings a tantalizingly dark song that’s best conducted with a loner’s butcher knife.
DRAGON AGE II
Among the futuristic likes of the FALLOUT and WARHAMMER sagas, Inon Zur can also lay claim to being the videogame dungeon master with his continuing fantasy sagas for PRINCE OF PERSIA and EVERQUEST. Now this follow-up to DRAGON AGE shows the Israeli wearing his Tolkein-ian musical crown just as tightly. Like a RPG player who knows just the right Mana and weaponry to keep his character going, Zur loads up with mythic themes, moaning choruses, symphonic heroism, villainous brass and the lilting violins and voices of the magical womenfolk. There’s a welcome sense of knightly chivalry to all of this as Zur conjures mythic, medieval-style melodies that keep his musical quest fresh. And there’s certainly no fatigue as Zur packs a wide variety of adventurous, crisply performed selections into AGE II’s tight 29-minute album, a brisk listen that will make the rabid RPG’r feel magically rewarded instead of pwn’d.
I SPY, VOLUME 2 – THE LPs
There might be no better soundtrack friend to TV’s secret music agents than Film Score Monthly, who’ve released innumerable volumes of original cues from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and I SPY. But among the composers like Lalo Schifrin, Jerry Goldsmith and David Grusin, who used these shows to help fast track Hollywood careers, the unsung genius who mostly remained on the small screen was Earl Hagen (not such a bad fate when you’re talking about the guy who whistled the theme for Andy Griffith). While FSM has allowed us to enjoy Hagen’s Emmy-winning, to-picture work for I SPY, viewers in the halcyon time between 1966 and 1968 didn’t get a sore album as such. But what they did relax, or shag out to were Hagen’s two swinging I SPY albums, which FSM has now released in the full cocktail and tennis-racket ready glory. Though done in the days when jazz-inflected TV / film scores by everyone from Henry Mancini to John Barry were re-configured into easy listening albums, these LP’s were unusual for how close to the actual underscores they got. The first stays on the more sedate side, with lush strings keeping hep company with brass jazz as SPY’s jet setting takes us to Mexican fiestas, engage in Oriental seduction and play French accordions. Volume 2 is even more ethnic-centric, dividing the international bachelor pad stylings for such locales as Greece, Italy and Spain. There’s a great sense of sexy playfulness to the globetrotting, bachelor pad vibe of Hagen’s SPY music. As the stuff that the dynamic duo of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby used to make the 60’s world safe for democracy (not to mention opening up TV’s world of race relations), Hagen’s I SPY stylings go down pleasantly smooth, with nightclub swing and shake intact.
Hans Zimmer’s crusades have sent many errant knights into the medieval fray, among them Harry Gregson-Williams (KINGDOM OF HEAVEN) and Marc Streitenfeld (ROBIN HOOD). Now the latest warrior to sway his solo sword in the service of propulsive historical music is Lorne Balfe, whose score for IRONCLAD is besieged by King John- the same son of a bitch whom Sherwood Forest’s finest was shooting arrows at the last time this thundering style of music was applied for the period. Yet while the telltale vibe of the royal behind GLADIATOR is there, Balfe’s IRONCLAD is more than its own thrillingly valiant man. If anything, Balfe’s chugging, charging blood and thunder score is the gnarliest of the bunch. Though done with technical finesse, there’s a scraping, almost primitive approach to Balfe’s percussive use of brass and such authentic instruments as the Carnyx and the Hurdy Gurdy, not to mention the religious orchestra that conveys a character’s just cause like a musical cross. Here it’s the sound of kick-ass, divinity that’s going to become the stuff of legends as Balfe powerfully suits up with anger, mud and sweat to take on the corrupt King’s hordes during a castle siege. Like fellow Zimmer knight Atli Orvarsson’s Roman-set EAGLE, Balf conveys a true sense of historical accuracy, even with a roaringly iconoclastic orchestra that heroes as far back as Maximus never quite imagined on the battlefield. But damn if it isn’t a great background music to nobly slay your enemies with.
THE KREMLIN LETTER (1,000 edition)
KREMLIN’s score release also signals the start of producer Nick Redman’s “Twilight Time” limited edition DVD movie label for 20th Century Fox (available at Screen Archives). So what better opportunity for Intrada Records to use the opportunity to finally bring down the Berlin wall to allow the escape of Robert Drasnin’s imposing espionage-suspense score. Given his work on TV’s I SPY and MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., Drasnin was the perfect musical recruit for director John Houston to retrieve this top-secret document from behind commie lines. Yet unlike those peppy spy games, Drasnin is dead serious in the KREMLIN. Lots of ominous Soviet melodies, balalinkas-like mandolins and a creeping sense of KGB doom show off Drasnin’s talent in a score where just about the only sense of playfulness comes from its copious source music detours, which include a Mexican samba and lounge music for a drag club. But for the most part, Drasnin’s LETTER is one angry, and tragically outraged bear that spells out The Cold War for all of its brassily whispered, militaristic doom, music that’s suspensefully enticing enough on its own to give the listener a yen to check out this long-unseen film.
The best electronic-heavy sci-fi scores like John Murphy’s SUNSHINE and David Holmes’ CODE 46 transport you to a place that’s far more about hallucinogenic chill than it about bug-eyed creatures, or gigantic tentacled ones in this movie’s case. MONSTERS stands as the most conversely beautiful, acid trip scoring done for a title like this, as rock synthesist Jon Hopkins takes the cool grooves he gave to Massive Attack and Brian Eno (particularly on his LOVELY BONES score) and applies them to a soundtrack that’s about learning to understand the enemy, if not necessarily making peace with them. Never once descending into “horror” scoring as such, Hopkins’ haunting, spaced-out rhythms and washes of percussive, bell-like melodies blend with elegiac strings and pianos to make us hear the awe of witnessing these impressive visitors, though dark, breathing apprehension and voices are sure to keep us more than a few steps back. In the end though, Hopkins’ unexpectedly thematic music reaches a level of electro-orchestral transcendence that equates two aliens’ electrifying mating dance with the emotional link of two gringo travelers who’ve braved them, proving that our cosmic and human species’ Zen attraction is one and the same.
Composer Chris Bacon has certainly picked up some mad skills by working with James Newton Howard on such scores as KING KONG and THE DARK KNIGHT. And his own talent was readily apparent when he gave SPACE CHIMPS a score that played them like Apollo 10 astronauts. Now Bacon gets his biggest solo score to date with SOURCE CODE, with a straight-ahead suspense approach that’s light-and-day different than what Clint Mansell brought to director Duncan Jones’ last film MOON. Bacon brings it in mainstream style here with an approach that brings to ear Jerry Goldsmith and Christopher Young’s sleek, start-and-stop way of playing slightly less mind-scrambling thrillers like BASIC INSTINCT and COPYCAT. When CODE’s mad science nature kicks in, Bacon adds electronic percussion into the mix, but in a way that always keeps a melodic human core at its center over a special effect vibe, even if there’s a helping of BOURNE rhythm to it action runs- which aren’t nearly as plentiful as you might think. An always-intriguing listen, SOURCE CODE translates into a clear message to keep an ear out for Bacon’s musical development, one that might very well end up putting him in Howard’s league with this cool, and accessible example of future-past scoring.
SPELLBOUND: THE CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF MIKLOS ROZSA
Arguably the most iconic series of movie soundtrack re-recordings ever produced, Charles Gerhardt’s “Classic Film Score Series” brought back the lush musical magic of the studio system to a new generation of fans between the years of 1972 and 1978. But they could just as well have been dropped in front of a Hollywood scoring stage from the 30’s to the 50’s to hear these spot-on, impassioned performances of selections from such masterpieces as KING KONG, THE SEA WOLF and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Having brought new, remastered life to this series last year, Sony Masterworks now unleashes nearly all the remaining Gerhard titles with seven CD’s that salute such composers as Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, and David Raksin, who gets to conduct selections from his scores to LAURA, FOREVER AMBER and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIIFUL, all while Gerhardt rounds up such Bette Davis favorites as JEZEBEL and DARK VICTORY. This classic music sounds more resplendently than ever, all choice cuts for age when the music rarely stopped during a film’s duration. These are truly the choice cuts that marked how a group of European composing immigrants turned the operas of their homeland into a new art form called film music.
Music has always been a driving force for Zack Snyder’s gloriously insane, slo-mo’d visual style. And now it’s a fabulous female fighting force of the mind that transforms a standard collection of pop-rock-alt. hits into something as gloriously insane, and powerful as a giant sword-swinging samurai. It’s doubtful if the Eurythmics, Bjork, Grace Slick or The Beatles could imagine any slight cobwebs on their work being dunked into a blazingly cool remix firebath. What emerges from the transformed likes of “Sweet Dreams,” “Army of Me” and “White Rabbit” are mini rock operas with a new, electrifying vitality that’s perfect for the comic geek grllpower audience to thrash to. If there’s a MOULIN ROUGE feel to the mashes at hand (many nicely sung by star Emily Browning), then it’s no surprise that movie’s song producer Marius de Vries is in the house mix to do a similar jaw-dropping job here. Armageddon means “I Want It All” over Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” while “White Rabbit” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” become even more sensually psychedelic. But what takes these already knockout remixes into a whole other stratosphere is how Snyder’s composer Tyler Bates (DAWN OF THE DEAD, WATCHMEN) transforms the songs’ rhythms into the original score, then swings right back to their familiar melodies. The result is right in tune with how these psycho ward sisters are transformed into superheroes- an approach that takes familiar songs and blasts them into completely new, superhero-energized entities in a great, WTF rave-remix way.
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