September Soundtrack Picks

By • September 21, 2011

‘EXPLORERS‘ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR SEPTEMBER, 2011

Also worth picking up: A CERTAIN SMILE, THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK, GEARS OF WAR 3, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, WARRIOR and YOR

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) A CERTAIN SMILE


Price: $19.98

What is it?: Few classic composers were better at playing the glory of love against exotically glamorous settings than Alfred Newman. And the 1950’s were a heyday for his lushly picaresque affairs, whether it was William Holden falling for Jennifer Jones against the backdrop of Hong Kong in LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, or Yul Brynner letting his lips find out if Ingrid Berman was really the Russian empress ANASTASIA as they gallivanted amongst France’s hoi polloi. That country’s Riviera proves a glamorous backdrop for the amour fou of 1958’s A CERTAIN SMILE. And though Christine Carere and Rossano Brazzi might not have had the star recognition to make this film as well known, Alfred Newman’s score for it proves every much the equal of any score that sealed a famed movie couple with a sweet orchestral kiss.

Why should you buy it?: Alfred Newman was used to dealing with purer romances than a Sorbonne student who ends up having an affair with her husband-to-be’s uncle. Yet there’s nothing but the innocent rapture of true love on hand for this wonderfully thematic score, one that always seems ready to burst into outright song. It’s a quality that’s more than apropos for a composer who got his start on the Great White Way, only to oversee such Broadway-to-film musicals as SOUTH PACIFIC and CAROUSEL But if any legendary songwriters possess this SMILE, then they’re Newman’s good friends Ira and George Gershwin, whose symphonically swooning quality echoes through this score’s gorgeous main theme (written by SPLENDORED’s Sammy Fain), particularly with its echoes of “Our Love is Here to Stay.” While there’s certainly a bit of drama and heartbreak along the Cote d’Azur, it’s this overall feeling of first, smitten love that makes A CERTAIN SMILE one of Alfred Newman’s most listenable gems.

Extra Special: If there was a singer whose velvety, romantic voice was the equivalent of Newman’s instrumentals, then it was Johnny Mathis, who’s righteously on hand in A CERTAIN SMILE to sing the title tune. The number also opens the original Columbia soundtrack album, which is the second CD of this exceptional La La Land album. SMILE marks the label’s first, welcome strut into the neo-golden age arena, complete with excellent graphic design by Jim Titus and enraptured liner notes by nostalgia specialist Julie Kirgo. The sound on both Newman’s original tracks and the LP presentation is gorgeous, exactly the kind of lyrical, lilting music that casts an irresistible spell under a starry French night.

2) EXPLORERS


Price: $19.95

What is it?: In a legendary career filled with long-standing relationships with such directors as Franklin J. Schaffner (PLANET OF THE APES) David Anspaugh (RUDY) and Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), perhaps no filmmaker brought out the child-like glee of Jerry Goldsmith’s music like Joe Dante- even if some of the nine pictures they’d do together exhibited a deliciously twisted streak of black humor when it came to putting youths in peril from GREMLINS or SMALL SOLDIERS. Yet there’d be nothing but innocence in 1985’s EXPLORERS, Dante’s guileless movie in which a bunch of youths (including River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke) build a spaceship in their back yard. Goldsmith seamlessly became one of the gang with his always-amazing thematic construction, capturing their youthful optimism with a majestic, space-faring score that was just about on the order of the more “mature” sci-fi music he’d do for his STAR TREK score. The difference here is that EXPLORERS is also filled with the kind of playful charm that turns heroes and aliens alike into kids being handed the keys to their parent’s awesome spacecraft.

Why should you buy it?: While the Spielberg-worthy magic of EXPLORERS’ music captures the grand mysteries of what every kid likely imagines about first contact, the movie’s punch line is that said bug-eyed aliens also turn out to be more TV-addicted than the kids they’ve sent their clarion call out to. It’s an ultimate reveal that gives Goldsmith the carte blanche to veer from team spirit to the symphonic adventure of boldly going before ending up with the electronic mischief of what they’ll actually discover. For a composer given to his own experiments in pushing musical boundaries, EXPLORERS sings with Goldsmith’s delight in synths, here turned into the bleeps, bloops and playfully creepy atmospheres of adolescent E.T.’s, who are given an outrightly goofy theme that seems constructed out of alien farts and raspberries. It’s the kind of absurdity that distinguished even Goldsmith and Dante’s darker efforts together. Yet EXPLORER’s musical humor that doesn’t blunt its sense of emotional earnestness and fantastical wish fulfillment that’s deservedly turned the film into a cult item.

Extra Special: Previously put out on LP, then CD in truncated form, Intrada has finally allowed Goldsmith’s score to return from the collector’s stratosphere as an unlimited, complete 78 minute edition. And fans couldn’t hope for a better-sounding presentation of this Goldsmith Grail, music that even includes a delightfully satiric “Space Movie” from score orchestrator, and original TREK composer Alexander Courage himself, along with always-stellar liner notes by Jeff Bond. Given its full glory, EXPLORERS now ranks among Goldsmith’s best scores, not to mention one of his most magical at playing everyone’s dreams of taking off for the stars.

3) THE SPACE CHILDREN / THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK


Price: $19.95

What is it?: Music for a beneficent space brain and a giant killer robot packed with some screwed-up dura mater fill up this impressive double feature of great sci-fi music, composed by the strikingly-named Van Cleave (first name Nathan). While better known (if uncredited) for the underscore of WHITE CHRISTMAS, it’s Van Cleave’s sci-fi scores for the likes of ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (also put out by Film Score Monthly), CONQUEST OF SPACE and numerous TWILIGHT ZONE episodes that stand as career highlights. But where Van Cleave used CONQUEST and ROBINSON to play the heroism and peril of the outer limits, 1958’s THE SPACE CHILDREN and COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK are very much about the uncanny threat of creatures in our midst- making for a checklist of all that’s great about classic 1950’s sci-fi scoring, from the spine-tingling sounds of the violin and Novachord to… the solo piano?

Why should you buy it?: Van Cleave composed SPACE CHILDREN and COLOSSUS for prolific genre producer William Alland (whose other sci-fi greats included IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and THIS ISLAND EARTH). But if any space invader would suffuse Van Cleave’s BRAIN, then it would be the brooding strings and organ of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL- instruments that Bernard Herrmann used to convey the relentless, unfathomably fearsome power of the giant robot Gort. But where Herrmann at least allowed his pal Klatuu to have orchestral humanity, Van Cleave employs organs, lurching brass, pulsing electronics and lonely strings to create a score that’s all about the hypnotic, potentially horrific pull of a higher intelligence, as opposed to any orchestral niceties from the cherubs it’s gathered for seemingly nefarious ends. Accordingly, much of the score has the chill of an alien shuffling towards your door, an approach that still proves quite unnerving for how period specific it is. Van Cleave’s only musical nicety here is a full, religioso orchestra that reveals the brain’s peaceful colors upon its return to the great beyond- a thankfully uplifting climax to an otherwise gripping, and thoroughly nightmarish excursion through the outer limits.

Extra Special:
If you thought THE SPACE CHILDREN was stripped down, little can prepare listeners for the nearly all-piano score of THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK. But given the insanely low music budget he was handed for this oddball take on FRANKENSTEIN, Van Cleave’s choice would ultimately go beyond budgetary necessity to a place of true inspiration, resulting in what’s likely the only solo piano score to grace a creature film (Brian Easdale gets the human psycho tip of the hat for the for doing that with the human psycho of PEEPING TOM). The COLOSSUS’ echoing keys are given just a bit of shimmering percussion and the gentle bells of an uncomprehending child. All make the sight of this glowing-headed monster even more bizarre, while also communicating the poor brain-trapped soul who’s pressed into a life of intellectual servitude by his mad doctor dad. It’s an unlikely, but highly thematic score that could easily be mistaken for some lost Debussy piece, if it weren’t for the monstrous, pounding chords that have the big lug taking ray-beam vengeance on the United Nations. It’s music that shouldn’t work by any human right, yet somehow does through the power of weird science. Film Score Monthly‘s CD is a must-have for connoisseurs of atomic age scoring- as is the DVD release of COLOSSUS itself on Olive films after so many decades in the lab of early morning television.

4) SQUANTO: A WARRIOR’S TALE


Price: $19.99

What is it?: Sure October might be one of the best Intrada-Disney months ever with the release of such long-awaited hardcopy treasures as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and THE BLACK HOLE. But if there’s a new title in their Disney bunch that represents some of the best music The Mouse House has ever gotten, then it’s from a movie the studio devoted to an American Indian. However, we’re not talking about the Oscar-winning score that was bestowed on POCAHONTAS, but the rousing music given to a live action brave named SQUANTO, who pre-figured that soundtrack by just a year.

Why should you buy it?: No offense meant to Alan Menken, who got to play talking tree spirits and cute animals. But it’s Joel McNeely’s majestic score that deals with the more palpably believable (for a Disney movie that is) adventures of pre-America’s ambassador to imperious explorers from across the sea, some of whom just happened to land on Plymouth Rock. While there are drums and pipes for native flavor, SQUANTO mostly has the feel of a widescreen western adventure that just happens to have Thanksgiving in it, music that’s full of the kind of gloriously sweeping wagon train-ready themes that recall such scenic epics as Jerome Moross’ THE BIG COUNTRY. While England and Europe’s relations with our land’s original inhabitants could be called tragic at best, McNeely is more interested with conveying his hero’s nobility. It’s a stirring, melodic force of one man’s goodness, even with all he’s put through by the white man- as mostly heard through our movie culture’s idiom of Hollywood-style scoring.

Extra Special: Like fellow symphonic melodist Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely stands as an unsung master of the symphonic craft with such noteworthy 90’s scores as TERMINAL VELOCITY, THE AVENGERS and the Disney adventure IRON WILL. While it’s great that he’s still applying his magic at the studio with such projects as TINKER BELL, McNeely’s a gifted talent just waiting to return to the kind of bigscreen adventure typified by SQUANTO, a score whose vitality remains as fresh and beautifully performed today as it did in 1994. Hopefully, somewhere an executive will see this excellent album’s smoke signals that one of Hollywood’s most impressive symphonic braves is waiting for action again. Now that, I’d give thanks for.

5) YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE


Price: $15.95

What is it?: Where they ripped off American westerns with an refreshing dose of spaghetti in the 1960’s, the Italians had a far less successful (if hilariously entertaining) go of doing their own “salutes” to CONAN and STAR WARS in the 70’s and 80’s. But in an exploitation coliseum that included the likes of ATOR: THE FIGHTING EAGLE and STARCRASH, few rip-offs stewed savage beefcake with helmeted “space” invaders like 1983’s YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE. Reb Brown (TV’s Captain America) was cast as the dino killer who makes his fellow cave people safe from dinosaurs and badly dubbed future aristocrats in a film saluted by the Razzies as one of the 100 most enjoyably bad movies ever made (though YOR was actually a cut-down Italo miniseries). So just what the heck is THE SHOOTING PARTY’s John Scott doing amongst these paper mache lizards and hapless, wannabe storm troopers?

Why Should you buy it?: Though Scott’s beautifully bucolic, William Walton-influenced orchestral style filled such high-minded fare as ENGLAND MADE ME and THE SCARLET TUNIC, the composer also wasn’t adverse to gracing the entertainingly silly, English language likes of THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT and KING KONG LIVES. While YOR might not have the pedigree that Scott gave to another primitive hero named Tarzan in GREYSTOKE (let alone have its music performed with as much finesse), his muscular score for YOR delivers the Saturday matinee goods. Sure he might be scoring cheese here, but at least Scott goes about it with absolute, if sometimes winking commitment, his orchestra leaping onto stegosauruses and blasting evil overlords with the trumpeting thrills, spills and well-chiseled heroic themes, all of which make YOR a fun entry on his otherwise respectable resume.

Extra Special: Scott’s talent and pedigree aside (as most of his actual score was brushed to), what truly makes this album a huge kitsch delight is the “additional” music by the brothers Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (sometimes singularly known on American screens as “Oliver Onions), the composers of such other insane Italo rip-offs as 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK and KILLER FISH. While they no doubt did competent work in their prolific careers like TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME!, YOR isn’t exactly one of them. But that isn’t to say their ineptitude here isn’t great fun, from their evil synth stylings to lamentable attempts at Vangelis, or Casio-disco action. But nothing matches the hilarity of their chorus singing with triumphant, unintelligible lyrics for YOR’s finest moment, as our dino-slayer fashions a hang glider from a pterodactyl to fly to the rescue in “The Final Battle” (it actually just might be the most jaw-dropping moment in film scoring at that). This chorus even gets reprised for the unforgettable end song “Yor’s World,” complete with A Capella cave man chants. Hearing the singer desperately trying to get a handle on the English vocals of his longhair disco power ballad, and you’re reminded of all that is great about really bad scores. Be sure to check out the movie itself, which has just gotten an on-demand DVD release at Wbshop.com to experience one of the great jaw-dropping camp films.

ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:

GEARS OF WAR 3

After doing an impressive tour of musical duty for Delta Squad, Steve Jablonsky suits up again for the COG squad’s ultimate battle against the seemingly unstoppable Locust horde. As this brotherhood of war lays waste to the non-human residents of the planet Sera, Jablonsky blasts out huge kill zones of furious percussion to catch every drop of GEARS’ testosterone overload. It’s a rough, raw sound that’s different from the sleeker action workout Jablonsky gave to the bigscreen Autobots this summer, a more rugged symphonic and sampled excitement that’s in synch with flesh and blood videogame heroes. Yet what always links Jablonsky’s action stylings together is a memorable, valiant theme, a force of good that provides the glue for GEARS OF WAR 3, while also allowing its numerous action cues to function as their own, ever-amping mini-suites. Yet there’s also impactful emotion to go along with soldiers, with a full-on chorus finally joining in to give biblical impact to Delta Squad’s last appearance. Jablonsky’s GEARS delivers on the composer’s gung-ho trademark, but does so with heart, even as its characters are blasting alien ones all over your Xbox.

THE GREAT SANTINI

The tenderness of Elmer Bernstein’s score for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD meets the officious jackboot he’d apply to STRIPES to accompany one of Robert Duvall’s best roles as a marine pilot who wears his full-fury stripes at home. Bernstein was equally adept at dealing with youthful life-lessons and the charge-ahead determination of military hard-asses. And no picture played better to both melodic strengths than the critically decorated GREAT SANTINI, whose score swings from the twinkling of adolescent magic to the roaring military drum force of a blowhard, who nonetheless packs his own hidden heart. The film’s South Carolina location in a pre-Vietnam America also allows Bernstein to engage in a RAMBLING ROSE rustic feel, as well as 60’s rock-jazz source. But there’s also racism in the air, which inspires some of Bernstein’s most savage music for a racial attack that gets some canine payback. But overall, there’s an overriding kindness in Bernstein’s work that puts SANTINI among his affecting best. Film Score Monthly’s notable release (among its last as the label sadly winds down) sounds just dandy, with its unused main title “The Santini Mystique” an over-the-top march intro that plays Duvall like Godzilla entering the gladiator ring.

A LONELY PLACE TO DIE

You wouldn’t think of the Scottish highlands as a place abounding with cliffhanging thrills better suited for Sylvester Stallone. Yet promising action composer Michael Richard Plowman (SPLINTER CELL) gives his all to build a convincing, musically formidable mountain for this kidnapping thriller-cum-wilderness adventure. Having last given Union Jack-waving glory to the WW2 AGE OF HEROES on the Movie Score Media label, the English composer is back on MSM to deliver more noteworthy thrills. With just a bit of pipes and flutes to get across the Celtic location, Plowman uses an engaging number of approaches for the characters’ perilous rush to lower ground, from craggy percussion to icily villainous synths and a mournful piano. It’s a grab-bag score that keeps DIE engagingly desperate, yet with a mournful attitude that also gets across its lethal solitude. But perhaps its most haunting selections are the songs “The Burning of Auchindoun” and “Little Sadie,” proving there’s nothing more ominous than a guitar and fiddle accompanying a lonely woman’s voice as she sings the Scottish blues.

OUR IDIOT BROTHER

A pleasant LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE vibe fills the soundtrack of a movie that’s far more human comedy than the stoner one its ads would lead you to believe. IDIOT’s band of loveable losers gets a similarly ironic, if more low-key vibe on their path to self-actualization, especially with this pleasantly eclectic soundtrack. BROTHER certainly starts on the right foot with Eric D. Johnson’s whimsical interpretation of the Tony Orlando and Dawn hit “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” with plenty of pointed strumming to follow with Johnson’s “2 Roadrunners” and “The Fruit Bat’s “Lightning Bug.” But is there’s a down-home singer that conjures a man-boy lost in a countrified haze, then it would be Willie Nelson. Here he becomes the voice of the titular, blissed-out relative with “Wonderful Future,” “Midnight Rider” and “Ol’ Blue.” They’re ballads of sad fate, an outlaw on the lam and a dog’s eternal devotion that come off as far funnier than likely intended. Nelson’s Zen also infiltrates the score by Nathan Larson and Eric D. John, whose perky whistling, bluesy Mellotron and rock and roll taxi ride, complement the haplessly happy vibe of a slacker optimist who’s better left in the foliage of upstate New York than in the city with his screwed-up family. All make for gentle musical life lessons to be learned by the sweet soundtrack of OUR IDIOT BROTHER, an album worth a toke and a smile.

SPELLBINDER (1,200 Edition)

Though Basil Poledouris was better known in the 1980’s for the uber-heroic orchestral damage of such scores as CONAN, RED DAWN and ROBOCOP, some of the late composer’s most creative scores were being done for synths, from the wildly percussive car chases of NO MAN’S LAND to the eerie sci-fi western stylings of the HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN. But if there’s one electro-centric score of Poledouris’ that truly held hypnotically evil sway, then it would be 1987’s SPELLBINDER. This little-seen, but very effective chiller cast TOP GUN’s Rick Rossovich as the hunk who falls bad for uncanny hottie Kelly Preston. But then, what red-blooded straight guy wouldn’t, even when confronted with a witch coven conspiracy that’s hot on her tail? It’s this pull of dangerous, intoxicating sensuality that fills Poledouris’ score, one whose chiming theme, gurgling sound design and chest-piercing melodic sustains are part and parcel of the 80’s classic wave of keyboard-enhanced genre scores, one that included the likes of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and DREAMSCAPE. For Poledouris, it’s a unique opportunity to throw himself into the kind of haunting weirdness that betrays very little of his telltale knack for muscular themes. SPELLBINDER does its titular trick, with waves of uncanny atmospheres and dangerous pulsing, with all musical roads leading to a memorably nihilistic climax that once again proves not to let looks fool you, even when a composer’s bewitching aura makes a supernatural femme fatale impossible to resist.

WARRIOR

Having scored the inspirational hockey drama MIRACLE and the downbeat cop conspiracy PRIDE AND GLORY for writer-director Gavin O’Connor, Mark Isham’s third step into the ring with the filmmaker combines both the grim and victorious. And the result is a musical WARRIOR that grabs you with surprising subtlety before delivering a knockout foot to the face (this is mixed martial arts after all). For a good while, Isham keeps his drama in a brooding key, full of the fighting brothers’ family resentments and recriminations. But emotion steadily rises to break through the orchestral ice, his heavy strings and brass steadily gaining their soul with sense of mythic importance, not to mention a heavy dose of percussive force as Isham approaches the big mano-a-mano. You can imagine gladiators going out to their noble doom to similar strains, which is exactly the point here, albeit with a happier, if not exactly fist pump-to the sky ending. But if there’s one particularly neat bit of music for the characters’ inevitably heroic rise, then it’s Isham’s brilliant use of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in an extended montage scene, a left classical hook that comes out of nowhere to do push-ups with Isham’s own steadily exhalant rhythms.

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

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