January Soundtrack Picks
‘Star Trek Iv: The Voyage Home‘ Is One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For January, 2012
Also worth picking up: Animals United, Batman Forever, The Battle Of Neretva, The Beyond, Conan The Destroyer, Halloween 4, Man To Man And Underworld: Awakening
To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
1) BATMAN FOREVER: LIMITED EDITION (3,500 edition)
What is it?: Where it seemed that the first two scores in the “Batman” franchise were as crazy as you could get with the Wagnerian approach to superhero scoring, then Elliot Goldenthal’s next two entries made Danny Elfman’s brilliant, demon circus takes seem positively somnambulant in comparison. If anything, Goldenthal’s “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” scores are like two alarm clocks, screaming through your senses as they mash together the 60’s jazz kitsch that Neil Hefti gave to the television show, along with the brash, brassy experimentalism of John Corigliano’s concert hall works in the 80’s- modernism that changed the face of film scoring with his soundtrack to “Altered States.”
Why should you buy it?: It’s no boy wonder that Goldenthal was Corigliano’s Robin, running with his master’s dissonant approach to blaze onto the Hollywood scoring scene with his brazen WTF work on “Alien 3,” “Interview with a Vampire” and “Demolition Man.” But even the latter cult film’s avant-garde zaniness didn’t come close to the colorful, blasting weirdness that Goldenthal gave to “Batman Forever,” an approach right in unrestrained tune with director Joel Schumacher’s attempt to return the film franchise to its lighter Adam West identity. It was a way over the top pop art revamp that paid off handsomely on all counts, or at least the first time out in Schumacher’s case. For despite all the shrieking brass runs and blaring orchestral bombast that relentlessly powers the film, there’s a definite method to Goldenthal’s madness for a “Batman” that relishes in its pseudo-analyzing of split identities. The composer brilliantly makes those characters’ thematic distinctions apparent, from a surging, heroic march for Batman and Robin to a piercing, voice-topped Theremin that suits the Riddler’s mind-controlling device and discordant rhythms that capture Two-Faces psychotically scarred mood swings. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a constant surprise, invention and fun to Goldenthal’s hellzapoppin’ approach as he adds to his well-defined musical characters with a Tango, Gothic eeriness, salutes to Philip Glass and sultry piano romance for Nicole Kidman’s eye candy. It all adds up to a soundtrack that’s as crazy as it is mainstream in its objectives, not to mention one of the most successful examples of musical excessiveness in film scoring history.
Extra Special: La La Land Records follows up their comprehensive, two-CD re-issues of “Batman” and “Batman Returns” with two hours of Elliot Goldenthal’s complete score, a presentation that reveals just how much more subtle complexity there is to “Batman Forever” beyond its berserker approach. It’s also gloriously louder than ever with a newly re-furbished sound that truly shakes the roof of the batcave, complete with the original Atlantic Records presentation. Extra kudos on this jam-p acked set go to the spandex seamless editing of Neil S. Bulk and booklet layout by Dan Goldwasser, which features incisive liner notes by “Returns” writer John Takis, who does his best to make verbal sense of out of the glorious musical insanity that rules “Forever”’s roost. Now if only the soundtrack quadrilogy could be completed with a first-ever release of Goldenthal’s equally desired, and even more lunatic “Batman and Robin” score, a wealth of musical riches amidst a cinematic embarrassment. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to see that ultimate soundtrack come out until Schwarzenegger freezes over.
2) THE BATTLE OF NERETVA
What is it?: Though his gloriously grandiloquent music was best known for having homicidal maniacs menace innocent women, or throwing gigantic beats onto the breach with valiant sailors, one of Bernard Herrmann’s most impressive, if least recognized scores pitted Yugoslavian partisans against the Nazi war machine for 1968’s “The Battle of Neretva.” Essentially self-exiled in England by the time he landed this Yugoslavian-produced, Hollywood-style tribute to their country’s war effort, the always-defiant Herrmann went out with an bang for this type of epic movie, providing a score of fearsome, patriotic power, its themes raging with the sound of courage and sacrifice, as well as lilting romance doomed to the motherland’s cause.
Why should you buy it?: These stirring, emotional attributes make “Neverta” an excellent choice as the next soundtrack to be restored, and re-performed by Tribute Records, whose conductor William Stromberg and producers John Morgan and Anna Bonn have given vital new life to such Herrmann masterworks as “Mysterious Island” and “Fahrenheit 451.” This “Battle” marks another rousing success for this team, even if there might not be much love lost between Yugoslavia and Russia, which houses the Moscow Symphony Orchestra that’s brought new firepower to “Neretva.” But then again, blasting Germans is the one thing these countries can agree on, and the Muscovite players unite with a discernable passion in giving this soundtrack new, dynamic life that arguably improves on the original, but incomplete soundtrack on Southern Cross. It’s full of the stuff of a great “war” score, especially a Slavic-accented one. A valiant, hymn-like theme segues to brass-grinding villainy and full-step percussive marches, as well as an appearance by a wistful accordion. But what makes “Neretva” particularly notable in its genre is that it’s done the distinctly Herrmann way. In fact if you didn’t know that this was about WW2, you might assume its chilling string suspense and poetic tenderness was from a Hitchcock thriller, or perhaps that its fearsome, full-throttle brass combat might have accompanied one of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters. The Battle of Neretva” serves as a feast of every iconic instrumental, and melodic trademark of the composer, given a twenty gun (and then some) orchestral salute that he’d likely approve of- even if the full scope of the film itself has never been properly released in this country.
Extra Special: As a bonus, Tribute also re-plays the WW2 music that Herrmann provided for the American soldiers of 1958’s “The Naked and the Dead,” which sees musical action in the Pacific theater. Given its barbaric behavior by a Jap-hating sergeant, Herrmann piles on gnarled, angry grit for brass and percussion. Compared to “Neretva,” “Naked” is positively grim, but no less impactful for a score that seethes with homicidal rage in a war that brings out the worst to begin with. There’s little valor in Herrmann’s approach, only the stark, seething fear and foreboding of men trying to survive against the enemy, all of which make for the composer at his darkest view of mankind, something the already-conflicted Herrmann did at his own professional peril to begin with.
What is it?: American star Harrison Ford ventured to France in 1987 for Roman Polanski’s fish-out-of-water thriller, as it would’ve been a legal drama of a whole different kind for them to team the other way around. A vital player in uniting their suspense sensibilities of Hollywood and Europe was Ennio Morricone, then riding high with his Oscar-nominated score for “The Untouchables.” That soundtrack’s edgy jazz sensibility would get an even more sinister, and strenuous work out with Ford as he navigated the mean streets of Paris in search of his kidnapped wife- with Polanski’s own young amour Emanuelle Seigner as his punk-ish companion.
Why should you buy it?: Literally opening with a strong, driving theme, Morricone propels “Frantic” at a moderately dangerous, always-intriguing pace. The composer’s trademarked use of contrasting, orchestral melody has an intrinsic unease to it, a quality that he makes strong, sleek use of here as Ford is propelled about unsavory Gallic types.
Yet there’s a determined quality to Morricone’s approach that sums up Ford’s stalwart heroism in the face of overwhelming criminal odds, much in the same way that the Maestro did for Kevin Costner as he faced off against Al Capone’s goons. It’s an “Untouchables” impact that “Frantic” pretty much equals. Morricone brings in a funk beat, a lonely trumpet, sharp electronics, and the dangerous grooves of an electric guitar to make Paris’ underbelly an always-intriguing place to navigate, while ironically reflecting Paris’ tourist-friendly renown with a theme for the French accordion and piano. In the end, “Frantic” is a sleek, subtly intriguing score that speaks the classic, universal language of film noir.
Extra Special: There was often little resemblance between the music on Morricone’s albums and the films’ themselves, especially in the case of “Frantic,” which was radically re-worked on both counts. Bonus points go to Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall for a comprehensive release that not only offers the score as roughly heard to picture, but also the long out-of-print Elektra release (complete with the Simply Red song “Losing You”). Displaying the kind of music detection skills that would have made “Frantic”’s mystery quite a bit shorter, Kendall’s liner notes show where the notes have been reworked, or not heard at all. Yet it’s a testament to Morricone at how well both presentations flow together, with the Elektra tracks coming off as even more melancholy that the actual score itself, painting a haunting picture of desperation and unease that gives one of the screen’s most assured action stars an intriguing musical, and human vulnerability that brings darkness to the city of light.
4) MAN TO MAN
What is it?: Patrick Doyle’s longtime association with French filmmaker Regis Wargnier on such sometimes exotic, history-based epics as “Indochine” and “East-West” has brought out many of the composer’s most impressively lush works. Traveling to Africa to bring two pygmy tribespeople back to “civilized” Scotland results in a culture clash of symphonic nobility and age-old ethnic percussion for this 2005 score. But more than some soundtrack relic, the soaring “Man to Man” serves as a hugely impressive warm-up to Doyle’s far-more violent musical conflict between barbaric civilization and those it torments in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
Why Should you buy it?: Doyle’s talent for hearing the regal voice of esteemed historical subjects, while also capturing the poetic heart of those far below society’s ivory towers, comes remarkably into play here. It’s given especially poignant voice in the two mute pygmy prisoners who are shanghaied by well-meaning scientists for study in Doyle’s homeland (no doubt adding personal affinity to his approach). There’s much classically-influenced passion to be had here, a vital, yet somewhat tragic sensibility that compares very well to John Scott’s Elgar-esque approach for the similarly-themed “Greystoke.” Doyle succeeds in continuing that orchestrally noble tradition of hearing seeming savages in a strange, dinner-suited land of anthropologists and gawkers, at first using strings and African percussion to reflecting the jungle through the white man’s musically cultured eyes. Then, that self-same melodic gaze is turned to reveal the explorers’ hallowed institutions as the far more animalistic place for all of its melodic niceties. Yet in the end of the exceptionally stirring “Man To Man,” there’s a beautiful sense of understanding at work, as both scientist and tribesman meet at the same musical level for a triumphant climax. It’s a place far from Caesar’s view of his human captors, but still very much a piece of Doyle’s musical evolution to that point.
Extra Special: While Patrick Doyle’s done an excellent job of re-inventing his old-school orchestral voice for the percussive action demands of Hollywood with such recent scores as “Apes” and “Thor,” “Man To Man” offers the fans who got hooked on Doyle with the likes of “Henry V” and “Dead Again” a blast of the hugely melodic stuff that first got their, and the studios’ attention. Even within the smaller confines of this movie that has yet to get released over here for some reason, “Man To Man” offers old-school Doyle at his finest with a soundtrack that’s full of swooning strings and blasting symphonic bombast, all in a romantic key. The subject might be Africa, but the composer’s longtime admirers will find Movie Score Media’s discovery of “Man To Man” to be pure Doyle delight.
5) STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME
What is it?: Hardcore fans might be loathe to admit that the most popular entry in the “Star Trek” film series (at least until J.J. Abrams re-booted it) was the “save the whales” picture that had the least to do with Gene Roddenberry’s mythology- let alone the movies’ majestically adventurous musical character that had been established by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. But dismissive purists aside, there’s no denying the one-off pleasures that abound in the lightweight, character-driven “Voyage Home,” especially in director Leonard Nimoy’s decision to bring a seriously avant-garde composer like Leonard Rosenman aboard for whale watching.
Why should you buy it?: From his remarkable filmscoring debut with 1955’s “East of Eden,” Rosenman’s experimental, overlapping use of the orchestra was usually caught somewhere between melody and dissonance, making much of his work anything but casual, pleasant listening. But it was precisely this stirringly discordant, strange approach that made him a a natural for science fiction, particularly when exploring the genre’s most foreboding frontiers- whether they lay inside of the human body in “Fantastic Voyage” or “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.” The time-traveling aspects of “Star Trek IV” gave Rosenman plenty of opportunities to go at warp speed with his undulating walls of symphonic sound and rising brass cries, from the unsettling motiff of an alien probe to eight, modernistic minutes of returning two cetaceans to future earth. But for most of this “Trek” score, Rosenman is in an uncharacteristically joyful, and catchy mood. Indeed, “Trek IV” offers the most enjoyable theme of the series, a rousing, bell-clanging, and horn-blowing melody that not only captures the nautical spirit of the “Trek” universe, but also the film’s San Francisco setting. From the comedy opera-style hospital chase to the synth jazz funk for “Market Street” (abetted by The Yellowjackets) and the merry Scottish horn and drum strut of “In San Francisco,” Rosenman’s “Star Trek IV” has a sweet twinkle in its eye, while also delivering one of the series’ most suspensefully thrilling cues as Kirk’s Klingon Ship intercepts “The Whaler.” Rosenman’s appealing quality is right in line with the can’t-we-all-just-get-along appeal of this very special “Voyage,” a score that marked the only one in the “Trek” series to get an Oscar nomination.
Extra Special: Intrada gives this appealing odd musical duck its long-overdue royal treatment. With always-informative liners by noted Trek music authority Jeff Bond. The CD adds over twenty minutes of alternates, including an original man title that used the Alexander Courage theme to far less effect than Rosenman’s own melody (thought the composer more than pays off Courage’s nostalgic glory for the end reveal of a new Enterprise). But the coolest unheard piece of music here is the full, notorious version of “I Hate You,” associate producer Kirk Thatcher’s hilarious punk song whose nihilism was more than worthy of its Mohawked singer getting a Vulcan nerve pinch.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ANIMALS UNITED
If there’s a musical king of the funny animal jungle, then David Newman can hold the title with the likes of “Ice Age,” the “Squeakquel” to “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” two “Scooby Doo” flicks and “Dr. Doolittle 2” among the various CG and live-action creatures that have opened their mouths for a hip joke. That original language is German in “Konferenz der Tiere,” or “Animals United” as it’s known over here. But no matter if the dubbing’s in Deutsch or English, the wonderfully antic voice of Newman’s comedy music is loud and clear. While he’s capable of such relaxed scores as “Hoffa” and “Affair of the Necklace,” Newman’s most popular calling remains his talent for crazed, Carl Stalling-like stylings that hits every joke at roadrunner speed, effortlessly swinging in mid-stream to capture these pictures’ ADD humor. Yet where lesser talents might end up with pure lunacy, leave it to a composer of Newman’s family pedigree to make this screwball stuff into actual music, full of beautifully performed melody. Admittedly you’ve got to have a lot of pep to follow him, especially as “Animals” leaps, crawls or hops along with the water-starved critters in the African savannah. Bringing in exotic percussion to sell the setting, Newman also goes beyond the military percussion of Team Animal and their hyper, human-baiting pratfalls to deliver some real emotion, whether his pro-environment message is expressed through a lush orchestra or tender piano, both of which are exceptionally well-performed by Berlin musicians. By the time they march on New York, “Animals United” delivers a thematically heartfelt musical scope that goes way beyond the expected cute stuff. It’s a score that’s as majestic as it is wild, with Perseverance Record’s American release of the album bringing even more of Newman’s score on board for the march.
. ANSWERS TO NOTHING
In such omnibus films as “Friends With Money,” “The Gymnast” and “King of Kong,” Craig Richey’s proven he has a subtle, often dream-like way of musically getting into characters’ conflicted thoughts. It’s a talent that serves him well in the “Crash”-like stories that make up “Answers To Nothing.” Richey hears an alternative sound for acoustical instruments, piano and troubled samples, conveying a tone of both understanding and apprehension at the missing person’s case that links the film’s disparate characters. Richey’s work is subtly mesmerizing, his mellow groove powerfully contrasting with the rock overload of Nico Vega. Her raw songs scream with the anguish that Richey captures at a whisper, both approaches working well to paint an evocative soundtrack for L.A.’s, inter-connected naked city.
. THE BEYOND / MANHATTAN BABY
When it comes to the blood-soaked explosion of Italian horror, or the combos of orchestral suspense and progressive rock that accompanied these films’ stylish vivisections, two of the names that come to fans’ minds (or the gaping holes through their heads) are Roman gore auteur Lucio Fulci and his frequent composer Fabio Frizzi. For if Fulci’s makeup effects weren’t enough to unsettle even the most stomach-hardened genre addicts, it was Frizzi’s moaning, borderline-psychedelic soundtracks that made them far more disturbing and eerie- as if the images were being telegraphed from a truly unhinged mind in the underworld. Both men ventured to America for two of their most popular, and infamous collaborations, trips that have warranted two re-releases by Italy’s Beat Records. First up is The Big Easy, where a hotel holds a gate to hell itself in “The Beyond” (aka the album title of “e tu vivrai nell terrore! L’aldila”). Murder is the passkey in, and Fulci balances a satanic mood of Latin “Dies Irae” choruses, moaning voices and a small, symphonic palette with surprisingly lyrical passages for string and flute that reflect a female heroine severely in need of a real estate agent. Carried by especially strong, repeating themes for both the orchestra and chilling funk rock, what makes “The Beyond” as scary as it is groovy is that Frizzi’s music captures a growing, melodic sense of dread that gets under your skin, as opposed to playing the savagery of the makeup effects that rend it. Ditto the Egyptian-flavored horror that possesses the equally thematic music of “Manhattan Baby,” an even more ambitious score wherein a tyke does some particularly twisted things in the Big Apple, courtesy of a spirit that’s anything but a mummy. Frizzi contrasts its age-old evil with the girl’s corrupted innocence as rock vibes mix with ethnic percussion, and the pleasant bell-sounds we’d associate with childhood, but gone terribly wrong. Where “The Beyond” offered Dixieland source cuts, “Manhattan Baby” goes for urban jazz sax riffs, with the last track offering Frizzi himself extolling Fulci’s values to fans in both Italian and English over sinister Egyptian beats. Rarely has more gracefully creepy scoring accompanied memorable excess as these two soundtracks that are manna from heaven for horror geeks.
. CONAN THE DESTROYER
If you’re a composer going into battle with one of the worst sequels of all time to protect the sanctity of your original masterwork, then you might as well hold your sword high, scream “Crom!” and produce such symphonic blood and thunder that the one thing to come out of the destruction will be your music. Such was the power of Basil Poledouris as he swung his mighty “Conan” into “Destroyer”’s woeful death pit. The fact that Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus are back nearly thirty years later to re-perform Poledouris’ gloriously manly score says something about the quality of “Destroyer”’s music, not to mention their desire to do an equally worthy follow up to their rendition of “Conan the Barbarian.” Here it’s fixing the original’s flawed Italian recording with the chorus and real, orchestral muscle the original budget wouldn’t allow, making this complete “Conan the Destroyer” score the true warrior Poledouris had dreamed of. While Poledouris reprised his mighty themes from the first “Conan,” the composer also came up with several new ones, all of which treated the film’s absurd kid’s stuff as a true clash of the titans, all while doing its best to acknowledge this film’s campier tone in a way that wouldn’t condescending to it. Poledouris also relies more on his own voice here than the Russian masters he paid tribute to the first time out, with the Prague Philharmonic giving real, pounding weight to the brass-heavy orchestrations, as well as conjuring the silky percussion and strings for a story that placed equal emphasis on sorcery as swordplay. Prometheus’ two-disc set also offers all of Poledouris’ soundtrack for “The Adventures of Conan.” With its swirling nobility, it’s music that comes across as being as Arthurian as it is Cimmerian. Though “Adventures” offers none of the familiar “Conan” themes, the barbarian’s spirit is more than there. You couldn’t imagine stunt people swinging their plastic broadsword about Universal studios three times a day to better, more committed music. It’s a determination, and quality that Poledouris’ work and life were all about, especially on those occasions where he was dealing with a less than worthy cinematic opponent. It’s a legacy that’s paid proud tribute to by album producer James Fitzpatrick, along with perceptive liner notes by Frank K. DeWald.
. HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MEYERS: LIMITED EXPANDED EDITION
Some serial killers need a right hand knife, especially when they also happen to be the director and composer. Such was the assistance John Carpenter required after not only making “Halloween,” but also creating the most notorious, and toe-tapping theme in horror score history. That’s how sound designer-turned-composer Alan Howarth was brought into the series with “Halloween 2” and given the “in association” credit for his teaming with Carpenter. Skillfully abetting that film’s far more visceral shocks with eerie atmospheres and relentless rhythms, the collaborators next turned to computer-generated horror for the series’ “Season of the Witch.” However, “Halloween”’s most unique, and sadly underappreciated non-Meyers entry required that it would be back to the basics for number 4. And while Carpenter had departed the series by that point, at least Howarth was left thankfully holding the blade, and keyboard for “The Return of Michael Meyers.” Howarth certainly proved to be no copycat killer when it came time to generate his own percussive approach for the Michael, all while skillfully weaving Carpenter’s iconic themes to give fans the musical Shape they knew, love and expected. Now fully released via Buysoundtrax (with Howarth’s complete scores for 5 and 6 to hopefully follow), “Halloween 4” is even more impressive for how Howarth gave Carpenter’s work a new, dread-inducing identity, from fog-like synths to its sharp, unstoppable beats and stinger attacks. Better yet, unlike so many of today’s sound design-driven horror scores, “Halloween 4” has an uncluttered, melodic presence along with its shock effects, all making for a hypnotic listen that will definitely make you feel Carpenter is still in the room, albeit with a new twist of the synth knife.
French composer Eric Neveux (“Intimacy,” “Sitcom”) goes into the English woods, where a young man with death-dealing powers has chosen to hide from those he might unintentionally harm. That is until his solitude is interrupted by a girl already at the grim reaper’s door. Thought the sight of the couple’s love blooming as flowers wilt about them lets us know this will be the stuff of ill-fated fairy tale romance, Neveux’s work is far more about hope, tenderness and even whimsy. His score conjures a magical Garden of Eden for these two lost souls, as gentle bells, soothing voices and bucolic strings make for a soundtrack caught somewhere between the verdant symphonic nature of William Walton and the dark, instrumental eccentricity of Danny Elfman. Sure fate might casts its harsh shadow with ominous electronics and orchestral thunder in Neveux’s idyllic soundscape, but it’s the strikingly poetry of his melodies, as enchantingly captured for strings, guitar and piano, that assure love, and life will conquer all- a theme movingly summed up in Bless’ end title song “With Love and Faith.” For a Euro-composer centric label with a mission of introducing organically-produced scores, Movie Score Media’s release of another film that might not likely see the light of day over here produces one of its most rewarding listens, let alone finds in Eric Neveux.
. PHASE 7
A pandemic in Argentina causes a quarantined condo to go bananas with expectedly arch, gun-toting anarchy. But if you were only trying to decipher this disease’s effects from listening to “Phase 7”’s score, then you might think it was musical bacteria that caused you to chew bubblegum and kick ass. That’s how spot-on composer Guillermo Guareschi’s south-of-the-border replay of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s “They Live” is, from a slow, military march to its eccentric blues vibe. Thankfully, the score gets significantly more interesting as civilization really begins to break down, and Guareschi’s well-played homage starts to develop its own identity, bringing on a piano freak-out of “Swan Lake,” cheesy retro-horror synth tones and a strumming, Spaghetti Western-styled guitar. By the time “Phase 7” reaches its apocalyptic alpha and omega Guareschi’s strain has pretty much mutated into it’s a distinctive, and thoroughly entertaining antibody, one that’s successfully assimilated its love of classically quirky genre scoring with its own black-humored edge. It’s a fun musical bug worth that’s worth catching.
. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1,000 edition)
Future “Kojak” composer John Cacavas made a notable horror scoring debut aboard 1972’s “Horror Express,” a classic thrill ride that combined mod rock stylings with an orchestral sensibility as old as a fire-eyed Siberian missing link. Cacavas applied an even groovier approach the next year to one of history’s greatest fiends, hearing him in service to an even more evil master as The Count tries to wipe out humanity with the bubonic plague. These “Satanic Rites of Dracula” would also turn out to be the swan song for Christopher Lee playing the Count at Hammer films, though his nemesis Peter Cushing would go at leat another round there as Van Helsing. Sure you might hear John Shaft as easily as you’d imagine Dracula, given Cacavas’ infectiously funkadelic talents. But the composer’s even cooler cape trick is bringing in such horror music tropes as an organ, bat-like string gestures and haunted house orchestrations into the ultra-70’s jam, music at once rooted in the classic thematic Hammer tradition as much as it’s in a with-it world that Dracula never made. And you can understand why he’d want to end it in this thoroughly fun combo of the truly scary and the swingingly Shagadelic, “Rites” that are given fun tribute by Randall D. Larson, a liner note version of Van Helsing if there ever was one.
. UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING
It’s time again to defrost ninja vampire warrior Selene from deep sequel freeze. And though Marco Beltrami gave her a more traditional orchestral horror score approach the last time out in “Underworld: Evolution,” it’s certainly cool to welcome the series’ original composer Paul Haslinger back into the ongoing Lycan-bloodsucker feud, which gets joined by humans hell-bent on wiping both clans out for Selene’s future “Awakening.” Going for a creepily ambient approach that reflected his Tangerine Dream roots in the first “Underworld” score, and then bringing an epic scope to the series’ impressive historical prequel “Rise of the Lycans,” Haslinger goes for a bit of both qualities here to riveting effect. As always, percussion and ominous atmospheres are the key to the gun vs. claw appeal of the franchise’s present-day entries, music that makes one take a somewhat unwieldy, but always-fun mix of genres with undead seriousness. Haslinger’s mix of atmospheric samples, wild rhythmic action and a sinuous orchestra sounds better than ever, especially with eerie Middle Eastern winds and a hint of the first “Underworld” theme. Haslinger gives compelling energy to “Awakening,” especially in this story’s emotional beats of Selene trying to find her long-lost daughter, a longed-for reunion hauntingly captured for piano and female voice. You can tell that this time it’s personal for her in “Awakening,” an empathy that gives the vampire-werewolf noir shenanigans a cool soul caught between icy control and blood-sucking, fur-flying savagery.
. THE WRONG BOX
By 1966, John Barry was fully into the action swing of 007, the dark dramas of “The Chase” and “King Rat,” as well as raising a female lion that would win him his first Oscar for “Born Free.” Far less known, but equally impressive was Barry’s talent for very British comedy, whether it was accompanying the jazzy woman chaser of “The Knack” or providing lethal gas for “They All Died Laughing.” “The Wrong Box” provided Barry with another black-humored romp as the last surviving members of an aristocratic class wait to see who’ll be the last man standing, and inherit the money that will come along with the feat. Of course it’s a race to do them in, which Barry treats as a jaunty good time. The composer brings a waltzing sense of pomp and circumstance to these Victorians’ attempts to kill each other off, complete with drum rolls, a wealth of mock-classicisms and the composer’s inimitably lush sound. But if there’s one feeling that stands out in Barry’s repertoire, it’s soothing romance, which gets its work out here via Michael Caine’s ladykiller, with the score’s cuter antics relegated to the likes of Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore. Yet in the more suspenseful bits, it’s hard not to imaging Bond skulking about with composer’s suave sound. Intrada brings this long-requested Barry rarity to CD in a single disc that combines the original stereo soundtrack with its unreleased cues in mono, though it’s hard to discern a difference in quality between the two. Droll English film aficionado Nick Redman is also on hand with liner notes that bring new appreciation to Barry’s lighter side, even in the company of an ever-increasing pile of corpses.
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, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande