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Amistad Sneak Peek

Compiled by Lukas Kendall

We're all pretty psyched about any new John Williams score, especially one for a Spielberg film. Here's an early look and listen at AMISTAD from intrepid reader W. David Lichty at


I saw a trade screening of Amistad yesterday morning. The music is really quite nice - at times powerful, at others pretty. Naturally, Williams incorporates African rhythm and voice, and he does so as well as this same was done by other composers in The Color Purple, Congo, and the various Lion King projects. Actually, the vocal stuff is marvelously worked in throughout the whole score. Often the sound of one voice is used as if it was the featured instrument in a given orchestrated moment. At other times, the music is straightforward Williams, circa the late '70s, specifically the type of music used to underscore calm or pleasant moments in the Jaws films. I forget how peaceful his music can be when things slow down. There is plenty of this in the film.

Unfortunately, the music occasionally seems misused (or misplaced, perhaps. This was an advance screening). Music works best in films when it conveys a character's emotional state, or the tone of a scene or moment. It works less well as a direct cue to the audience about how to feel about what is taking place on screen. IMHO, of course. I fear the latter happens a few times (the only specific I recall involves a conversation between the abolishionists [one being M. Freeman] and John Quincy Adams [A. Hopkins]).

I cannot compare Amistad to Seven Years in Tibet, as I've not heard that music, but an Oscar nod, while not necessarily a given, would not be unlikely for this score.

As far as the movie goes, it's no Schindler's List, but it doesn't seem to try to be. Schindler's List could easily be said to be about the Holocaust itself. Amistad is not about slavery itself in that same way, but is about the interesting circumstances surrounding this specific incident in that area of history. The first half had some distracting elements in it for me, such as a few slight "unveilings" (introductions) of each of the famous actors in the film, and some rather obvious comparisons of inept, if well-meaning white folk with the witty, human nature wise African victims. These distractions really are pretty minor, but they are there.

The second half leaves these elements behind completely, letting the Africans become more human and personal, as well as letting the whites step up to that same level, without compromising the issues behind the film, and it remains thoroughly engaging from that point forward. All told, the movie as a whole is pretty darn good.


Thanks David! Some quick other news:

A few of you probably went to the record store looking for some new Varese releases... well, L.A. Confidential (Goldsmith score album), Man Who Knew Too Little and Mad City have been bumped to next Tuesday, the 25th. Xena and Hercules did come out. There's this boss photo on the back of the Xena package with the two leads of the series together in a hot tub. (Woody Allen: "Don't forget love between two women - my favorite.")

Finally, go to Andy's Aisle Seat, there should be his latest column up. If not, d'oh!

That's it for today. Short but very interesting. See you tomorrow!

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