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CD Reviews 9/21/00

The Faculty ***


Promotional MBCD 1001

20 tracks - 29:16

Deep Water ***1/2


Promotional MBCD 1002

19 tracks - 38:43

One of the often-voiced laments about the Hollywood film-scoring system is that the larger, more fiscally lucrative assignments rarely yield artistic results. Marco Beltrami's name is, of course, most familiar from his horror scores (Scream 1-3, Mimic), but there's another side to his talents that often goes sadly unrecognized. His scores to the telefilm David and Lisa and the independent feature The Florentine evidence a natural skill with folk song-like melody; his lesser-known music is a 180-degree turnaround from the overwrought orchestral style that has made him so popular -- further proof for the doubting public that there's less going on in the mainstream that some would like to believe. Two recent promotional releases from Intrada, Deep Water and The Faculty, showcase Beltrami's more familiar, Grand Guignol horror writing, but there are enough sparks of ingenuity poking through, particularly with Deep Water, that make the albums entertaining listens.

Deep Water is a Danish thriller directed by Ole Bornedal (Beltrami contributed additional music to his earlier thriller Nightwatch). Beltrami's music features a generous helping of his horror licks ("Flatline," "Sunday Driving"), but there's enough interesting material spread about to keep it all from becoming rote. "Suspicious" and "Sarabande" feature queasy takes on a Herrmann-esque suspense cues, with sliding string patterns building in tense fashion, while the "Main Title" and "Nim-Phone Maniac" cues feature interestingly dark-edged electronica writing. Beltrami's lyric writing gets a workout with "Drying Laundry," "Das Booty" and "Half Mast"; while there's nothing new here in terms of melody or development, it's a nice change of pace on the album and works well. "Reconciliation," however, features Beltrami's lyric writing for strings and piano laid atop disquieting horn and wind patterns -- quiet music with a delicate, dark undertone. "Monday Drive" brings the album back to more recognizable territory, with distorted horn writing punctuated by percussion hits and slashing high-register strings, and "Deep Water Overture" and "9M2" (a mislabeled cue?) closes out the darker portion of the album with similarly constructed writing with and an escalating sense of impending doom-and-gloom.

The Faculty finds Beltrami on much more familiar ground; anyone who enjoys the Scream scores will go for this. The film was a B-movie with A-movie aspirations; ultimately its silliness and wink-wink-nudge-nudge self-consciousness worked against it. Beltrami simply scores this stuff with the current norm: scare music with contempo electronic sampling and rhythmic effects. "The Faculty: Extra Credit" introduces a primary motif in a surprisingly grandiose manner, spiced with the usual woodwind and percussive effects; it has a goofy pomposity that's a pretty good match for the film's attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor. (The motif is given another workout in "Too Cool for School.") And there are plenty of the usual stinger-heavy, stalk-and-chase cues ("Deck the Halls," "Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz"), as well as the occasional softer cue ("She's a Breeder") to signify a game attempt at an emotional connection. As well-constructed as this music is, a little is forced to go a long way, and it's definitely starting to run its course. All in all, these two promos showcase enough of Beltrami's ingenuity to demonstrate his chops as a serious musician. -- Jason Comerford

Godzilla 2000 **


GNP/Crescendo GNPD 8065

36 tracks - 58:56

Filling Akira Ifukube's shoes would be difficult for any composer -- imagine someone besides John Williams scoring the next Star Wars film and you get an idea of the problem. I'm not sure exactly how composer Takayuki Hattori went about winning the assignment, but since he scored 1994's Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla he has been Ifukube's heir apparent. Hattori seems to have been hired with the idea of bringing more of a western sensibility to the Godzilla movies, but given the odds of any Godzilla movie making more than a few million dollars from curious American matinee-goers, that seems to be a losing proposition. Frankly, Hattori's Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla score was mediocre at best, and he hasn't found much fresh inspiration in the past six years (during which he has only scored two other movies and a TV series) to bring to Godzilla 2000.

More to the point, Hattori's Godzilla 2000 score is a compendium of badly done film scoring clichés and almost completely devoid of any of the character and majesty that Ifukube brought to his Godzilla scores. It is so thinly-orchestrated and indifferently performed that it often sounds like a parody of bad film music -- something you might find in a '60s Roger Corman movie. What Ifukube did with growling, subterranean melodies and gorgeous choral dirges, Hattori tries to do with a synthesizer and a choir that seems to have been added to the proceedings as an afterthought.

The score works better (and I use the word "better" as a purely relative term) in the quieter, more atmospheric passages for choir, piano and strings like "Deep at Sea," "Sixty Million Year Slumber," "Eerie Silence" and "The Wonder of G Revealed" (I can't believe I just typed that last track title), particularly because the small orchestral groupings are an asset rather than a painful liability in those cues. And while approaching every individual action moment with no rhyme or reason, Hattori occasionally conjures up an involving rhythm or action motif (as in "The Encounter with the Mysterious Object" or "Giant UFO Approaching," which treats an oncoming alien spaceship with quirky native percussion along with the expected strings, brass and electronics).

Hattori's theme for Godzilla (as evidenced in "Astonishing Resurrection" and "G's Decision") can't hold a candle to Ifukube's -- it's bombast just for the sake of bombast. Ifukube treated Godzilla as a mythical force, a strange embodiment of the natural elements of Japan. Maybe that's a ridiculous idea for sequences of a man in a rubber lizard suit stomping on model tanks, but if anything about the early Godzilla movies allowed the viewer to take them seriously, it was Ifukube's music. Hattori's only adds to the embarrassment over what is reportedly a less-than-stellar return for Japan's giant monster -- When you have an end title called "Godzilla - Dreaded God" you've got an obligation to come up with something a hell of a lot more impressive than what Hattori comes up with here.

I congratulate GNP/Crescendo for putting this album out -- they've done a great job with a lot of the earlier Godzilla movie music, and this CD is assembled with care and an obvious love of the genre. The artwork is striking, the sound is good, and little touches like including the monster roar sound effects and a new version of Ifukube's Godzilla theme show the affection that the producers have for the material. But if Toho is to continue the Godzilla series they have to invest more money and imagination in their films (which now pale next to the new Gamera movies -- the ultimate irony), and they need to invest in a composer with a more distinctive and powerful voice than Takayuki Hattori. -- Jeff Bond

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