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Aisle Seat Summer SOUNDTRACK Wrap-Up

A Look at the Season's New Scores, including PLANET OF THE APES!

Plus: DeNiro scores in THE SCORE, and Image DVD Oddities

By Andy Dursin

It's been a while since the Aisle Seat has devoted space exclusively to the world of film music. This isn't because I've totally lost interest in listening to soundtracks, mind you -- just that, generally speaking, there haven't been many noteworthy new scores in the last few months worth commenting on.

On the other hand, it HAS been a great year for imports. I've picked up Ennio Morricone's great, eclectic score from EXORCIST II from Warner Music France, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and UNDER FIRE from Warner's German branch, TESS from Universal Music France, Joe Lo Duca's BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (a French historical horror epic, and a major box-office hit, that Universal is slated to release over here in the fall), and a recent Michel Legrand score, LA BICYCLETTE BLEUE, which is a gorgeous work for a French television mini-series.

But even though some of my listening has been more oriented towards older and international scores, this summer's movies -- disappointing as they have generally been -- HAVE resulted in a handful of new soundtrack albums that have given their respective films more in the way of emotion and ingenuity than they perhaps deserve.

One of the most eagerly awaited new scores of the year is Danny Elfman's PLANET OF THE APES (Sony Classical SK89666, 58:29), which arrives in stores this Tuesday. With the movie still being worked on as late as last week, it won't be a shock if the score Elfman composed -- or at least the one represented by this album -- isn't altered or somewhat re-arranged by the time the movie is released on Friday.

Nevertheless, we can still, obviously, get a fairly good read of what Elfman's music is like from hearing the soundtrack, and the results are, predictably enough, what you might have expected PLANET OF THE APES as interpreted by Danny Elfman to sound like. Think along the lines of "March of the Dead" from "Army of Darkness" with a more primal percussion and heavier accent on electronics, and you pretty much get the overall picture.

That's not to say this isn't an interesting album -- Elfman's use of different musical colors and mix of orchestra and electronics alone makes it worth a listen. Rhythms shift at a moment's notice, and Elfman's infectious use of bass and synths prove menacing, contemporary, and -- indeed -- primal!

It's not an especially thematic score, but a very percussive, bombastic work - - one that alternates between powerful, thunderous tracks like the "Main Title," and other cues ("Ape Suite") that sound like a lot of Elfman's patented "dark" scores from the late '80s and early '90s ("Nightbreed," "Batman," etc). There are a few tender moments mixed in here and there, but the overall mood is one of offbeat orchestrations, pounding percussion, and otherworldly sounds.

Pete Anthony conducted the score over at Fox, and the recording is crisp and clean. You get just over 53 minutes of score, plus a standard-issue Paul Oakenfold techno re-mix of the main title, on Sony's album. (Not surprisingly, Elfman's aggressive "Main Title Deconstruction" is a more effective "re-mix" of his score than Oakenfold's track, which incorporates dialogue samples.)

There were rumors in various publications last week that studio executives wanted a more "heroic," "GLADIATOR-in-outer-space" kind of sound for the movie. FSM's Jeff Bond interviewed Elfman last week, and the composer said those reports were greatly exaggerated, and that the only re- scoring that was done was routine for a major summer blockbuster rushing to meet the kind of deadline that PLANET OF THE APES has had looming for months now.

Still, it's going to be interesting to see if there are any major changes to the score in the final version of APES that will be released in just a few days (or any last-minute cues that didn't make it onto Sony's album).

Another summer blockbuster that's dipped into previously-charted cinematic waters, JURASSIC PARK III (Decca 440-014-325-2) features a competent score by Don Davis that rehashes John Williams' original, classic themes to a sufficiently effective degree.

This fun and unpretentious sequel, which burned up the box-office last weekend, is a kind of thankless assignment for a film composer, particularly since it was a given that Williams' thematic material from the original film had to be reprised. James Horner surely didn't want the assignment (despite his previous collaborations with JP3's director, Joe Johnston), so Davis stepped in and composed a score that sounds great on a technical level, even if it's nowhere as subtle or effective as Williams' previous two scores were.

Too many tracks here go for the jugular, and even though Davis' own arrangements have a knowing sense of the large orchestral palette the score needs to take place on, it's just too one-note to really hit the bullseye -- something that becomes even more evident when listening to the 50-minute album Decca released here. (A good comparison is matching up Davis' score from the Peter Benchley mini-series THE BEAST with Williams' JAWS, another Benchley aquatic terror story. Similar genre and comparable plots, but one has way too much music -- while the other has just enough. Same situation basically here).

On the plus side, Davis' "family" theme is pleasant, and his arrangement and use of the Williams themes is more than acceptable. As I mentioned in my review of the film last week, most general audiences seemingly won't be able to tell the difference in who composed the score, and at least the orchestra is bigger than the one Ken Thorne was saddled with on SUPERMAN II.

Williams was too busy scoring A.I. (Warner Sunset/Warner Bros 48096) to have any thought of scoring "Jurassic Park III," and it's a good thing for director Steven Spielberg that was the case, since Williams' remarkable, beautifully understated score is easily the best thing in the movie.

With a truly haunting, beautiful theme that echoes throughout the movie -- though especially so at the end -- Williams' A.I. should go down as another choice entry in the collaboration between the composer and Spielberg. The score starts off with melancholic string writing (at times sounding like the often used "Gayane Ballet Suite" we all know James Horner admires so much!), and boasts dissonant textures interwoven at times, but it's the tender, moving theme for piano and wordless female vocal accompaniment that closes the film that's so eloquent and perfect.

Warner's soundtrack album contains just about 70 minutes of original score, leaving off some pertinent passages here and there, but generally giving the listener a judicious selection from Williams' music.

The composer allowed Grammy-winning record producer David Foster and lyricist Cynthia Weil to turn the main theme, however improbably, into a pop song for singer Lara Fabian. The resulting ballad, "For Always," is a bit sappy, even for the Lite FM crowd it's intended for. There's even a second recording of the track, where Fabian is joined by Josh Groban, that closes the album, in a similar but slightly more palatable recording. I think we could have lived with the latter and been spared the former, but there's still enough score on the album to make it an essential purchase.

Fabian must have been a hot ticket on the film scoring scene this summer since she's also present on Elliot Goldenthal's soundtrack for one of the season's biggest box-office flops (albeit a great-looking one), FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (Sony Classical SK89697).

Goldenthal's score is a stunning piece, performed with gusto by the London Symphony Orchestra, in a superlative recording that makes for a solid album. Using the same blaring horns he brought to scores like "Alien 3" and "Interview with the Vampire," Goldenthal is on familiar genre ground here, but effectively uses quiet piano passages to give the preceding a much- needed "human" element.

Somehow I was more impressed listening to Goldenthal's music on the CD than hearing it placed in the context of the movie, where it seemed a bit repetitive and bombastic at times. Still, it's a multi-layered work that musically has much to offer to listeners, even without having seen the film it was written for.

Even though it hasn't been one of the top movie seasons on record, all four of these CDs should provide you with enough soundtrack listening to last through the remaining weeks of the summer -- and through to the more anticipated works of the fall (Williams' HARRY POTTER, Howard Shore's LORD OF THE RINGS, and James Horner's WINDTALKERS among them).

In Theaters

THE SCORE (***1/2 of four): Sometimes you don't have to list a handful of reasons why you like a movie -- you just do. But maybe it's because we've seen so many cookie-cutter, formula studio films afraid to take a chance that I savored THE SCORE so much.

Here's a movie that's constantly low-key, doesn't have any major action set- pieces or car chases, prominently features just a handful of characters, and doesn't hit you over the head with violence, sex, or needless "hip" comic relief. It's a kind of well-crafted heist thriller that could have been made exactly the same 20, maybe even 30 years ago -- back when MOST movies were more skillfully made than they are now.

The plot sounds like something you've seen before: Robert DeNiro is the aging thief who needs just one more robbery to be able to leave his criminal life behind and move on with his girlfriend (Angela Bassett). Edward Norton is the young upstart who thinks he knows everything faster and better than DeNiro does in coordinating the heist of a priceless artifact guarded closely in the basement of a Montreal Customs House.

Frank Oz's first foray into R-rated, strictly-adult filmmaking won't prove flashy or fast enough to satisfy the Michael Bay crowd, but it sure feels like a refreshing summer breeze after the junk we've seen lately. DeNiro, in a nicely modulated performance, and Norton are both sensational to watch, and their scenes with Marlon Brando (as the mastermind coordinating the effort) give THE SCORE the unique ability to boast a triumvirate of standout performers from three different generations of the cinema.

THE SCORE doesn't delve much beneath the surface of the characters or come up firing one unexpected twist after another at the end. It's a movie that's content to leisurely take its time establishing mood, time and place, and allow its actors to show us why all the special effects in the world can't substitute for the kind of genuine human interaction and drama that THE SCORE provides all the way to its jazzy, satisfying finish. (123 mins)

New on DVD

Image Entertainment, one of the great independent labels out there, continues to release a steady stream of eclectic fare on DVD. While not all of it may appeal to my decidedly mainstream taste, there's truly something out there for everyone in their latest batch of releases.

For example, fans of composer George Duning may want to check out Image's letterboxed DVD of the mildly entertaining (and I do stress "mildly") 1980 mystery-spoof THE MAN WITH BOGART'S FACE ($24.98). Bogart-lookalike Robert Sacchi stars a present-day private eye who undergoes plastic surgery in order to resemble his Saturday Matinee movie idol. Soon he becomes involved with femme fatales Olivia Hussey and Michelle Phillips, while cameos are turned in by Herbert Lom, Sybil Danning, and even George Raft.

Andrew J. Fenady produced and scripted this seemingly low-budget effort from his novel, and it likely will provide amusement mainly for fans of Bogart and the films it draws its inspiration from.

Even though it's not listed on the back of the DVD jacket, Image's release features an ISOLATED SCORE track of Duning's score -- which sports a pair of unfortunate, severely dated songs co-written by the composer (can you imagine a theme song being titled after this movie?). It's not one of Duning's better scores, but it's nevertheless a nice bonus for fans of the composer.

Another effort from Melvin Simon Productions that Image has issued on DVD, George Hamilton's enthusiastic but painfully uneven ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE ($24.98) has also found its way onto the format with a sturdy 1.85 transfer.

This spoof of the classic film hero is arguably more relevant now -- in the wake of the Antonio Banderas hit THE MASK OF ZORRO -- than it was upon its initial release in 1981, but it's nevertheless a mixed brew with Hamilton starring as both the heroic heir to his father's legacy, AND his flamboyantly gay brother, Bunny Wigglesworth (yes, the name IS the funniest thing in the movie!).

Brenda Vaccaro and Lauren Hutton co-star in this farce, which is almost single-handedly ruined by Ron Leibman's abrasive, obnoxious performance as the villain. His constant shouting will undoubtedly make you reach for the remote to turn down the sound, since his screams are often louder than anything else in the film!

FSM readers will likely most appreciate the Ian Fraser-adapted score, which effectively reworks passages from Max Steiner's THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (and properly credits the composer at the end).

Image has also continued to release a variety of titles from the Something Weird Video canon of the bizarre, including an irresistible "Drive-In Double Feature" package of the Patrick Macnee/Peter Cushing laugh-riot BLOODSUCKERS and a similarly odd 1971 programmer BLOOD THIRST ($24.98).

Both pictures are engagingly bad and perfect for summer-time viewing with a bunch of friends, but it's the presentation here by Image that's so appealing: there's nearly an hour of supplemental material included to simulate the experience of going to an actual-drive in! A fistful of trailers, intermission shorts, genuine theater announcements, and even a pair of vintage featurettes (one of which boasts some old-time nudity) adorn this campy and well-produced package, which is also adorned with still-frame drive-in art, set to the sounds of drive-in intermission announcements!

There's even an option allowing you to play, uninterrupted, the two features with the intermission ads and featurettes, totaling some three hours of non- stop madness. If you're looking for something fun AND different, this is a perfect disc.

Less enthralling but even more bizarre is Image's release of TERROR IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN ($24.98), best known as one of Sweden's few attempts (perhaps only attempt?) to create a giant monster movie of their very own.

The film is a 1958 slice of vintage hysteria, with some brief low-brow nudity (which would probably net the movie a PG-13 rating today), figure skating sequences (but of course!), and a pre-Chewbacca like wookie monster from outer space hunting down helpless villagers. Audio commentary with the film's producer and knowing liner notes from "Basket Case" auteur Frank Henenlotter round out the package, which is supplemented by a hysterically awful American TV packaging of the movie by sleeze-meister Jerry Warren. This 1962 version, retitled INVASION OF THE ANIMAL PEOPLE, features new scenes with John Carradine and basically should be watched only if you dare! (Then again, if you've read this far, you likely DO dare!).

Image's DVD also features a barrage of Swedish extras, from "sexploitation trailers" to a pair of tremendously nutty short-subjects (titles: "Lapland Reindeer Ritual" and "Swedish Teens Run Wild"), and an entire episode of the never-broadcast Swedish TV series, "13 Demon Street," with host Lon Chaney, Jr. under the direction of Curt Siodmak.

Finally, Anchor Bay has released an exploitation film of a different kind... Bryan Forbes' alternately eerie and bland 1974 filming of Ira Levin's bestseller THE STEPFORD WIVES ($24.98).

Adapted by William Goldman and starring Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson (father of Mary Stuart, who makes her screen debut as a little tyke), Nanette Newman, and Tina "Gilligan's Ginger" Louise, this rather heavy-handed film nevertheless won kudos from critics and is remembered most as a dark commentary on male chauvinism and conformity -- themes that are rammed home quite often in Forbes' film, which centers on the seemingly robotic housewives of a posh Connecticut suburb.

Anchor Bay's 1.85 DVD looks good, features a decent score by Michael Small, and contains an assortment of extras, most notable a recent featurette sporting new interviews with stars Ross, Prentiss, Newman, and Masterson, along with the director. A theatrical trailer, radio spots, and talent bios round out a solid package for a movie that still ranks with many as one of the most intriguing genre films of the '70s.

NEXT WEEK: It's a PLANET OF THE APES double-feature with a review of Tim Burton's new version, and a look at Image's eagerly-awaited double- DVD of BEHIND THE PLANET OF THE APES. Direct all emails to and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!

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