CD Reviews: Magic and Brian Tyler
Magic *** 1/2
Varèse Sarabande VCL 0403 1018
22 tracks - 41:19
The Varèse Sarabande CD Club has finally released Jerry Goldsmith's
long awaited Magic. This score has been so highly anticipated that
all the Goldsmith nuts have surely bought it already, so this review is
strictly for the fence sitters.
Richard Attenborough's thriller about a ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins)
whose dummy is too much of a counterpart to his own psyche benefits from
a suitably creepy score by Goldsmith. The composer's main voice in the
fray is a solo harmonica, used to similar effect as Bernard Herrmann's
writing for the same instrument in The Night Digger. Those used
to the nostalgic and lonely harmonica of late night western campfires are
in for a surprise. Never before have a harmonica and a puppet been so frightening.
Goldsmith uses the harmonica to expertly guide the orchestra through a
handful of suspense themes and motifs.
There's also a love theme, with just the right amount of sentiment --
you can typically count on Goldsmith not to go over the top unless it's
appropriate. The theme, reminiscent of The Omen's "The Piper Dreams,"
gets a particularly fine treatment in "Appassionata," though the chill
of the harmonica is never too far off.
A standout track is "The Lake," which uses pizzicato strings and harmonica
to steadily build suspense until all hell breaks loose. "Fats Blows the
Whistle" and "Corky's Retreat" also provide memorable suspense and thrills.
"End Titles" wraps things up with a solid, dark rendition of the main theme.
For most fans, this won't rank as highly as Jerry's Omen scores,
but it is nearly as good. The album concludes with a pair of light-rock
source cues, wisely sequenced at the end. -- Darren MacDonald
The Hunted ** 1/2
Varèse Sarabande 302 066 450 2
17 tracks - 34:48
Darkness Falls ***
Varèse Sarabande 302 066 449 2
26 tracks - 47:55
Children of Dune *** 1/2
Varèse Sarabande 302 066 454 2
36 tracks - 77:08
When you run scores like these through your CD player, your initial
reactions are likely to be either a) dismissal; or b) a burgeoning interest.
Brian Tyler appears to be having the same sort of career trajectory that
many an A-list composer has slogged through at some point in his career;
he's still relatively young for his field of work, and the enthusiasm that
is found in his music is undeniably infectious. Even though he's clearly
going through the necessary motions with assignments that are better regarded
as building blocks than golden scoring opportunities, he still gives it
his all, and his commitment is perhaps the most encouraging thing about
his music. Stylistically, he has yet to develop a distinctive direction.
This doesn't necessarily provide an excuse for a subpar score, but it must
be pointed out, in the interest of fairness, that Tyler's recent glut of
assignments to ill-advised genre films mirrors that of many other well-regarded
film composers out there.
Great, distinctive artistic voices cannot be stifled; they can only
be submerged. Some just burst out, without any thought to what came before;
others have to be nurtured and endlessly worked upon before the best can
emerge. Tyler is at a point in his career that someone like James Newton
Howard was at little more than a decade ago. In the early '90s, Howard
was considered a utilitarian composer at best, reasonably adept at any
given genre and prone to the usual he-sounds-like-this-other-composer criticisms
that many workhorse musicians have to deal with. Here we are in 2003, and
Howard is at the top of his game, turning out excellent, challenging material
on a consistent basis. It remains to be seen if Tyler is headed down this
road, but the signposts are there. His music for The Hunted, William
Friedkin's haphazard cat-and-mouse thriller, is perhaps the least successful
of these three new releases, but oddly enough it's also the most encouraging.
Tyler commits to the material, no matter how silly, and The Hunted
is filled with a lot of stock musical moments that have certainly been
heard before but brazenly go for the gold anyway. The action material is
awfully familiar, and reeks of the too-many-fingers-in-the-pie effect that
temp-tracking has created in film scoring. Ironically, this is a genre
that's slowly become more accepting of experimental musical techniques,
but even those techniques can themselves become old hat. (That very experimentation
has become itself a cliche; ProTools and other music-manipulation software
has many musicians convinced, incorrectly so, that their improv material
is comparable to Ornette Coleman at his most avant.) Tyler has a good sense
for putting together action cues that, at the very least, give you some
entertaining orchestral pyrotechnics, and his quieter, more pensive suspense
cues do their job. Indeed, about the best and most complimentary thing
you can say about a score liked The Hunted is to admit that it does
what it needs to do.
Darkness Falls, on the other hand, gives Tyler a bit more room
to stretch, and while he doesn't bring anything new to the table, it's
more tolerable in its familiarity. Horror scores are oddly comforting;
good, entertainingly cheesy, rip-snorting horror music is hard to come
by, particularly these days when the genre has been scuttled by sadism
in the name of verisimilitude and a bland, faux-hip attitude that seems
to try to justify all the carnage. The best thing that can be said about
the film is that it's over relatively quickly. And where Tyler seemed constrained
by the pitfalls of scoring a relatively generic action film like The
Hunted, with Darkness Falls he seems to have been given the
latitude to stretch out more. Again, this isn't a score that breaks new
ground, but it explores familiar terrain with just the right amounts of
wit and enthusiasm, and that alone makes it work. The album proper is a
smooth listen, with the stalk/attack cues nicely balanced out with the
quieter moments -- you may not spin it repeatedly in search of all the
delicate nuances, but for a splashy, in-your-face horror score, you could
do a lot worse. Tyler, of course, is of the movie-brat generation; he follows
in the footsteps of composers whose cultural reference points were more
steeped, arguably, in mediums outside of film and television: radio, for
example, and musical theatre. Film music as a style has progressed to the
point where it's less and less necessary for the score to be an up-front
participant in the action, and the need to rely upon orchestral music to
provide that extra layer of magic has decreased. The most popular and durable
forms of film music evolved out of the 19th-century opera; music was a
key part of the storytelling, and when film's popularity skyrocketed the
aesthetic was simply transferred over to a new medium.
This is an admittedly roundabout way to explain that the big, traditional
film score that Tyler provides for Children of Dune is both totally
appropriate and comfortingly old-fashioned. Television has become a superb
training ground for many a film-biz artist on either side of the camera,
and indeed, some of the best film scoring done in recent years has in fact
been for the small screen. Again, this approach hearkens back to the old
days, to the belief in the potency of the score to complete the whole package,
and Tyler seems to understand this instinctively. Poverty breeds invention,
and while the non-union recording of the music results in a far-too-overlong
album, the ingenuity that a low music budget breeds pays off quite well.
(It's surprising that Frank Herbert's politically-loaded Dune series
has enjoyed such success as a mid-budgeted cable miniseries. Still, considering
the themes of religious fanaticism, holy jihads and political maneuvering,
it's remarkable that Herbert's works haven't been discussed in today's
context as much as they could be.) Everything about Tyler's score to Children
of Dune bespeaks, at the very least, intelligence and respect for the
material, and those attributes alone are hard to locate in any given multiplex.
Again, the general style of the score will be familiar to anyone who's
heard Gladiator, but in this context it works well. Tyler is working
off of what people know and expect from a traditional orchestral score
and in that respect he manages to create a crowd-pleasing album that, fortunately,
does not lean too terribly hard on its influences to justify itself.
-- Jason Comerford