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CD Reviews: Starship Troopers 2 and The Enemy Below


Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation *** 1/2

JOHN MORGAN AND WILLIAM STROMBERG

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6581

38 tracks - 72:56

The prospect of a low-budget straight-to-video sequel to Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers didn't generally set any hearts racing with anticipation, particularly with the news that Basil Poledouris was not returning to deliver more of his blockbuster score. However, once the initial disappointments subsided, good news started to filer through. The movie was going to be directed by special effects supremo Phil Tippett, was written by Ed Neumeier (screenwriter of the first Starship Troopers outing) and the score was to be written by John Morgan and William Stromberg. While unknown to the casual soundtrack listener, the composers were already popular in specialist soundtrack circles for their loving Marco Polo reconstructions of classic scores like The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and King Kong. They also went atomic with their spectacular scores to Trinity and Beyond, Nukes in Space and Atomic Journeys.

Poledouris' score is actually used in the "Battle at Z.A." and "End Credits" tracks, but that's where the similarities end. Wisely resisting the temptation to re-cook the old themes, Stromberg and Williams have instead opted to merely echo the style of his work before leaping into some more familiar territory. When the "Special Thanks" on the back of a CD include the names Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner you get a pretty good idea of what to expect, and the composers don't disappoint. In much the same way that the first Troopers was essentially an old-fashioned siege/war movie, its lower-profile successor plays on the same field, dipping into the John Ford/ Steiner collaboration The Lost Patrol. However, there's no special thanks to Hans Zimmer, which is strange when considering that the opening track seems so beholden to the ever-popular Backdraft.

"Fortress Search" is a wonderful retro trip to Herrmann's fantasy films, featuring the string work and brass flourishes of Mysterious Island or The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. It doesn't take too much to recognize the descending strings of Cape Fear either. "Tail o' the Bug" and "Kill Them All" are frantic, violent cues in stark contrast to the heroics of "Dax's Last Stand" and the military bugles of "Reunion." By the time the "End Credits" are pulsing from your stereo you'll be humming that Zimmeresque Fed Net theme or getting ready to track back to "Fortress Search."

Don't be put off by the number of tracks. Many of the cues might only clock in at around the minute mark, but they are sequenced in such a way that they the pace is maintained throughout and many neatly segue into one another. The 90-piece Moscow Symphony Orchestra (Morgan and Stromberg's orchestra of choice) perform with great gusto, and in the resulting absence of AFM re-use fees, we also get a healthy running time of nearly 73 minutes (which the composers stress is nearly every minute of the score). This might be a case where less would've have been more, but let's leave it to the soundtrack fans to make their own decisions, and track out the excess material.

Given that this was releaed in a summer where one major project was rejected for sounding "too old-fashioned," let's rejoice that the Golden sound is still alive elsewhere. Next time though, I'd like this duo to step out from the shadows of the masters and reveal just who the real Stromberg and Morgan really are.     -- Nick Joy






The Enemy Below (1957) *** 1/2

LEIGH HARLINE

Intrada Special Collection Volume 15

19 tracks - 51:48

Despite having written one of the most recognizable tunes of the 20th century ("When You Wish Upon A Star"), Leigh Harline is nevertheless probably destined to remain in relative obscurity. So it's great to have labels such as Intrada and FSM dedicated to the release of obscure golden age film music. The World War II submarine thriller The Enemy Below is a welcome addition to Harline's small catalogue.

"Charting Tables" prominently features one of the scores' recurring ideas: the competition of the themes for the American destroyer and the German U-boat. Harline leaves scenes of dialogue and exposition largely unscored, instead focusing on the suspense of the confrontations between the two vessels. "Target Waiting" provides chilling suspense for the stealthy hunt, with extremely low pizzicato strings evoking The Enemy Below, the killer u-boat biding its time, waiting to strike. "Target Safe" follows with exploding brass clusters for the inevitable attack.

Harline uses vibraphone and other shimmering effects; these passages almost give the impression of being written for a horror score, if not for the martial fanfares associated with the American destroyer interrupting the tension of the claustrophobic situation.

At 43 minutes, this is a very taut score, with Harline taking the listener on a whirlwind ride. Nineteen minutes of nearly continuous music from the film's climactic battle finally takes the listener into the denouement. The CD is entirely in stereo and the sound quality is great. The bonus tracks include a short suite of all the recorded takes of the ethereal effects composed by Harline for the radar blip images, which could be easily missed when mixed with the louder orchestral tracks.     -- Darren MacDonald

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