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CD Reviews: Clash of the Titans and Switchback

Clash of the Titans (1981) *** 1/2


PEG A28693

17 tracks - 47:28

Released during what some would call a Golden Age of sci fi and fantasy pictures in the early '80s, Clash Of The Titans was Ray Harryhausen's swan song as the master of fantasy film special effects. The period also saw his influence being overtaken by a legion of computer-savvy effects aces who'd been brought up on his films. Clash was a clear attempt to both recapture the magic of Harryhausen's best film, Jason And The Argonauts (by gathering a stellar cast of Brit thespians, Laurence Olivier included, to play the Olympian gods who monitor and manipulate the story of Perseus) and compete with Star Wars (by mounting the film with a bigger budget than Harryhausen's earlier works and appeal to the Lucasfilm audience by inserting an R2-D2-like robot owl for comic relief).

By the time of Clash's release, a prime ingredient necessary in any major league sci fi or fantasy film was a symphonically scaled, romantic score, hopefully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. John Williams had laid down this precedent with Star Wars, Superman and The Empire Strikes Back -- such was the impact on Hollywood film scores that almost any element associated with Williams' work was deemed marketable, to the point where the soundtrack LP for Clash Of The Titans became the first album I'm aware of to credit an orchestrator (veteran Herbert Spencer, the primary orchestrator of Williams' blockbuster period) on its front cover.

Rosenthal's Clash Of The Titans score, while as romantic and tuneful as many Williams' works, was more modest in its orchestral forces. In a way, this made the music a more appropriate to companion to the special effects which, while as brilliantly designed as any of Harryhausen's earlier work, still came across as quaint to 1981 audiences. Rosenthal was a composer who could tackle just about any subject matter, but he always seemed more at home with small-scale drama than the silliness of Clash of the Titans or the earlier disaster potboiler Meteor. Clash's main title is bright and optimistic, particularly beautiful in a soaring bridge section, and ornamented throughout with chimes and delicate percussive effects that speak to an almost childlike sense of storytelling.

The highlight of the score is Rosenthal's gorgeous romantic theme for Perseus and Andromeda, a melody that transcends the rest of the work. The remaining score hits all the proper marks as Rosenthal underscores Harryhausen creatures that are both hideous ("The Kraken," "Medusa") and beautiful ("Pegasus"). But ultimately the legacy of John Williams drains the imaginative possibilities out of the work. Harryhausen's best films received bold, stylized scores by the likes of Bernard Herrmann (Jason And The Argonauts, The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad), Jerome Moross (The Valley Of Gwangi) and Miklos Rozsa (The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad). That's tough competition, and while Rosenthal's Clash Of The Titans score is well-remembered as a highlight of its period (and sounds remarkably vibrant compared to today's genre scoring), like the film itself it can't quite measure up to its predecessors of Harryhausen's own Golden Age.

This long-promised release from the now-defunct PEG label (rescued and distributed by Super Collector) restores three cues to the score: "Argos Destroyed," "Andromeda" and the creepy "River Styx," adding almost ten minutes of music; fans of the score will find it a well-produced treat and the "River Styx" cue is memorably atmospheric and creepy. -- Jeff Bond

Switchback ***


Intrada Special Collection Volume 1

15 tracks - 54:41

Intrada's first "Special Collection" release showcases Basil Poledouris' sought-after Switchback. As an album the score comes off as generally subdued, but there's more than enough trademark Poledouris to keep it entertaining.

The wild and percussive "Going West" opens the CD and is a sign -- both good and bad -- of things to come. The rampaging ostinato-like accompaniment is strong, but it blatantly overpowers the main theme in the mix. The percussion sounds as though it's the prime element. It's a bit easier to make out the thematic materials at 4:00 of "The '218'," which fuses swirling strings, crescendoing brass stingers, and industrial percussion into a dynamic accompaniment under the main theme in brass. The accompaniment is still too strong for the theme, but the balance is much more favorable here than in the opening track. In fact, this latter section of "The '218'" is probably the highlight of the album. Basil fans should also find the rest of action music exciting ("Cliffside Rescue," "Spreader Fight"), but the brass remain relatively weak in the mix.

This album reveals a great deal that's tough to hear in the movie, where the action music is usually competing with various engine noises and the more atmospheric material is simply dialed down. Fortunately, there's plenty of both on this CD. Some of the more quiet and slow-moving tracks are graced by welcome touches of Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo, while others venture into the world of ambient sound design. The 11-minute bonus track is mostly in this methodical and soothing textural vein (as advertised). Douglass Fake's liner notes detail the process by which this album was lovingly sequenced and prepared. Switchback isn't Poledouris' greatest achievement but it's a worthy entry in his catalogue. His fans shouldn't let this one slip away. -- Jonathan Z. Kaplan

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