CD Reviews: Clash of the Titans and Switchback
Clash of the Titans (1981) *** 1/2
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
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