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CD Reviews: Van Helsing The London Assignment and Terror Tract

Van Helsing: The London Assignment **


Decca 0002757-02

16 tracks - 31:09

It's a strange world we live in. While the blockbuster scores to The Ring and 2 Fast 2 Furious remain unreleased, Decca decided to channel resources into releasing the soundtrack to a 30-minute straight-to-video animated prequel to Van Helsing. And while the decision to release any soundtrack to the collectors' market is to be applauded, on this occasion you can't help but wonder "why"? Clearly it was a case of jumping on the bandwagon (or should that be stage coach?) before the blood ran dry.

Van Tongeren is best known for his enthusiastic scores to The Outer Limits, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Poltergeist the Legacy TV shows, and its arguably his underscore to the latter two that proved he was adept at writing for small screen movie spin-offs. The strongest sections of Silvestri's movie score are his guitar-enhanced "Transylvania" cues and climactic love theme. By contrast, London Assignment is set, London, and the locale has not inspired van Tongeren in the same way that Carpathian forests might have. He avoids the hoary "Rule Britannia" clichés that crop up in endless Victorian London-set scores, and instead opts for an anonymous sound that merely drives the on-screen action.

The composer takes full advantage of the orchestra at his disposal (Hollywood Symphony Orchestra), pulling in harps and the percussion where appropriate, rather than having to rely on their synthetic counterparts. But the album only really takes off in the climactic fight, and the most rousing piece, "Van Helsing's theme" (Terminator with timpani) doesn't appear until the end. I'm surprised that after going to the expense of using Hugh Jackman and David Wenham to provide a vocal link between the movie and this short, the producers didn't use Silvestri's score as well, even if just for the titles. At 32 minutes this is a brief disc -- the same length as the short movie itself -- but this also means you get the underscore from the less interesting moments. Tighter editing would have improved the listening experience, but would also take the running time below an acceptable length for a commercial release. This score really only merits inclusion as a suite on a compilation album.

One for die-hard Van Helsing and van Tongeren fans, but of little interest to soundtrack collectors. For the score to a direct-to-video animated short spin-off, this is probably as good it gets. Take that as the faint praise it is.     -- Nick Joy

Terror Tract *** 1/2


La-La Land LLLCD 1021

25 tracks - 47:06

Low-budget horror movies are typically plagued by scores that take one of two routes: the pensive piano and small string ensemble, or the full-blown synth orchestra (ugh). So the fact that the liner notes repeatedly mention the small budget of Terror Tract is completely incongruous with the fact that not only does the music sound great, but it sounds like a large orchestra is hammering away at it. It's refreshing to not have to hear three players sawing through their violins, or a sample-happy hack smashing his keyboard every time something exciting happens. Here, the action music sounds like action music -- and not only that, it's good.

Repeatedly described in the liner notes as inspired by John Williams' The Fury and Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen, Brian Tyler's main titles are nonetheless impressive. But more hey carry more of a dash of Danny Elfman-like pomp than Williams or Goldsmith. Tyler also offers subtle variations on this theme throughout the score -- it isn't just theme music a la Halloween. But this also presents the one major problem with the score -- until it starts getting down and dirty, it doesn't sound like horror music. It's fun and at times even soaring. The theme is catchy, but not in a "oh no, they're playing the theme to that creepy movie" sort of way; more in a "oh cool, what was that from again -- I wanted to buy it" sort of way. When Tyler does finally get into more traditional horror music ("Searching" and "Killer"), it unfortunately falls right into the standard horror movie problem of sounding like loud noise. On CD, this can be some of the most painful stuff to listen to, no matter how well it plays with the action on screen, so the choice to go heavier on themes (there are several) is a welcome one.

If you like Tyler's work, you have to pick this up -- it really is fantastic. The overall sound is reminiscent of James Horner's "Dark Discovery" from Aliens, mixed with the more subdued parts of Elfman's Beetlejuice. That may not be as scary as a Christopher Young album, but tracks like "Bobo" and "Psychiatrist" make this album shine.     -- Luke Goljan

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