Showing posts with label soundtrack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soundtrack. Show all posts

Monday, 2 January 2023

Star Tracks: The Search for Spock

Happy New Year to all our readers! 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and, for many Star Wars fans (myself included) living outside London, the 45th anniversary of Star Wars! We'll be celebrating all this and much more over the coming months.

For Christmas, I was gifted Bandai's excellent electronic USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and what better way to begin than with an edition of Star Tracks featuring James Horner's soundtrack for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, follows up his adventures with Willow by stealing the Enterprise with help from the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s hard for me to listen to any James Horner music without memories of the Star Trek movies flooding Nick’s Brain! Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan score helped make the film an unforgettable experience, accentuating the plot twists and emotional moments with just the right amount of pomp.

Horner was still in his twenties when he submitted a demo tape and got selected by The Wrath of Khan’s director and producers to score a big-screen love letter to the TV show. Despite – or partly due to – the death of a major character, the movie was a huge hit, making almost $100 million at the box office.

‘For me not to do [Star Trek III: The Search for Spock], I’d have to be in a bad accident or get killed!’ Horner joked to Starlog magazine. But The Search for Spock presented different challenges, not least of which was the need to give an epic quality to a film with a simpler story, essentially a bookend to Khan. ‘Star Trek III got formulated somewhere along the end while we were doing [Star Trek II],’ said Horner. ‘I had to change the end of Star Trek II musically and they changed the cut so that it merged into the beginning of Star Trek III and it actually held me in very good stead.’

III’s themes are an extension of the Khan music (Horner called it a ‘reweaving’), just as the film itself continues the narrative. The eerie Spock tune is developed along with II’s main theme and its exciting battle music. Horner has a chance to go bigger and better the second time around; the sounds are deeper and more profound.

‘…The score for Star Trek III is just so much vastly better than Star Trek II,’ Horner told CinemaScore. ‘It's just a much more interesting score and, for me, a much more beautiful and emotional score than Star Trek II.’

Intrada’s 2-CD release does justice to this special music. Disc 1 has the original, full score from the film, remixed from the three-track mixes printed from Sony 3324 24-track masters. Disc 2 has the 1984 Capitol Records music that contemporary fans grew up with, complete with a disco-pop version of the main theme.

The first track on Disc 1, Prologue and Main Title, begins abruptly; it’s heavy on celli, building a sense of grief and disillusionment. Not only is Spock gone but the iconic starship Enterprise is in a bad state after its fight with Khan. The emotions of the surviving crew come across wholeheartedly through the music.

Spock Endures Pon Farr also has a wistful edge, subsumed with little blasts of Alexander Courage’s TV theme, followed by Horner’s excellent, atonal Klingon battle music with percussion: bamboo ang-klungs, rhythm logs, boobams, an anvil, cluster chimes, tam-tams, a thunder sheet, timbales and drums are all used to encapsulate the warrior race.

These primal beats are counterpointed by plenty of humorous moments and sheer joyfulness. Stealing the Enterprise is as fun to listen to now as it ever was, accompanying the sequence in the film where Kirk and his crew break the rules, hotwire their beloved ship and escape into space.

Disc 2 includes four alternate tracks and a shiny new version of the Capitol release. Here, the Prologue and Main Title sound slow and majestic. The menacing second track, Klingons, references the original horn trills of the TV show and echoes tunes like Surprise Attack from The Wrath of Khan. Bird of Prey Decloaks channels Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War, and the End Title is fast, sweeping and exhilarating.

While the complete score sounds fresh and exciting, I prefer the thicker orchestration of the album score. Maybe it’s because I used to play a promo album on repeat as a teenager while I wrote, looking forward to the fun, grooved-up jazz rock of Group 87, who covered The Search for Spock on a 12” disc that was included in my gatefold copy. Although that version sounds archaic now, in step with the same year’s The Neverending Story, it’s a real treat to have an extended edition of the score, an augmented version of the vinyl album and the Group 87 jam all in one package.

Treks II through IV were a saga all their own that cemented the films as worthy successors to their TV ancestor. However, The Search for Spock was Horner’s last score for the series. He said that he was invited to compose more but he wanted to do different projects. His swan song is a high note that he was justifiably proud of.

‘I think that Star Trek III is the best of all the Star Trek [movies],’ said Horner in CinemaScore. ‘It's made with the most amount of feeling, in a certain sense, of all of them. It's made by someone who knows the characters of Star Trek so much more intimately than anybody else involved, except maybe Gene Roddenberry. The fact that Leonard Nimoy directed this film gives it a whole interesting light that it would never have had with anyone else. It was fascinating to work with him.’

The franchise and this soundtrack are all the better since The Search for Spock helped the filmmakers, including Nimoy and Horner, discover what made Star Trek tick. While both men have sadly passed away, they will always be linked to this very human adventure.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Star Tracks: Lifeforce

This edition of Star Tracks is suitably spooky for Halloween month with Henry Mancini's score for Lifeforce.

Director Tobe Hooper's (Poltergeist) space vampire movie is an indelible teenage memory and a far cry from Star Wars for which John Dykstra also produced the award-winning special effects.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, goes on a dangerous space shuttle mission to Halley’s Comet courtesy of the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

‘With an insatiable hunger, they are coming ... Mankind is their prey.’ Thus warns the tagline of Tobe ‘Poltergeist’ Hooper’s wild sci-fi horror shocker, Lifeforce.

Best known for its comely alien antagonist (Mathilda May) who breakfasts on lustful men, Lifeforce is based on Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires. Hooper was attracted by the ‘gothic opening of the book’ and referenced the Quatermass movies, Giallo and 1950s sci-fi invasion classics. ‘I thought I'd go back to my roots,’ the director said, ‘and make a 70 mm Hammer film.’

With an overall production budget of $25 million to play with, the music for this space-horror tale was intended to match the extravagance of the visuals. After James Horner was considered, Henry Mancini was in the pink to work on a space epic, following in the footsteps of former colleague John Williams (who was the pianist on Mancini’s Peter Gunn TV theme). According to biographer John Caps, Mancini wanted to turn the tale of interstellar vamps into ‘a kind of tone poem.’ The score is performed by the 100-piece London Symphony Orchestra, responsible for the original Star Wars and Superman themes.

‘The original first twenty minutes of the film were like a ballet to me,’ Mancini said in 1987. ‘That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in doing the film—and it was just beautiful.’

Test audiences had other ideas, however, and the film was cut down by 12 minutes and Michael Kamen (The Dead Zone) was brought in to tie the music together and fill in any gaps. The majority of dropped scenes were from the opening, where the Space Shuttle Churchill investigates a mysterious craft concealed by Halley’s Comet.

Fortunately, the original, full soundtrack was preserved by MGM and can now be heard in all its glory on a new Intrada release. The music, edited and mastered from two-track quarter-inch stereo mixes made at Abbey Road Studios, sounds crisp, clean and at times, breathtaking.

Mancini’s score does make this eclectic movie hold together, barely. While most viewers recall the space vampire, there’s a lot more going on – astronauts exploring a spaceship, hypnosis, shapeshifting and a climactic sequence set in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Some of the music would fit snugly into a biblical epic: The Discovery, The Vampire Lives and Anyone for Turns suggest a mythical, cursed tomb being opened.

House of Blue Lights is heavy on choral – Mancini sampled female voices with a Fairlight CMI and combined them with live vocals for an echoing spectral effect. Martial Law is suitably militaristic and Star Wars-y, while Evil Visitation evokes Hooper’s hallowed Hammer films, and The Web of Destiny Part III is lush and powerful with a grand dramatic build-up. There are also moments of sorrow and craving (The Web of Destiny Part I), unnerving, sliding, darkening strings (Carlsen Sleeps) and conventional, heroic sci-fi music (The Web of Destiny Part II).

Mancini wanted his soundtrack to be impressionistic. If he had gone with his original vision, the score could have been composed of atonal sounds. There are hints of this in the stingers and cues included on disc 2, which bring Forbidden Planet’s bleepy-bloppy score to mind. The brief stings are included, ‘simply because they were part of the sessions,’ says Douglass Fake, who produced, edited and mastered the CDs, ‘and are at times eerie, grotesque, outlandish, ethereal and even haunting.’

While an abstract score might have made for a more memorable movie, thankfully the soundtrack presented here is melodic, enjoyable and as imaginative as the film itself. Unlike the majority of American scores, it does not tell you how to think or feel. It is as strange and majestic as an unidentified space object, drenched with dread and perilous adventure.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Star Tracks: Willow

Willow returns with Warwick Davis (Star Wars) reprising the titular role this holiday season on Disney+.

In anticipation, Hollywood composer James Horner's original Willow soundtrack gets the Star Tracks treatment. Like John Williams (Jaws) and Jerry Goldsmith (Alien), Horner was integral to my formative soundtrack education as I underwent rehabilitation for a life-changing neurological injury.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, goes on an epic fantasy adventure courtesy of the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

With a Willow trailer previewed and a panel discussion at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, it’s the perfect time to visit the original movie and its evocative soundtrack by the late Hollywood composer, James Horner.

A new Intrada release shines a deserved spotlight on the score, with over half an hour of previously unreleased cues, all mastered from original digital stereo mixes. All told, we get over 100 minutes of music, making the original album seem brownie-sized in comparison.

Willow was released in 1988 to great fanfare. However, it lacked the same universal appeal as Executive Producer George Lucas’ other brainchildren, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Taking some of its inspiration from The Lord of the Rings and Arthurian myth, this one was for lovers of epic fantasy, the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) crowd, families and special effects junkies, hiring 650 extras and filming in numerous international locations.

In the thick of it, was the diminutive Willow. Per film writer Marcus Hearn, Lucas has said, ‘a lot of my movies are about a little guy against the system, and this was just a more literal interpretation of that idea.’

Director Ron Howard, on a high after Splash (1984) and Cocoon (1985), had just the correct sensibilities for an adventure film with wide appeal. Willow was a hit, with a worldwide box office of almost $138 million. But it wasn’t the megahit MGM/United Artists hoped for.

Three decades later, Willow is still fun to watch, mainly thanks to the confident performances by the 18-year-old Warwick Davis (Willow Ufgood), Val Kilmer (Madmartigan), Joanne Whalley (Sorsha) and Jean ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ Marsh, who plays the deliciously wicked sorceress Bavmorda.

Willow is even more fun to listen to, with a score as lavish as the accompanying images. Dozens of instruments and several distinct melodies collide as the film builds to its climax.

What does an exotic fantasy world sound like? Acoustic instruments? Heavy drumbeats? Magical synth twinkles? Horner melded all of the above on a gig that in many ways was a composer’s dream. He had a sizeable budget and few constraints to stick by. He wasn’t depicting ‘30s New Orleans or ‘80s LA. He was able to help build a brand new world with his score, with a heavy dose of light-heartedness, strong character themes and a fast pace.

This wasn’t Horner’s first unicorn rodeo. He’d created the distinctive music for Krull (1983) with far fewer resources at his disposal. With Willow, Horner was able to go for broke. ‘I am… a doctor of music,’ Horner said, according to Jean-Baptiste Martin who runs the James Horner Film Music website. ‘I listened to, studied and analysed a lot of music. I also enjoy metaphors, the art of quoting and of cycles. The harmonic draft of the Willow score, and most particularly its spiritual side, came from such a cycle, from such mythology and music history that I was taught, and that I myself convey with my own emotions and compositions.’

Horner pulls from a Slavic liturgy, Mozart’s Requiem, a Bulgarian peasant song, Bartok, Holst, Prokoviev, Schuman and Edvard Grieg. The musicologist’s gleeful research pays off in tracks like Airk’s Army and Elora Danan, which introduce many of the soundtrack’s major themes. There’s a potent sense of society and tradition, especially in The Nelwyns and The Nelwyns No. 2 – imagine The Dark Crystal’s Podlings dancing to an African beat, diamonds on the soles of their tiny shoes, and you’ll get a good idea of how that sequence sounds.

To further the sense that we were trotting through a weird new world, Horner turned to quaint instruments and objects like an Irish bodhran drum, a Chinese opera gong, an ocarina, conch shells, bagpipes, pan pipes (which are particularly distinct in a track called The Island) and even a plastic cup.

There are also hints of Horner’s previous scores – strings soar in Escape From The Tavern, sounding a lot like Stealing the Enterprise from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (also available from Intrada).

Other cues, particularly Tir Asleen, evoke trademark Lucasfilm moments; you can imagine Lucas saying to Horner, ‘I want this to be John Williamsy. Can you make this Williamsy?’

Despite some intentionally discordant bits, for all its elements this ambitious score is remarkably cohesive and it sounds gorgeous in its new 2-CD form. After listening, we feel like we have been on an emotionally satisfying journey through a believable world, where there are consequences to each of the characters’ actions, highlighted in the music.

When the sonic adventure is over, I miss its charm and imagination, the way it depicts the triumph of light over darkness. Fortunately, it’s almost time to visit Willow’s land again in Lucasfilm’s forthcoming series on Disney+, heralded by Horner’s majestic theme tune.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Star Tracks: John Williams' SpaceCamp

Star Tracks is our new soundtracks feature. It's only apt that the inaugural edition focuses on Hollywood composer John Williams (Star Wars).

John Williams may be retiring from composing movie soundtracks but he leaves an enviable Oscar-winning legacy that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

So what better time to revisit one of his 'lost' soundtracks, SpaceCamp?

Nick Smith, our resident US-based media maverick, goes on a sonic space adventure courtesy of the fine folks at Intrada.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Sometimes I think it would be great to have my life scored by John Williams! Imagine how much more exciting laundry, washing up or walking the dog would be with the maestro’s trademark horn section parping around on a spin cycle.

Sadly, Williams recently announced that he is retiring from scoring after Indiana Jones 5. Furthermore, I wouldn’t dare deign to ask him to help me scrub my dishes. But there’s no arguing that if adventure music had a name, it would be John T. Williams.

After all, he’s composed some of the most iconic soundtracks of our generation – Star Wars, Superman: The Movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, Heidi… he adds oomph to every score he composes.

SpaceCamp is a case in point.

The 1986 film stars Steven Spielberg's (Jaws) wife Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Lea Thompson (Back to the Future) and a very young Joaquin ‘Leaf’ Phoenix (Joker), who I can only picture in my head with his grown-up face on a child’s body. It is an exciting, glossily-filmed romp about some kids who go to NASA space camp, end up in space and have to find a way to get home.

The family film is beloved by the two Gen-Xers that I polled. While it’s no blockbuster, it sounds like one, thanks to the incidental music. This score is not phoned home – it sounds like space if you could actually hear anything in space.

Record label Intrada obviously recognizes the simple brilliance of this soundtrack, pulling out all stops with its new 2-CD release. SpaceCamp includes new tracks and cues missing from the original ‘80s album. Intrada has taken the original three-track film mixes, adding great depth to the score program with new stereo audio. The 1986 RCA release has been remastered with a hi-res transfer.

The music is worth the fuss and holds up well, although the synth-and-slap bass-heavy training montage sounds deliciously dated. The Main Title evokes a sense of amazement from the get-go with wistful horns and strings. Percussion stands in for twinkling stars. Williams said he, ‘tried to express the exhilaration of this adventure in an orchestral idiom that would be direct and accessible.’ He wanted the music to speak, ‘directly to the “heart” of the matter.’

It's easy to forget how impressive the space shuttle was in the early ‘80s, promising to revolutionize space travel. We’d be on Mars by teatime! Tragically, the Challenger crew was lost when the ship broke apart. The promise was not kept. Since the heroes of SpaceCamp get into difficulty in a shuttle and there were similarities to the real-life Challenger disaster, the movie was not as heavily marketed as it could have been at the time and the soundtrack was not released on CD until 1992.

Williams’ track The Shuttle is imbued with majesty and innocent wonder, with little hints of John Barry’s Moonraker score. There are plucking strings for the plucky youths and a boosting crescendo.

The Computer Room is made to sound like hallowed ground, building an atmosphere of awe. Friends Forever uses flutes to represent the magical power of camaraderie.

Once the campers are In Orbit, we hear a waltzing rhythm with violin trills and plenty of horns to suggest the breaking immensity of space.

There are echoes of other movies in all the right places; the danger is evoked in White Sands (film version or album edit) with motifs reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars and the BMX bike chase from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Two other tracks have the merest nod to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra fanfare.

But there’s plenty of original material, including a discordant moment and whirling, keening violins in Andie is Stranded and playful flutes in Viewing Daedelus, which could have been titled Dancing with Daedelus. Speaking of track titles, my favourite is I Can’t Reach It, which had me looking for a track called Help I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up (there isn’t one).

Even the shortest tracks, new to this release, have weight. They’re not just functional cues but tunes in their own right. In Re-Entry, for example, you can sense the elation and relief of the heroes; the happy little trumpets gave me goosebumps before a train-like rhythm brought me down to earth. Home Again revisits earlier cues and ties the whole score together.

Intrada has created a worthy release for an overlooked film and soundtrack, reminding us that while some experiences happen once in a lifetime, magnificent music is always worth revisiting.

What are your memories of SpaceCamp and have you listened to the joyous and uplifting soundtrack? Let me know in the comments below.

Special thanks to Roger Feigelson at Intrada for providing a copy for review.