The Princess Bride (1987)

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Composed by: Mark Knopfler

The Princess Bride is one of those films that everyone loves. Thus it may surprise many to learn it did not do so hot at the box office. It was difficult to market. Was it a comedy, a children’s fantasy, a romantic adventure, or what? (William Goldman’s original novel was borderline satirical, yet Goldman also wrote it to entertain his daughters) The general gist of the plot is that the “most beautiful woman in the world” Buttercup loses her lover Wesley, but learns he is alive. They have to rediscover their love and protect it from a scheming Prince. It is an amazing, highly quotable film that strides along so many genres with success. Helping is one of the most perfectly cast assemblage of characters, special shout-out going to Andre the Giant as lovable Fezzik. Also praised is the music by Mark Knopfler. Knopfler gives the film a more romantic and probably intentionally cheesy fairy tale atmosphere. Rather than a bringing out an orchestra, he uses a synthesizer and guitar. Continue reading

Hellboy (2004)

Image result for hellboy soundtrackHellboy: The Deluxe Edition

Composed by: Marco Beltrami

In 2004 one of the lesser known, but still popular superheroes got his own film adaptation. Hellboy is perhaps my favorite comic book franchise, mixing elements of early 20th Century pulp elements (particularly Lovecraft and Nazis) and mythology and folklore. In both the comics and film Hellboy is the son of a demon, summoned to earth by historical character-turned super-villain Rasputin for nefarious apocalyptic purposes. Fortunately, the demonic child is picked up by supernatural expert Professor Bruttenholm and raised to be a good guy in the government organization known as the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense). On Hellboy’s side are other misfits and freaks such as the fire wielding Liz Sherman and amphibious Abe Sapien and against him are Rasputin, a collection of Nazis, and other odd terrors determined to unleash elder gods of chaos and usher in a new world.

The film is pretty good, though as a Guillermo del Toro film its visuals tend to be a little stronger than the actual story. The film was scored by Marco Beltrami. Beltrami is well liked today by film music fans, but at the time most of his works were for dumb horror flicks and comedies. Hellboy provided him with a rich and varied source of characters and ideas to work with and he delivers, creating an eclectic but thematically driven score with bits of wackiness. The amount of themes and motifs is impressive and many are remarkably effective despite their simplicity. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Gettysburg

Gettysburg: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Composed and Conducted by Randy Edelman

Civil War buff Ted Turner took advantage of his considerable resources to produce an epic mini-series based off Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a historical novel on the Battle of Gettysburg which attempts to delve into the minds of a few of the key participants. It was decided that the film was good enough to have a theatrical run prior to its more successful stint on TNT. As a Civil War buff I have to say this is one of my favorite films thanks to its general accuracy. It’s long length allows various aspects of the war, political and military, to be covered. It does have its flaws, two of which are understandably due to the budgetary limits of television. One is the use of reenactors, which ensured accurate behavior and equipment, but also meant seeing a lot of soldiers who were too old or well-fed. Another is Randy Edelman’s reliance on synthesizers for his score. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Jurassic Park III

Composed by: Don Davis

Years after The Lost World, Spielberg took the producer’s seat for Jurassic Park’s third film entry while Joe Johnston took over directorial duties. Jurassic Park III seems a little out of place with the rest of the franchise. It only runs an hour and a half and the stakes are limited to finding a stranded boy on a dinosaur-infested island. It would have been at the level of a B-movie it wasn’t for some nifty special effects. I did appreciate how a new dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, got to take the role of main threat, though the film went too far out of its way to make it intimidating to the point that it was literally chasing the characters all the way across the island. This is another problem with the film. The dinosaurs stop being animals and start being monsters, to the point a T-Rex abandons a large meal to chase after scrawny humans. Continue reading

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

After the success of Jurassic Park Spielberg was asked to direct a sequel. There is some contention about how much he wanted to do it since he was busy building up Dreamworks. Regardless, it’s a far inferior film. Actually, a lot of the elements are good, especially Pete Postlethwaite as big game hunter Roland Tembo, as well as many of the action scenes. But the film is riddled with plot holes and a couple heroes who, despite the film telling us are protecting dinosaurs from exploitation, in fact endanger themselves and every other human in the film with their stupidity. It’s a bad Spielberg film, which means it’s at least an okay film overall.

John Williams surprised many, and according to some disappointed, with his decision to take the music in a very different direction. Since the setting is changed from a theme park to a wild island were dinosaurs have been allowed to roam free, he decided that the music should be more primal,. Thus the soundtrack is much more dissonant, rife with percussion. Listening to this score makes one realize that if he wants to Williams can really let loose with the percussion and this gives the entire product a wholly unique flavor in his repertoire. The atmosphere is one of a lurking jungle punctuated by moments of intense terror. The drawback is that the music isn’t as consistently enjoyable as the first film’s, but at least Williams didn’t ape himself. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Jurassic Park

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Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Jurassic Park began as a novel by Michael Crichton. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, obviously because of the dinosaurs. But it also deals with genetics and the incapability of man to control nature (“Life finds a way”, Jeff Goldblum puts it). The rights for a movie based on the book were quickly snatched up by Steven Spielberg, but he patiently waited until he was sure that film technology could do the story justice. It paid off tremendously, showing the potential of CGI while using practical effects to bolster the realism. Incredibly, and also pathetically, its CGI still outperforms today’s big budget affairs.

Along with Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park was part of the one-two 1993 punch involving Spielberg and John Williams. It shows how top on his game they were, both producing two of their greatest works in a single year. While the book had its humorous moments, it was very cynical and violent. The film has cynicism and violence, too, but Spielberg’s lighthearted manner of storytelling takes over. The movie actually departs from the book quite a bit, and yet both book and film are amazing. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Composed by: Hans Zimmer

The third installment of what became known as the Dark Knight trilogy took a little longer to hit theaters, allowing Christopher Nolan to make and release Inception first. The conclusion of his bat-trilogy, Dark Knight Rises, was met with divisive reactions, thought it still made plenty of money. I agree that a few plot points are awkward, but I quite like it. Tom Hardy’s intelligent and intimidating Bane was what fans needed after the bastardization of the character in Batman and Robin. There was also a good lesson about fighting to live instead of embracing a martyr complex, a real maturation for the Batman character in light of how his comic book counterpart is still stuck in his brooding and untrusting rut.

This time James Newton Howard has disappeared completely, leaving Hans Zimmer and Media Ventures in sole control. The one noticeable result of this is the absence of any strikingly heartfelt emotional cues such as the love theme or “Harvey Two-Face”. This isn’t to say that Zimmer’s work is bereft of emotion, it just doesn’t hit you the way Howard’s material does. Continue reading