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Randall D. Larson's SOUNDTRAX

Episode 2007-1:
Zimmer Embiggens Simpsons Movie Score
By Randall D. Larson


Welcome to the first edition of the new Soundtrax column at buysoundtrax, an independent biweekly column of news, views, and occasional interviews relative to contemporary and historic film music.  This is a revitalization and continuation of a column I wrote for many years at mania.com (formerly cinescape.com; more or less formerly fandom.com), and I am pleased to continue to illuminate and expound upon the world of movie music on this new forum at buysoundtrax.com

I stress the fact that this is an independent column – I am under no obligation to plug BSX’s wares, to prejudice my commentary with favoritism toward BSX, or otherwise attempt to tie in with whatever buysoundtrax.com happens to be selling at the moment (although of course many of the items I am likely to recommend will be found for sale on this – and other – soundtrack specialty web sites).  In fact, I have been specifically asked by BSX’s owners and managers to refrain from plugging and to opine at will with as much careless abandon as I care to affix my name to, and I appreciate the vote of confidence and hands-free commentary this autonomy permits.

As a reviewer, though – and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing soundtracks, interviewing composers, writing columns and articles and books and CD notes in the realm of motion picture music for more than 30 years – I’ve always felt my biggest obligation to readers is not to pronounce the efforts of this composer or that composer as “Good” or “Terrific” or “Bad” or “Awful,” (please note that the term “sucks” will never appear in any of my reviews). I am not the Determiner of What Is And Isn’t Worthy in the realm of film music, and attempts to make such absolute pronouncements about what you should like and what you should not is both arrogant and irresponsible.   I prefer to describe what the music is, what it’s like, what it does (or doesn’t do) for me in the film and/or on the CD, and give readers enough information about the score under scrutiny so you can determine whether or not you feel it is something you’d like.  

I do have fairly broad tastes and a passionate interest and investment in many different and diverse forms of music.  I grew up a child of the ‘60s, got into music via John, Paul, George & Ringo, got into film music through Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone, and branched out in virtually all musical directions from that starting point.  Borrowing my iPod will reveal equal parts Rozsa, Goldsmith, Zimmer, Poledouris, Beatles, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Dylan, Cash, Oldfield, Ramones, Nightwish, Walela, Martina McBride, Vaughn-Williams, John Williams, Iron Maiden, Iron Butterfly, BeBop Deluxe, Third Day, Sonata Arctica, Korngold, Clapton, and Clausen – and almost all points in between.  So I feel I’m fairly sympathetic to almost all forms of music and so my reviews tend to be more descriptive than judgmental.

I’ve wound up specializing in music for science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, so a lot of what I write revolves around these genres, but I’ve also got an abiding interest in Euroshock (giallo) film scores, Italian Westerns, Asian action and horror movie soundtracks, and even the occasional domestic drama.  I hope to maintain a broad scope and range of film music recordings as this column progresses.  Reader feedback is welcome – I can be contacted at info@buysoundtrax.com

With that bit of rambling and overly formal preamble finished, onward with this week’s commentary:


The Simpsons Movie Score

As an admittedly devout aficionado of all things Simpsonic, I’ve been looking forward to the big screen Simpsons Movie for some time now, and it’s on my agenda to view this coming week.  But what of the music?  The soundtrack CD came out on Fox this last week in both a standard CD edition and a special limited edition in a donut-shaped housing (the latter to be released July 31st - musical content is identical on both versions).

Now, it’s almost impossible to analyze the score without acknowledging the appalling decision of the filmmakers not to have Alf Clausen score the movie.  As the sole composer for TV show’s last sixteen seasons, Alf gave our favorite family of Springfield its heart and soul.  By snubbing Clausen and his huge contribution to the show’s effectiveness, and bringing in Action composer Hans Zimmer, who has never been a part of the show and therefore hasn’t gained the kind of intuition for The Simpsons that Clausen does, besmirches the musical sensibility and history of the very show they are heralding on the big screen. 

That said, what of Zimmer’s score for The Simpsons Movie?  Now, I am a fan of Hans Zimmer and find a lot of his film music impressive and effective.  He’s a good composer, an intelligent collaborator, and arguably a trendsetter in contemporary action film music.  His score for The Simpsons Movie is everything James Brooks evidently wanted when he hired him – overwrought Jerry Bruckheimerish bombast, huge crescendos and choruses, and a diversified and often cartoonlike musical approach that’s all over the musical map - and it is indeed a likeable score taken on its own merits.  But it’s not Springfield and it’s not The Simpsons, at least not The Simpsons we’ve known and loved over the last seventeen years.  It’s a good score but it could have been in almost any wild comedy film.  While I don’t really want to shout “poo on Zimmer because they didn’t hire Alf” – it’s not Hans’ fault he was selected over the amiable scorer of the TV series – the truth is that The Simpsons Movie score is a good score but it isn’t necessarily integrated enough into the world of the show.  Not unlike giving the 1991 Addams Family movie a completely different style and tonality from Vic Mizzy’s TV scores, Zimmer’s score doesn’t quite shout Simpsons the way a score for such a big screen incarnation of a classic and long-lived TV show perhaps should.

That said, on its own merits, the score on CD is rather likable.  The CD opens with a large orchestral version of Danny Elfman’s “The Simpsons Theme” (Zimmer’s only nod to the TV series’ music, reprised a couple of times elsewhere in the score) and then introduces Zimmer’s own Simpsons Family Theme in “Trapped Like Carrots,” a jaunty woodwind-based scherzo that builds up to feverish “Sabre Dance”-like flavor from time to time; in “Doomsday Is Family Time” it opens into a lovely orchestral melody that is as close to a familial love theme as the score will get.  These two themes, and reprisals of Elfman’s TV Theme, serve to ground the score which otherwise darts all over the musical map like Bart on his skateboard in the show’s opening credits.

“Release the Hounds” proffers a pastiche of The Stray Cats as Zimmer takes Mr. Burn’s familiar cry and rockabillies across the old man’s estate with the steel verve of a would-be Brian Setzer.  “You Doomed us All… Again,” “…Lead, Not To Read,” and “Why Does Everything I Whip Leave Me?” are all impulsive and persuasive large orchestra cartoon musical cues – embodying dizzying overtures, rampant melodic diversity, and a progressively changing tempos.

“World’s Fattest Fertilizer Salesman” takes the Zimmer Simpsons Family theme and amps it way up into a comic and large-orchestra rendition; while “His Big Fat Butt Could Shield Us All” reprises Zimmer’s family love theme along with elements of Elfman’s Theme and Zimmer’s own Simpsons theme into a glorious and suitably bombastic finale.

“Bart’s Doodle” is a very cute Disney-esque tune sung by a tightly-harmonizing 1940s-styled female chorus that could have come out of half a dozen Silly Symphonies.  “Spider Pig” is cute a short variation of the Spider-man TV cartoon theme sung by a small chorus, male singers nicely playing off female singers.

The CD closes with a “bonus track” not used in the film – a modern techno/house dance remix (by Ryeland Allison) of Zimmer’s Simpsons Theme called “Recklessly Impulsive” – Disco Stu would love it, but it’s not quite my cup o’java.

Zimmer has made a splendid cartoon score out of The Simpsons Movie, a fun and trendy and tuneful score that rocks and laughs and cries and hits all of its marks, but seems to be doing so in a different Springfield than the one we’ve been used to.

(BTW: for a detailed look at Alf’s music for The Simpsons TV series after 400 episodes, see my interview with Alf coming up in the next issue of Film Music Magazine, www.filmmusicmag.com ).


MovieScore’s Skinwalkers

Coinciding with the US theatrical release of Skinwalkers, a werewolf movie starring Jason Behr, Elias Koteas and Rhona Mitra, on August 10, 2007, Sweden-based soundtrack label MovieScore Media has released the original soundtrack album featuring the orchestral score by Canadian composer Andrew Lockington.  The movie was directed by Jim Isaac, who helmed Jason X and worked as a visual effects supervisor on David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.  Skinwalkers is based on the Navajo myth about creatures who possess the power to change from human to werewolf and a young boy who, approaching his 13th birthday, is unaware of his unique powers, and the rivalry between two packs, both of whom want control of the boy. Bound by blood, but separated by principles they engage in an epic battle of survival.

Composer Andrew Lockington has been scoring films since 1997. Among his previous credits are Saint Ralph, Xchange and Cake and he has also worked as an assistant for composer Mychael Danna on numerous scores, including 8mm, Girl Interrupted and Hearts in Atlantis. Lockington’s film scores are reflective of his years of experience as an orchestrator/conductor and his knowledge of non-western musical instruments and structure. “The score for Skinwalkers is a mélange of both traditional orchestral elements and digitally manipulated modern and medieval instruments,” noted MovieScore’s exec producer Mikael Carlsson. “Andrew used his research on Japanese and Sudanese percussion to create rhythmic structures on which much of the orchestral movement is based. In addition, the Japanese percussion influence is evidenced by Taiko drums which can be heard cementing the beat structure in many places throughout the score.” 

Also included in the film and on the soundtrack album is the metal song ”Destitutorial” by Braintoy, a band based –like Lockington –in Toronto, Canada.


Gold’s Funeral March

Award- winning British composer and playwright Murray Gold has scored the new black comedy from Frank Oz, Death at a Funeral. The film, which won this year's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, stars Matthew MacFayden, Rupert Graves, Ewen Bremner, and Peter Dinklage and tells the story of a dysfunctional British family’s attempt to bid a somber farewell to the family patriarch, only to find their mourning disrupted.  The movie opens in the U.S. on August 17.
Noted for his work on the new Doctor Who TV series, Gold has been nominated for a BAFTA (British Oscar) three times in the category Best Original Television Music, for Vanity Fair, Queer as Folk and for Casanova. His score for the BAFTA winning film Kiss of Life was awarded the 'Mozart Prize of the 7th Art' by a French jury at Aubagne in 2003. He has also been nominated four times by the Royal Television Society in categories relating to music for television.
Gold also wrote the theme tunes for the Doctor Who spin-offs, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, and composes music for the latter series alongside Ben Foster.
In film, Gold composed an evocative jazz score to Jez Butterworth's acclaimed first feature, Mojo, followed by providing the music for further UK film productions in Heavenly Creatures, Wild About Harry and Miranda. Recent film commissions include Mischief Night, directed by Penny Woolcock.


Film Music News

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts of Science is planning three nights of public events this August to celebrate the centennial of Miklos Rosza.  The opening event will be held the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, on Friday, August 17th at 7:30. Jon Burlingame will host a panel discussion including Bruce Broughton, film historian Rudy Behlmer, and Rozsa's daughter Juliet. There will be clips from some of Rozsa's classic films as well as a screening of a new 35mm print of Ivanhoe.  This event will be followed by two nights of Rozsa screenings at the Academy's Linwood Dunn Theater at 1313 Vine St. in Hollywood. On Saturday August 18th, The Thief of Bagdad will screen at 7:00, followed by The Killers at 9:00. 0n Sunday August 19th, they will present an original 35mm Technicolor print of El Cid at 7:00. For more information, go to www.oscars.org (via filmscoremonthly.com)

New soundtracks released this week from Varese Sarabande include the darkly romantic psychological thriller I Know Who Killed Me, featuring an evocative score by Joel McNeely.  Coming up for August 14th are score CDs to the summer blockbusters The Last Legion (Patrick Doyle – a “sweeping, epic symphonic score”), The Invasion (John Ottman), Rush Hour 3 (Lalo Schifrin), and another Patrick Doyle score, for Kenneth Branagh’s latest Shakespearean adaptation, the comedy As You Like It (reports the label, “Patrick Doyle’s score is one of his best. It’s a ravishingly beautiful and exotic work which also has moments of thrilling drama. The score culminates in a spectacular Romance for Violin and Orchestra.”)   www.varesesarabande.com

Latest Italian releases from the GDM label include Bruno Nicolai’s score to Love Birds (Una Strana Voglia D’Amare), containing the original LP content plus 14 tracks of unreleased cues; Gianni Ferrio’s 1967 Western score for El Desperado (29 tracks + 2 bonus tracks) and Ferrio’s 1968 Western score, Joe! Cercati Un Posto Per Morire! (“Find A Place To Die”), Armando Trovajoli’s romantic score for Come, Quando, Perche' (“How, When, and With Whom;” 2 tracks previously unreleased), and Ennio Morricone’s dramatic music for Luciani Salce’s El Greco (1966).  www.gdmmusic.com

In honor of the film's 25th Anniversary and subsequent DVD release, La-La Land Records has released the first major retail CD release of the original soundtrack to the classic Jim Henson fantasy adventure film The Dark Crystal.  Acclaimed composer Trevor Jones (Excalibur, Labyrinth, Angel Heart, Cliffhanger) fashions an exquisite, lush orchestral score that brings all the awesome wonder of this classic cinematic event, directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, to life.  Private label Numenorean Records had issued the score in a 2-CD set in 2003, presenting both the original soundtrack album (13 tracks) digitally remastered and the complete original score (28 tracks) as heard in the film; La-La Land provides a sparkling release of the 13-track album remaster in fine condition.  I had the opportunity to write the notes for this release and very much enjoyed the opportunity to revisit the score in depth.  But ignore the notes – the score impressed the hell out of me back in 1982 and it still does 25 years later.  The film is an amazing experience and La-La Land has very nicely preserved its score on CD.

Equally laudable, La-La Land has also released the first ever official, studio-endorsed release of composer David Arnold’s orchestral score to the Roland Emmerich 1998 remake of Godzilla.  A limited edition 2-disc set contains nearly 2 full hours of music, proffering the complete score, which has been appropriately praised as one of the finest action scores of the 90’s. Whatever you may feel about the film itself, Arnold’s score for Godzilla is one of the major lost scores of the decade, never being release in any form until now.  Exclusive liner notes are written by Dan Goldwasser. www.lalalandrecords.com

Another new release that I happened to have the opportunity to write the notes for is one I’m really excited to see – let alone be involved in – and that’s the 5-CD set Mad, Mod & Macabre: The Ronald Stein Collection from Percepto Records.  Following up on their releases of Stein’s music for The Haunted Palace and The Premature Burial, It Conquered the World and Invasion of the Saucermen, and Dinosaurus on single-disc releases, the label pulls out all the stops to compile near-complete scores from ten films scored by the master of manic B-movies.  The music is flat out terrific – Stein was brilliant at crafting creative and inventive scores and sound designs from the briefest of materials, and often for the stupidest of films; yet he gave every project his all and enhanced even the cinematic turkeys with effective and enjoyable scores.  With Percepto’s ongoing series, and Varese Sarabande’s previous Not Of This Earth collection of Stein monster music, this composer is finally getting some well-deserved  recognition on CD.

Pale Blue continues their digital releases of new British film music, following Jocelyn Pook’s delightful Heidi. Up next is Mark Thomas’ score for the 2005 film of the classic Scottish tale, Greyfriars Bobby. John Henderson’s moving film starred Christopher Lee, James Cosmo, and Gina McKee in the story of a loveable dog who remained loyal to his master even after his death. Thomas’ music is a melodic, sweeping orchestral work, with some Celtic flourishes and is well deserved of a release. The album will be available on the likes of iTunes from August 20th. – via musicfromthemovies.com

Newly released soundtracks in Japan include Chumei Watanabe “cool funky score” for The Bodyguard, the 70's TV action drama starring Sonny Chiba, Yoko Kanno’s score from the dark Spy action anime series Darker Than Black, and the latest volume in Avanz’ series of rare Italian scores Ennio Morricone’s music for Mysticae, L’Uomo E Magia, a 1972 TV series of the world magic and psychic powers.

Intrada has announced two new CD releases containing three scores for two films by two composers. The cop thriller The Seven-Ups was made as a follow-up to The French Connection, with Roy Scheider graduating to the lead role and highlighted by a memorable car chase. Johnny Mandel wrote the original, rejected score, and Don Ellis (who scored both French Connection films) wrote the final score. Nearly a decade later, Mandel scored the 1982 Best Picture nominee The Verdict, a gritty courtroom drama adapted by David Mamet and directed by Sidney Lumet, featuring memorable, Oscar-nominated performances from Paul Newman and James Mason. Intrada's disc, limited to 1200 copies, features the complete score to The Seven-Ups as well as the complete 17-minute score to The Verdict.
Their latest Signature Edition release presents Pino Donaggio's score to the Lou Ferrigno version of Hercules. The score was originally released on LP by Varese Sarabande, but Intrada's CD release, limited to 1000 copies, has been remastered from the original tapes with improved sound, and substantially expanded to 72 minutes.  www.intrada.com


Film Music on DVD

Kino Video will release a 2-disc special edition with a Criterion-like presentation of the 1935 classic version of She.  The movie, created by the same team of special-effects wizards that crafted original King Kong, is a thrilling tale of adventure, immortality and lost love, based on the H. Rider Haggard novel.  Filled with art deco sets, gorgeous costumes, and backed by Max Steiner's powerful score, She has been described as “pure heart-stopping, eye-popping adventure.”  Kino’s new DVD edition has been restored in High Definition from the original 35mm elements, and is here offered in both its original B&W version, and in a newly colorized version created under the direction of no less a personage than legendary effects master Ray Harryhausen. In addition, both films show scenes deleted from the original cut, but which have now been restored back into the film.  Musicwise, composer John Morgan, noted for his archival symphonic restorations of classic Hollywood film scores like this one, is interviewed about the Steiner score, among many other special features on the DVD set.   www.kino.com

On Sony’s new 50th Anniversary Edition of the 1957 Ray Harryhausen classic 20 Million Miles to Earth (also presented in both original b&w and colorized versions, again approved by Harryhausen), extras include a profile of composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff, one of the decade’s most underrated film scorers, by Monstrous Movie Music’s David Schecter, who also explains the B-movie scoring process, which mainly involved re-using old cues and commissioning new ones only when necessary.

Zach Snyder’s impressive Spartan action epic, 300, comes out this Tuesday in a standard single disc and also a 2-disc special edition; unfortunately none of the latter’s extras appear to give much attention to Tyler Bates’ splendidly eloquent, hybrid score.  You can read about it instead at www.mania.com/52650.html,
www.movieweb.com/news/39/17539.php or http://new.ifmagazine.com/feature.asp?article=1948


Randall Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music from the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He now reviews soundtracks Music from the Movies, Cemetery Dance magazine, and writes for Film Music Magazine and others.


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