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July Film Music Overview

The midsummer is a bit of a slow down in releases so the past couple weeks I decided to take some time to rest a bit and get ready for what plans to be a busy Fall! So, apologies for a week or so of no content here. Now let's catch up with some of the film music that appeared over the last month for review.

There have been a lot of these "older" scores finding their way to new expanded editions. Perhaps the most anticipated was Intrada's release of Horner's Willow. I haven't had a chance to order that yet, but it certainly is worth attention. The re-evaluation, or rethinking of Horner's music has undergone a number of changes in the last decade, especially since his untimely death. When I first started reviewing music, he was among the most disliked composers with accusations of reusing music from his earlier scores. Willow is a great fantasy score, but admittedly as a young filmgoer, I remember thinking the music was sort of like lesser John Williams music. That said, it is an exciting score and among Horner's better early works and it certainly holds some nostalgia for some Gen-Xers! I was not old enough (or really all that interested!) to get in to see 1983's Scarface. Giorgio Moroder's score has finally seen the light of day from La-La Land and if you are a fan of 1980s electronic scoring and dance music it is worth tracking down. Moroder was on the leading edge of popular music in the 1970s and early 1980s and the impact this music would have on other composers working in this medium would range across the decade and beyond.

More interesting perhaps was La-La Land's expanded edition of another early Thomas Newman score, Flesh and Bone (1993). This is an important addition to Newman's discography that illustrates the two potential directions he could take. There are plenty of unique quirky instrumentations and gestures, but also some quite compelling thematic material that pulls the score together. On the more controversial end, the label also released a 2-disc set of Jurassic Park which presents a different scoring style from the same year. The controversy is mostly that this is basically a repackaged release from their earlier set that included both Wiliams' scores for this franchise. It puts all the film versions mostly together on disc one and then has an "improved and remastered" edition of the original soundtrack. If you missed the multi-disc collection this is worth picking up but otherwise it can be a pass for most. It sort of boils down to whether you want to have things in this new order and need a better-sounding OST as well. It's not likely to be the last time we will see this score reissued.

On the new film score front there have been a few things that have stood out as well. Natalie Holt got the plum job of scoring the new Obi-Wan series but then somehow John Williams wrote a new theme and William Ross, who has served as an arranger for Williams, integrated this into some of the underscore. Holt's work is solid and the Williams/Ross material flows well with what she has done here. It is hard to tell who was having to readapt styles, but it mostly comes together.

One of the better new film scores of the month is undoubtedly Mychael Danna's work on Where the Crawdads Sing. It is really a charming score with some gorgeous melodic writing and just the right touches of folkish flavor along the way to keep things interesting as the variations move through different textures. One of his finest works in a while. Also worth tracking down is Stefano Cabrera's score for the series Hotel Portofino. Think Downtown Abbey but in Italy. Cabrera crafts some great thematic material here in a style that proves to be a delightful blend of Desplat with perhaps a touch of Piovanni, Bacalov, or Rota. If that piques your interest, check it out. That release is a Silva download as is the brief little throwback score from Lindsay Wright for the documentary This is Joan Collins. Wright has a great sense of thematic shape here and the little score is a sort of set of variations on that theme in a 1960s-like jazz vibe. The album is a bit bold with an opening 3-minute drum set solo! Keep an eye on Wright in the future.

There were also a couple of animated scores that stood out this past month. Mark Mancina has been around a while, coming to film music lover's attention with his work on Twister and Speed in the 1990s. His career has been consistent but tends to be under the radar for some reason. He scored the new Netflix animated feature, The Sea Beast. The score is an example of two halves of musical style using some adventure and epic orchestral material on the front end but that then shifts to more electronics as things move along. Some of sea shanty styles are also a fun diversion. These electronic effects and atmospherics are blended within a variety of orchestral textures as well. His harmonic ideas add to the interesting color that further shapes the music. Bear McCreary's Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is an excellent little diversion that has engaging thematic material, interesting comedic writing, and plenty of nods to Kung Fu and Spaghetti Western scores of old making this a sort of pastiche/homage. The big action sequences are equally stunning and the incorporation of the pop music elements adds a great extra touch. It may be one of the top scores of the year, surely for this genre.

Most of the scores here are all now available from streaming services, or for the limited editions available from their respective label sites. One last update worth noting is that Intrada's Kickstarter to re-record Bernard Herrmann's On Dangerous Ground and The Man Who Knew Too Much funded and backers will be getting that release by the start of the year if they can get a solid October recording date and all goes well.


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