February 28, 2008


untraceable_lks33979.gifStarring Diane Lane, Billy Burke, and Colin Hanks Untraceable tells the story of an FBI agent trying to track down a seemingly impossible computer geek who uses the internet to show his violent and painful murders. Directed by veteran N.Y.P.D. director/producer Gregory Hoblit the film as of February 2008 has already done 24 million its first two weeks. The horror/thriller story has been told on many occasions but the more interesting aspect of this film is the dark misty atmosphere of Portland and the cybercrime itself, increasing the mood of the tension and terror. Some of the grisly murders could certainly have been toned down a bit but this type of material sells so Hollywood is going to show it.

Its hard to imagine that Christopher Young has worked on nearly 40 films in the last ten years ranging from Runaway Jury, to Shipping News, to Ghost Rider. However, having written for many genre’s, horror/thriller is one that he is quite comfortable with, and the music to Untraceable is certainly full of dark tension filled material. The “Untraceable” theme, like the rest of the soundtrack is scored for piano, harp, guitar, percussion and strings. And it is a real theme, actually consisting of more than three notes! There is a small section in “Incinerated in Cement” where a lone french horn has a small solo and there is a brief passage in “Viewer Executioners” but this is a “black and white” style score that Herrmann describes for his film Psycho. It is a theme that immediately sets the mood for the anticipation of something to happen. Unlike so many other horror scores Mr. Young doesn’t have to resort to loud brass, percussion, and synthesizers to get his message of tension in the score. The key words to describe this soundtrack is sublety of the material. Yes, there are a couple of sections where when necessary the volume was turned up a bit. But this is certainly the exception to the rule. “Missing Flowers” not only repeats the main theme but introduces another theme, soft and pleasant on the piano, a romantic leitmotif used on several occasions. If there is a highlight to any upbeat positive material in this score this is it.

The entire flavor of this work is definitely minor key, no breaks in the tension and sadness, save for the occasional romantic leitmotif described above. Not one to be played if you’re down in the dumps about something. It also doesn’t make for interesting background music to be played while one is doing the chores around the house. This is also not one of those “one and done” recordings that most of us have and frankly would have been better off if we hadn’t purchased it in the first place. Seeing the film will help to put some of the music in the right place so one can have an understanding of why what was written for what part of the film. If you’re a fan of Chris Young’s music this is one to put into your collection for sure. His subtle method of achieving terror in a film is unsurpassed and puts him at the top of the list in the horror/terror category. Other collectors of horror/terror material will find this to be a change in the way score material is written for this genre. This reviewer approves and is one that will be taken off of the shelf and listened to from time to time. Chris has certainly established himself as a first class composer in the 21st. century. The score was released on Lakeshore 33978 and is available through all of the normal outlets. Recommended!

Son of Kong/Steiner

February 23, 2008

son_of_kong_8570183.gifThe other film reconstruction on Naxos 8.570183 was the quickly put together sequel Son of Kong with Robert Armstrong, and Frank Reicher returning in the roles of Carl Denham and Captain Englehorn. “Kiko” was much smaller than pop, albino, and quite funny in some scenes. Also starring were John Marston and Victor Wong along with Helen Mack in the role of Hilda a stow-away girl. It was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and written by Ruth Rose (Mrs. Schoedsack), both of who worked on the original King Kong. Willis H. O’Brien did the animation and special effects as he did on the original. Willis went on to teach Ray Harryhausen who took animation to a much higher level in films such as 20 Million Miles to Earth, Clash of the Titans, and many many others.

While not being able to verify the information it could very likely be that The Son of Kong was the first sound sequel and it like most sequels not nearly as good. It was rushed to cash in on the original, had 1/3 the budget, and even the orchestra was cut in half forcing the doubling technique and some musicians were required to play more than one instrument. The doubling is a technique where two notes are played simultaneously giving a fuller sound to the orchestra.

While not quite to the level of King Kong, Son of Kong, still has that wonderful Steiner music including “Runaway Blues” a great theme that is weaved throughout the entire score and is every bit as good as anything from King Kong. The “Runaway Blues” track begins with the solo violin followed by the clarinet all with Louise Fletcher (Mrs. Steiner) providing rhythm on the harp in the background. While Mack sung the lyrics in the film, strumming a banjo, this reconstruction doesn’t include the words. Other tracks of interest are “The Styracosaur” which has some really fast paced and difficult brass writing, one to challenge even an accomplished player. It quickly seques into “The Black Bear” without break and Steiner using the Wagner leitmotif method incorporates a fine (4) note one on the soprano sax for “Kiko”. “In Dakang”, featuring oboe and always present percussion, conjures up an oriental mystery of things to come. Due to budget and time restraints there is some material that was carried over from King Kong. Part of “Forgotten Island” as an example, are taken from “Boat in the Fog” and “The Island”. Another example is “Finale” has material taken from “Bronte” as Skull Island disappears forever with “Kiko”. While some of this recycled material will be annoying to some this score certainly has it share of new material to offer, especially “Runaway Blues”.

The Marco Polo original release 8.225166, issued in 2001 is exactly the same CD. Both the Naxos, released in 2006, and the Marco Polo log in at 77:19. The difference is in the liner notes. The Marco Polo has a 36 page booklet and the Naxos only 12 pages. There is more track by track analysis, more pictures and information in the Marco Polo CD. The larger booklet is nice, but? If one could get the Marco Polo for close to the same price used it might be nicer. Coupled with The Most Dangerous Game this is an excellent early example of the genius of Max Steiner.

John Morgan has done a fine fine job in the reconstructions of these scores and made them available to us, as the only way that you’re going to be able to listen to this material. He is quite meticulous in his orchestrations to the point that he doesn’t use a 110 piece orchestra when Max was limited to 28 members for the Son of Kong score. He tries to make it sound as authentic as possible! Many of you who don’t approve of reconstructioned scores are truly missing the boat. Keep in mind there is a huge difference in quality between a 78RPM and a digitally recorded CD even if all the surface noise etc. is removed from the acetate material. Take advantage of this release sooner not later.

Golden Score Rating is *** 1/2

Track listing

1. Main Title (01:50)

Son Of Kong

2. Ship At Sea (00:57)

Son Of Kong

3. In Dakang (01:25)

Son Of Kong

4. Runaway Blues (01:39)

Son Of Kong

5. Fire! (02:34)

Son Of Kong

6. An Offer Of Help (04:16)

Son Of Kong

7. Memories (02:11)

Son Of Kong

8. Chinese Chatter (04:05)

Son Of Kong

9. Forgotten Island (04:14)

Son Of Kong

10. Quicksand – Little Kong (03:57)

Son Of Kong

11. The Styracosaur (00:46)

Son Of Kong

12. The Black Bear (02:41)

Son Of Kong

13. Finger Fixings (03:31)

Son Of Kong

14. Campfire At Night (03:24)

Son Of Kong

15. The Old Temple (02:21)

Son Of Kong

16. Johhny Get Your Gun (00:34)

Son Of Kong

17. Finale (04:59)

Son Of Kong




20000_leagues_under_sea_19.gifA brand new experience for this reviewer ( baby boomer generation) was the downloading off of iTunes of this 1954 Disney film starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre. Based on the Jules Verne novel and directed by Richard Fleischer, son of Max Fleischer a big rival of Walt Disney in the 30’s (Popeye), it tells the story of a fantastic submarine the Nautilus and the antihero Captain Nemo.

There has never been any reason for me to look into all of this lossy compression, 64, 128, 192, 320 kbits/sec, VBR encoding, or uncompressed WAV files. I went from 78’s to 45’s to LP’s to reel to reel and cassette tapes and finally to CD’s and all of the ways they were recorded, ending with the SACD. This Direct Stream Digital seemed to produce excellent results especially through my older higher end audio equipment and this download was the standard 128 Advance Audio Coding from Apple. The overall results were not bad at all! Yes, there was some difference in the the lack of bass and that crisp sound of the treble in the high end but part of that could have been the (3) track mono recording. This is going to be the wave of the future and we might just as well get use to it!

Paul Smith is one of those composers who would likely never make a top ten list, yet he worked on many of the famous Disney films, spending most of his life composing for them. From the opening strains of the “Main Title” full of high sea adventure and romance it seques into a dark foreboding theme from the brass, the leitmotif for the Nautilus. Also included in the “Main Title” is a theme for Nemo, again a leitmotif. “Ned’s Tale” is a great theme sung by Kirk Douglas and also used as a leitmotif for the character he portrayed in the film Ned Land. The words are typical Disney silly but after a few listens the strains begin to sink into your brain and they become hard to get rid of. While Paul didn’t resort to (9) harps as Bernard Herrmann did for the film Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef, he did use a combination of a harp and the lower register in the strings and brass to depict the underwater sequences in the film. The end result was music that was quite effective. As a bonus there are additional versions of “A Whale of a Tale” including one by the Wellingtons whose claim to fame was the television theme to Gilligan’s Island. There is also a recording of Side B of the produced 45 called “And The Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter”. This is one that is best left forgotten.

Liner notes are provided by none other than John “Cutthroat Island” Debney relating a story of how he came to know and fully appreciate the score while growing up. His father worked for Disney and was on occasion permitted to bring home 16mm copies of the films. John quickly became the family projectionist and this was how he became interested in film composing.

From what I can hear Randy Thorton, who also included a producer notes page, did a fine job in the restoring process. While we are on the subject of liner notes there are (7) pages of them including drawings, pictures, and schematics. They are in the 8.5 by 11 size so if you want them to fit in your CD case you’ll have to reduce the size of them. The odds of this ever becoming a CD release are slim or none so this too might be your opportunity to download material for the very first time. I’m glad that I did!

Golden Score Rating is *** 1/2

Produced by Randy Thorton

Mastering by Jeff Sheridan at Soundworks Studio


Track List1. Main Title (Captain Nemo’s Theme) (2:26)

2. Street Fight (1:04)

3. Aboard the Abraham Lincoln /

Hunting The Monster (2:29)

4. A Whale of a Tale (2:10)

5. The Monster Attacks (2:21)

6. Deserted Sub / Burial / Captured (9:14)

7. Fifty Fathoms / The Island of Crespo (8:45)

8. Storm at Sea / Nemo Plays (2:26)

9. Strange Man of the Seas (4:04)

10. Nemo’s Torment (1:00)

11. Justified Hate (1:29)

12. Searching Nemo’s Cabin (4:02)

13. Ned’s Bottles (:44)

14. Ashore at New Guinea (2:55)

15. Native Drums / Back to the Nautilus (3:50)

16. Submerge (1:45)

17. The Giant Squid (6:54)

18. Ambush at Vulcania (4:47)

19. Nemo Wounded (2:44)

20. Escape from Vulcania (3:43)

21. Finale / Deep Is the Mighty Ocean (:52)


22. A Whale of a Tale (Single) (2:07)

23. And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter

(Single B Side) (2:32)

24. A Whale of a Tale (2:22)

25. A Whale of a Tale (2:00)

26. A Whale of a Tale (Reprise) (:12)



Max Steiner

February 13, 2008

maxsteiner.jpgMAX STEINER (1888-1971)


Maximillian Raoul Walter Steiner was born in Vienna on May 10th 1888. Max was the grandson of the musical impresario who discovered Strauss and brought Offenbach to Vienna. With such a rich musical and operatic home life, it is no wonder that Steiner developed into a music prodigy. His father, also a theatrical producer, had Brahms, someone he had promoted and befriended, give Max piano lessons. At 13 he had already completed and graduated from the Imperial Academy of Music, winning the Gold Medal of the Emperor. By the time he was 16 he was already conducting, composing, and continuing his studies under Gustav Mahler. In 1905 he left Austria for England, taking a position as conductor of His Majesty’s Theatre, a post he held until 1914. With the help of the Duke of Westminister in 1915, Max found his way to New York and began working on musicals and operettas. He also began to compose and conduct screenings for silent films. On one such film “The Bondman” he became friends with the producer William Fox, which eventually became his ticket to go west to Hollywood in 1929. His first employment was as an orchestrator for the 1929 Ziegfield “Rio Rita.”

It was at RKO pictures that Max developed his style of writing scores for films. Adapting the concept created by Richard Wagner, Max wrote music that became a dramatic content of the film, not just a background filler. His films “Symphony of Six Million”, “King Kong”, and “The Informer” were examples of the leitmotif style of music he became so very famous for. While his critics referred to this style of music as “Mickey Mousing” the producers and directors loved his music. They could count on the fact that Steiner would make a good film better and great film superb. Shortly after being let go by RKO he was hired by David O. Selznick to begin work on the classic “Gone With The Wind.” From there he was hired by Warner Bros. where he remained for the majority of his working days. One of his first assignments was a film “Tovarich” part of which became the famous Warner Bros. fanfare introduction to their films.

Max in his career produced scores for over 250 films! He recieved 26 nominations from the Academy and took home three Oscars. His Oscar winning scores were “The Informer”, “Now, Voyager”, and “Since You Went Away.” Other nominated films included “The Lost Patrol”, “The Life of Emil Zola”, “Gone With The Wind”, “Casablanca”, “Caine Mutiny”, and “Battle Cry.” Curiously omitted from any consideration were such classics as “King Kong”, “They Died With Their Boots On”, and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “King Kong” is considered by many to have set the standard as to how film scores were to be written for many years to come.

After many years of suffering from cancer and failing eyesight Max Steiner passed away in Hollywood on December 28th 1971. To many of us Max will always be known as “The Father of Film Music”. He composed dynamic orchestrated scores with wonderful melodies that enhanced what we saw on the screen.

Quotation of note: “If Wagner had lived in this century he would have been the number one film composer”.