Saturday, March 28, 2009

Stargate (David Arnold)


Late again! Sorry. Things... came up.

Anyways, now we're on to David Arnold. By rights, if I was strictly following my updated library spreadsheet, I'd be reviewing Craig Armstrong's World Trade Center today instead, but 1) it's actually owned by my younger sister and I just ripped it from CD to iTunes without her knowledge, and 2) I'm dying to review something a bit more stylishly romantic and rip-roaringly FUN than Armstrong's work tends to be. Let's be honest, as powerful and dramatic and moving as The Incredible Hulk and Elizabeth: The Golden Age are (and they are!), they're not exactly FUN. Driving? Inspirational? Invigorating? Pulse-pounding? Oh my yes.

But... "fun?"

I think I'm trying to say that there's a difference between "enjoyable/impressive/admirable" and "fun." Exactly how they are different is of course a topic for you English majors out there (more power to you, I would have likely been one had I attended college), but for now I think it's safe to say that Stargate, David Arnold's bold and brash explosion onto the film score scene, is a heck of a lot more fun in a lighthearted and accessible way than the more heavy-handed Armstrong dirges and elegies we've been discussing hitherto. You know, the same way Hans Zimmer is more "fun" than Michael Kamen. Oh, wait... Yeah, never mind. Disregard that simile.

Anyways, Stargate. This is really one which, like a good many Arnold scores, I needn't even discuss. Any proper, old-fashioned score collector will have learned to love it eons ago, and the only way this obscure blog entry is going to shape anyone's opinion is if they're so new to the hobby that they're just discovering (for whatever insufficient reason) the many merits of John Williams' original Star Wars, or, worse yet, Jaws.

Not that Stargate is very close to those undisputed masterpieces (in a purely technical sense), but it's pretty nearly as classic, wonderful and old-fashioned by the standards of this waning age of the early 2000's. Stargate is an early '90s score, and if you know anything about the 1990s as far as film music is concerned, you know it was a darn fine time to be interested in that field. From Williams' own early-decade masterpieces such as Home Alone, Hook, Jurassic Park, Far and Away and Schindler's List, to James Horner's astounding maturation (and some would say eventual descent into self-plagiarism) with such fantastic classics as Legends of the Fall, Casper, Balto, Apollo 13, Braveheart, and of course Titanic, there were also the newly emerging, immense talents of Elliot Goldenthal, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and of course, David Arnold.

Granted, it was a ten-year period, but to cast an eye over the many now-classic scores that came out in that decade is to invite amazement and struggle for self-control. And Stargate, for its sheer audacity and scope, is one of the finest large-scale debuts in film score history by any composer (for my money). Up there with Doyle's Henry V, easily.

So what of the music? It'd be a stretch to call it similar to the Hollywood-filtered classical style of John Williams (boy, his name will pop up in this post, won't it??), but it's certainly no stretch to say it's definitely that brassy, purely orchestral strain of sci-fi adventure music which is firmly rooted in the oldest, grandest Hollywood style. This is Korngold-style heroics at it's finest! Think of Debney's CutThroat Island... that stylish throwback vein mixed with a thoroughly modern sonic depth and dramatic flourish. Stargate is to sci-fi and fantasy what CutThroat is to pirate scores. Old-fashioned, swashbuckling and romantic in just the right ways, without sounding a bit out of place. And it's just modern enough to be permitted an incredibly bombastic construction.

The album I have (the original, not the coveted Deluxe Edition) begins with the grand "Overture," which is really just a terrific way to introduce the score. The themes are swelling, the chorus is massive, and the tone transforms from awe-inspiring and massively triumphant to dark and uber-ominous so seamlessly that it never, NEVER fails to impress me. It sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the wonderfully strong album.

Loud chants, blaring brass, thundering timpanis, and surging string washes are delightfully complimented by lighter cues with tingling percussion and swirling woodwinds. It's got a little bit of everything, and it never slows down or grows dull. It's a remarkably mature album for such an early David Arnold venture, and it has clear prototypes for musical ideas which he would later crystallize and perfect in his (even more famous) scores for Independence Day and Godzilla (and, to some extent, his biggest, baddest James Bond scores).

A track-by-track or even semi-track-specific review of the album (beyond that overture) is a bit of a silly notion: there are 30 tracks, and every one is dynamite. The best way to sum it all up is to say that it's a dern fine bit of adventure music, and it was the obvious watershed in Arnold's amazingly successful career. This is where it started, folks! And, if you're like me, you'll find this a terrific score to revisit every once in a while. Every *frequent* once in a while. It's fabulous. And, in this bland-as-oatmeal season where most new film score albums fail to muster anything more than a cursory glance and an unenthusiastic "Oh, ah..." from me, these classics are welcome tools for refreshing the mind and soul with some truly splashy and FUN orchestral mayhem.

If you don't have it, you can listen to the entire thing in my imeem playlist. Enjoy!

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