Saturday, April 11, 2009

Independence Day (David Arnold)


I've been listening to an incredible amount of sci-fi and fantasy scores lately. Mostly sci-fi, but my commutes and gym excursions have been lightly peppered with the likes of Horner's Willow, Eric Serra's Arthur and the Invisibles, Steve Burke's Kameo: Elements of Power, among others, and I've also revisited Buckley's charming The Forbidden Kingdom; but by and large, lately my music of choice has been from the science fiction realm. Partly because sci-fi, like fantasy, has the wondrous scope and breadth and expansive sense of adventure which can easily result in a fantastic score, but also partly because JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot is imminent.

I will likely be disappointed in the film (yet am perfectly willing to be surprised), but Giacchino's score for the same is what really has me salivating. So in anticipation of what I fully expect to be a brilliant sci-fi score, I've begun another of my semi-annual Trek score marathons/sprees, and along for the ride has been Star Wars II: The Attack of the Clones, The Matrix trilogy, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Alien 3, Dark City, Wall-E, and a massive host of others. What an infinite pleasure, then, to add to this list one of David Arnold's most beloved and truly mind-blowing scores, his no-holds-barred, all-guns-blazing piece of over-the-top, cinematically patriotic tour-de-force known as Independence Day.

Here in MN as I write this entry, the sun is shining and the temperature is an amiable 55 degrees, almost exactly the same, weather-wise, as the day I bought Independence Day on CD back in 2005. I had biked to the local thrift store in search of bargains, and boy did I find one! Arnold's score was right on top of the stack of CDs for sale, still factory-sealed, and priced at an attractive 80 cents. As you can probably bet, I didn't waste too much more time in the store, but biked back home in the lovely sunshine, thrilled as always to have the chance to explore yet another new score, with this particular instance being infinitely embellished by 1) The easy price, 2) the absolutely tiny size of my collection at the time, which was absolutely begging to be expanded, and 3) my incredible fondness for the only piece of music from the score I'd heard up to that point, which was the nice suite on Telarc's The Big Picture album, featuring Kunzel and his infamous Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. My prayer was that the full score would live up to the inspirational, whirlwind heights that I'd experienced in that 6-minute Telarc suite.

I needn't have worried.

(Not that I really DID worry, but YOU know...)

Four years later, my love for the score has only grown. In fact, the only thing that's really changed in any detrimental way regarding my feelings for the score is that I ended up finally seeing the movie... twice. Ugh, ugh ugh... and a little bit of chuckle. Everything about that movie is so overblown and unreserved that I'm truly surpised at the returns it got at the box office. But at least we as film score fans are lucky enough that the movie was made at a time (the '90s, see previous post) when full-on orchestral scores were at the height of their magnificence and glory, and the best part is that David Arnold took the cheesy, overblown, over-the-top dramatics and apocalyptic premise as one heck of an invitation, and the result is an orchestral and choral masterpiece that puts Stargate (see previous post again) to shame. And that in itself is not something which should be possible in this universe.

Of course, all this talk of overbearingly dramatic and cheesy narratives becomes understandable when you realize that we're talking about Roland Emmerich here. Besides making an amazing amount of truly absurd movies (The Patriot probably being the lone exception), this is a director whose sense of heavy-as-lead melodrama and puzzling, questionable national loyalty has traditionally been suited for only one thing: generating fantastic musical scores, of course! (Which is of course a moot point since his breakup with Arnold after the cinematically disastrous but musically delicious Godzilla, and his recent, bizarre partnership with Harold Kloser. Only gosh knows exactly what these guys are still doing in the industry, but let's just say that pairing an incompetent director with an incompetent composer is potential damnation for both careers. I will not discuss Emmerich's apparent fetish for having American landmarks destroyed on camera time... and... AGAIN. Jeez.)

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes... Overblown movies. Yep, once upon a time that meant getting a TERRIFIC score, unabashed in its emotional power and splashy, romantic style. Nowadays it mostly means one of Zimmer's students will play a keyboarded percussion sample for the director and even attempt a simple chord progression or two, but at least ID4 (the weird but accepted abbreviation for the score we're discussing) benefited from both a fantastically old-fashioned action/adventure score and a young composer who was fresh and innovative enough to be bold and blazing, not to mention unique. The result, as I said before and will likely say again before this entry is done, is incredible.

My review of Stargate (how many links can I make to that entry in one article?), light and casual as it was, hopefully conveyed the impression that I consider old-fashioned swashbuckling as insanely attractive. And while I doubt that anyone who has heard Stargate has not heard Independence Day, I will assume for the sake of increasing my word count here that such is the case with you. I hope I don't come across as patronizing.

Take the bombast, adventure and romanticism of Stargate and increase its intensity in all those areas about three or fourfold. Then spread on top of it a layer of brass-blazing, snare-ripping American patriotism, and add an extra helping of the aforementioned Emmerich melodrama, far stronger in this film than in his debut Stargate. Then factor in a series of richly-developed thematic ideas and turn the sound WAY up (it's an HDCD!!). As a bonus, watch this video, an old and probably misguided attempt by me to make a good fireworks display amazing, simply by adding the zest of this score's end title suite. Now tell me that doesn't stir your soul to its very core. No? Oh well, I tried... At least it's better than Emmerich's movie, eh?

It's truly hard to overestimate the sheer fun factor of this score. David Arnold rarely wrote anything quite as stylishly swashbuckling, stirring and adventurous afterwards, unless you count his extremely fortunate attachment to the James Bond franchise. (Which, despite the questionably trippy albums that resulted from The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, has also produced Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, all of them amazing, and all of which I hope to discuss here shortly.)

Many fans of this score lament the lack of expanded treatment on album: admittedly, there's LOTS of great music missing on CD, there's plenty of room on the current 50-minute album for more score, and there's no sign whatsoever of the score getting officially expanded anytime soon. Speaking for myself, though, the commercial album is still dang-tastic and the reader is encouraged to seek the score out in any form. There are a few different bootlegs out there, I personally never really needed one.. The CD can be purchased for dirt cheap and it's got all the best parts, after all. I mean, I got mine for 80 cents...

And anyways you can hear it on my imeem playlist for free.