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Across the Sea of Time
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Epic / 43m

An IMAX 3D film produced more to showcase the format and its subject city than anything else, Across the Sea of Time is notionally a drama about a Russian immigrant arriving in New York City to search for his ancestors and ending up taking lots of photographs of the construction of various skyscrapers and the subway system.

John Barry lived in and loved New York for many years and his score plays like his own love letter to the city. (It’s interesting to compare it with Americans, his concept album of the 1970s – for this 1995 project he was firmly entrenched in that lush orchestral style which dominated the last couple of decades of his career.)

John Barry

While it’s a fairly short film its score is near-constant and actually contains a large number of themes, perhaps the largest number in a Barry score this side of Dances With Wolves. They’re mostly grand and romantic, they’re rich and memorable – and ravishingly beautiful. The anchoring theme is based on a six-note figure (which, satisfyingly, you can sing the name of the film to) – heard in the fairly short opening “The Wonder of America”, it’s given a slightly fuller arrangement in “Ellis Island”.

A more soaring theme is introduced in “Into New York”, later reprised in “Never Have I Felt So Free”. It’s so joyous, one of its melodic figures a disguised variant on the central motif of the composer’s wonderful “Moviola” theme (about which, more shortly). There’s a certain buzz to “The Automobile, The Telephone, The Skyscraper” which (in a 1990s John Barry way) brings its own idea of energy and forward motion.

It’s not quite all wonder and light – “The Subway” is actually quite a downbeat track, and following it – while it has a kinetic energy to it – “The Subway Ride” is also quite dark. That doesn’t last long though (those tracks last only two minutes combined) – we’re well and truly back into happy territory in the sweeping “Coney Island”, a similar tone to the composer’s gorgeous theme from My Life composed not long before.

Speaking of soaring – “Up to the Sky” is so grand and majestic, it’s hard to believe that it’s only the appetiser for the score’s main course, which is “Flight Over New York”. Being a John Barry fan from the 1990s onwards was a story of frequent disappointments as he walked away from so many films after often quite minor disagreements with directors – one of these was on Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides. His theme for that score was so good – one of his very best – that when he was recording his “Moviola” compilation not long afterwards he included it on there, naming it after the album rather than the film for which it was written – and he finally did manage to get it into a film with this one. It’s a bit rearranged to fit the scene – but it’s so good – rousing, dripping with feeling, an instant ear-worm – quite magnificent. (I do wonder, given some of the other themes in this score draw from some of the patterns that make up “Moviola”, if there isn’t more from The Prince of Tides in Across the Sea of Time than we realise – I guess we’ll never know.)

While that has the feeling of a grand finale to it, there’s still quite a way to go. “Central Park” reprises the lovely theme from “Coney Island” and then there’s a bit of a change of pace with some chilled-out jazz in “Times Square and Broadway”, a style Barry did so very well (and explored more fully in his final masterpiece, Playing By Heart, a few years later).

“Scary Night in the Park” has a slightly more suspenseful tone than the rest of the score (but not nearly as much as you might expect given the track title); then we hear the main theme again for the first time in a while in “A New Day Will Come”. In “Searching” there’s a kind of melancholy tugging away, before we get the grandest arrangement of the main theme in “Welcome to America, Welcome to New York”. Barry brings things to a close in predictably gorgeous style in the titular final track, reprising the theme introduced early in the score in “Into New York” in some style.

There was nobody else like John Barry. I know some dismiss the later part of his career because it didn’t have the variety and frankly the invention of his earlier days, but boy – he found something he did better than anyone else and he just kept doing it. Nearly all his scores from this period feature at least one stunning romantic theme, the better ones feature several of them, and Across the Sea of Time is blessed with more than most. You can put the album on, close your eyes and get transported to another time and place – it’s so lush and luxurious, it’s just perfect. This is a special score by one of film music’s greats.

Rating: *****

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  1. Geoff Leonard (Reply) on Saturday 11 April, 2020 at 22:34

    Very well written, a soundtrack rarely discussed, so thank you for reviewing it!

  2. Alan (Reply) on Sunday 12 April, 2020 at 04:49

    Yes, I agree, Mr. Movie Music did a really first class job with Across the Sea of Time. A favourite of mine after Dances with Wolves and Somewhere in Time and just before Out of Africa on my list!

    A truly great review of a truly great composer!

  3. Maarten (Reply) on Sunday 12 April, 2020 at 19:59

    Beautiful Barry soundtrack. Has been a while since I played it. After your review James, I played it twice, during dinner and afterwards while doing the dishes. ūüėČ So thank you for bringing it up. There indeed wasn’t anyone like Barry. I saw a picture of his baby son in the booklet… wonder how he looks now, 25 years later. Barry dedicated this score to him. Time goes by so fast…
    Now playing: Playing by Heart, even more beautiful, I find. Do you have a review of that one too? Couldn’t find it so quickly. All the best to you!