- Composed by Michael Kamen
- MovieScore Media / 2012 / 62:08
When Michael Kamen passed away in 2003, film music lost one of its most colourful and popular figures – and one of its finest composers. His larger-than-life personality fed through into his music; while he was for a long time best-known for his action scores (not surprisingly, given that he scored some of the most successful action films there have ever been) in particular in the last 8-10 years of his career, he seemed to find projects that allowed him to write music that really meant something to him, and this passion simply bursts out of his finest works of the period – Don Juan de Marco, Mr Holland’s Opus, The Iron Giant, Open Range, Band of Brothers and all the rest.
Shortly before his death (which was – despite his multiple sclerosis – a shock) he began scoring a German animation called Back to Gaya. While the film did not go on to achieve much success, I suspect that more than a few fans of Michael Kamen contributed to the box office receipts it did manage to muster. Those fans heard a big-hearted, thematic orchestral score and were disappointed to find that no soundtrack release was forthcoming – a situation that has now been rectified by MovieScore Media. The story behind the score’s construction has also now been told – Kamen had written some sketches for the film, and the score was completed based on those sketches (and ideas the composer had “stored up” based on material written for but not used in earlier films) by a team of composers and orchestrators including Ilan Eshkeri, Andrew Raiher, Rupert Christie, Blake Neely, Brad Warnaar and Robert Elhai, under the supervision of Kamen’s longstanding “team” Steve McLaughlin and Chris Brooks.
They did a remarkable job of creating a cohesive score, which sounds like pure Kamen from start to finish. Many will find a smile on their face from the score’s opening moments – that little ostinato that the composer built into virtually every one of his scores as a joke, heard most famously at the opening of the Robin Hood overture. This leads into a theme which is similar to the heroic fanfare from that score – the reason for which is not surprising, as the liner notes reveal it is actually one of his early attempts at creating a theme for the Kevin Costner film before he arrived at the final one.
The score is brimming with energy and with great melody. “Flying” is appropriately soaring – because of his association with all the action pictures, I don’t think Kamen’s skill as a melodist has ever been given its due, but one listen to this cue says everything that needs to be said about his abilities in that regard. When the action music does come, it’s big and bold and brassy – “The Race” is top-notch, “The Vortex” dark and aggressive. There are occasional comic interludes (“The Toy Store”), when it needs it the music does go all sweet (“Balloon Crash”) – the score’s got a lot going on, one of those that certainly has the quality to make an instant impression but which goes on delivering more to the frequent listener thanks to all the material there is to explore.
I was lucky enough to meet Kamen a couple of times, and he was every bit as effervescent and infectiously larger than life as his music – and certainly this music – suggests. (Actually, a glace at the photo of the composer which accompanies these words tells you everything you need to know about his personality.) It isn’t perhaps quite as strong overall as his other score for an animation – the great Iron Giant – but it’s a pretty emotional experience listening to it, knowing the desperately sad circumstances surrounding its creation. I’m not ashamed to admit that during its most rousing moments, I found myself starting to well up (and this is not an album short of rousing moments). All Kamen fans will find a lot to like about Back to Gaya – and for those whose voyage into film music has begun after his life was so tragically cut short, it makes the perfect opportunity to discover so many of the facets of his music that so many people love. ****