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  • Composed by Basil Poledouris
  • La-La Land Records / 2011 / Film score 59:15 / Alternate score 58:20 / Bonus disc 50:19

A surprisingly good thriller in the mould of Duel and The Hitcher, 1997’s Breakdown stars Kurt Russell as a man whose wife is kidnapped while they’re on a long drive across the US and who faces an increasingly desperate battle to get her back.  It’s so surprising to see Kurt Russell in something which isn’t awful (his films either side of this were Executive Decision and Soldier) that maybe some might wonder whether some of the praise for the film is over-the-top, but I don’t think so – it works all the way through, feels breathlessly exciting and constantly very tense.

Basil Poledouris provided the film with its music – twice, in fact.  He wrote and recorded a full score for the film which was essentially abandoned when the director, Jonathan Mostow, changed his mind about the type of music he wanted – unusually, Poledouris was then invited to write a new score (other composers also being brought in given time pressures).  The full story’s in the album’s liner notes so I won’t bother reproducing it here – it’s an interesting read and Jeff Bond makes a compelling comparison between the evolution in this film’s score and the evolution (some might say devolution) in film music as a whole at the time.

Basil Poledouris

This album presents the final score as heard in the film, Poledouris’s original score and also some stuff “in between”, which are largely cues composed by Poledouris for his “second reading” of the music but then either fully or partially replaced by music by other composers for the final score.  The first score is what might be called a “90s Goldsmith style” thriller score – predominantly orchestral with electronics used to add colour here and there, and also to bolster the percussion.  It’s got a decent main theme (unmistakably Poledouris) and some thrilling action music – you just don’t hear the like today.  While I think it would work perfectly fine in modern films, evidently filmmakers don’t.  When action music today is orchestral, it sometimes seems that the composer thinks that it will be exciting as long as it’s played by a huge orchestra and is very fast and very loud – for me that’s no substitute for this kind of thing, which manages to be exciting by virtue of the fact that it’s written by a composer who knows what he’s doing and only turns the dial up to maximum when it is really necessary – something which seems fairly obviously the right thing for any film composer to do, but which doesn’t happen very often in blockbusters at the moment.  (Only towards the end of the mammoth 13-minute climactic action pieces does Poledouris engage in the kind of brassy, muscular writing for which he is so beloved.)

It’s compelling music, surprisingly melodic at times (lots of guitar early on in the score), enjoyable throughout.  But film music was changing – music for films like these became much more about texture than melody – and that’s reflected in the replacement score.  It’s much more low-key, more electronic (with a very prominent role for EVI throughout).  It is a completely different beast – treating the film more like a psychological horror, really – and while it lacks the obvious appeals of the first score, it is still an impressive piece of work.  The new main theme – for EVI – has a haunting beauty about it; and the second cue introduces overt beauty with a very lovely theme of its own.

There is considerably less action music – Poledouris (this time with various co-composers) focussing instead on presenting a kind of portrait of the despair being experienced by Kurt Russell’s character.  It’s ultimately very effective in the film, so it’s hard to argue with director Mostow’s decision – what surprises me is how effective it is on album, where the comparative lack of melody is more than made up for by the intensity and intelligence of the musical journey on offer.  Even the independently-composed music by Richard Marvin (a few minutes of it here and there) fits in well and doesn’t feel out of place.  Some of the occasional more heavily-orchestral sections have a distinctive Bernard Herrmann vibe to them – no bad thing.

From the top of my head, I can’t think of anything else like this – an album which presents two different scores to the same film, by the same composer.  It’s fascinating in that respect, to hear the development from one to the other – and fortunately it’s far more than just that, thanks to the quality of the music in both scores.  With lengthy liner notes from Jeff Bond, this is a fine package from La-La Land, highly-recommended of course to all fans of Basil Poledouris.  ****

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  1. Shaun (Reply) on Saturday 9 July, 2011 at 12:31

    The replacement Main Title is basically a rewrite of Waterworld, but it’s one I actually approve of, for once.