Latest reviews of new albums:
Cliffs of Freedom
  • Composed by George Kallis

An historical romantic epic resetting the Romeo and Juliet story in the 19th century Greek war of independence against the Ottomans, Cliffs of Freedom stars Tania Raymonde and Jan Uddin as the lovers cast apart on opposite sides of the conflict. It was directed by Van Ling, better-known as a visual effects supervisor (most famously for various films directed by James Cameron, including Terminator 2 and Titanic) and is so far the only film he’s directed; it disappeared from cinemas without trace, leaving it already forgotten after only a couple of years.

While the film may have already disappeared, one aspect that absolutely deserves to live on is its wonderful score by George Kallis. I’ve written about a few of his scores over the years and he is a very talented composer – and Cliffs of Freedom is his masterpiece (to date). The film’s setting is clearly one that could accommodate a large-scale epic score – this is no guarantee that it will get one, but that’s what Kallis delivered. Grand in scale, full of sweep, with big themes, big orchestra, lots of ethnic soloists – it’s perfect fodder for those of us who grew up on film music like this.

George Kallis

The opening “Fabric of History” presents two of the themes – harmonically-related but distinct melodies, they will actually have to wait to really begin to dominate the score later on, but both are revealed in full in this initial cue. There’s a bit of Miklós Rózsa about the “freedom theme” which is heard first, stirring and rousing; the other, the “destiny theme”, is a little more contemplative, though no less dramatically ambitious.

However the first half of the score is dominated more by a different pair of themes. The “family theme” is an intimate piece with a domestic feel to it, heard first towards the end of “Valtetsi Village”, and there’s also a grand love theme which has all the emotional force behind it you’d expect in such a score. You think its lilting arrangement in “Are We Really So Different?” is going to be the high-water mark for the theme but actually that’s just an appetiser for what’s to come later, in the glorious, rousing “Cenotaph”.

In between all this, there’s the occasional action piece in the first half of the score – “Return to Tripolitsa” in particular offers some thunderous brass and later the almighty “Caravan” is absolutely thrilling. There are some wonderful set-pieces too, like the tragic “Children at the Door” in which Kallis uses a choir to raise the epic feel even higher. Not long later, “Not That Girl Any More” features a gorgeous cello solo before the composer finally reprises the opening freedom theme, here setting it in a determined, driving style.

If anything, the second half of the score is even more epic and impressive. I think “Fog of War” is the turning point, with a hummed female vocal giving a really distinctive, determined feel that gives way to a grand orchestral statement of intent. Not long afterwards, “Becoming a Legend” is as grand as its title suggests, with some driving action material combining with a rousing statement of the freedom theme – and there’s another one in “Freedom or Death” which you might think is about as stirring as it could get. You’d be wrong.

Kallis saves the best for last, with a succession of grand cues to conclude the score. This sequence begins with a blast of (JFK/Apollo 13) percussion in “Battle Preparations”, which actually leads into a moment of tense calm before the orchestral forces grow to provide some massive action music. The choir joins the party in “Battle of Valtetsi”, which sounds for a while like a better-recorded take on Gladiator‘s famous battle material, but then Kallis unleashes an enormous march of pounding energy. The action continues into “Let the Blade Find the Cut” but around a minute into the cue, it slows down for a while as the composer brings an anguished sense of tragedy into the score. As in the best of these scores, this gradually gives way and grit and determination takes over, with the action very much returning to the fore. Then in the finale, “Simply the Truth”, Kallis rolls out enormous statements of most of the score’s main themes.

I suppose in contemporary film music terms, Cliffs of Freedom is closest to the epic scores James Horner wrote in his final years for the films he managed to find outside of the Hollywood system, with perhaps a little hint of something like John Debney’s Lair in there as well, but in truth the score hearkens back to an earlier time when scores like this were much more common. If that sort of film music is your thing (and it is mine) then this score will certainly be for you: its execution is as impressive as its scope and ambition, showcasing a fabulous composer really able to flex his orchestral muscles, painting on the grandest of canvases.

Rating: ***** | |

Tags: ,

  1. Andrelax (Reply) on Monday 18 October, 2021 at 09:26

    This was an incredible score. Never stop doing what you do James!

  2. Avi Galinsky (Reply) on Monday 18 October, 2021 at 23:20

    I love this composer’s approach and work ethic. From the arrangement to the orchestration, he clearly knows what he’s doing. My only gripe with this score is that the themes are not as memorable as I’d hoped for. It has all the great qualities of James Horner’s Troy except for the actual melodies. That being said, score like this are getting rarer and rarer, so having a young composer striving to do something great – and succeeding at many points – is great to see.

  3. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Friday 22 October, 2021 at 22:13

    Once again I’ve ended up buying a score by a composer I’d never previously heard of because of you giving a very positive review, and again I haven’t been disappointed. It’s superb pretty much all the way through. Another composer that I’ll be watching out for in future.

  4. Richard May (Reply) on Thursday 11 November, 2021 at 22:41

    Yup, I agree with all the above. I also bought this on James’ recommendation and am not disappointed. It reminds me a lot of Kingdom of Heaven which isn’t surprising I guess. Maybe of touch of temp tracking, but let’s not take anything away from this richly thematic score.

    It reminds me strongly of why I started buying soundtrack albums 30 years ago!