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  • Composed by Michael Kamen
  • Hollywood Records / 1996 / 38m

There can be few more pronounced falls from cinematic grace than that experienced by Francis Ford Coppola.  To go from making The Conversation, the first two Godfathers and Apocalypse Now to making Jack took some doing.  Robin Williams plays the title character, a boy who thanks to his rare premature ageing disease finds himself at school looking not like a ten year old but like, well, Robin Williams.  Imagine the fun that ensues.  (What’s that?  No fun ensues?)  You keep staring at it, just willing it to not actually have been made by Francis Ford Coppola.  It’s like hearing that Terrence Malick’s doing a sequel to Dude, Where’s My Car? or Alain Resnais is making his long-awaited gross-out comedy featuring fart jokes and breasts.  (In fairness, I’d pay to go and see either of those films.)

Michael Kamen somehow found inspiration from somewhere and wrote a score that is an improbable delight.  It’s full of genuine warmth and humour and great themes and makes a fantastic album, by far the best thing that came out of the film.  The main theme appears in many different forms through the score, appearing in the opening “Jack Conga” as – you guessed it – a conga and being transformed through the score into all sorts of forms before appearing in the lovely, touching (some might say slightly saccharin) cue near the end, “Back to School (What do I want to be when I grow up? Alive!)”.  The finale itself, “Valedictorian (Life is Fleeting)” – whose track title sums up the film’s well-intentioned but rather heavy-handed point – is a rousing affair, full of sweep.

Michael Kamen

Michael Kamen

A playful secondary theme is introduced in “Jack Scherzo” and again gets through all sorts of variations over the course of the album, from the riotous orchestral form of its opening to the strangely touching “Cello Jack”, featuring lovely classical pastiche piano runs – and kazoos.  You can’t go wrong with kazoos.  It’s nice to see how deftly Kamen balances the comedy against the warm emotion, darting from humour to real feeling frequently through the score (often within the same cue) – not surprisingly, along with the aforementioned laughs, “Cello Jack” also has an exquisite solo cello passage that would bless many far more serious films than this one.  The same theme is virtually unrecognisable when Kamen uses it later in the score as a chant for Jack’s classmates – “The Children’s Crusade (Can Jack Come Out And Play?)”

The laid-back sound of “The Basketball Game” with electronics joining the orchestra is another highlight; the choral “da-da-da” and faux dramatics from the orchestra in “Treehouse Collapse” are memorable and creative, comedy scoring at its best.  As happens frequently in the score, Kamen follows that up with genuine drama in “Jack’s Collapse”, a piece full of sadness and surprisingly affecting.

Jack may be a film many people have tried to erase from their minds and I suspect the music has been tarred with the same brush, but really it’s an absolute delight, one of the most wonderful comedy scores of its time.  Scoring comedies has never been easy and Kamen trod the line between outright comedy and magical family drama with great skill.  (Nice credit in the CD booklet, too – “Leading the Little Man’s Chowder and Marching Society Band and Orchestra on kazoos, melodicas, calliopes, oboi di castrati and bells and whistles: Michael A. Kamen and Stephen P. McLaughlin.”)  You might not believe me, but this is a really delightful album and a great, unexpected showcase for its underrated composer’s abilities to put a smile on the listener’s face.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Richard Reese-Laird (Rick) (Reply) on Friday 15 February, 2013 at 20:41

    I will not try to be witty, because you, sir, take the cake more often than not!
    Seriously, your first two paragraphs were gold!

    I will say that, although I’m quite dumb, I am not stupid, so I’ve never seen this film.
    I’d also like to say that, after I finish this post, I will be hunting for and (hopefully) purchasing this score!

    This is one of those cases where a much-respected reviewer has convinced me to buy a score from a film I will never see (and therefor, a score I never would have heard).

    If one writes music for a lliving, chances are one is going to have to put pearls before swine.
    Kamen would have been so very proud of this review. Bless you for that, James.

    Thank you for the “tip”, and thank you (once again) for your humour!

  2. Kalman (Reply) on Monday 18 February, 2013 at 15:58

    I am probably the only man in the universe who loves this film. It really makes me cherish life as it is. And yes, the music is also very good.

  3. Ben (Reply) on Tuesday 2 September, 2014 at 20:38

    True words. Sadly both underrated the movie and the score.