- 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.
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.