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The Deep
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Intrada Special Collection Volume 143 / 2010 / Complete score 58:46 / Original album 44:43

The IMDB’s description of The Deep states: “Featuring extended underwater sequences and a look into the affairs of treasure hunting.”  Wow!  The excitement!  It’s based on a novel by Peter Benchley and John Williams was at one point meant to score it, so it’s not difficult to imagine which film’s success the producers were hoping to emulate and it did do reasonable business, despite largely unfavourable reviews.  At the time, John Barry was bizarrely alternating between reasonably high-profile fayre like this and King Kong, inexplicable garbage like Starcrash and a parade of tv movies.  While this allowed for a reasonably varied output from the composer, I don’t think the mid-to-late 1970s was one of his more satisfying periods of output.  The Deep, for much of its running time, is made up of murky, turgid, uncomfortable music which is 100% spot-on for the film.  Barry clearly spent a lot of time on it – the music is rich with detail and vivdly nuanced.  Does it make good listening on an album?  I think it would take a brave man to suggest so and I am certainly not known for my bravery.  It all depends on your tastes, of course; but those whose exposure to this composer is limited to either his dazzlingly sexy 60s output or his great romantic triumphs of the 80s and beyond may be in for a bit of a shock.

On the other hand, there’s always the disco music – Donna Summer’s presence presumably the reason why the original soundtrack album sold over two million copies back in the day – in the context of today’s 3,000-copy (or less) runs of most soundtrack albums, that’s truly extraordinary.  But that disco music – brought out for the end titles only – is positively cringeworthy.  Summer only appears on disc two (a reproduction of that slightly odd, wildly-successful original album, which edits the score down to a single 24-minute piece and then has four disco tracks); but Barry did bring in the disco beat for the conclusion of his score.  More’s the pity – the actual love theme, which forms the basis of the Summer song and that end title piece, is a really lovely melody; hearing it in this way may raise a nostalgic smile or two, but it wasn’t one of the periods of pop music which translated particularly well into original film scores.  Speaking as a major, major fan of this wonderful composer, even I am forced to admit that this is a score which can easily be admired in the film; but not nearly so easily enjoyed away from it, where the listener doesn’t even have the benefit of being able to sit and stare at Jacqueline Bisset’s chest.  **

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  1. Ian James (Reply) on Thursday 7 October, 2010 at 08:44

    “But that disco music – brought out for the end titles only – is positively cringeworthy.”

    Hey, speak for yourself! I love that theme in its original ‘disco’ form!

    Right, Southall, I’m getting my flares on, hanging up my shiny disco ball and saying ‘Get Down!’ a lot in a loud voice just to annoy you.

    You…you SQUARE!

  2. Terry Walstrom (Reply) on Thursday 7 October, 2010 at 20:49

    Barry has found the internal rationale of the film and allowed it to, as it were, surface:) The movie isn’t about that ugly sea creature luring in the wreck of the Goliath even though Peter Benchley wishes it were.
    Nor is it about treasure hunting in an alfresco paradise.
    The film is about piracy as it is practiced today by unscrupulous men willing to go to any lengths (or depths) for unearned treasure.
    Nolte and Shaw are one kind of pirate and the lawless minions of Eli Wallach yet another. Jackie Bisset is part of the scenery rather than an emotionally centered protagonist.
    Nick Nolte is a rough and tumble adventurer eager for the spoils of an historic tragedy.
    What John Barry does beyond allowing for the scenery to unfold behind his music is to catch the emotional subtexts and unify the disparate elements with melody and orchestral dynamics in much the manner Van Gogh allowed us to feel the textures of a Starry Night with great lumps of paint.
    What James Bond allowed Barry to do was create a world much larger than life inhabited by supermen and evil masterminds. The Deep has no such canvas on which to perform for our maestro because this film takes itself a bit too seriously.
    John Barry mines what ore he can transforming melodrama into verismilitude without going beyond the 4th wall.
    This was the era when Hollywood was second guessing every composer like a rich woman trying on shoes. If you kept your mouth shut and followed the willy-nilly instructions of the Director du jour you might get lucky…..or not. Eventually, Barry would toss it all away in disgust.
    Whatever is watchable or memorable about The Deep in no way fails to include John Barry’s work herein.

  3. Steve Woolston (Reply) on Friday 8 October, 2010 at 19:50

    Different people will have different views of course. Okay, The Deep isn’t headlined and pumped up by a great show tune, like Goldfinger. It’s not lushly romantic like Out Of Africa. Even so, there’s a reason I always loved The Deep. I don’t think I’ve ever, ever heard a score that so vividly evoked the simultaneous mystery, serenity and danger of the deep underwater adventure.

    James is right, Barry didn’t just knock this up. It wasn’t a lazy work. Though the music isn’t “busy” and make extensive use of repetitions, I think he constructed this sound very carefully and I think it works beautifully. I find this score to be hypnotic and sublime.

    Writing hurry, hurry, crash-bang-wallop music is easy. To write something so carefully nuanced as this is, I think, much harder.

    Just my view.

  4. Frank Abe (Reply) on Friday 8 October, 2010 at 21:00

    Great comments. They confirm my feeling that The Deep is indeed… deep. I also used the word hypnotic to describe it to friends, and I find myself returning to it for listening while working on other things in a way that I do not do for, say, Mike’s Murder. So I’m really glad to have this, and not just as a keepsake for my collection.

  5. Peter Greenhill (Reply) on Saturday 9 October, 2010 at 23:37

    I’m really enjoying the ntrada release of this score. I bought the blue vinyl Casablanca LP at 58 Dean Street in 1977 and really loved that album. It’s great to have the whole score available at last.There is lots to enjoy on this double CD of John Barry’s score for ‘The Deep’ Now sold out but look out for copies on ebay but don’t pay too much the price will come down.