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The Formula
  • Composed by Bill Conti
  • Varese Sarabande CD Club VCL 0910 1112 / 2010 / 25:34

Starring George C. Scott and Marlon Brando, John G. Avildsen’s 1980 The Formula was a film with problems.  (One suspects that one need only read the first sentence up to the comma to see where some of the problems may have originated.)  In fact, Avildsen ultimately departed the film during post-production, but not before his favourite composer, Bill Conti, was hired.  While he may be best-known for two franchises that both began being directed by Avildsen, Rocky and The Karate Kid, this writer thinks that the composer’s very best work actually came from a far less well-known film from this director, 1978’s Slow Dancing in the Big City.  That score – and the one it was paired with in Varese’s album a few years ago, F.I.S.T. – demonstrate the extent of Conti’s dramatic chops and his abilities as a very serious film composer when the project demanded.  While The Formula isn’t quite in that league – it’s another fine example of a side of Bill Conti rarely talked about because of all the crowd-pleasers he did.

Dark and foreboding, menacing and powerful, the main title which opens the album may not be subtle, but it is hugely effective as a dramatic overture.  The composer introduces a little local flavour with a zither as the score progresses, but by and large the score sees him doing what he does best – wringing a classic, old-school sound from a symphony orchestra.  The short score boasts a handful of good, strong themes – not the type you’ll whistle in the shower or serenade the girl of your dreams with – but the type which will make you sit there and wonder why this top film composer has worked on so little of note during the past decade and a half.  Don’t let the short running-time put you off – there’s plenty of dramatic meat on the bone here and the length is such that you can reach the end of the CD and just start it up again – there’s more than enough interesting material to warrant a detailed examination.  *** 1/2

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