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The Island at the Top of the World
  • Composed by Maurice Jarre
  • Intrada / 2012 / 47:44

They didn’t even make films like this any more back in 1974 – except for this one, of course.  The Island at the Top of the World was an attempt by Disney to recapture the magic of their popular 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea adaptation from two decades earlier, this time following a group of adventurers who come across a lost world of Vikings, volcanoes and killer whales.  The film was a very lavish production and consequently expensive but didn’t find much of an audience.  Maurice Jarre must have seemed a slightly unusual choice to score the film – people being far more accustomed to seeing his name attached to more sophisticated fare.  Perhaps his appeal to the filmmakers stemmed from his frequently-displayed aptitude for incorporating exotic instrumentation in his music – there is certainly no lack of it in this score.  I’m not sure it’s an entirely successful venture, but it has its moments, and nobody could accuse the music of lacking anything in terms of enthusiasm.

The introductory music is big and bold (as Jarre usually was) but also somewhat childlike, “Disneyfied” perhaps.  The main theme is pretty memorable, but its slightly comic feel just doesn’t work for me – it sounds more like it should come from a parody of this film than from the film itself.  Far more interesting (and, I think, impressive) is Jarre’s more grown-up music for the more serious moments.  Some of his action music features a surprising amount of genuine dissonance – the opening electronics of “The Chase” are a little jarring, but the cacophony of percussion that follows is a marvel.  Marvel too at the restrained, lyrical presentations of the main theme which crop up from time to time, in which Jarre transforms it into something truly wonderful (“We Know Donald” a particular highlight).  The highlights are completed by the rather spectacular action music towards the end of the score – “Burning Lava”, “Battle with the Sea Beasts”, “God’s Punishment” – Jarre using music of massive scale, his orchestra bolstered by vast alpine horns.  Somehow, for all this quality I’ve mentioned, the whole seems less than the sum of its parts – perhaps there’s just too much going on, I don’t know.  It’s certainly an interesting experience, but the album is not a uniformly enjoyable one.  The Island at the Top of the World is one of Jarre’s most exotic and lavish scores – I’m sure many of his fans will be delighted to have the opportunity to own it at last – and there’s enough here to keep me occupied, for sure – but I think it falls short of his finer works.  *** |

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