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The Poseidon Adventure
  • Composed by John Williams
  • La-La Land Records LLLCD 1133 / 2010 / 60:39

Of all the disaster movies John Williams scored in the 1970s, the one that’s stood up best is probably The Poseidon Adventure, Irwin Allen’s star-studded ocean liner adventure.  John Williams had worked on some of Allen’s famous tv shows during the 1960s (Land of the Giants, Lost in Space etc) and, while much of his work in cinema up to that point had been in light comedies, he was a natural choice.  If not exactly one of his finest scores to hear on album, it worked perfectly in the film, and was one of a small number of scores responsible for catapulting the composer to the top of the A-list.

This new release of the score marks maybe not the first, but certainly the most high-profile, example yet of film music limited edition double dips.  Film Score Monthly released this score (the first time it had ever been released) back in 1998 – in fact it was only the second CD in their series of limited editions – but it didn’t take long to sell out and the sound quality wasn’t particularly good (with most of the score presented in mono).  Technological advances mean the sound can now be cleaned up considerably (though it’s still not great, it’s almost certainly as good as it’s ever going to get) and so La-La Land’s new edition will be welcome to the score’s fans – and indeed those people who were never able to get their hands on the earlier release.  (Though actually this CD itself has already been sold out.)

John Williams

I was a young, ill-informed fool when I reviewed FSM’s album back in 1998, proclaiming it to be “a disaster score in every sense” and offering other such nuggets of juvenile idiocy.  Fortunately I am now an older, ill-informed fool and have the opportunity to overwrite my earlier review with this one.  I can now therefore proclaim that the passing of a dozen years has led me to revise my opinion – the music is perfect in every way for the film, it’s only really on the album that it doesn’t satisfy quite so much.

There are a couple of noble themes here – nothing grand and sweeping, as would later become this composer’s trademark, since that would hardly be appropriate for this film – and they appear at the start and end of the album and are impressive.  In between, it’s suspense almost all the way – low-register strings and winds creating a murky, unsettling, downright unpleasant atmosphere.  And there’s an obvious problem for the album listener when it comes to that sort of music, which is that it’s murky, unsettling, downright unpleasant.  It’s perfect for the film, as I said – but you have to be in just the right mood to experience it on CD.  Now, this score certainly has a lot of fans and so I’m clearly not the holder of the majority opinion – but even for its most ardent defenders, I suspect it’s one that deep down they are more inclined to appreciate than to truly enjoy.  Williams would never again write music this “listener-unfriendly”.

Technically, as I said, this sounds much better than the old CD.  There are detailed liner notes by Jeff Bond (who also wrote notes for the FSM release – this must be a first!) and, apart from the extremely curious package design, I can’t find fault with the album release – the star rating above reflects the fact that the album provides a fine opportunity to admire John Williams’s dramatic and compositional skills, but not much of an opportunity to enjoy his music.  ** 1/2

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