Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer
AMAZING STORIES: ANTHOLOGY ONE
Exciting collection of pristine television music
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
* * * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
The well-liked television anthology format was reinvigorated in 1985 by Steven Spielberg with his Amazing Stories show, an ambitious and expensive project that ultimately didn't find enough of an audience or indeed enough critical praise; still, many people look back on it fondly, and if nothing else, it produced the most amazing array of film music talent ever assembled for a television series. Even the original Twilight Zone series (with Herrmann, Goldsmith et al) seems to pale in comparison with the roster of composers employed on Amazing Stories. Twenty years old, and in the hands of one of the most uncooperative studios when it comes to releasing catalogue music, Universal, there seemed to be no hope that the music would ever see the light of day on disc (apart from a re-recording issued by Varese Sarabande a few years ago of two episode scores, one by John Williams and the other by Georges Delerue) but, by some miracle, Intrada has managed to do it, with this release being the first of three double-CD sets which will offer the series' most notable scores. Being part of their Special Collection, the albums are available only from Intrada's website.
Volume One presents music by John Williams, James Horner, Bruce Broughton, Georges Delerue, Billy Goldenberg, David Shire, Danny Elfman, Steve Barket and Lennie Niehaus - not a bad list! Needless to say, it begins with the title theme by Williams, a strikingly pleasant piece, though it doesn't quite stay in the memory like some pieces by the composer. The first score presented is, naturally enough, the one which accompanied the first episode, the Spielberg-directed and Williams-scored Ghost Train. It's a fairly monothematic 15 minutes of music, but utterly enchanting - the theme (curiously similar to "Anakin's Theme" which would emerge many years later in the first Star Wars prequel) is a really lovely one, and the music remains pleasant and charming throughout, save for a brief (and unfortunate) electronic diversion half way through.
James Horner hasn't written much for television; his Alamo Jobe is a great score. Back in those days, Horner was still writing invigorating, brass-laden music, and this is very much in the vein of Krull or Battle Beyond the Stars (even to the extent of being based on someone else's music - appropriately enough, Tiomkin's theme from The Alamo). It's a miniature (10-minute) gem anchored around harmonica and guitar.
Bruce Broughton was responsible for four episodes' music, more than any other composer, and Intrada's favourite is on discs one and two here. His first contribution is Gather Ye Acorns, for a rather odd story involving a troll and Mark Hamill; it's the longest selection on the whole set, with just under twenty minutes of music. The harmonica is again present; the music is unmistakably Broughton. The orchestra may be smaller than on his famous film scores, but the magic is just as big. A couple of diversions into source music (particularly the "Gas Station Source" country music) are a little distracting, but it's still a great score. Then we move from one composer with an unmistakable style (Broughton) to another - the great Georges Delerue. The Doll is just everything you expect a Delerue score to be - unbelievably, soaringly beautiful, full of lilting melodic charm. The French genius's contribution here may be brief (just ten minutes) - but, as I frequently point out to my many female companions, size isn't everything.
Before he met John Williams, Steven Spielberg's composer-of-choice (on his early television efforts) was Billy Goldenberg, and the director turned to Goldenberg again during Amazing Stories, here with The Amazing Falsworth. Goldenberg might be the least glamorous of the composers represented on this set, but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that his contribution is actually the most impressive: a dissonant, powerful work for orchestra for an episode deemed so disturbing it had to be given a later-than-usual time slot.
The second episode opens with David Shire's Moving Day, the most synth-heavy music on the set. It is not without its charm (Shire is a consistently-interesting composer; and some of the melodic material in the middle is very pleasant) but does feel a little flat compared with the orchestral efforts it is sandwiched between - not only does it suffer from coming after Goldenberg's excellent score, it precedes the second Delerue one, Without Diana, which actually opens with a bit of jazzy source music in "Park (1946)" which has more in common with the composer's earlier French scores than his later American ones, but it soon goes into the kind of haunting music for which Delerue's later works are so beloved; he was so good at scoring "lost love" (of all kinds), and this is a fine example of his talents. The episode's main theme is simply heartbreakingly beautiful.
Danny Elfman, now one of the world's most famous and most popular film composers, was at the very start of his career in film when Amazing Stories came about in 1985, but he contriubuted music to the comic horror episode Mummy, Daddy along with his Oingo Boingo pal Steve Bartek (who went on to orchestrate most of Elfman's film scores). It's a work very much along the lines of Elfman's earliest film music, particularly Pee Wee's Big Adventure, with just a hint of Bernard Herrmann thrown in as usual. It's weird and wacky, but entertaining and will delight Elfman fans.
Clint Eastwood directed the Spielberg-written Vanessa in the Garden and he turned to his usual composer Lennie Niehaus for the music. Niehaus has typically written extremely low-key music for Eastwood's films, so it's a surprise here to find him writing an orchestral work incorporating a theme from Wagner's "Tannhauser". Indeed, as a whole the 13-minute score is more Wagner than Niehaus, but is dramatic and exciting and most enjoyable. The first anthology then comes to its conclusion with Broughton's Welcome to my Nightmare, a somewhat creepy effort, not as immediately striking as the other Broughton work on the disc, but still a good listen, with some fine horror music.
This is a fine album, well-produced by Douglass Fake, which features some excellent music, and notes from the incomparable Jon Burlingame. The downside of most tv music is that cues will be very short (as indeed will the full scores), and that is certainly the case here, so some of it does feel slightly bitty, but that is a minor complaint really about an album which must have been a monumental undertaking. Roll on the second volume!