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Curiously dull, apart from stirring main theme
Amistad continues the pattern of recent John Williams scores by having an excellent main theme, but rather bland underscore. The opening choral track is good - a hugely catchy tune, backed by African rhythms and the occasional trumpet or horn fanfare. It's a very playful, bouncy piece, one of Williams's finest for a while. I don't really like either the beginning or the ending, though, especially the ending - surely Williams could have found some better way of rounding off the track?
Then, the score does rather go to sleep. "Crossing the Atlantic" is a good, moody piece - but downbeat, and a little difficult to enjoy. "Cinque's Theme" is very low-key, and almost passes by without you even noticing; certainly nothing to write home about. The score does come to life a little in the middle. After some boring African music at the start, "Middle Passage" suddenly bursts into a rendition of "Dry Your Tears, Afrika", and "The Long Road to Justice" is an enjoyable track.
Oddly for Williams, he engages in rather a lot of plagiarism - "July 4, 1839" directly quotes a string motif from Seven Years in Tibet, and the following track "Mr Adams Takes the Case" is similar to the trumpet writing from James Horner's Apollo 13. Intentional or not, they're impossible to miss.
"La Amistad Remembered" is a lament, and an effective one at that. Then, the music takes a distinctly triumphalist turn, and here it's worth commenting that the music, both in placement, mixing and style, was rather inappropriate through much of the movie. Whenever Anthony Hopkins's character appears (in other words, a lot) the same horn theme appears, and the courtroom music seems far too joyous for such a harrowing tale. Finally, the reprise of "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" omits the solo voice at the beginning, and benefits from that. It's a glorious way to end the disc.
Amistad is, above all, a courtroom drama and, let's face it, this isn't a genre that has often inspired composers to write particularly outstanding scores. Williams's has more than its fair share of good moments, but even at 55 minutes gets boring and repetitive far too often.
Steven Spielberg's liner notes annoy me greatly. Irregardless of the fact that he manages to mis-spell the names of Bernard Herrmann and Dimitri Tiomkin, he also claims that Herrmann, North and Tiomkin "were so defined by their musical habits that you could clearly imagine the films they wrote for... [but] John Williams has the gift to become any character necessary to retell with music the story of the film he is working on." I wouldn't dispute that Williams does this; but then, one could reel off a dozen composers working today who can do it, and to suggest that Herrmann, North and Tiomkin couldn't is absurd.
Total Time 55:51
Artwork copyright (c) 1997 Dreamworks LLC, review copyright (c) 1999 James Southall