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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Miramax Film Corp. and Warner Bros. Pictures; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Powerful, dramatic work


A real movie lover's movie, The Aviator sees Martin Scorsese bring a touch of panache to this Howard Hughes biopic, which features probably Leonardo DiCaprio's best performance to date (though he does look rather too young for most of the film) and a host of other fine performances, none finer than Cate Blanchett, who is mesmerising as Katherine Hepburn (though never quite so mesmerising as Hepburn herself was).  It's not exactly top-drawer Scorsese, but it's certainly one of the year's finest movies, and who knows, it may finally bring Scorsese the Oscar his great career so richly deserves.  (Is there a greater Hollywood director around at the moment?)

After their "sort of" collaboration on Gangs of New York (in which Scorsese tracked in various arrangements of a concert work by Howard Shore after deciding not to use Elmer Bernstein's original score) and their real collaboration,  many years ago, on After Hours, Scorsese and Shore got back together for this movie.  I have to say straight off the bat that the score has minimal, if any, impact on the movie, with about half of it not being used at all, and the 20 minutes or so that remain in the movie being completely overshadowed by the director's typically excellent usage of placed music.  All of that led to me being somewhat bewildered at the praise Shore had attracted for his work, but listening to the original score album (which includes Shore's original vision for his score) the bewilderment vanishes completely.

It's a really fine album, one of 2004's strongest in fact.  Shore has written an intelligent score which attempts to do far more than your typical, generic modern Hollywood film score by actually going into the mind of Hughes and scoring from that point of view.  It is an intense and dramatic work based around a dynamic main theme (of sorts).  It's not the sort of thing you are going to go around whistling, but it's the binding glue that holds the score together and is one of Shore's strongest creations.  It goes through any number of completely different variations over the course of the album, being an inherently malleable piece, charting Hughes's rise and fall, from the thrills of his aviation exploits through his glamorous affairs with glamorous actresses to his ultimate descent into madness.

The most striking segments of the score are inevitably those associated with Hughes's flying.  The earliest example is "H-1 Racer Plane", a thrilling piece which showcases the brass section of the Flemish Radio Orchestra and also the attention to detail from the composer (though sadly much of this detail is lost through a muddy recording - not quite as bad as Lord of the Rings, but certainly not up to the standard you might expect in this day and age).  Thrills elsewhere come especially from "Long Beach Harbour 1947", which accompanies the flight of the infamous "Spruce Goose", though sadly (and stupidly) this track is marred with spoken radio commentary which spoil one of the finest pieces of music on the album.  Drama of a different kind - a psychological kind - comes in "Screening Room", a relentless and brilliant portrayal of Hughes's later ills.  Shore subtly suggests the setting of the film at various points, but most notably in "Howard Robard Hughes, Jr" through the use of castanets and vaguely hispanic trumpet lines.  Finally, "America's Aviation Hero" is a brilliantly sweeping and somewhat old-fashioned piece.

This is a very powerful and very impressive album.  I suspect that any fans Shore has picked up as a result of Lord of the Rings who wouldn't previously have considered buying a film score album will be left somewhat bewildered and go back to whatever they were listening to before, but for the rest of us it comes highly recommended.  While its lack of impact in the film means it can't be considered among the best film scores of 2004, it is certainly among the finer film score albums.

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  1. Icarus (3:58)
  2. There is no Great Genius without Some Form of Madness (2:50)
  3. Muirfield (2:22)
  4. H-1 Racer Plane (3:20)
  5. Quarantine (3:52)
  6. Hollywood 1927 (2:59)
  7. The Mighty Hercules (3:32)
  8. Howard Robard Hughes, Jr (3:57)
  9. America's Aviation Hero (2:05)
  10. 7000 Romaine (2:22)
  11. The Germ Free Zone (2:49)
  12. Screening Room (5:27)
  13. Long Beach Harbour 1947 (3:49)
  14. The Way of the Future (4:01)