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SK 92581

Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



With fronds like these, who needs anemones?


The BBC's terrific documentary series about the oceans, The Blue Planet, was compelling and exactly the sort of thing a public service broadcaster should be spending its money on.  Sadly, in this day and age such series are beginning to fade away, with almost never-ending "reality" shows the only thing any channel seems to want to show at the moment.  (I can get reality by walking to the shops or going to a football match or having a conversation with a friend, I don't need it on television thank you.)  Still, let's savour them while we can, and The Blue Planet was savoured by many millions of people around the world.  Amongst its many assets was its great score by George Fenton (the third he wrote for a natural history documentary for the BBC, following the landmark The Trials of Life and wonderful Antarctic-based Life in the Freezer).  Popular from the moment the series first aired, the score is quite rare for a documentary series in that not only is it orchestral, but each episode was given a distinct sound of its own and scored almost like a mini-movie, with Fenton highlighting the dramatic nature of the visuals rather than just providing easy listening accompaniment.

So popular was the music that it spawned a series of concerts, with Fenton conducting an orchestra in front of a huge screen showing the incredible images from the show.  The version I saw, in London, was presented by the UK's preeminent broadcaster Sir David Attenborough (who also narrated the show on tv) and was very well-received by the audience.  Fenton also conducted the show in other cities around the world (including LA, at the Hollywood Bowl) and it became so popular itself that it inspired the show's producers to combine some of the most dramatic scenes into a movie to be released in cinemas, Deep Blue (this time with narration from Sir Michael Gambon).  This is no IMAX-style documentary so patronising you can barely dare watch any further, this is intelligent documentary-making full of stunning and extraordinary images which will stay with the viewer for a long time.

Back for the ride was composer Fenton, given the chance to expand and enrich some of his music from the tv series (which was plenty rich enough in the first place).  The soundtrack album from The Blue Planet was itself quite wonderful, but if a criticism could be levelled towards it, it would be that it was fairly "top-heavy", with several stunning cues placed at the beginning of the album, and perhaps things fizzling out a little thereafter.  There is no such problem here, with Fenton's embellishments and expansions making the whole experience even better (and, I believe, this is the first time a film score has been recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic - quite impressive all by itself).

The opening "Bounty Hunters" is tremendously exciting and really quite beautiful at the same time, perfectly catching the thrill and wonder of animals playfully travelling through the open sea, unimpeded by unnatural causes.  Fenton is often thought of as a good composer for period dramas and the like, but (I'm not too sure why) he never seems to be given his due for straight orchestral dramatic music, at which he excels (listen to Memphis Belle and Anna and the King to hear the proof).  And film music doesn't get much more dramatic than the wonderful "The Beach in Patagonia", which underscores tragically moving and incredibly powerful images of a killer whale living up to its name and tearing apart some seals.  The other side of that coin is in "Free to Roam", a truly beautiful and just as moving piece, this time for the very rare sight of a blue whale (the largest animal ever to inhabit this planet) swimming in open water.  "Flying Emperors" is perhaps my favourite piece, accompanying one of the most unforgettable and wonderful things I will ever see, with emperor penguins gliding effortlessly and gracefully under the ocean before launching themselves - with great effort, and little grace - onto the polar ice cap, often simply dropping off it and falling back into the sea.  

Things are not dramatic throughout and there are a few lighter moments for the ocean's more comical inhabitants.  "Surf and Sand" is a lovely little synth-dominated piece which actually serves as a good filler in between the more expansive sections; "Kaleidoscope" is a beautiful but somewhat low-key piece; and "Showtime" is a lovely little scherzo for most people's favourite ocean-going creature, the dolphin.  It has to be said that these moments aren't all that plentiful and the tragic sound of a few previous tracks returns in "Wolf Pack", yet another grand piece.

The album ends with the superb "Deep Blue", a summary of the main themes and also the gorgeous choral main theme from the Blue Planet tv show.  It marks a fine end to a wonderful album, certainly one of the best of the year.  Its fleshed-out nature is such that it is highly recommended even to those who already have the album from the tv show - Deep Blue is such a coherent and easy-flowing album, it is even better.  Fenton's movie career doesn't seem to have quite taken off in the way many expected it to just a handful of years ago, but let's hope this project puts him back on the map so he can impress us all plenty more times in the coming years.  He's one of the most talented film composers out there, capable of coming up with exciting dramatic music and a killer romantic theme that can stand alongside the best of them.  Deep Blue is certainly one of his best albums (though sadly, it's not yet been released in the US).


  1. Bounty Hunters (3:35)
  2. Airwaves (2:20)
  3. The Beach in Patagonia (5:07)
  4. Metamorphosis (1:52)
  5. Surf and Sand (2:02)
  6. Coral Riches (4:13)
  7. Free to Roam (1:16)
  8. The Kelp Forest (3:12)
  9. Kaleidoscope (3:57)
  10. Polar Landscape (3:14)
  11. Flying Emperors (3:29)
  12. Wolf Pack (5:01)
  13. The Wanderers (3:36)
  14. Showtime (2:15)
  15. Mounting Pressure (6:36)
  16. The Spinning Baitball (3:36)
  17. Deep Blue (5:45)