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THE GREAT RAID
Well-intentioned music makes for strong album
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2005 Miramax Films; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A decent cast (including Joseph Fiennes and Connie Nielson), a reasonably accomplished director (John Dahl) and even some very strong reviews couldn't save The Great Raid from oblivion. Bizarrely left on the shelf for a whole two years before being released, I can only assume that many others thought like me that the only reason for such a situation would be that it just can't be very good, but evidently this isn't the case: the film tells the story of a daring rescue of 500 prisoners of war held by the Japanese during the second world war and attracted a lot of good commentary.
About the last person I would think of to score such a film would be Trevor Rabin, but I suppose given his history of providing flag-waving, anthemic music for things like Armageddon he wasn't such an unusual choice - the main question would be whether he could escape the shackles of his distinctive but highly-synthetic sound and provide a more appropriate accompaniment to this heroic true story, and the answer is that he pretty much did.
The score opens with the terrific nine-minute "The Rescue", which presents the strong main theme, heavily leaning on Saving Private Ryan - but it's not the first score to do so, and won't be the last. The orchestration is simple and sometimes a bit too thin, but that's probably not such a big problem here - films like The Great Raid rarely receive complex scores (on a technical level), presumably because composers don't want audiences to feel they are getting in the way of acts which pretty much speak for themselves. Rabin exercises admirable restraint elsewhere - his attempt at a brass chorale in "Liberate Food" doesn't come close to the blissful equivalent by John Williams in Ryan, but it's a valiant try. The renowned Tom Daish of Soundtrack Express calls it "Saving Private Ryan filtered through soft focus orchestration" and, frustratingly, I can't think of any better description. 1-0 to Daish.
There's a pause for reflection in "Execute" which features a striking choral passage, before Rabin unleashes the score's first real action music in "Raid Begins", where he impressively ditches his usual synths - it's brass-and-percussion heavy, resembling the music for those WW2 video games (all 150,000 of them) but well-wrought and realised. If truth be told, there is surprisingly little in the way of action music here - about enough to keep things interesting, but not as much as I would (undoubtedly unfairly) expect from this composer.
Rabin certainly manages to extract genuine emotion at times, with the strained, anguished "Writing Letters" being best of all - it's genuine emotion as well, with some surprising orchestrational choices; impressive stuff. Sadly the score loses its way a bit after that, with the electronic pulse of "Rangers Start" proving an anachronism too far, and the sitar-like instrument (which may actually be a sitar, rather than something which is sitar-like) which makes its presence felt in the same cue being something of a distraction - it's as if a whole different score has turned up. "Campsite" has a touch of the same about it, with the exotic percussion once again taking away from the terrific mood Rabin had worked so hard to create during the first half of the score. When the heroic main theme bursts back during the titular eighth track, one might think it's a relief after the more turgid pieces it has followed, but this time Rabin does seem to just push things a little too far into the corny side.
"Burning Bodies" doesn't sound like the most cheerful of scenes, and Rabin's music is sombre and cautious, with a vague militaristic snare drum pulsating throughout a piece in which not much else happens for three and a half minutes. "Stealing Medicine" sees the heroics return, with some choppy strings providing a good sense of urgency; but then, "The Future" sees a return to nothing much happening. "Stalking" is a nice suspense piece before the predictably flag-waving end title piece.
Rabin acquits himself well on The Great Raid, the first really serious film he has scored. It's all simplistic, and it's a pity about the brief synth interlude in the middle and a couple of the dull tracks in the album's second half, but at its core this is a well-intentioned piece of music which comes off really rather well. It doesn't entirely show off a new side of the composer - it's still identifiably him, even if the execution is slightly different - but it would be very interesting to see if he could extend this style and meet the challenge of a really dramatically demanding film.