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VCL 1103 1027

Artwork copyright (c) 1980 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Florid and descriptive portrait of tropical terror


From the writer and producers of Jaws came another water-based thriller in 1980 and, with Michael Caine on board things must have looked promising; but the magic wasn't there this time and the movie was laughed off the screen, with audiences not really accepting the tale of modern-day pirates in the Caribbean.  Lightning didn't strike twice for Peter Benchley.  However, somehow director Michael Ritchie persuaded Ennio Morricone that The Island should become one of his first Hollywood scores; and, unfortunately, the legendary composer's abilities to pick decent movies haven't improved any over the years since.

The opening cue is somewhat misleading; an idyllic, gorgeous theme, it's one of those pieces that he just seems to pull out of a hat somewhere and produce endlessly; a wonderfully beautiful picture of a perfect tropical picture postcard view.  The writing for what follows is equally descriptive, but entirely different in style, as Morricone brings out a string of clever orchestral devices to portray terror and fright.  Most of the time the music is not above chamber proportions, but its effect is enormous.  "Pirate Camp" is one of the most impressive pieces, with fluttering woodwind doing for Morricone here what strings did for Herrmann in Psycho, conjuring up a hideous, almost "Dance of the Dead"-like state.

"Tue-Barbe Hunts Maynard" is a piece of dark, unsettling action music.  Morricone has written pieces approaching it on numerous occasions, but seemed to have been in an especially creative mood on this occasion.  Angular string punches accompany increasingly-frantic woodwind flutters, manic percussion and an ominous low-end piano ostinato; if ever there were a musical depiction of pure, uncontrollable terror, then this is it. It's a brilliant piece of music (though certainly not for the faint-hearted).  Its follow-up, "Escape into the Night", is arguably even better, with the composer creating an almost psychotic orgy of menace and terror, culminating in a frantic and terrifying burst of brass.  "Island Magic" is a little different, with a powerful melody repeated by an oboe in its lowest register endlessly over five minutes, accompanied throughout by drums and sometimes joined by a male choir.  It's another impressively enveloping piece of music.  "In the Darkness" is almost unbearably tense; probably only Morricone, in the history of film music, has dared to write such incredibly atonal music.  "Beth" marks a complete - and unexpected - change of pace, a pop-flavoured love theme that is pleasant - if a bit kitschy - but seems to belong in another score entirely.  The End Title is a clever reprise of the theme heard in the opening cue, but this time presented in a considerably more reflective orchestration, tinged with an enormous hint of regret and sorrow; this is followed by a brief "Epilogue", reminding us with its awkward dissonance that this has not been a pleasure trip through idyllic waters!

This score was actually one of the first that Varese Sarabande issued on vinyl, back in 1980.  It's taken 23 years (and the occasion of the composer's 75th birthday) to see it reach CD, but finally it has, with fine sound and excellent new liner notes by Jerry McCulley.  It is a rarely-discussed and often-overlooked work in Morricone's canon, almost certainly because the film came and went so quickly, but this is strong and vividly colourful music that deserves to be heard.  Not in a million years is it for those who only like Morricone when he is supplying soaring melody; but for those who enjoy more of a challenge, it surely can't be faulted.


  1. Main Title (2:42)
  2. Boarding Party (3:55)
  3. Pirate Camp (2:24)
  4. Tue-Barbe Hunts Maynard (3:23)
  5. Escape into the Night (5:00)
  6. Island Magic (5:14)
  7. In the Darkness (4:43)
  8. Beth (1:19)
  9. End Title (3:39)
  10. Epilogue (1:56)