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FSM VOL. 8 NO. 8

Artwork copyright (c) 1976 Dino de Laurentiis Corporation; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Routine Barry effort entertains without being spectacular


It always amuses me when I read (as I do in the liner notes to this new King Kong album) that John Barry didn't listen to Max Steiner's score for 1933's Kong before starting work on his own for 1976's Kong.  This isn't amusing because it's untrue.  Of course it's true!  It's amusing because I can't believe anyone would really need to say it.  The very thought that Barry would take inspiration from Steiner is so absurd: while he has acknowledged Steiner as one of the composers who had a great influence on his decision to pursue film composing as a career, it is difficult to imagine two film composers with more diametrically opposed styles of scoring.  Steiner's literal approach was pioneering but completely different from Barry's detached approach.  In crude terms, a Steiner score comments on what is happening on the screen; a Barry score tries to comment not on what is happening on screen, but rather on the emotions of the protagonists.

It should come as a surprise to nobody that even for King Kong, Barry chose an emotional path.  There is action music here, but the score is dominated by lush, melodic material as one might expect.  In fairness, there are several tracks of action music.  They are typically slow, but typically effective.  The brooding "The Opening" sets the tone well, sounding almost like it might come from Zulu, and casting an ominous shadow indeed.  "Breakout to Captivity" is a tense, enveloping piece which is unbelievably effective at building suspense - Barry at just about his best.  Later, "Incomprehensible Captivity" and the very similar "Climb to Skull Island" are darker still, quite uncomfortably so, but don't make for quite so satisfying listening.

The main romantic theme, first heard in "Maybe My Luck Has Changed", tends to dominate the score.  It's a wistful, beautiful theme which is not as memorable as Barry's very strongest efforts, but remains very attractive and always good to hear.  In addition to its appearances, another lovely (one-off) piece is "Arrival on the Island", a wonderful example of Barry's melodic scoring and one of the score's standout tracks.  Also notable are a couple of pieces of Barry-composed source music.  "Sacrifice - Hail to the King" isn't like anything else he's done, with wild percussion mixed with screeches of "Kong!" gradually building to a greater and greater fervour, before being skilfully integrated with some straight dramatic underscore.  There's also the amusing light disco "Kong Hits the Big Apple", which is cheesier than the moon but still very entertaining.

Because of a legal quagmire, it was impossible for Film Score Monthly to expand this score, so its debut CD release (the previous one was a bootleg) has identical content to the LP.  Sadly this includes sound effects in a couple of the cues, which seriously dampens the listening experience, but I guess nothing could be done.  Sound quality is excellent and the notes, by Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker and Stephen Woolston, interesting and informative.  It's a very enjoyable album, though it doesn't sound like you'd expect music from King Kong to sound (and one can safely assume that it's as far from Howard Shore's forthcoming effort for Peter Jackson's pointless remake as it is from Steiner's music from the original) and is nowhere near being considered amongst Barry's best efforts.  Still, it's something a little different, and fans of the composer will of course enjoy it a great deal.


  1. The Opening (2:14)
  2. Maybe My Luck Has Changed (1:48)
  3. Arrival on the Island (2:43)
  4. Sacrifice - Hail to the King (7:06)
  5. Arthusa (2:18)
  6. Full Moon Domain / Beauty is Beast (4:22)
  7. Breakout to Captivity (4:06)
  8. Incomprehensible Captivity (2:52)
  9. Kong Hits the Big Apple (2:33)
  10. Blackout in New York / How About Buying Me a Drink (3:20)
  11. Climb to Skull Island (2:26)
  12. The End is at Hand (1:41)
  13. The End (4:24)