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Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Varese Sarabande Records, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Wonderful themes but slightly dull score


Back in the days when they first came into fashion, event movies really were events.  Midway, telling the story of the famous Battle of Midway, will never go down as a great movie, but it certainly was an event, as a quick glance at the cast list demonstrates - Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Robert Mitchum - only the absence of George Kennedy can count as a surprise.  The movie's become a staple of television networks on public holidays.  Journeyman director Jack Smight had previously worked with Jerry Goldsmith a couple of times and continued his association with top class film composers by employing John Williams for Midway, shortly after the composer had shot into the public consciousness with Jaws.  

Williams would seem like a natural for this kind of film, with his grounding in solid American-style orchestral music.  He takes his cue very much from Goldsmith's Patton, one of the all time classic film scores, by scoring the lengthy film only very sparsely, selecting a few key moments where his score could have maximum impact on the film.  However, comparisons must stop there because Midway isn't nearly so good.  What it does have are two superb main themes - the "Midway March" has become a regular in Williams's concert programmes, and it's easy to see why - it's a real crowd-pleasing march.  Better still is the subtler "Men of the Yorktown March" which is really very beautiful and must go down as one of the composer's most impressive themes.

Outside of those two pieces (both presented in concert arrangements at the end of the album), the score doesn't really have too much to offer.  There is one superb action piece written for the opening title sequence which is jagged and enthralling, recalling Goldsmith's finest moments, but none of the other action music comes close to matching it.  There's some interesting music written in a vaguely oriental style for "Hiroshima Harbour" which is excellent; some compelling suspense music from time to time ("Attack Begins" is a fine example).  The slight variation on the Yorktown March in "Missing the Flatlands" is notably lovely.  "Scout 4" opens with some terrific outbursts from the brass section, but sadly these are short-lived and the track quickly descends into not much happening.

Unfortunately, though, most of the rest of the tracks are simply too short to make much of an impact at all - the album's only 35 minutes long but there are 23 tracks - it's very difficult for a composer to accomplish much with that sort of arrangement.  I'm not convinced that the recording dynamic helps much either - this album is actually a re-recording of the score with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Rick Wentworth, made in 1998 - it is wonderful to hear the more powerful music recorded in this way, but it's very difficult to make out the detail of the more intimate moments, and I think a more close-miked acoustic would have served the music better in this instance.  The highlights are so good that it's an essential purchase for Williams fans, but for such a short album to have so much filler has to go down as a disappointment.

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  1. Prologue (:31)
  2. Main Title (2:50)
  3. Yamamoto's Choice (1:12)
  4. Signal Corps On (1:29)
  5. Yamamoto's Second Meeting (2:21)
  6. Hiroshima Harbour (:47)
  7. Haruko's Dilemma (:58)
  8. By Order of Nimitz (2:38)
  9. Canceling Operation K (1:54)
  10. Strawberry 5 (1:23)
  11. Attack Begins (2:17)
  12. Missing the Flatlands (:48)
  13. Morning of the Battle (1:15)
  14. Red Parks Fighters (1:23)
  15. Scout 4 (1:09)
  16. Ensign Gay Afloat (:37)
  17. Burning Carriers (1:14)
  18. Crash Landing (1:48)
  19. Good News for Nimitz (1:08)
  20. Matt Takes Off (:54)
  21. Matt's Crash (1:10)
  22. Midway March (2:25)
  23. Men of the Yorktown March (2:46)