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Excellent superhero score remains Newman's best
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1996 Paramount Pictures; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Back before comic book movies were released at the rate of three per week, there was still just about enough interest attached to them to make them a bit of an event. Even so, The Phantom passed by without many people noticing (and those who did notice - like me - generally found the whole thing so unintentionally funny it was almost untrue; but having now sat through things like The Fantastic Four, perhaps it's time for a bit of a reappraisal). Billy Zane was not an obvious choice for such a role - the comic wasn't really well-known enough to generate box office by itself, and Zane didn't have enough of a name to do so either.
The movie was improbably helmed by Lonesome Dove director Simon Wincer, whose career was in the middle of its rapid descent from that high. This marked the director's second collaboration with composer David Newman - the director's favourite, Basil Poledouris, presumably being unable or unwilling to score. Newman had not by that time (1996) been suffering in comparison to his brother quite so much as he does now, though he was very much stuck in the comedy rut from which he has never escaped (though reportedly he is very happy being there) - The Phantom being one of the few movies which allowed him to really go out and express himself in a way that things like The Nutty Professor and The Flintstones didn't.
It's not really the case any more, but back in this day (only just over a decade ago) superhero films still tended to attract wonderful themes - and Newman's for The Phantom is a great one indeed. A vaguely Goldsmithian fanfare-like theme, the composer uses it in a very malleable way, throwing it in all over the place in a series of terrific variations, getting maximum mileage out of what is probably his most memorable creation. It's bright, heroic, exciting - all the things a theme for a film like this should be.
There's more to the score than just the theme, though - primarily, the action music, which is dynamite. One of Newman's closest friends was Jerry Goldsmith, and this material - pulse-pounding, rhythmic music featuring massive blasts from brass and percussion - was quite possibly inspired by the great man himself (though perhaps the orchestration is a little busier than Goldsmith would have used - I guess Newman did need to make sure his seven credited orchestratos had something to do). The titular third cue, "The Escape", "Flying to the ISland", "Escaping the Island" - this is action music on a grand scale, pulsatingly exciting - why does nobody seem to write this sort of thing any more?! The (generally) lengthy tracks allow for an unusual amount of development, too. Of course, there's a bit of romantic sweep as well, such as "Must be the Humidity"; and some more lighthearted action, as in the opening to "Ray Gets the Point".
Boy, what a shame it is that David Newman wastes himself on the films he does. I'm sure he's happy scoring them, and I'm sure they're lucrative - but I'm selfish, and I want more scores like The Phantom. It's well-rounded, extremely-enjoyable action/adventure music. The album from Milan Records is out of print, but still readily available from Amazon and elsewhere - highly-recommended. It's Newman's best score - it might be brainless fun, but it is brainless fun to the nth degree.