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Cheesy action score is reasonably good fun
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1991 Intermedia Film Distribution, Ltd.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
An enormously silly film, Point Break sees FBI agent Johnny Utah (Patrick Swayze) infiltrate a gang of criminal surfers (led by Keanu Reeves). But, perhaps because of this silliness, it's attracted something of a cult following over the years, and many film music fans have been frustrated that Mark Isham's score - easily his most high-profile to date at that time - wasn't released at all (the "soundtrack" album just featured songs). Today Isham is known for his fine film music across a number of styles, but back in 1991 he had only really worked with synths, and this was his first real experience of working with an orchestra...
Or so the liner notes say. I have no reason to doubt they're true, but to be honest, electronics still dominate here to a huge degree. There is a very cheap sound to everything - it's almost like a relic of film music's darkest 1980s days, with Faltermeyer and the like - and while Isham's compositional skills are obviously leagues ahead of Faltermeyer, the quality of the composition is sadly marred by the performance to a huge degree. Using the electronics to create the edgy atmosphere is not the problem - the problem is when the music tries to soar, with a noble trumpet solo or a sweeping moment for strings - and the limitations of 1991 synthesisers just don't allow it.
The highlights come towards the end. "Skydive" almost makes up for the shortcomings of what has gone before - synths are still there, but it's music conceived for specific electronic textures (rather than fake orchestra) and - at last - the orchestra does break free for a while. It's really moving film music, the kind of stuff that I imagine would have accompanied Jerry Bruckheimer films if the producer had never met Hans Zimmer. Later, "No Parachute" is another more orchestral piece of action music, and it's developed well.
Point Break is evidently a real fan favourite; I would say there are at least a couple of dozen better Isham scores, but despite my occasional irritation at the (seemingly budget-enforced) use of synths to play music which demands a larger canvas, there is still easily enough quality here to make it worthwile. I suspect, as is often the case with these long albums, that if this score had actually been released at the time of the film, the album producers would almost certainly have been restricted to 30-40 minutes of music, and that would have produced a far superior listening experience. I'm sure people who remember the music from the film and have been waiting for years for this release will lap it up; and for Isham fans, it's fascinating in a way to hear him develop ideas here which he would go on to master later in his film music career.