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*** 1/2

Album running time

1: Main Title (4:54)
2: First Lesson (3:15)
3: Losing Virgil (4:10)
4: Learning to Fly (3:02)
5: The Plea (1:03)
6: New Friends (5:48)
7: Student Pilots (5:00)
8: Bluebeard's Flight (6:13)
9: Ghost Call (4:09)
10: The Rescue (6:00)
11: The Tower (6:02)
12: Chimp Rumble (5:48)
13: Chain Reaction (4:36)
14: The Escape (4:12)
15: Flying (4:28)
16: End Credits (6:09)

Performed by
conducted by


Engineered by
Edited by
Produced by

Released by
Serial number
VCL 1101 1002

Artwork copyright (c) 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2002 James Southall

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Delightful family score featuring some of Jerry Goldsmith's best moments

Film has produced many classic genres that filmmakers return to time and again to thrill audiences: westerns, science fiction, horror, action/adventure. For some reason films about primate aviators have never quite risen to the same stature and so Project X is probably unique. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan (son of film and television composer Sol, who wrote many of the most famous moments of music in the original Star Trek series) and starring Matthew Broderick, an extremely young-looking Helen Hunt (who possibly looks that way because she was extremely young), the film sees the US military training a monkey to fly so they can do various tests they wouldn't dare do on humans (we all know that the US military would never knowingly expose its troops to unnecessary risk). Teaming with Kaplan for the first time, Horner somehow wrote a delightful score that combines several elements to produce a very satisfying whole.

I have to say it straight from the outset: the plagiarism is shocking. These days Horner reuses devices from one score to the next, which may mean people forget that in the 1980s he used to base whole scores around the previous work of Jerry Goldsmith (whom he later claimed never to have heard of) and an awful lot of the most thrilling music in Project X is lifted straight from Goldsmith's classic score for the First World War epic The Blue Max.

So we shall leave that aside and concentrate instead on Horner's more original elements, of which there are still many. He wrote a couple of lovely new themes for Project X all by himself. Among some slightly crazy stuff, there is an outstanding theme in "Student Pilots". In fact, the score is mostly light and great fun up to that cue, but things take a much more serious turn in the following cue "Bluebeard's Flight", in which Horner introduces a distinct air of desperation, even using the (in)famous four-note motif he has managed to work into just about each of his scores. Horner introduces a gossamer theme for flute in "Ghost Call" that he would later base his music for Mighty Joe Young around (another film about monkeys!) - it's a gorgeous piece of music. Horner's wonderful main theme is reintroduced in "The Rescue" - one of those spine-tingling themes Horner wrote so very well around the time of this score. "Chimp Rumble" is a crazy cue, integrating a foot-stomping dance tune in with the score's darkest action music - and yet it works, and it works incredibly well.

Project X is not a substantial score by any means, but it's highly-entertaining and came in that excellent period in Horner's career before he became bogged-down with writing overly-repetitive scores with massively drawn-out cues that don't actually say anything. This is a delightful family score which, while it certainly goes on long enough to outstay its welcome, nevertheless entertains thoroughly. Released in the first batch of Varèse's CD Club's "second coming", the album features first-class sound and beautifully acerbic liner notes by Nick Redman.