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Excellent ballsy action score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1989 Cinema Soundtracks; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
A comic-book movie was released in 1989 which broke all the records, rewrote the rules, and is responsible for all the knock-off junk (and not-quite-so-junk) that gets released in the genre today. Its director was Tim Burton, its stars were Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and its composer was Danny Elfman. Of course, it was Batman. But there was another movie released adapted from a comic book about a disgruntled vigilante who turned to fighting crime after his family were killed - The Punisher. It didn't quite do so well - and the names of the participants don't roll off the tongue quite so easily - directed by Mark Goldblatt, composed by Dennis Dreith and starring (gulp) Dolph Lundgren.
Running this website, I don't get sent many high-profile soundtracks to review - just a few a year. Fortunately many of the specialist labels are far more accommodating and will send product for review. Sometimes, this results in me getting CDs from films I've never heard of, with music by composers I've never heard of, which has attracted absolutely no comment whatsoever even on the plethora of internet messageboards about film music - and more often than not I suffer feelings of dread at having to listen to what will undoubtedly be the biggest load of trash since the last load and trying to work out whether it's possible to review it without mortally offending everyone involved, sometimes chickening out of writing the review as a result. I have to say that frequently my fears are well-justified, but just occasionally, when I bite the bullet and take the plastic wrapping off the CD case, a gem is uncovered, something which goes so startlingly against expectations that the slice of humble pie I need to consume would challenge even the most rotund fan of pies.
It's great action music: muscular, punchy, ballsy, very exciting. While it follows the mould of 80s action music, and I've been trying all sorts of ways to say bits of it sound like Jerry Goldsmith or Michael Kamen, the truth is that it doesn't really sound like anyone - so I can only assume it sounds like Dennis Dreith! It's brilliantly orchestrated - not a bland mess of orchestral unison but with distinct and interesting parts for all of the orchestra (particularly the brass!) which always remains a pleasure to hear. There are some terrific set-pieces ("Harbour Shoot-em-up", "Party Pooping Punisher", "Harbour Aftermath", "Bulletproof Bus", "Class Dismissed") and they work wonderfully well when placed together.
I don't want to get carried away - I'm praising this to the hilt because it so exceeded all of my expectations - but of course it is not a piece of high art. I offer my predictable complaint that there's probably too much music here, with some of the shorter pieces in particular making the album experience far less tight than it would be if they weren't there. But this music happily sits alongside the better straight action scores of the 1980s. The album, from Perseverance Records, is very well-done - there are lengthy liner notes from Paul Tonks about the film, the music and the lengthy process of actually trying to get the album made; and there's even an interesting 20-minute audio interview with composer and director at the end of the disc. Highly recommended to all those who want to broaden their horizons a bit - and also to those who simply love things like Goldsmith's Rambo music or Kamen's Die Hard (which isn't actually nearly as good as this is). I'm left to wonder why on earth I've never heard of this composer before, and why he hasn't been working on some high-profile films!