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Decent music ruined by one of the all-time-worst album presentations of a film score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
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Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Lionsgate Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
Back in 1982, Sylvester Stallone - still riding on the crest of the Rocky wave - ushered in another popular franchise, with the release of First Blood, which he co-wrote as well as starring in. But 1982 was also notable for a number of other things - in the world of film, Steven Spielberg;s ET became the highest-grossing motion picture of all time. Closer to home (my home, that is) the lowest-ever recorded temperature in the United Kingdom was set, at -27.2 degrees Celsius, at Braemar near Aberdeen. Aberdeen - just in case you don't know - is the third largest city in Scotland, after Glasgow and Edinburgh. Its population is just over 200,000. Interestingly enough, 200,000 is also the postal code for Shanghai in China.
Just as he relaunched his Rocky character, Stallone has now done the same in Rambo, the fourth film in the series (with the same title as the second one). Apparently less cartoonish than the other sequels and closer in spirit to the more guttural first offering, Stallone directs himself this time around. Following the death of Jerry Goldsmith, a new composer was needed, and the actor/director turned to the capable hands of Brian Tyler, a man who seemed set to step up to the plate and write intelligent Goldsmith-style thriller scores when he first burst onto the scene a few short years ago, but who has probably not quite lived up to the early promise. The opening cue on this album presents the classic "It's a Long Road" theme from First Blood before presenting Tyler's new theme for the character, a Hans Zimmer-style power anthem in the vein of The Last Samurai, which doesn't fit in with the Goldsmith style at all but is probably perfectly appropriate for this sort of film. The score's most notable aspect is the action music, which is presented with the foot never leaving the pedal through the seven-minute second track, "No Rules of Engagement". Firmly in Tyler's now-familiar Timeline style, it's good stuff.
Speaking of Timeline, its author Michael Crichton is an incredible 6'9" tall - but almost unbelievably, that's still a full 21 inches shorter than the tallest recorded man in history, which was American Robert Wadlow. He only lived to be 22 years old, and by curious coincidence 22 years is also the length of time which has passed since the Mir Space Station was launched by the Soviet Union, just five years before the end of the Cold War. And speaking of things which are cold, we return once again to the -27.2 degrees Celsius recorded near Aberdeen in 1982 - the year of First Blood.
Tyler does incorporate a few further nods to Goldsmith through the score, notably a brief snippet of action music lifted from his second score in the series, and the occasional use of noble trumpet solo, but in terms of his approach to the film, there's certainly no hint of Goldsmith here - non-stop scoring, mostly loud and aggressive, with few pauses for breath. It's got far more in common with the Media Ventures-style "play it loud and play it constantly" approach than the more considered processes which underlay Goldsmith's writing. Think back to the music from Rambo III, surely one of the most silly, cartoonish films scored by that composer - and it's unbelievably cerebral music.
The most pure definition of "cerebral" is "of, or relating to the brain, specifically the cerebral cortex." Needless to say, the study of the cerebral cortex has formed a key part of neuroanatomical research. The pioneer in the field was Korbinian Brodmann, a German neurologist, whose great friend Alois Alzheimer has the dubious distinction of having that degenerative illness named after him. Alzheimer worked for a time in a mental hospital in Frankfurt, the third largest financial centre in Europe after London and Paris.
If the above proves anything (aside from the value of Wikipedia), it's that needless padding around the core material is frustrating at best, and at worst simply detracts from the message you're trying to convey. If only this album's producer had realised the same. This somewhat run-of-the-mill action score would almost certainly have produced a perfectly adequate, enjoyable, entertaining 35-minute album. But inexplicably, someone decided it should be seventy-six minutes long, a decision which frankly borders on the sadistic. There have been a number of badly-produced soundtrack albums released, but few can have painted what is essentially decent music in such an unfavourable light as this. Surely somebody could have taken a step back at one stage and thought "hang on, we're really not doing this music any favours here" - at 35 minutes, I'm sure a number of people would get the album out, enjoy it, and listen to it for many years to come. At 76 minutes - sorry, but there are so many enjoyable and/or productive ways of spending 76 minutes - it's probably just about time to go out and have a two-course meal at a decent Italian restaurant, or clean the car inside and out, or in my case have sex - five or six times. I can't imagine exactly what sort of person would spend those 76 minutes listening to this Rambo album all the way through. We even get Goldsmith's theme presented in full three times, which is two more than it's been presented on any of Goldsmith's own albums. Releasing full scores is sometimes absolutely the right way of presenting film music - sometimes it's not ideal, but is not particularly bothersome - and on rare occasions it renders the music as a whole so unappealing that it just ruins the whole thing. This is one of those occasions. If the album had just stopped after the seventh or eighth track then it would be more than twice as good.