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THE WAR OF THE ROSES
and THE SANDLOT
Two very different scores have strengths and weaknesses but are a little disappointing
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Despite being a famous part of the only film music dynasty, David Newman scores are relatively few and far between on CD - no doubt as a result of a lot of his output being for comedies (the majority of which, frankly, don't deserve him) which don't tend to attract score albums. Also, reading interviews with the composer, it seems that he himself isn't that bothered about a lot of his stuff coming out on CD. It was, therefore, with much fanfare that his fans greeted the Varese Sarabande CD Club's release of two of the composer's most oft-requested efforts, The War of the Roses and The Sandlot.
The first of those was Danny DeVito's bleakly funny satirical black comedy The War of the Roses about a sparring couple, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, and their attempts to out-do each other in causing the other pain as their marriage breaks down. Newman's score is split into three lengthy suites, which after lengthy deliberations and negotiations with ACAS, the Track Naming Committee decided to call "The Beginning", "The Middle" and "The End". It may come as less than a shock to learn that the first of these to appear is "The Middle" (just kidding - it's really "The Beginning", folks). It opens with the famous Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, apparently composed by David Newman's father (I didn't know he even had a father) before seguing into a piece which promises a superb score ahead, but unfortunately turns out to be by far its most notable feature, a gloriously dark and witty tango underscoring the passion of the warring couple's mutual hatred.
Newman scores much of the film, in an inspired move, almost as if it's a gothic horror, but sadly never pulls it off with quite as much flair as one might hope. Things aren't helped by the limp recording, which is further hampered by dodgy 1980s synths, but ultimately there is a lack of musical focus - the music works beautifully in the film, but just doesn't do so away from it. There are some flashes of brilliance (interpolating "Only You" into passages in the middle suite is gloriously funny), but these are not all that common, and frankly the score is something of a disappointment on album.
Next up is The Sandlot, a nostalgic film about kids growing up one summer, playing baseball with each other. There has been some disappointment expressed in various quarters that some big orchestral music which Newman wrote for the film is not included on the album - for reasons which as yet remain elusive. Somebody speculated that it's because those sections were just a rip-off of Newman's cousin Randy's The Natural - now, I've never even heard the music, but even if that description was accurate, given that the rest of the score is a blatant rip-off of and The Burbs and Gremlins, I rather doubt that's the reason. (Actually, I'm being unfair - the whole score isn't a rip-off of those things - one of the tracks is actually a Morricone pastiche.)
OK, so I'm being harsh. The score's main title is an inoffensive pop instrumental (with some more of those 80s synths, though this time Newman doesn't actually have the excuse of having written the score in the 80s). It's actually quite charming, further boosted by the gentle country atmosphere of "Scotty and the Guys" (lovely harmonica solo), but this is really insubstantial stuff. There's sometimes a faintly similar vibe to Danny Elfman's brilliant Midnight Run, but without the memorable main theme. It's still enjoyable though.
Then, something odd happens. In "Getting the Ball (Again!)" Newman introduces gentle synth noises which will instantly be familiar to anyone who's heard The Burbs. Half way through that piece it turns into the only big set-piece on the album, a distinctly Goldsmithian bit of action music, with the orchestra somewhat overwhelmed by the synths. Following that, Mrs Deagle from Gremlins clearly puts in an appearance because her music starts playing in "Airborne Attack" - half way through, it's as if a whole different score has started. It's back from to Gremlins to The Burbs in "Erector Set", with that score's mock military theme putting in an appearance in a barely-altered form, even including the Patton pastiche (though the wailing cat synth noise from Gremlins appears - confused yet!?)
There's a break from the Goldsmith/Dante music for a track as the amusing Morricone pastiche "Showdown with the Beast" appears - as far as these things go (and there have been enough of them over the years) it's actually rather good. Finally, the gentle music from the first half of the album is reprised in the finale, "Did You Know Babe Ruth?" The Sandlot is an incredibly peculiar score - ten minutes of bluegrass, ten minutes of the most blatant Jerry Goldsmith rip-offs this side of an early James Horner score, three minutes of Morricone pastiche and then a little reprise of the bluegrass. It's perfectly enjoyable, just really, really odd; it's hardly vintage Newman, and to be honest neither is The War of the Roses. I can't help but be a little disappointed by this one.