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Tora! Tora! Tora!
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • La-La Land Records / 2011 / 55:58

Jerry Goldsmith scored two films about World War 2 during 1970 – the rightly-lauded, exceptional Patton and the not-so-lauded but also brilliant Tora! Tora! Tora!  Slightly similar to The Longest Day in one respect, like that film it told the story of an infamous day from the perspectives of the different sides – the build-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour is seen from both their perspective and the Americans’, with an almost documentary-like approach aided by a lack of genuine movie stars producing a very fine, compelling picture.  The American sequences were directed by Richard Fleischer, the Japanese ones by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku after Akira Kurasawa was audaciously fired by 20th Century Fox.

Just as Patton is an exercise in calculated spotting by the legendary composer, so too is Tora! Tora! Tora! – again, there is barely more than half an hour’s music in the three-hour movie.  Most of the music is filled with Japanese sonorities (Goldsmith had already travelled East with his music in The Sand Pebbles and The Chairman, amongst others) and there is absolutely no conformity to the traditional way of scoring a war movie. There are no Sousa-style marches here, little actually in the way of action music (the attack itself is entirely unscored), the composer instead focusing on creating a growling portrait of the horrors to come.  (There’s a wonderful quote from Goldsmith in the liner notes: he only provided music if “there is a scene so special, where there is something to be said that only music can say.  Then the presence of music will bring that extra element you need, and if it’s done right, it will elevate the scene.”  Oh, for a Jerry Goldsmith today.)

Jerry Goldsmith conducting

The main title theme is superb: first performed in the opening track by a koto, then taken up by the orchestra, it represents the martial rigidity of the Japanese forces and also their unquestionable honour – and all in three minutes!  It’s rarely mentioned as one of Goldsmith’s finest, though it undoubtedly is.  From its brilliant musical effect at the very start suggesting a dive bomber, through the incessantly swirling main body of the piece, it brilliantly sets the scene for what is to follow.  The lack of violins in the orchestra here and throughout the score give the music a slightly cold, matter-of-fact air that proves to be entirely gripping.

In the rest of the score, most impressive are the sections where Goldsmith creates an unnerving soundscape designed to represent the inhuman nature of war; though unfortunately there are a few sequences of suspense music that are not especially interesting.  Some of the more violent sections make for slightly challenging listening – but very rewarding listening.  The lengthy “The Waiting Game” is an exercise in suspense, one of the score’s highlights.  As noted earlier, action music is largely notable by its absence, but that’s not to say there aren’t exciting passages – the moments where the brass section in particular comes together in pulse-pounding fashion are made all the more potent by their relative scarcity.

This new album from La-La Land is a remastered version of the album put out by Film Score Monthly several years ago.  Sound quality seems a little better to me, though I doubt there’s enough of a shift to make a re-purchase necessary for those who have the older release.  Notable too are the super new liner notes by Julie Kirgo and excellent album design by Jim Titus, both a significant step-up from the previous release.  (There was also a 12-minute suite released by Varèse Sarabande on the same album as their Patton re-recording in 1997, which actually marked the first time any of this score had been on CD, though unfortunately the concert hall acoustic lost most of its beautiful inherent detail.)  All Goldsmith fans should certainly own one version of this superb score, which demonstrates a master film composer at the top of his craft, with music created uniquely for this film, impossible to imagine in any other, which works just as well as dramatic underscore as it does as compelling standalone music.  **** |

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  1. elfenthalsmith (Reply) on Sunday 1 January, 2012 at 14:19

    I agree, the main theme is superb. It manages to get stuck in the mind without trying to be catchy. At first I found it non-descript, but then I realized I couldn’t get it out of my head.