Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Expanded, Complete and in Chronological Order

A recent discussion on filmscore with lehah regarding The Fellowship of the Ring complete recordings reminded me of the endless debates I'd have with Thor Joachim Haga on the Film Score Monthly message boards about the pros and cons of expanding soundtrack albums and presenting them on an album in chronological order.

The fact of the matter is that many soundtrack albums are not in film sequence. Many film scores are generally longer than what LPs or even CDs can encompass. In some cases, cues may be rearranged and even edited differently than what appears in the film. This means that in addition to selecting what to include, the producer of a soundtrack album also has to sequence the music in a way that promotes listening in the medium of the final product. For LPs, this usually meant a running time that capped out at about 46 minutes or so, and side one had to conclude in a satisfying way, and side two had to open. CDs can fit around 80 minutes, of course, but only rarely do the albums get that long.

So, what happens when a film score is abridged and restructured for listening purposes?

Well, it depends on the score and the skill of the soundtrack producer. I have often said that while John Williams is one of my favorite composers, he is one of my least favorite album producers. Williams is also the subject of many chronological expansions; in general I prefer the expanded, chronological presentations of his work, although sometimes the complete work may be a bit too much (Return of the Jedi springs to mind; to date the best presentation of that score, in both selection and sonics, is on the Arista 4 CD box set). However, I find that his lietmotif style tends to lend itself to having the score unfold in a form as close to its original pace as is possible. However, other composers have often put together albums that completely rethink their respective scores that I think work much better. Thomas Newman and Elliot Goldenthal do it all of the time. I find that their approaches tend to better serve the way that they deal with their thematic material, so that it develops more naturally on their records than on one of Williams'.

In some cases, there is no question that more is better, such as Jerry Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Planet of the Apes or John Barry's Bond scores, but in others, such as Barry's Dances With Wolves or Basil Poledouris' Flesh + Blood accomplish little other than to double the running time of an already decent presentation. A lot of this has to do with redundancy, of course, and in general the more inventive a score is, the better it is served by a lengthier program. That's why Ennio Morricone's Spaghetti Western scores work so well in expanded form. For the most part, though, soundtrack albums are designed to be listened to as opposed to being an archival presentation of the score, and will usually play better than the complete, chronological work.

However, I still tend to get really excited when I hear about an expanded score. However, more often than not my interest in an expanded or complete score is to get ahold of music that isn't included on the official release, not so much to listen to the complete score for its own sake. You can hear interesting cues in the movie itself that do not appear on the album. Being a film music fan means that often you may be aware of music that you would like, but can't have. There are many times when I feel that the choices that were used to make up the album may have been flawed, but it really boils down to a matter of taste, and what the composer feels should be on an album may not match what music I especially liked in a score. This, of course, is only my opinion, but having the complete score available to me allows me to listen to what I liked about the score.

Some scores only work in an extended form. There is no way that the massive scope of Spartacus could be conveyed in the original LP's brisk 41 minutes. There is a 70 odd minute program that North put together for the prospective Varèse Sarabande Goldsmith re-recording that never happened, but nobody has ever heard it. The original LP of James Horner's Krull was but a mere glimpse of that score, as is the LP of Goldsmith's Legend. What all of these scores have in common is a wealth of thematic material that is interrelated over the course of the score. Such a score requires a greater canvas upon which to work. The more detailed it is, the more rewarding the listening experience.

I say that it makes the most amount of sense to approach the issue of expanded and chronological scores on a case-by-case basis. Of course most film scores won't necessarily lend themselves to easy listening... often the function of the music is to do quite the opposite, which often makes the best film scores. And often an archival presentation of a score is the last thing it needs, but once again, there is a certain amount of taste that needs to be factored into this equation. I often find expanded and chronological score presentations interesting because they better convey what the score is doing as opposed to removing many of the elements that make it sound like a film score. Don't get me wrong, something like the complete Fellowship is not for everybody. In fact, while I am finding it endlessly fascinating it really made me respect what the original Fellowship CD accomplished given the amount of cloth that was available.

The problem that I have with restructuring a film score is that many times it is done to sort of minimize its functionality, and much of my interest in film music is understanding that functionality. The truth of the matter is that in the rather broad spectrumed world of film music, that which is best musically is not necessarily the best dramatically. Other scores are built in a way that is so internally consistent that they are only hobbled by abridgement. And often enough the choices the album producers make in creating the record don't really add up to a satisfying representation of the music in the film. The original Phantom Menace CD fell into that category... and the 2 CD complete presentation of that score is damn near unlistenable on its own (and that's not even bringing up the sloppy editing that plagued the score towards its conclusion that for some reason is preserved on this so-called "Ultimate Edition"). So complete is not necessarily the right answer for everything.
Tags: film music
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