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The Outer Limits - Original Television Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Aug 13, 2008

  • Movies review

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    The Outer Limits - Original Television Soundtrack Soundtrack Review
    Although back in the fifties and sixties sci-fi/horror shows tended to bleed into one another - Alfred Hitchcock Presents led into Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, which ran concurrently with both One Step Beyond and Thriller, whilst The Alfred Hitchcock Hour brought up the rear - it has become fashionable these days to cite, very much like the “Who's Doctor Who were you?” debate, simply whether you are a Twilight Zoner or an Outer Limitist as, without a doubt, these two seminal shows were the lynchpin of the era's imaginative broadcasting, creating unparalleled exposure for the writings of such great TV genre scribes as Jerry Sohl, Robert Dennis and Seelag Lester, as well as one celebrated Harlan Ellison, whose own fantastical contributions The Demon With A Glass Hand and Soldier (both from Season 2) proved to be the inspiration for James Cameron's The Terminator - though Cameron still denies it of course. Personally, although I'm a devotee of both shows, I feel that The Outer Limits has the edge. The shows were longer and could grant far more breathing space to the characters and their developing scenarios and they were also much darker and more dangerous in tone. Essentially, they were scarier and a touch more conscious of the prevailing times and of the shuffling fallibility and, indeed, fragility of Man when confronted with the Unknown.

    The Outer Limits broke the mould in many ways but, as far as we are concerned right now, it was the approach to its musical scoring that deviated drastically and importantly from most of its rivals and contemporaries. Whereas most TV shows either simply employed a composer to fashion a catchy and immediately recognisable title theme, leaving the bulk of the episodes, themselves, to be scored with library tracks culled from the extensive studio vaults, or actually had their own dedicated cadre of composers - such as Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith who certainly blessed The Twilight Zone with their talents. Now, whilst The Outer Limits would, itself, utilise library tracks for the majority of its 49 episodes - a supreme victim of cost-cutting practices - it still had the honour of having a gifted and expressive composer brought on-board to supply original scores for selected episodes. Dominic Frontiere was only too happy to oblige and, along with Robert Van Eps who would supply some additional music, was the only composer for ABC's show, and went to score 13 of the first season's 32 episodes, which may sound like a paltry number (it is) but the breadth and variety and sheer spectral intensity of these often bravura scores is a lasting tribute to not only The Outer Limits which, inarguably, benefited enormously from the unique sounds that he crafted, but also to Frontiere, himself who produced his best television work for this cult classic.

    La-La Land Records have already released the scores to a couple of the episodes already and, sadly, they are omitted from this collection. But, what we have here remains a scintillating example of what made the show so special and memorable. Already assuming the somewhat casual role of producer on the show, due to his friendship with its instigator Leslie Stevens and, subsequently, the strong bond that formed between himself and Joseph Stefano, who was to be the prime mover and shaker on The Outer Limits, even down to writing many of the episodes, himself, Frontiere had only a limited in-house orchestra that he managed to make sound much larger and more avant-garde by virtue of his own innate creativity. Frontiere, it seems, was not above a fair degree of exciting experimentation with different sounds to facilitate the aura of the unusual, the alien and the downright creepy. There can't be too many other composers out there who would have thought to use the discordant rumble of a household vacuum cleaner as part of their musical ensemble, can there? This era was still pretty much bereft of electronica, although Louis and Bebe Barron had already fashioned an entire score for the classic Forbidden Planet out of just such wacky and subconscious-connective tonalities and vibrating resonances. Frontiere would use such rarefied noises judiciously though, much preferring the overall thrust and versatility of the traditional orchestra, albeit with off-the-wall compositions to evoke the awe and mystery of things beyond.

    Commencing with the famous introductory Main Title theme that would also incorporate Vic Perrin's legendary narration and story scene-setter - “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission ...” - Frontiere's brief cue stabs you with its wild “stinger”, leaving you in no doubts as to the bizarre nature of what will follow. Arguably, The Twilight Zone actually has a more memorable and catchy title tune, but the opening theme for The Outer Limits stills captures all the errant psychology and cosmic tension that is required to hook an audience right from the get-go. Each of the three discs in this set contains the Main and End titles to top 'n' tail it, but, interestingly, never the same versions, some being alternate, extended or stereo renditions.

    CD 1's prime showcase is certainly the 7 tracks that make up The Architects Of Fear. In this famous episode, poor old Robert Culp draws the short straw and becomes a surgically-created alien for the purpose of averting World War III. Frontiere's music, which follows a similar metamorphosing suit, takes the love theme for the fake-monster (a Thetan) and his wife and gradually transforms it throughout the show until it becomes anguished, chilling and portentous. There is a terrific moment of agitated strings that Pino Donaggio must have felt the influence of when he was scoring Joe Dante's The Howling, some wonderfully tense bass and brass build-up that somewhat recalls Dmitri Tiomkin's The Thing (as the alien spacecraft beneath the ice is about to blow up) and some lovely harp glissandi accompanied by piano.

    Robert Van Eps, actually Frontiere's former music teacher, scores Tourist Trap and it has a marked difference from the rest of the music in this collection, being as that it is mainly upbeat Mexicana that, inevitably, sticks out like a sore thumb. Predominantly serving as source music for the episode in question, this is nevertheless a portion that for me, at least, is better skipped over. However, it is worth mentioning that the cue, The Creature Wakes, is actually composed by Frontiere, and several moments of the composer's library tracks are brought in to augment the final moments of the score, sugaring the pill somewhat. Eps also contributes some jazz source material to the great Don't Open Till Doomsday on CD 2.

    Speaking of CD 2, the star attraction here is the score for the episode Nightmare, an eerie tale that tells of a group of human astronauts captured by a race called the Ebonites and held as prisoners of war on their distant planet. Starring John Anderson, Whit Bissell and a young Martin Sheen (who just wouldn't learn that he should “never get off the boat”), this is a potent and grim saga of paranoia, distrust and duplicity with a delicious twist at the end. Frontiere paints a wonderfully ethereal, but sincerely unnerving atmosphere of wonder combined with an all-consuming dread. A gorgeous glissando for harp swirls with delicate echoing splendour over a slow, doom-laden metronomic beat. This is a core melody of apprehension and pulsating mood, its sci-fi credentials further bolstered by an expressive electric bass and the amazing creep-out of trance-inducing humming and swelling from the oscillator. Despite the purely nostalgic appeal of such atmospheric musical devices as this home-made oscillator that Frontiere playfully dubbed the “Onafets” - Stefano spelled backwards - there is a complete lack of the genre's most effective and, indeed, archetypal instrument, the Theremin. The perfect contraption for creating the weird and wonderful, floating and swooning electronic pulses and resonances that have come to typify science fiction's inherent otherworldly mood - seeing glorious tours of duty in The Thing From Another World (Dmitri Tiomkin) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann), to name but two classic examples - the Theremin wasn't actually brought into service for The Outer Limits until its second season, by which time Frontiere had moved on. But Frontiere's unusual “Onafets” serves marvellously in the same capacity for the music that brings CD 2's Nightmare to mysterious, ethereal life, and this 6-track score is one of the highlights of the overall package. Sinuous, dimension-challenging and decidedly hypnotic, it perfectly depicts the cold seeping dread and suspicion of the trapped spacemen who come to realise that one of their number could be a traitor.

    By contrast, Don't Open Till Doomsday, which is a truly wacky tale of “coitus-interruptus” and marital obsession (with aliens thrown in, of course), plays up a very Herrmann-esque milieu that is redolently evocative of Psycho's less strenuous, but more suspenseful and lyrical moments. As I mentioned earlier, there is the ragtime jazz interlude from Eps that is easily skipped should you want to keep up the dramatics. Oboe and percussion layer on the aggression as the score progresses and chords seem to get heavier and heavier, the romance of earlier sections becoming swamped and engulfed with menace. Paralysing crescendos and shivering strings accentuate the horror of the predicament that two young newlyweds find themselves in and the music, upping the drama, gives away no hints of the controversial sexual connotations that the episode had.

    The Man Who Was Never Born was a great example of those never-ending time paradox tales that were so popular in science fiction literature at the time. A man from a horrific future with the means to change its outcome - need I say more? It'll all come to nothing, for him, at any rate. Frontiere's music is rife with both pathos and unease. Woodwinds make flighty appearances, but a shrill bleating motif and heavy chords of sombre knowledge and melancholic intent ensure the mood is never allowed to stray too far from the anxious. But there is also some great action scoring in here, too, that delivers intense percussion and furious strings, flaring brass and extremely rapid note flurries all culminating in a thunderous climax - the epic Track 22 is a grand orchestral statement that blows away any and all notions that a limited TV chamber orchestra could never reach the exhilarating and moving heights of a full-on cinema score. A beautiful, lingering harmony of wistful pain and almost euphoric grief caps the music for the episode. Awesome stuff.

    CD 3 contains some wonderful cues for the score from 100 Days Of The Dragon. Here, Frontiere really runs with the exotic theme of the story - an Asian scientist develops a sinister, flesh-shaping serum that is used to create a look-alike American President - and the oriental texture of the music is brilliantly evocative. Despite such quintessential flavourings of Eastern ambience - harmonic strings lattice the impressive brooding of low woodwinds whilst a harp is allowed to mark sinuous time against chimes. Keening violins rise and fall and oriental tom-toms are patted, the gleaming tinkle of bells and finger-cymbals providing exquisite evocation of setting and character. Yet, for all this convincing mystique, Frontiere's theme is consistently eerie and menacing. The underlying, swelling clamour of bass clarinets is uniquely edgy and dark, and the 4 tracks that make up the score to this episode provide another high-point in this collection. Sombre in tone, yet delightfully disquieting and packed with Asian mystery.

    Strangely enough, this vogue is carried on with the next selection of tracks for episode entitled The Mice which, whilst not an Asian-flavoured story, nevertheless carries the unmistakable melodic weirdness that Lalo Schifrin would later employ so effectively during certain key scenes of his score for Bruce Lee's immortal Enter The Dragon. Veteran movie-villain Henry (Killer Kane) Silva is the convict who faces a grim choice - life imprisonment or an “inhabitant exchange” with an alien from the planet Chromo. This score, more than any other that Frontiere composed for the show, featured the most comprehensive use of the “Onafets”. The whole thing positively glistens and gleams with pensive trepidation, cold fear and accumulating darkness. The Asian quality that I mentioned actually fades away quite early on, replaced by all the pulsing, shimmering veils of the manipulated electrical current. Little effects litter the spaces above and below the coursing river of mesmerising sound - tiny chimes and lilting harp-play, hushed cymbal-tremors and the toned-down ringing of a bell-phone - but the whole piece carries such magical charge that, if you shut your eyes, it is may as well be you that is travelling by teleportation device instead of Silva's convict, Rivera. Another knock-out.

    Set at an Arctic military base, a thought-deciphering device goes awry and swaps the minds of a dangerous paranoid soldier with the machine's inventor and situations go from bad to worse when drastic measures are sought by the now escaped madman to rid himself of the phantom out in the ice that he believes is threatening them all. The title theme makes a couple of returns throughout this score, albeit slightly remoulded but still full of its initial stabbing vibrancy. Frontiere also crafts a romantic melody that drives rather than whispers through the rising tension and becomes quite forcefully lush, but it is probably his lilting and tinkling cue for the mental exchange that makes the most impressive mark here. Somewhat reminiscent of Herrmann's genie-inspired cues for The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, the piece floats and flutters with harp and violin. Little squirrelly fluctuations for woodwind spiral about, lacing the score with a texture that keeps you on your toes. Threat comes in the form of deep, resonant chords that try to keep such lighter distractions dragged down, and the whole thing winds down with a passionate variation of the love theme that, very nicely, registers with a sweet poignancy that helps keep the score safely on the Outer Limits of saccharine.

    Tracks 16 -17 of the third disc rattle and thrum intensely in the musical depiction of a queen bee who assumes a gorgeous human form with the idea of turning Philip Abbott's entomologist into a drone for her purposes in the episode ZZZZZ. One of the weirdest tales in the series gets possibly one of the most linear and tense scores, here presented as a brief suite. But this slight encapsulation of overwrought mayhem sets the tone for the very appropriately named Big Finish cue from the episode The Borderland, the fraught story of a wealthy man desperate to make contact with his dead son in the limbo between life and death. Just the one track from the end of this score, this is nevertheless a sheer stunner of a composition. Whirligig strings alternate with low cello, a roaring horn section and blistering percussion, and multiple crescendos, including one of the longest and most white-knuckled that I have ever heard, do battle all the way through the track making this one of the most breathlessly savage in the entire series. This is so ferocious that it simply demands to be played over and over, if your heart can take it, that is.

    What is so impressive about these little episodic scores is their diversity of theme, harmony and orchestration. Self-contained tales all, they are each bolstered by a consistent mood, recurring motifs and a genuine sense of a journey being undertaken. In short, they tell a story as clearly and as evocatively as the episodes they hail from. Frontiere may only have a very small orchestra to work with, but he maintains a level of depth, thematic reach and stylistic creativity that totally belies such limitations. It is also true that he occasionally pushed the envelope for TV scores by embellishing the standard-sized ensemble (roughly 30 or less) o a budget-straining 44 players. There is no doubting the commitment that he had for producing the absolute best for the show, and it is also clear that the stories themselves inspired him to greater endeavours, too. When ABC had a clean-out - read falling out - before the start of the second, and final, season, Stevens and Frontiere were no longer part of the successful team anymore. One Step Beyond composer Harry Lubin was to take over the scoring chores. Now, whilst this took the show's sound design into much more conventional sci-fi realms - yep, the Theremin as well as many other electronic instruments that had just surfaced - it also made for an aural vibe that I simply love. The creativity and orchestration of Frontiere was gone - except for the many cues that Lubin, perhaps in deference, tracked in from the original composer's library of sounds - but that irresistible “spookiness” was liberally applied via such B-movie complements. But The Outer Limits, musically speaking, belongs to Dominic Frontiere. He created the unique design that would lift the often drab visuals and cod characterisations far out and away from the confines of the cathode ray. Vic Perrin and his omnipotent brethren may have controlled the horizontal and the vertical, but Frontiere controlled the direction of each story and the atmosphere it would thrust us into.

    After The Outer Limits, Frontiere would go on to produce fine music for shows such as the war-time action drama The Rat Pack, the cult-favourite of The Fugitive and, finding an opportunity to twist some of his terrific eerie sci-fi sounds once again, in Quinn Martin's great paranoia-cum-actioner, The Invaders with the little-seen Roy Thinnes. Frontiere would also make the leap to the big screen with such classic movies as Twelve O' Clock High (1964), Hang 'em High (1967), John Wayne's Chisum (1970) and Brannigan (1975), The Stunt Man (1980) and, er, Colour Of Night (1994), but his unique and trendsetting music for The Outer Limits would provide him with a timeless collective foundation of every type of form under the sun, all suffused with that distinctive aura of mystery and menace that “reaches from the inner mind .... to The Outer Limits.”

    La-La Land provides a wonderful and comprehensive illustrated 16-page booklet of notes about the show and about Frontiere, Stevens and Stefano, and also contains a detailed track-by-track analysis of the scores contained herein.

    Full track listing is as follows -

    CD #1

    1. The Control Voice - Long Version (1:08)

    2. THE OUTER LIMITS Main Title - Version #1 (0:24)

    THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR: AIRDATE: 9/30/63

    3. Teaser: Nuclear War / “To Be Turned Into That” (0:51)

    4. The Lottery / Alan Leighton / The Point Of No Return / Baby Talk (4:39)

    5. Scarecrows (Alan And Yvette Love Theme) (2:42)

    6. Alan's Departure / The Telegram / Maturity Cloths (2:04)

    7. Double Vision / Madness / Aborted Phone Call/ Sadness (3:36)

    8. The Spaceship / Alien On The Loose / Alan Returns To The Lab / The Truth Revealed (2:54)

    9. Requiem For A Scarecrow (2:30)

    CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT: AIRDATE: 1/13/64

    10. Spaceship / The City / The Pawn Shop / The Customer / Coffee And Cigarettes / Act Out (3:10)

    11. The City #2 / The Hotel / Time Loops / The Shooting / “Put It Back The Way It Was!” (6:01)

    12. Marriage Proposal #1 / Marriage Proposal #2/ A Happy Ending (2:32)

    TOURIST ATTRACTION* AIRDATE: 12/23/63

    *Music by Robert Van Eps

    13. The Republic Of San Blaz (0:59)

    14. Creature On TV / First Dive (1:39)

    15. Drive To The Party (0:23)

    16. Party Source Cue #1 (2:15)

    17. Party Source Cue #2 (4:09)

    18. The Old Gods (1:19)

    19. Dive #2 / Capturing The Creature (3:49)

    20. Photo Op (0:50)

    21. The Creature Wakes** (2:09)

    22. To The Rescue / Nets (1:11)

    23. Love Scene (2:04)

    24. Finale - Act Out (0:24)

    **Composed by Dominic Frontiere

    25. THE OUTER LIMITS End Credits - Long Version (STEREO) (1:01)

    Disc One Total Time 55:26

    CD #2

    1. The Control Voice - Short Version (0:46)

    2. THE OUTER LIMITS Main Title - Version #2 (0:21)

    NIGHTMARE AIRDATE: 12/02/63

    3. Prologue (1:53)

    4. Ebonite POW Camp (1:53)

    5. Tortures Of The Mind (3:11)

    6. Turning On One Another (2:02)

    7. The Verdict And Sentence (3:20)

    8. The Truth Revealed And Epilogue (3:32)

    DON'T OPEN TILL DOOMSDAY: AIRDATE: 1/20/64

    9. Wedding Party Source (2:46)*

    10. The Years Pass / Phone Call (2:01)

    11. Dark Corridor (1:36)

    12. Crazy Lady Source Cue (2:28)*

    13. Unopened Box / Scared (1:42)

    14. Groom Be Gone (0:55)

    15. Bride Be Gone / Box Creature (2:54)

    16. Crazy Lady Room / Back To Room (1:44)

    17. A Father's Search / Upstairs / Zapped into Box (3:46)

    18. The Price Of Freedom / Double Cross /The House Is Destroyed (3:29)

    THE MAN WHO WAS NEVER BORN: AIRDATE: 10/28/63

    19. Teaser / Enter Andro / The Library / Return to the Past (3:01)

    20. Andro & Noelle Theme /“Moments, Men & Places” (6:16)

    21. Andro Breaks Mirror / Andro Revealed (1:57)

    22. Time Crossed Lovers / The Big Chase / Take Off (8:15)

    23. “I Was Never Born!” / A Better World (2:16)

    24. THE OUTER LIMITS End Credits - Version #2(0:56)

    Disc Two Total Time 63:40

    CD #3

    1. THE OUTER LIMITS - Main Title Version #3 (0:24)

    100 DAYS OF THE DRAGON: AIRDATE: 9/23/63

    2. The Slumbering Giant (1:21)

    3. Malleable Flesh / Transformation (4:57)

    4. Assassination / I Didn't Know You Had A Gun / Election / Voting And Swearing In (5:12)

    5. Washington D.C. / Bad Guys Meet In Oval Office / Unmasked! (3:10)

    THE MICE: AIRDATE: 1/6/64

    6. What Planet / Planet Chromo / 3 O'Clock / Chromoite Beams In / Attempted Escape (4:40)

    7. Alien Pond Scum / Alien Overhears Plan / Kill Jong / Escape and Recaptured (4:01)

    8. Chromoite Dinner / Transmat Attempt / Chromoite Breaks In / Act Out (2:13)

    9. Jelly Morton / Chromoite Lurking / Chromoite Kills Guard / Battle With Chromoite /Big Finish (7:22)

    10. Epilogue With A Jelly Doughnut (0:52)

    THE HUMAN FACTOR: AIRDATE: 11/11/63

    11. It's Here / Monster Appears (1:22)

    12. Love Revealed / You Don't Need Me / Major Arrives And Talks / I'm The Doctor / Monster #2 / Getting The Gun (8:02)

    13. Building Terror (1:23)

    14. Phone Call / Look Into My Eyes / The Key /Escape / Struggle And Gunshot (5:17)

    15. Love Theme Reprise (2:16)

    ZZZZZ: AIRDATE: 1/27/64

    16. Teaser (1:27)

    17. Buzzing About (2:16)

    THE BORDERLAND: AIRDATE: 12/16/63

    18. The Big Finish (4:30)

    THE OUTER LIMITS-FORMAT MUSIC

    19. Closing Narration Music (1:02)

    20. Control Voice Sign Off (0:14)

    21. THE OUTER LIMITS End Credits - Version #3 (0:48)

    Disc Three Total Time 62:31

    Verdict

    The classic TV show gets classic scores from Dominic Frontiere and La-La Land Records does them justice in this lavish 3-disc presentation that proves such spellbinding music is not merely the property of nostalgia, but timeless in atmosphere, ambience and inventiveness. There are all those delicious frissons and shivers that make this genre one of the most intimate and addictive, the music serving up mood, eloquence and tingling, adrenaline-milking ecstasy nearly all the way through. Whilst not as exhaustive as I would have liked, La-La Land have already released a couple of episode scores that I wish had been included here, this is still as fantastic a record of those halcyon days of pure, top-rated fantasy television, unbridled in scope despite the limitations of budget and the restrictions of an in-house studio orchestra. It is clear from hearing these scores that Dominic Frontiere spurred his players into hitherto uncharted realms of excellence and creativity, and, listening to them now is a complete delight.

    The sound quality on these discs is richly rewarding and the overall package is great, enhanced further by the expansive notes that detail the show, its overseers and the music. The Twilight Zone has had numerous scores released from its epic canon, so it was high time that the, arguably, superior The Outer Limits got its fair dues. Naturally, this lavish set comes strongly recommended, but please bear in mind, this release is limited to only 3000 copies worldwide. So, if you don't hurry, you'll have to venture into the Outer Limits, yourself, to track one down.

    The Rundown

    Movie

    9

    Overall

    9

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