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Time After Time - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Apr 4, 2009

  • Movies review

    3,325

    Time After Time - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

    Nicholas Meyer may have directed possibly the best Star Trek movie with the gloriously exciting and genuinely moving Wrath Of Kahn, but, a little before this, for his directorial debut, he took on the ambitious sci-fi/thriller/romantic drama combination, Time After Time, in 1979. Bringing together a sort of stew of concepts - Victorian hero, a young H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) versus Victorian villain Jack The Ripper (David Warner) across time, itself, from foggy old London Town to the hip, colourful San Francisco of a then-modern-day 1979. The tale was ripe with melodrama, suspense, fantasy, horror, comedy and romance in the form of almost liberated bank clerk, Mary Steenburgan's Amy. But this hurled-together mishmash of genres actually worked surprisingly well and the film has, over the years, garnered for itself quite a cult following. McDowell made a sprightly klutz of his forward-thinking inventor - it is his time machine that the Ripper uses to escape capture at the hands of Scotland Yard - and Warner is deviously black-hearted as the knife-wielding madman who finds the casual violence of the future the perfect environment for his own atrocities, and the film is actually quite vicious in places and immensely exciting for what is, in essence, just a wish-list compilation of high-concept story-fusion.

    Meyer was unbelievably lucky to have gotten the services of renowned composer Miklos Rozsa, whose scores had always been a huge inspiration for the fledgling filmmaker and, after this successful collaboration, the pair would become firm friends. But, the truth of the matter is that Rozsa, supremo of the Golden Age, what with a string of Biblical epics - Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, El Cid - magnificent mysteries like Hitchcock's Spellbound and noir-thrillers such as The Naked City and Double Indemnity, and fantasies like The Thief Of Baghdad and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad under his award-winning belt, had slowed down to composing literally only a handful of scores in the seventies, his huge orchestral pomp and grandeur having been usurped by much more contemporary styles with the arrival of gritty, more urban fare. People like Lalo Schifrin, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams had moved with the times and re-shaped their music to fit the trends, even leading the way for newcomers like Roy Budd, Bill Conti and Pino Donaggio. Rozsa, on the other hand, was from a different generation again and the swing-shift was possibly not entirely to the Hungarian's liking. However, Meyer had always been a fan of his elegant, thrilling and exuberant style and actively sought him out to provide the musical voice for his kaleidoscopic thriller. Meyer, as Rozsa, himself, testified, is very knowledgeable of film music and really understands the mindset of a composer and knows just how to communicate what he wants. The time they spent together creating the score for Time After Time resulted in a truly wonderful piece of work, and something that many aficionados cite as being one of the greatest achievements of Rozsa's stellar career.

    Several themes recur throughout the score. Motifs for Wells, the Ripper, the time machine and an “autumnal” love theme for the inventor and the lady he meets from the future all take their turn at the helm and even entwine luxuriously on several memorable occasions. The main theme is triumphant, blasting and strident. Woodwinds and domineering bass are accentuated by harp and xylophone, and the brief, but inspiring explosion of sound is further highlighted with classic cymbal clashes, and then the driving five-note main theme culminates in a tremulous, drawn-out swirl that recedes into the mists of time - a suitably grand and epic introduction into the topsy-turvy world of pursuit and terror, love and salvation across a century. Track 2 greets the villain of the piece and grants David Warner's glum-faced Ripper with his own theme - a sinewy, deep dredging of heavy chords yawned over the top of electrified strings that throb with menace. Bewitchingly, this then descends into a haunting tune that evokes shades of Ennio Morricone, Rozsa using a sweet, lilting melody that stems from the Ripper's musical pocket-watch - the charmingly innocent sound of Chants d'Auvergne (that Rozsa, himself, had previously arranged) that is so opposed to the blood-hungry hatred of the killer, himself. Reminiscent of the tragic tune that serenades the violence of Gian Maria Volante's El Indio in Leone's For A Few Dollars More (also hailing from a pocket-watch) and the ethereal lullabies from The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, this plays so completely against the savagery of the murderer that it becomes one of those creepily chilling lulls of ominous surrealism and a disturbing avenue into the mind of a psychopath.

    The next series of tracks all feature relatively short cues that work together, flowing into one cohesive whole, marking the first of what is, essentially, a three-act score. This section covers the unmasking of Warner's despicable, hate-driven Ripper, who is none other then Wells' friend, Dr. Stevenson, and his subsequent escape through time in the very machine that Wells had created in order to help him discover a utopian future of peace and understanding. These early sections, as well as another series of tracks later on, have that urgent Hammer-esque style of driving strings, constant shivering agitation of brass and glistening xylophone. Tension is rife and builds to furious and insistent lower-string pulse-lines, trilling woodwinds and muted trumpets. Rozsa employs the nervous, glacial tones of flutes, vibraphone and celesta for Track 4, The Vaporising Equaliser (the device that makes his machine work), and stair-stepping string-ascents with uneasy bass squalls for Search For The Ripper, Track 5. Then we reach The Time Machine, itself, in Track 6. Here, after a somewhat fateful and sombre rendition of the main theme, Rozsa really cuts loose with a wild and exciting rush of magical tinkling on xylophone, a churning motif of rolling strings and bass signifying Wells' resolve and determination to hunt Stevenson down, and then a terrific pummelling of muted brass that marches out across the roof of an already roaring orchestra. This wonderful, charging fanfare alters tempo into a sort of primitive percussion that delivers Wells' “Decision” with an unusual wood-knocking intensity, and this then shifts gear again to become the score's first major tour de force, the majestic and aggressive Taking Off/Time Travel. We've heard composers attempt to emulate the passage through time before, most notably with Russell Garcia's fantastical tick-tocking theme for George Pal's classic The Time Machine (1960), which was the filmic interpretation of the real H.G. Wells' novel of the same title, but Rozsa adds a lot more dynamism and volatility to the pot. The emphasis, here, is on dread and determination, rather than wonder and awe. Wells' has a mission that is no longer just to seek out a world of harmony, and accompanied by edgy violins, tumbling trumpets, alarming percussion and a maelstrom of thumping bass, flurrying wings of brass and frantic drum-rolls he catapults himself forwards in time in hot pursuit of Jack the Ripper.

    The usual temptation of greeting a new time period with its contemporary sounds - in this case, disco-era music would have been the most obvious scene-setter - is, thankfully, ignored as both Meyer and Rozsa eschew any hint of modernism and keep on-track with the lush, evocative rapture of a traditional symphonic crush. We have now entered the second act of the score and there is an altogether jollier, more upbeat and tongue-in-cheek approach adopted. A woozy oboe warbles the main theme slowly beneath Wells as he emerges from an exhibit in the San Francisco museum commemorating himself and his works, and Track 9, Man Before His Time, even goes as far as to bow out with a cheerful opening phrase from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to inform us, as well as our hero, that he has left foggy London a long, long way behind. Track 10 initially hurries along in a very starched, Penny-Farthing-style bumble-fest denoting Wells' uptight Victorian fish-out-of-water in this strange new land, but then gives way to a deliciously comical saxophone that s-l-o-w-s things right down to an altogether dreamier, more lugubrious pace. Yet, even here, Rozsa supplies a hint that all is not well in this advanced America as a musical resonance of the Ripper carries on the air like a wind-borne smell of blood, ending the track on a vaguely ominous note.

    Utopia, Track 11, sees Wells' theme return in more hopeful guise, lifted by oboe but undercut, if you listen, by shivering strings that seem determined to warn him about dreadful deeds to come. Surprisingly, but in counter-point retaliation to one of America's most cherished themes heard earlier, we get a brief and wholly over-the-top title statement of “Rule Britannia!” to stake our boy's imperial claim in this territory when he spies the Chartered Bank Of England, where he will meet his love, Amy. Although this sort of thing works well in the film, it can't help but jar in the score, lending it the somewhat unfortunate air of a broad stage “musical” that is winking at the audience. The second cue in this track, Car Ride, was not used in the finished film. Wells takes a ride in a taxi-cab and this short, hyper-frenzied scherzo would have fuelled his panic at such a violent means of transportation. Indeed, the cue, which is infectiously delirious and a pure helter-skelter of careering force would have been too much, overpowering the visuals and going totally out of control. However, on the album, it works a treat.

    In a heavy-handed confrontation between Wells and Stevenson, Rozsa assails the senses with an incredibly short, but brutal couple of cues (Track 12) to help capture the inventor's horror at the level of violence that passes for entertainment on the modern world's TV screens. Then we move into the next major tour de force in the score. Track 13, The Ripper/Pursuit, is a furious, action-packed sequence of broad, alarming activity as our two enemies chase one another through this strange city. Driving rhythms pound away, stabbing shafts of bass cement the deadly seriousness of it all, and a tambourine lends accentuation. Walls of brass punch through the macabre set-piece and it is cunning how Rozsa manages to combine both Wells' theme and that of the Ripper into one kinetic display of overlapping flight and aggression. Pino Donnagio, who would more often opt to emulate the great Bernard Herrmann, was obviously enthralled by this effect of counter-rhythms and syncopation, as evidenced by his score for The Howling, amongst others, that liberally borrows from Rozsa's bruising blend. An excellent track that acts as a reinforcement of the film's, as well as the score's, main theme of chaos and heroism in conflict ... just before things turn slushy.

    The Time Machine Waltz and its feeder-cue, The Redwoods, are the type of thing that sets this score well and truly apart from its contemporaries. Whereas, Rozsa's entire score is old school pomp and operatics, the romantic theme which forms the backbone of these two tracks and, indeed, goes on to flavour the overall score from this point onwards - even receiving a full and luxurious reprise at the end - is the type of thing that can leave many modern listeners cold. If I am totally honest, it took a bit of getting used to even for me. As hugely appreciative of Golden Age music as I am, with its proclivity towards interludes of pastoral or, in this case, pure chamber-style romantic passages that seem to arrive from a vastly different place than the rest of the score, this whimsical love theme's determined swerve into floaty, flowery finesse and inordinate elegance does strike me as a peculiarly overt distraction from the mystery and the thrills of the album, at large. This is sweeping, airy lyricism that could hark so easily from any heartfelt drama from the forties or fifties, conjuring up stage-bound clinches or elegiac walks in the woods, far removed from the danger at hand. And yet, there is the wonderful way in which its motif seems to have absorbed parts of the more dramatic themes, allowing them to melt through the rose-tinted ambience of smiles and nectar, reminding us, eventually, that there is still the ominous threat from Jack The Ripper. Perhaps my favourite part of this lovely ode to trans-dimensional romance comes at the very end of The Redwoods. After the tune has taken a slightly darker turn - mournful solos for oboe and cello that twist the heartstrings and become evocative of the light and shadow and watchful silence of the giant Muir Redwood trees north of San Francisco - an incredibly searing rendition of this new theme plays out with a fateful, slow ache for violin that is simply beautiful.

    Again, this theme carries over into Track 16, via clarinet, although it is clouded with dread and melancholy as news of the Ripper's ongoing reign of terror reaches Wells. The Ripper's theme then comes to dominate, driving forcefully onward as Warner's killer stalks yet another victim. That clockwork chime returns briefly, the cue descending once more into his insanity. More edgy strings cavort around heavy notes on a piano and tense woodwinds. There is a real sense of Hammer's set-bound horrors with this cue, Rozsa turning another corner into the third act of the score, one that becomes darker and more intense. All of the main themes will reappear at intervals from now on, the score weaving between thrills, spills and madness and the romance and heroics of Wells. The threat from the Ripper reaches Amy, H.G.'s new beloved, and this is realised with musical stingers and menacing, muted brass mewlings. The Ripper's theme hovers ominously throughout Track 18, too. But it then intertwines with the watch motif during the two cues that make up Track 19, Decision For Murder/Murder, whereupon the orchestra also joins in to ignite the once-charming melody with weight and deviousness. The Time Machine theme is rekindled in The Prism Pin, with its glassy, limbo-land harmonics of tritone-apart intervals, and then the bitter-sweet romance of the Redwoods melody sweeps everything up as Wells is finally able to convince Amy that his time-travelling story is true. Track 21, The Last Victim, mocks our heroes when they are too late to save another woman from falling under Stevenson's blade. Wonderfully, the second cue herein ends on a solo cello trembling mournfully with a despondent memory of The Redwoods, suddenly inverting that romantic lilt with pain and an icy guilt that really permeates the atmosphere of the musical narrative.

    The film, and the score, are now speeding towards a date with destiny that will bring Rozsa's orchestra onwards with full force.

    The string section shivers, a solo clarinet fails to reassure us, or a terrified Amy, with its vague rendition of Redwoods that things will be okay, and Wells' theme ripples with fear and indecision. Plodding tones, in a very vintage Flash Gordon style, taunt Wells as he winds up getting arrested and carted off before he can get to Amy, who is trapped alone her apartment. His theme echoes on agitated, anxious strings. Rozsa builds the suspense even further with Track 23, entitled 3.20 PM/Nocturnal Visitor, as Wells sits uselessly in a cell whilst the time of Amy's death - as announced by a newspaper report that he retrieved from the future to help convince her of his far-fetched tale - draws agonisingly near. Glistening harp-led harmonics lend a fantastical slant to the middle section, until a deep and resonant bass thumps the track out with fatalistic impartiality. Track 24, Despair, commences with a middle-ground salvo of the Ripper's theme and then descends into a semi-tragic fugue that is actually a melding of both Wells' theme and that of The Redwoods - but Rozsa does not allow things to get too maudlin. There is a distinct impression of haste and urgency - which is exactly what he serves up with the next track, the score's third and final tour de force, Dangerous Drive. With Stevenson abducting Amy and driving off with her with intentions to use the time machine to once more escape into the future, Wells commandeers Amy's own car and recklessly pursues his nemesis. Wells' theme plays beneath that of the Ripper's, the two then churning together in a breathless surge of driving rhythms. The music engulfs the drama, with heightened string spirals and a stamping motif that segues into a gloriously accelerated showcase for orchestral verve and energy. However, despite the overt excitement of the piece, this is still something that could so easily have come from the forties. It is interesting to imagine what someone such as Goldsmith or Williams would have done with similar material, but it is to Rozsa's credit that he is able to make such a set-piece sound positively vibrant and pulse-pounding as well as innately lush and broad.

    With typical Old School aplomb, the score is rounded off with large-scale dramatic sweep. Track 26, The Journey's End/Finale, is a staggeringly raised summation of all that has gone before - everybody's theme is celebrated, even the watch motif returning, and brought to an immensely satisfying close as the Ripper is consigned to oblivion after being trapped within the time machine. Rozsa was a genius at inter-changing such disparate themes into one symphonic stew. Complete with luscious string swirling and cymbal clashing immenseness, this is an absolute delight and could even serve as a small overture for the score. The CD presentation then ends with a peaceful reprise of the Time Machine Waltz which is, of course, the love theme and The Redwoods theme combined, delicately played on the piano.

    We have been in a land of “proper” adventure and ribald musical storytelling. Thick with passion and coloured with regal flavours of both elegance and decadence, Miklos Rozsa fashioned a truly marvellous musical backdrop for a film that is made all the more enjoyable because of it. Furious charging ostinatos and frenzied, string-led shrieks evoke James Bernard's rampant, full-blooded Hammer scores, with cues such as The Ripper/Pursuit and Dangerous Drive positively fuming with rabid, orchestral froth. Floating, ethereal etiquette herald courtly romance and the orchestra swirls thickly around the narrative at all times. It is not difficult to see why this project appealed to Rozsa, the old fashioned Victoriana something that he could embrace with ease and an intimate knowledge. Thus, with sweep, romance, passion and some thunderously exciting action set-pieces, Rozsa elevates the hokey and formulaic chills and spills of Meyer's roller-coaster-ride to something approaching a grand old spectacle. His lavish orchestration is devoutly far-ranging and brimming with flourish. His customary use of semi-fulfilled crescendos and turbulent scherzo fall-backs are brilliantly sustained and the score has the unusual slant of being both elegiac and energetic. Of his final scores - Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Eye Of The Needle, Last Embrace - this is almost certainly the best, but I still love his gleaming slice of the fantastique with 1974's The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad (review coming soon, folks) just that little bit more. Rozsa even draws some elements from this Harryhausen adventure for Time After Time, ensuring that his unmistakable style - devout and unique in whatever genre he is working in - is fully captured. The year after this film was released, John Barry would score another lush, romantic time-travelling saga, with Jeannot Swarc's Somewhere In Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. It is, indeed, interesting to compare the two musical approaches for what turned out to be two theatrical misfires that would ultimately become cult favourites on home video.

    As if the fantastic audio quality on this complete release wasn't enough, we are also treated to an excellent, and extremely comprehensive 24-page book of notes on the film and the score. With nostalgic and frank memories about making the movie and, especially, about his experiences working with his idol, Miklos Rozsa, Nicholas Meyer adds heartfelt value. Couple his fond anecdotes with highly detailed and informative notes on the score and a vivid track-by-track analysis from seasoned veterans Jeff Bond and Frank K. Dewald and you have a package that is everything a fan of the film could wish for.

    This edition is limited to 3000 copies worldwide.

    Full Track Listing

    1. Warner Bros. Logo (Max Steiner) / Prelude 1:19

    2. Jack! / L'Aio de Rotso 1:16

    3. Farewell 0:53

    4. The Vaporising Equaliser 0:27

    5. Search for the Ripper 1:26

    6. The Time Machine 1:32

    7. Decision 0:46

    8. Taking Off / Time Travel 2:47

    9. Man Before His Time 1:53

    10. First Bank Montage / Second Bank Montage 1:02

    11. Utopia / Car Ride 1:57

    12. Cartoon / War 0:21

    13. The Ripper / Pursuit 3:12

    14. The Time Machine Waltz 4:31

    15. The Redwoods 2:06

    16. Palace of Fine Arts / The Dinner / Search for a Victim 2:28

    17. A New Victim / Frightened 1:52

    18. The Telephone Book / The Envelope 0:43

    19. Decision for Murder / Murder 1:58

    20. The Prism Pin / The Fifth Victim 2:02

    21. The Last Victim / Aftermath 2:27

    22. Valium / H.G. Arrested 1:26

    23. 3:20 P.M. / Nocturnal Visitor 2:08

    24. Despair 1:03

    25. Dangerous Drive 2:57

    26. The Journey's End / Finale 3:39

    27. The Time Machine Waltz 4:59


    Verdict

    Time After Time is a treasure-trove of old school symphonic melody and character, a pure powerhouse of sweeping mysterioso, elegant romance and incorrigible suspense. The melancholic love theme may seem to sit apart from the rest of the score at first, but, with time, it becomes a sweetly tragic-cum-lustrous serenade that embodies Rozsa's rich emotional style perhaps a little more than it does the love affair between the two time-swapped characters in the film. Rozsa would only score three more movies before his death in 1995 and his work for Nicholas Meyer's Time After Time would, fittingly enough, cross the boundaries of time and trends, belying more modern sensibilities and, just as the plot's fictional H.G. Wells would, exist as both a throwback to a more passionate era as well as being something of a pioneer in terms of orchestral treatment in a decade that had switched to more mean and moody themes.

    FSM's release is typically excellent. The sound quality on this Lukas Kendall-produced album is superb and the fact-filled booklet is the perfect accompaniment. Rozsa's music is classical and full-blooded, a multi-hued canopy of dexterity and propulsion. Time After Time, naturally, comes highly recommended.


    The Rundown

    Movie

    9

    Overall

    9

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