1,511Hands up all those who remember this prime-time turkey from 1983 then? One, two, three ... okay, okay, five of you. Well, considering that this Raiders Of The Lost Ark rip-off, done Italian-style, was one of the frontrunners of the early eighties 3-D boom - a doomed craze that also swept in the likes of Jaws 3-D, Metalstorm: The Destruction Of Jared Syn (awesome score from Richard Band, by the way) Parasite and Amityville 3-D - and had the money from the Canon Group behind it, its most amazingly in-yer-face stunt was actually getting the great Ennio Morricone on board to score it. Morricone was world-famous for his electrifyingly cool spaghetti scores for Sergio Leone, of course, but his enormously prolific work beyond those classics was not all that well known outside of Europe and, especially, Italy, until the likes of his impressive and award-winning work for The Mission and Once Upon A Time In America came along. Even so, with an extensive body of material that graced comedies, war films, horror, romance and, especially, thrillers, this was still something of an odd choice for the composer to undertake. Previously serenading the tragic, mournful and incredibly moving score for Orca - Killer Whale and even taking on John Carpenter's The Thing only the year before, he was certainly no stranger to the more fantastical side of filmic collaboration. Indeed, his work for Carpenter proved his own willingness to experiment and even to adopt another composer's style - opting to create tonal, minimalist pulsations and creeping, relentless cues to evoke Carpenter's previous synthesised scores. His patented “heaviness” and rolling symphonies would have had no place in The Thing's realm of Antarctic alienation and paranoia, anyway.
But the inescapable fact here with Four Crowns is that, while this is certainly a great score, it does not fit the film that it smothers. Morricone is too passionate, too exuberant, too atmospheric for the dizzy idiocies that director Ferdinando Baldi, producer Gene Quintano and star/producer Tony Anthony (Tony Tony, huh?) heave across and out of the screen. His score is incredibly rich and played - with the exception of a couple of source cues that he created for the film - with an awesomely dedicated seriousness that the antics of tomb-raiding hero J. T. Striker just do not match. When I first saw the film - a very long time ago - I was struck by two things (and, no, they weren't the spears and projectiles liberally jabbed out in the third dimension at me). Firstly, that the film and especially its leading man, were utterly atrocious (yet still kitschy fun in a perverse kind of way once you've tuned into their warped mindset), and secondly, that the music must have been from a different film altogether. Italian movie-makers weren't averse to pinching tracks and from rival productions, that was for sure. Goblin's material from Dawn Of The Dead and Suspiria would often be regurgitated and recycled around the genre. But this was an original piece of work from an established maestro. Morricone had worked on, and enhanced, many a low-budget film in his time, so he was certainly not above plying his talents across the board, his own love of music and the ideas that stories, actors and directors could inspire in him proving much too irresistible. Even so, Treasure Of The Four Crowns - the tale of Tony Anthony's modern-day quester's search for Visigoth crowns (if I remember correctly, we only see two of them) and his battles with an order of loony monks headed-up by a nut-job cult leader, Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo sporting a medieval white triangle on his noggin) - is far more pantomimic than even some of the spoof-westerns he did with Bud Spencer. Striker leaps from one set of booby-traps to the next, incurring the wrath of vicious mutant German Sherpherds, snakes and demons. Faces melt and mummies come to life and everyone has an extremely busy and overwrought time, but the problem is that the film is too dumb to be taken seriously and too po-faced to have a good laugh alongside. Morricone, though, sees past all this rather typical Italian overkill and pays homage to the makers' aspirations, rather than to their actual on-screen results.
Starting off with a main title theme that is sure to evoke memories of his score for The Untouchables - lush, sweeping orchestral grandeur with enough elegiac melancholy and romanticism to satisfy any of his fans - Four Crowns immediately flies-in-the-face of genre expectations. With the film going out of its way to mimic a bloodier version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, you would expect rousing fanfares, pounding percussion and a sense of giddy adventure at work. But Morricone does the exact opposite, perhaps sensing that a movie so unashamedly derivative needs something that is unexpected and unique unto itself. Audiences going in to Four Crowns must have been scratching their heads in dismay during this opening theme as it conjures up images that are anything but dynamic and action-packed. However, and this the point that this review is going to hammer home, Morricone's music makes for a fabulous album in its own right.
In his fun liner-notes, Daniel Schweiger remarks that if Morricone's score for Four Crowns has an antecedent then it is his work on John Carpenter's The Thing. Now, there is some definite credence to this. When I first listened to this CD, and before reading his notes, it was immediately apparent that the second track, Trapped 1, was very icily familiar. Pensive, simple strings slide uneasily over slowly drawn tonal blades, creating a doom-laden atmosphere of dread and gradually building suspense. There are almost identical cues in The Thing. But Morricone is setting his own tone here and it is one that he will tease-out within an increasingly dark framework. Track 3, Main Room, throws in some fantastic electronic swirls and chirps that arrive, buzzing from out of nowhere and whisk away like the musical equivalent of Spielberg's smaller alien craft in Close Encounters. These effects also seem to have had a degree of influence upon Jerry Goldsmith, as he delivers something very similar in his own fantastic orchestral/electronic score for Ridley Scott's Legend a couple of years later.
Sizzling string-led tension dominates the next track, Snakes And Dogs, until pounding bass thumps out a furious beat and excitable brass flurries take over during a driven second half. Icy cold dread returns to permeate Trapped II with excellently sustained low menacing chords and a morose sort of melody that implies a level of emotion that, in the film, simply isn't there. That Thing-style approach is sobering device, though, that paints a tonal picture of its own - one that is certainly not as garish as Baldi's and Anthony's cash-on-delivery visuals. The next track is a wonderfully deranged slice of supernatural intensity. Ghost Attack features stabbing brass, tinkling bells that cascade with crystal clarity, a grunting bassoon that recalls Laurie Johnson's playfully chilling music for Hammer's Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (score and SD DVD reviewed separately) and a sense of orchestral deviousness. Certain little cues within this piece could even have hailed from an old episode of Scooby-Doo, but this is not a bad thing, you understand - it is part and parcel of the almost-cosy eeriness that Morricone is trying to concoct and perhaps this is the only time in the score that he will simply let rip and appear to have fun with the music as, indeed, the very next track, Safe, will bring back the main theme - a raised musical cadence that swaps etherealness for romantic nobility.
A male choir droning low menacing notes of Dark Age mystery comes next, in Madman. Morricone indulges in that trademark juxtaposition here - one main theme that is completely embedded in the sinister and the ominous, and another, a soft jangle played with a guitar that quietly croons esoterically beneath the deep semi-chanting, that creates an almost peaceful Mediterranean vibe. The two strands shouldn't work, and with another composer and orchestrator, they probably wouldn't. But Morricone, in part harking back to the wonderful early days on the Dollars Trilogy, proves incredibly adept at such diverse combinations. He then provides a couple of source cues that go against the tone of the score at large, but they were necessary accompaniments to scenes in the film depicting Striker rounding up his big top buddies for the mission to defeat Brother Jonas and his hooded henchmen. Tracks 9 and 10, therefore, seem a little out of place, with circus frivolity, some slow, tinkling lounge and a pretty generic soft rock vibe dropping us out of the exquisite mood of dread and danger for a few moments. Mind you, it does show his versatility with some panache and there is a lovely passage for the saxophone, so it is not all bad.
One of the more dramatic pieces then follows, returning us to the pure darkness and evil at the root of the score. Midnight To Dawn brings in some of that exquisite bassoon, stabbing brass and bells-fountain again. Edgy, angular shifts remind me of Howard Shores earlier horror cues for David Cronenberg, particularly things like The Brood and Scanners, but Morricone backs them up with a lot more surprising devices and instrumentation, maintaining his own eclectic spin. Track 12, Crowns Are Ours, is given over to the Jonas theme of low chanting, twanging guitar and quasi-Arabic rhythms for flute and piccolo. Occasional rumbling bass grounds the music as though the Devil, himself, is in the room below and banging regularly on the ceiling. This Jonas theme is one of the score's most effective and powerful pieces. Its mood is mesmerising and somewhat addictive, Morricone managing to subvert and invigorate the clichéd Gregorian motif. A longer track, The Village, comes next and here we get the sustained aura of trembling suspense and dread from both Trapped cues, but the whistling and chirping of the electro pulses fizzes across it and even hints of the main theme gently ease to and fro. This is one of those pieces of music that would play brilliantly in the background at a Halloween party, perhaps from behind a closed upstairs door, to slowly unhinge those guests going to the toilet. Creepy and unnerving stuff, but with a lacing of slow-burn mischief bubbling away in there too.
This long drawn-out suspense is carried over into the next track, the lengthy Flying. Tense strings skate over slowly see-sawing tones, a perpetual shiver tingles through the thin blanket of danger as Striker makes a precarious high-wire infiltration of an evil lair, horns enact his every dangling dilemma. There is a sense, roughly half-way through, that this protracted build-up isn't actually going to go anywhere, however. Perhaps, in other hands, this would have led to a massive crescendo of action and excitement, but Morricone deceives us and allows his meticulously created mood to linger all the way through. This is actually quite a bold move for a film that does, indeed, depend on lots of action, so it should come as no surprise to learn that a fair chunk of Morricone's music actually didn't make it into the finished film - and a lot of what did was rearranged and its overall emphasis altered.
Healer and The Alarm swap between the low monastic aggression of Brother Jonas and his cult and then the main theme for Striker and girlfriend Liz (Ana Obregon) as it becomes apparent that they are all that is left of the heroic Big Top gang. The Crowns becomes a peaceful memory of the things that have befallen the good guys, reverent and encompassing of the gentler, more elegiac nature of the score. Morricone, as is so often the case with his soundtracks is in danger of fierce repetition with his themes. You only have to look at his score for Once Upon A Time In The West, for example, to see how he constantly shifts between the same basic two or three themes, but it is his usually subtle variations of such film-familiar leit-motifs that work the essential magic. Four Crowns, after a very brief but sizzling horn flurry in Not That Easy, track 18, that swiftly and viciously crackles out of the blue, then bows out with the main theme playing more earnestly, sweetly and romantically for our surviving paramours in All Over and then in an abbreviated, but still full-on reprise of the signature Crowning Glory.
Intrada's new release is the first time that the score has ever been heard in its complete form, the previous CD edition that did the rounds was actually mastered from a cut-down vinyl edition from General Music. Recently discovered original stereo masters provide the disc with terrific depth and presence, really making those chanting male voices seethe with melancholic mysterioso and those bells and chimes tinkle with amazing precision and clarity.
The score is beautifully dark and ominous and Morricone's use of those delirious electronic swirls can really catch you off-guard and make your head turn. His trademark design of a recurring harmony - usually a juxtaposed combination of lilting vocals and a seemingly out-of-place, but wonderfully haunting tune - is well in evidence here and the desire to threaten is overt, pulsating and reverent all at the same time. Despite the close intimacy of his preferred smaller orchestra, the feel of the music is big and rapturous, a dense cloud of lulling sensation that provides plenty of jangling menace and sudden jolts to keep you on your toes, even if, for some, the constant repetition may become tiresome.
There is a cool little 8-page booklet of liner-notes from Daniel Schweiger that contains enough silly stills of Tony Anthony's ridiculous J. T. Striker to make you either never want to see the film at all, or determined to pick up a copy from somewhere just to see exactly what the buffoon is getting up to. Personally speaking, I know that I've got the film somewhere around here ... but, ah, I don't know if I can be bothered to unearth it and sit through Tony Anthony's gormless performance again. Truly, the music is so much better.
Full Track Listing - 1. Crowning Glory (Theme from “Treasure of the Four Crowns”) 3.54
2. Trapped I 4:46
3. Main Room 1:35
4. Snake and Dogs 1:43
5. Trapped II 3:12
6. Ghost Attack 2:15
7. Safe 2;12
8. Madman 2:37
9. Circus and Café #1 3:14
10. Café #2 0:54
11. Midnight to Dawn 3:09
12. Crowns Are Ours 5:09
13. The Village 4:23
14. Flying 4:22
15. Healer 1:31
16. The Alarm 2:03
17. The Crowns 2:04
18. Not That Easy 0:49
19. All Over 2:21
20. Crowning Glory 2:02 (Theme from “Treasure of the Four Crowns”)
VerdictForget the hokey cover art and the daft premise of the film, itself, Treasure Of The Four Crowns is an absolutely superb score from the Italian master of prolonged atmospherics. It is full of eerie splendour, dark harmony and unsettling resonance. It doesn't sound or feel like an adventure yarn, though. The tone here is utterly unique and thoroughly unsettling and would perfectly suit some form of demonic haunted house movie. But be this incongruity as it may, I cannot help but recommend this extremely limited release from the increasingly prolific Intrada. Morricone fans will surely love its provocative density and lush main themes, whilst lovers of simply majestic scoring will be swept away by its ominous invention and ceaseless wall of enveloping sound. The Thing meets The Untouchables is a bizarre union of harmony and disharmony, but that is as good a way to sum up the design of Morricone's eclectic and unusual approach to Treasure Of The Four Crowns.
Please be advised that this release is limited to only 1500 copies worldwide ... so act quick.
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