Well, folks, with the new-look Clash Of The Titans and the big screen adaptation of Prince Of Persia on the way, I can't help feeling wildly heroic, mythically indomitable and full of adventurous zest. I love these fantastical hero movies and they have proved, over the years, to be an incredible seed-bed for musical composers to unleash their own titanically symphonic innovation upon a milieu that soaks up testosterone, mystery, excitement and wonder with almost every cut across the violin strings and every foundation-rattling pound of percussion. It is hard to imagine how the likes of the Star Wars franchise, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter would have sounded without the distinctive and adrenaline-invigorating passion of such past masters as Ernst Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rozsa having braved these dangerous waters already.
In terms of both their qualities as films and as film-scores, the stalwart giants of the heroic fantasy genre have always been Ray Harryhausen's The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, Jason And The Argonauts, and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, with Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger and Clash Of The Titans falling some way behind them, respectively. The scores to the first three, however, have remained linchpins to film-scoring in general and virtually dominated the genre, specifically, and have been cherished and renowned since they were first heard. With absolutely awesome re-releases of these three groundbreaking scores already languishing on the shelves of soundtrack collectors (and full reviews coming soon), the time feels right to re-appreciate what composer Laurence Rosenthal did with Harryhausen's last full-scale project, Clash Of The Titans (1981), especially as the original film now finds its way to Blu-ray and the massive-budgeted remake looms heroically large on the celluloid (and 3D) horizon.
When I first saw the film and heard Rosenthal's score I really couldn't abide either. I found the film, directed without style or charm by Desmond Davis, to be underwhelming in the extreme and far too easy to deride. And I just couldn't take to what Rosenthal had done. It sounded too frivolous, too light and, well, just too damn cheesy. This wasn't anywhere near as evocative or as exciting as Bernard Herrmann's awesome double-dose for 7th Voyage and Jason. Nor was it as exotic and atmospheric as Rozsa's Golden Voyage, or as playfully weird as Roy Budd's for Patrick Wayne's single outing as Sinbad in The Eye Of The Tiger. But my appreciation for musical scores, particularly old school symphonic epics such as this, has grown immeasurably over the years. And it is now abundantly apparent that what Rosenthal was attempting to do, with huge justification, was to emulate the spirit, style and colourful character of the classic Golden Age scores of his esteemed forebears, Korngold and Steiner, in particular the ebullient and rousing bravado of The Adventures Of Robin Hood and The Sea-Hawk (from Korngold) and King Kong, The Charge Of The Light Brigade and She (from Steiner). The score is broad, lavish and warmly developed, its main theme easily hummable and resolutely optimistic. Rosenthal had already come up with many diverse scores, from Rooster Cogburn and Meteor to The Island Of Dr. Moreau (CD reviewed separately), but he still wasn't quite the composer that many genre-fans would have expected to grace a tale of myths and monsters on the scale of Titans. At around the same time, you had Poledouris working on Conan, David Whittaker on The Sword And The Sorcerer and Alex North composing Dragonslayer. Oh, and let's not forgot how Harry Robinson ripped-off and “disco-fied” Jeff Wayne's The War Of The Worlds for, ahem, Hawk The Slayer! And even though John Williams, who was defiantly the composer-of-choice at the time, would have been hugely out of the budget for Titans, although he was approached by the studio, there was also the young James Horner beginning to make a name for himself in precisely this field. He would, of course, go on to compose the scores for Star Trek II, Krull and Willow shortly after the release of this stop-motion extravaganza. But Rosenthal's mettle would be tested with a veritable trial-by-fire for this lavish production and, ironically enough, he was actually recommended by Williams as being the best man for the job.
I must confess that the film was never a favourite of mine. Although I am a massive fan and devoted champion of 7th Voyage, Jason and Golden Voyage, Clash has always seemed somewhat sad and a bit embarrassing to watch. Whilst the big star cast acquit themselves reasonably well, and the story is a fair rendition of the original tale of Perseus, the back-dated FX - the Kraken is absolutely appalling, and even Flesh Gordon's Penisaurus is better articulated and more convincing a creation - and the exceedingly poor live-action/stop-motion interaction drag the film down to a level that demands far too much in the way of fan-boy sympathy and disbelief-suspension. Having said that, with the onset of the remake and the original's much-anticipated hi-def release, I have found myself warming to it quite considerably. It remains an ill-conceived and primitively executed swansong for the legend that is Ray Harryhausen, but there is still much to savour. That thirty-minute section that encompasses the crossing of the River Styx, the encounter with the two-headed wolf-dog Dioskilos, the confrontation with petrifying Medusa and the giant scorpion fight is utterly brilliant and almost conjures up the same giddy level of fear, wonder and exhilaration that Sinbad's tussle with the Cyclops and Jason's brush with Talos, the Hydra and those skeletons have in spades. With the revamp fronted by a skin-headed, rock-hewn Sam Worthington, an ultra sexy Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson's shimmering-armoured Zeus, some seriously impressive CG-enhanced monsters, and a pulsating score from Letterier-favourite Craig (Plunkett And McClean/The Incredible Hulk) Armstrong, things in the Underworld are definitely hotting-up and the cavalcade of thrills have been ramped-up to appropriately mythical proportions. But, back in 1979-80, when this inaugural Clash was actually filmed, Laurence Rosenthal was possibly way ahead of his collaborators at the time in, ironically, going back to the standards set by the real grand-masters of the form and realising that such a tale just had to be scored with full-blown, over-the-top and repetitively simplistic energy. What I find surprising, all these years later, is just how dark and chilling some of this gets, elements that were completely drowned-out when I first experienced the film and just couldn't dislodge that main theme from my mind for weeks afterwards. And this is, naturally, a very welcome treat for those hoping to rediscover the rich variety and atmosphere that Rosenthal composed.
This review is for the re-released version of the score from Pendulum Entertainment, and carries 17 tracks over the previous release's 14, reinstating three marvellous passages that really elevate the score at large. These newer cues are Track 3, Argos Destroyed, Track 7, Andromeda and Track 14, River Styx. It is not at all surprising that these tracks were dropped for the first CD as that one was a direct lift of the original vinyl album with its typically sub-forty minute running time. But their inclusion here is certainly something to applaud.
After a swelling prologue cue, Track 1 incorporates the Main Theme that will be heard throughout the score. Beginning massively with powerful a brass fanfare, this reaches the threshold of Mount Olympus, itself. Timpani, bass drums, cymbal-clashes and a rank of full-bore trumpets herald the glistening and resolutely uplifting leitmotif that will come to embody Harry Hamlin's God-spawned hero, Perseus. (Is it just me or does Hamlin sound exactly like Michael York?) Mixing the pomp and glory of Korngold's Robin Hood theme with the might of Rozsa's El Cid, albeit toned-down a bit, this is as ebullient an opener as you could wish for. Darkness is banished, evil is politely elbowed aside. There is an innocence here that is totally against the norm for the fantasy films of the period and, for that matter, ever-after. John Williams' main title themes, no matter how rousing, had an undercurrent, however slight, of danger. Basil Poledouris, with his legendary theme for Conan The Barbarian, was much, much more ferocious. And, thinking back to the Harryhausen composers from the decades before, both Herrmann and Rozsa mingled their titular heroism with the raucousness of seething barbarity. Even Roy Budd - eschewing his beloved jazzy predilections - offered a main theme that hovered somewhere between playful adventure and mystical depravity for Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. Rosenthal, then, is actually quite unique in writing such a simple, joyous celebration of derring-do and romance.
He composes for all of his extensive ensemble, which just happens to be the London Symphony Orchestra, no less. The strings rise and fall with swooning ease, brass launches good-natured barrages and percussion stomps merrily. Little flourishes for chimes, harp and triangle add a delightfully enchanted touch, actually concocting a flavour of the Gods, themselves, sitting in their marbled palace and pondering the fate of their mortal playthings. During the movie, I often find this main chorus a little too upbeat and clichéd - yet, I must admit, that on album it sounds terrific intermingling, as it does, the jovial canter of a medieval quest and the rip-roaring splendour of virtuous and timeless heroism.
Rosenthal delivers a beautiful theme for The Lovers in Track 2. Harp and strings caress the roof of the orchestra, a plaintiff yearning motif reflects with angelic harmony beneath. Gentle and heartfelt, this is nevertheless an ethereal serenade that serves to illustrate the deities at work in this story, much more than any earthbound romance, what with that gorgeous harp wafting across the imaginary heavens. Again, this theme is a throwback, especially to Miklos Rozsa. But he shatters this tranquillity with the next track, Argos Destroyed. After a deceptive introduction that embodies blissful ignorance and soothing peace of mind, the composer then unsettles with a passage of nervous apprehension, before bringing forth a riot of brass surges, anguished strings and thumping bass and percussion as the Kraken is released by an enraged Zeus to wreak havoc upon the kingdom of impetuous King Acrisius. Pillars tumble and a veritable tsunami engulfs the citadel, Rosenthal's music echoing the agony and terror of the population as they face annihilation.
This disturbance is carried over into the start of Boyhood Of Perseus. Rescued from impending death, along with his mother, to the sound of clashing cymbals and a mournful solo horn - a trademark of the composer and heard best in his tremendous Dr. Moreau score - the son of Zeus is followed throughout a montage of his formative years by music that is at times joyful and optimistic, at others sprightly and liberating. Yet, Rosenthal is clever enough to imply much of portent with this composition. His divine father's hand in his survival is made apparent with shimmering strings, a distant edge of brass and the gentle undertone of woodwinds. If you listen, there is a definite hint of John Williams' Close Encounters at work here, too. Perhaps coincidental, of course, but possibly also something of a homage to that film's theme of higher powers and their influences over us.
Suggestions of might and destiny abound in the aptly titled Dreams And Omens. The cue rises to a couple of crescendos, the mood is apprehensive, molten with the taint of the inevitable. Mystery is fostered with a four-note motif for woodwinds against a shadow of strings. This motif is extended in the second half of the cue as more exotic instruments are brought in - tabla, timpani, shakers and flute folding the beauty of far-off, sun-kissed locales around the theme of fate. Then, after an enchanting little opening for harp and xylophone, Track 6, entitled Joppa, becomes a great scene-setter that is rife with even more brilliantly exotic instrumentation. Cavorting woodwinds, tabla and tambourine evoke a bygone pulse, Arabian guitars serenade the sights and sounds that the film offers. The chaotic momentum of a Middle-Eastern-sounding bazaar thrums away with mesmerising intensity, pitching you into the heart of the ancient city of Joppa, home to Judi Bowker's adorable Andromeda and a land smitten with the curse of the vengeful, embittered Calibos, Lord of the Marshes. Rosenthal captures the spontaneity of the market-place, the dizzying delights of veiled dancers and the ancient charms of a metropolis that awes Perseus as he enters it. Rosenthal conspires to cut such frivolity short once Perseus is confronted with the grim vision of a human bonfire.
Track 7 covers the sequence when Perseus, having infiltrated the palace of Joppa, spies Andromeda as she sleeps. Called by deformed and bestial former lover, Calibos, her astral self rouses from slumber and makes the journey to his squalid lair in the distant swamps, carried by a great vulture. Astride Pegasus, the Winged Horse, Perseus follows and discovers the infernal trap that the wretched Calibos has her caught up in. Floated along on delicate strings, the cue refuses to become a lush romantic theme, as the title may have led you to think. Instead, this a spectral delight that gleams with the caress of the harp, swirls with strings and shivers with gentle percussion and dissonant woodwinds. Although graceful, the track contains a darkness and an edge of unsettling discord. The plight of Calibos is, indeed, tragic and pitiful, and there is a doomed and melancholic quality to Rosenthal's music that captures the character's fearsome appearance and dark desires but never forgets that he is also a victim, himself. The longest cue on the album, this is also one of the most insinuating and beautifully written.
Pegasus gets his own cue in Track 8 and this is possibly even more awesome in its sheer variety of tone and orchestration. Covering the sequence when Burgess Meredith's poet and spouter of exposition, Ammon, leads the young champion to where the last of the Winged Horses lands for a moonlit drink, and Perseus' subsequent capture and rodeo-style breaking-in of the flying stallion, Rosenthal's music brings in magical harp-play, a subdued and glistening fanfare from a French Horn and a terrific blanket of orchestral “hush” to accompany the wonder of first spying such a beast. Then, with an almost Superman-style flourish, he incorporates the main theme in an exultant and rousing rendition that aims higher and higher as Perseus succeeds in taming Pegasus and goes airborne for a scenic spell of, sadly, unconvincing matte/model/miniature FX. The music, however, never fails to grasp the awe and spectacle of what the film is trying to convey. But he will shift the tone right around once again with the sinister Track 9, The Lord Of The Marsh. Calibos' theme returns with a darker might, the guilty betrayal and wrathful dementia of the beast, first heard in Andromeda, is weighted with a scheming, seething core of raw hatred. Cymbals clash and brass rolls like thunder at the start. The four-note motif loiters with cloven-hoofed anger whilst a dread brass and woodwind exchange ushers-in a quieter phase of rancour. Rosenthal creates a pathos of almost Heathcliff-style bitterness with surging strings and heaving woodwinds that see-saw their way across the latter half of the cue. Minute appearances from the harp remind us that Calibos was once human and still, no matter how vile his physical form and how wicked his intentions, capable of loving Andromeda. The music matches the gravity of the performance from Neil McCarthy, emoting so resentfully and twisted from beneath his impressively Satanic makeup.
Whilst the Kraken, called forth from Scandinavian legend and having nothing whatsoever to do with Greek Mythology, is the joke creature of the film - even worse than that ridiculous robot-owl that Pat Roach's Olympian mechanic builds - Rosenthal takes its existence very seriously indeed and paints its theme in Track 10 with power, aggression and sphincter-tingling relish. Where Bernard Herrmann's Jason score relied totally on brass, woodwinds and percussion, Rosenthal's large-scale rampage for the leviathan of the deep doesn't limit itself. Strings swirl all the way around the piece, almost like the waves formed by the Kraken, itself, as it rises from the depths. Massive bass-bombs crash and roil, chimes adding a pinnacle to each tidal rush. A touch of Perseus' heroic theme collides with this monolithic formation of brass and big bass drum, signifying musical white-crests that ride out the storm until the composer allows it to gradually recede as the track comes to a close. I may hate the look and the animation of the Kraken, but Rosenthal gives it the respectability that Harryhausen, blinded by his obsession, forgets to.
By contrast, The Farewell bestows the romance of the piece a welcome return. Delicate strings and muted brass give way to a John Barry-esque flurry of heartrending intensity. The love theme weaves in and out of those for both Andromeda and Perseus, giving us some respite from the darkness that has held sway for a while, and reminding us of the innocence that is at stake. The section for the encounter with Medusa, the Gorgon, on the haunted Island of The Dead is one of the stand-out tracks for me. Although surprisingly brief, this episode is nicely reproduced on disc. The first part, River Styx, comes later in the album, as we shall see, but Track 12, Medusa, is a pure delight of spine-tingling macabre. Rosenthal has his strings portray the slithering, shivery movement of the Gorgon's vast, snake's body as it rounds on the calculating Perseus, winding its way through the pillars and stone statues of its many victims. A warped little phrase of electronica crackles away early on, suggesting the horrific and blood-freezing sight of the Gorgon and the hideous way in which the creature moves. Victory comes with the aid of his shield's reflective inner-surface and a well-timed slice of his sword, and the score allows a valorous fanfare to round off the encounter.
The metallic whirring mechanism of Bubo, that godawful robot owl that accompanies Perseus, throughout his tasks, is lent an orchestral voice at the start of Track 13 - although, to me, this musical effect sounds more like the deadly rattle hissing at the end of Medusa's serpent-tail. Riding Pegasus straight towards the worst creature that Ray Harryhausen ever fashioned, Perseus is aided in his sky-quest to save Andromeda from the clay-lipped monstrosity - and I don't mean Gordon Brown, folks - by Bubo The Dive-Bomber. The tinkling little motif for the mechanical sidekick glistens against the swirling hide of trumpets, sliding strings and a rising crescendo for bass and percussion. This leads swiftly into Track 14, River Styx, which is a great sequence in which Rosenthal creates a creepy passage of slow foreboding. The darkest and eeriest cue of the entire score, this is sinuous with long lines for glacial strings, hammer and anvil piano chords threatening deep, dank despair in ominous punctuation and all manner of nightmarish Hadean sounds and evocation. Actually hailing from earlier in the film than this track chronology implies, this evocatively underscores Perseus' passage to The Island Of The Dead, where he must battle Medusa. Listen to the mournful ship's bell informing us that this is a trip that doesn't usually require a return ticket. The best way to hear this section is to have this track immediately followed by that for Medusa, and having the two play out as one complete sequence.
Then we come to the resplendent, and titular, Clash Of The Titans, as Perseus successfully unleashes the Gorgon's severed head and brandishes its dead, but still potent gaze towards the gill-chopped amphibian letch before he can get his slimy barnacles all over the lovely Andromeda, who has been conveniently chained to the sacrificial rocks. Rosenthal manages to avoid a protracted set-piece of action and suspense as stony justice is hurriedly meted-out to the Kraken, who obligingly cracks under the strain of too many fingers manipulating his giggle-inducing carcass, the power of Medusa cleaving him to dessicated pieces. The Kraken's momentous theme is beaten down by the triumphant body-blows of brass and bass, the cue shuddering to a last-gasp that falls beneath the harp-assisted waves. Track 16, Andromeda Rescued, opens with the now heraldic signature theme for Perseus, but then segues into the more fitting love theme as the hero frees the damsel and the pair embrace in a fairytale clinch. Rosenthal presents an achingly restrained, appropriately celestial rendition of this romantic motif that truly glides and glistens, soft and lilting. Once again, the actors may be merely performing by-the-numbers, but the score finds the beauty and the relief of the moment and the orchestra sustain a wonderfully lush passage that is soaring, pure and inspiring. Strings and harp coat the cue and a final, somehow softened, peal from brass closes it.
The last track actually comprises two cues. The first, The Constellation, is a gently swelling piece for strings, harp and woodwinds that sits behind the classical voice of Lawrence Olivier as his Zeus delivers a verbal epilogue for the heroes of the tale as their images are set amongst the stars for all eternity. The second cue is a return of the main theme, this time seeing us out with the End Titles in full, sweeping heroic mode until a terrific cymbal, brass and drum finale.
My old copy of this release offers nothing extra other than a simple inlay card, but the sound quality, if a touch restrained, is very good. Although this edition sports the extra tracks, it is worth mentioning that another two cues from the film can be found on an Laurence Rosenthal compilation album, but the fact remains that this score, in any version, has long been out of print, though it can still be found at the usual online resources. Amazon still appear to have copies, for instance. But, with the arrival of the remake and a possible resurgence for the genre, I can see the day when the full score, complete with variations and alternate cues plus informative liner-notes fights its way down from Mount Olympus. But, for now, this version will certainly do. This gets a strong 7 out of 10, fable-fans ... as good as it is, it can't hold a flaming torch to Herrmann.
Full track listing
1. Prologue and Main Title 3.21
2. The Lovers 1.47
3. Argos Destroyed 2.28
4. Boyhood Of Perseus 3.05
5. Dreams and Omens 1.46
6. Joppa 1.29
7. Andromeda 4.21
8. Pegasus 4.14
9. The Lord Of The Marsh 3.55
10. The Kraken 3.26
11. The Farewell 2.16
12. Medusa 2.40
13. Bubo - The Dive Bomber 1.20
14. River Styx 2.50
15. Clash Of The Titans 1.48
16. Andromeda Rescued 2.32
17. The Constellation/End Title 4.04
A damn fine score to a nostalgically sympathised-with film. Rosenthal blesses Harryhausen's parting-shot with a Korngold-inspired shower of grand-scale orchestral pomp and, by consequence, elevates its sub-par heroics and naff screenplay far more than the stop-motion maestro's somewhat clumsy visual FX can ever do. The glory of the main theme and the shining innocence of the love motif are majestically counterbalanced with the dread and melancholy of Calibos, the roiling might of the Kraken and the chilling cadences of the River Styx and the snake-haired Medusa. With the remake charging heroically at us, it is great to hear what the older version has up its musical sleeve. It may not come close to the lofty heights attained by Bernard Herrmann with 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and Jason And The Argonuats, or even Miklos Rozsa with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, but Clash Of The Titans is a thrilling and spirited symphonic romp that revels in its own grandiose and brazen form of mythical heroism and adventure.
So, this is an old release that could hopefully see an expanded edition coming along in the wake of the film's lavish remake. And although we can live in hope for this eventuality, Laurence Rosenthal's score, as heard here, hits the right note of fantastical optimism and wonder and, better yet, doesn't stall when it comes to the all-important virtues of atmosphere, menace and true, swaggering glory.
Fans should task themselves with seeking out a copy of this more complete edition. Copies of it are still out there ... if you are up to the challenge!
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