In this mini-series of score reviews, I want to look at what made the late composer John Barry so special, so unique and such a rich and distinctive voice with the music that he created for the movies. With a massive body of work dating back to Never Let Go in 1960, and culminating with Michael Apted’s Enigma in 2001, he leaves a legacy of emotion that is unrivalled in its lush and eloquent beauty, its sweeping power and sheer ability to transport the listener, whether the music is married up to the film in question or simply heard in its magisterial album form, to another place and, more crucially, to an entirely heightened and sensual realm of spiritual relocation. Highly lauded by critics, fans and fellow composers alike, John Barry created the inimitable sound of James Bond, explored the outer reaches of space in The Black Hole and Starcrash, and the dark wonders beneath the sea in The Deep and Raise The Titanic. He ventured across the intoxicating plains of Africa, revelling in both its beauty and its savagery in Zulu, Born Free and Out Of Africa. He would find the heart and soul of a new nation clawing its way over the trampled remains of an old civilisation in Dances With Wolves, and take on the mythical frontier of extinction in The White Buffalo. And he would tackle legends and folklore in King Kong and Robin and Marion. There doesn’t seem to be a genre that John Barry couldn’t embrace and make his own, and his passing from a heart attack, in February 2011, leaves a hole that Hollywood will never be able to plug.
After Diamonds Are Forever, Barry seemed to shift from dazzling invention and dynamic scoring to a new and altogether darker and more melancholic, even elegiac, mode that would stay with him throughout most of his work until he drifted away from films in 2001. It became his signature and though many decry the similarity that plagues a lot of these latter scores, citing it as a rut that the composer simply climb out of, I find the style as reassuring as it is affecting.
You know you are listening to a John Barry score right from the very first notes. There is an immediate wall of such lush and swelling symphonic depth that your heart is irrevocably ensnared and smothered. It is a big sound, as eminently symphonic as John Williams, but composed of longer lines and thoroughly unhurried. Truly, you could say that when we listen to a John Barry score it as though “we have all the time in the world.” And this is a very valuable thing to remember about his work – his themes are dreamy and ethereal, no matter how searing the strings or how low the brass and woodwinds, and for the duration of his music time really does seem to stand still. Partly, this is because he tends to stick with his major themes, allowing them to run through the rest of the score in various recognisable incarnations whereas a great many other composers provide many individual cues and motifs. But, mostly, this is down to the sheer depth of mood and atmosphere that he creates.
I don’t know the reasons why Barry felt so melancholic, but there is an unmistakable and vast river of heartfelt tragedy that flows through a great deal of his work. We can’t even blame the types of film that he was scoring either. Dances With Wolves, Somewhere In Time, Out Of Africa and Hanover Street, for example, all have a yearning, lump-in-the-throat quality that is essential to the narrative. But The Deep is a maritime thriller with voodoo overtones and violence. King Kong, in its purest essence, is an adventure story. The Black Hole is a rip-roaring space extravaganza. And The Specialist is a Stallone action vehicle … and a very poor one at that. Yet, even in these diverse scores, there is that undeniable and, in fact, magnified depth of character and haunting sense of romantic melancholy that suffuses them. Barry doesn't “Mickey-Mouse” his music to ape (no pun intended) the onscreen action. He digs below the surface and lifts out the spirit of the characters. In some cases, it is even as though he is seeing something there of worth in the film that no-one else can … and this isn't a composer who is merely seeking to overshadow a director's vision, this is someone who is trying incredibly hard to elevate even the poorest of productions with heart and soul, to wit Luigi Cozzi's guilty pleasure of Starcrash (see BD review).
And, here, we can look at how the maestro captured the mighty Lord of Skull Island, King Kong, and broke our hearts in the process with precisely these intuitive and emotional methods.
Besides Bond, King Kong was probably my first exposure to John Barry’s music … and certainly the first time that I truly sat up and took notice. I would have been seven years old when the Dino De Laurentiis produced, John Guillermin directed misfire opened amid much ballyhoo, and I saw the film every night for that initial two-week run at the Phoenix Cinema in Wallasey. I could get in for nothing but I would have begged or stole the money to sit and wallow in the fantastical tragedy of the fable every night if I had to. The film is, indeed, a disappointment, but that didn’t matter at the time, and still doesn’t. Kong ’76, despite its action and spectacle, was a love story – a highly unusual one, granted, but it was a love story of equal emotion and heartbreak as Romeo & Juliet … and John Barry was able to rise far above that shoddy ape-suit (albeit topped by a superb mask from Rick Baker) and eco-friendly theme and deliver a score that was powerfully epic, achingly poignant and sweepingly romantic. He found the common-ground between Kong and Jessica Lange’s flaxen-haired sacrificial bride, Dwan (the character's own rearrangement of her real name of Dawn), and he pulled out all the stops to make their outlandish relationship bittersweet, star-crossed and staggeringly upsetting. I may have loved the film, although even at that age I knew that it wasn’t a patch upon the original (see BD review), but it was the music that moved me, and whisked me away to an imaginary limbo somewhere between celluloid and Skull Island. Without a doubt, it was this score that cemented in me a true passion for film music that has only grown over the years.
For the 1936 original Max Steiner provided awe, wonder and gripping adventure – and his score is an unparalleled classic that began the concept of film-scoring as we know it, and has been the template for action-movie scoring, especially, ever since. The remake was to be a different barrel of monkeys altogether, and the focus of the film, and the score, would be on the romance of the saga rather than the violence and the spectacle. Steiner wrote an impossibly big score … yet Barry did too, for all of its intimacy and yearning. The size of the orchestra and the smothering lushness of that Barry sound flooded the film to the extent that the image couldn't possibly meet the same standard. There was something in the film that touched the composer, though, something that irrevocably changed his musical voice from this point onwards. There might be the grandeur and the power of 1964's classic Zulu about The Opening, colossally deep bass reverberations pound with slow majesty and grim portent, the title motif almost mimicking the introduction to his earlier score, but Barry's earth-loosening opening bars then give way to an element that catapults this score and many of its themes to such unique and inspired heights – the inclusion of a church organ.
The theme for Kong is inextricably linked to that of Dwan, their two motifs colliding and entwining as their fates become locked.
In Maybe My Luck Has Changed, Track 2, we hear Barry’s sweet, fragile love theme from King Kong. This will play here as we witness the playful antics of Dwan, rescued from a life-raft after surviving a yacht explosion, as she infatuates most of the crew of Petrox Explorer, and her fledgling attraction to hippy scientist stowaway Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges). This theme will recur and become entwined around Kong, as well. Listen to those swooning strings as they rise and fall with the texture of the clouds flitting above the ship. Woodwinds gently ebb and flow like the sea lapping against the side of the ship. The harp glistens like the sunlight reflected on the steel. The theme is gentle, lulling. But there is that sense of heaviness that wafts throughout it, as well. Even if you don’t know the story of Kong, and what awaits the girl and the giant ape, you can glean the impression of doom and inevitability in the music. This is Barry’s great gift – he sifts through the visuals, which may often be lacking in some form or other, and finds the core emotion that sits at the heart of the characters and the situation and links this sensation with the larger picture that will come to govern them. His presentiment of dark times ahead coupled with his soothing, string-led caress makes for the musical equivalent of very bad news being broken to you in the most compassionate and delicate of manners. It sounds like this should be unpleasantly morose … but this is not how it comes across in Barry’s skilful and soul-enticing writing.
The heart-piercing yearning that Barry, and this score, are renowned for, weighs-in as Track 3's glorious Arrival On The Island strokes the film into a lilting, fate-clutched romance. A gentle wooden percussion taps a heartbeat, the piano – which will come to play a pivotal role in a later cue - melts the mist away from Skull Island. The church organ gleams like the sunlight over the tops of the mountains. Honestly, if you set foot on a strange new land to this music, you would be instantly humbled and awed … and if there was that special somebody beside you … I doubt very seriously that you would get past the sand, if you know what I mean. A beautiful phrase from the flute wafts like the mist through the cue, and then brass comes in at the end with a brief flurry, before the wooden percussion fools us that the track is fading out. A sudden deluge of bass signifies the recon party finding the immense wall that has been built around the island.
The mood changes instantly and dramatically with the next track, Sacrifice – Hail To The King. The crew, including Charles Grodin's expedition leader Fred Wilson, discover the great wall built to keep Kong locked in, and make the mistake of allowing the natives, who are in full rehearsal for the coming night's big sacrifice, to see their own princess-bride. Later that evening, Dwan is kidnapped from the deck of the Petrox Explorer and made ready as the new gift for the ape lord of Skull Island.
When Steiner approached the tribal sacrifice sequence of Anne Darrow to the stop motion Kong in the original version, he furnished film scoring with one of the most dynamic, ferocious and primal themes, albeit one that contained a motif that would be become a clichéd and stereotypical “native” sound, much like his theme for the Indians in his phenomenal score for They Died With Their Boots On would go on to become the sound for redskins in a thousand other Westerns. Barry would also create a truly memorable cue for the furious and terrifying set-piece of Dwan being led out to the altar. The massed ranks of bongos, drums and percussion are heightened with the staccato punctuation of the word “Kong!” being chanted over and over. All manner of ethnic surfaces are beaten and hammered, tapped and knocked. In contrast to the high whistling of exotic woodwinds, the tuba drives downward to excavate vast swathes of ominous brooding at the base of the track. More brass comes in as the rhythm intensifies, and at the midway point, the solid, deeper motif for Kong is introduced with low brass surges and the sense of foreboding is super-enhanced. As well as our fear for Dwan as she is tied to the altar and left to await her fate, and the sheer suspense of just what is about to crash its way out of the jungle, Barry is certain to ensure that the sense of doom is prevalent too. The album then moves into the sound FX elements that allow us to hear Kong's tree-levelling approach, Jessica Lange's shrieking impersonation of Fay Wray, a fair amount of environmental ambience and, in triumph, the ape's roar of satisfaction. After this somewhat unusual spell, which is capped-off with an eerie quiet as the two go off on their blind date, the tribal cadence returns as the natives retreat from the ramparts of the great wall, breathing a collective sigh of relief as they go. The intense passage, which has been a tour de force, climaxes with a crescendo of chanting.
In Arthusa, Track 5, Barry delivers a piece of music that has haunted me ever since those days when I nestled snugly into the seat of the Phoenix and gaped at that enormously wide image on the big screen. For weeks and weeks, I would actually cry myself to sleep with this piece of music flooding through my mind over and over. And yet, as depressing as that sounds, it was the tragic beauty of the cue that had become a drug. Even in those reflective moments sitting in detention outside the Deputy Head’s room, this ethereal piece of music would return to me far more than, say, John Williams’ exciting TIE-Fighter Attack from Star Wars, or the “original” opening theme from the first season of Starsky & Hutch (Lalo Schifrin), which were my other favourite soundtrack cues from around this time. In fact, it was only John Barry, himself, who could beat this pole-position slot with his own irresistible 007 secondary James Bond theme, that awesome Morse-Code inspired action cue for a mission-in-progress.
So you’ll have to forgive some wallowing self-indulgence here, folks. But this track holds a very special place in my heart.
Dwan has met Kong and is understandably anxious and unsure about how this date is going to pan-out. Kong, himself, is a wee bit confused about why he doesn’t immediately want to chew the pretty little thing up like he did with all the other ones. I mean this one is particularly hard-faced and whiny. She’s even punched him on the nose and called him a “male-chauvinist pig ape!”. But to show that he has feelings too and that he does, unlike like most other males, care for those of others, he decides that she might enjoy a bath, so he heads off to his luxurious natural spa and places her in the cascading deluge of a magnificent waterfall … and that highly unusual bond between the two begins in earnest.
Barry has the piano echo a series of glistening notes that sound as though they are playing in some scintillating underwater symphony. The effect becomes celestial, the echo rippling and tinkling like diamonds being dropped on to the keyboard. I can still remember very clearly the first time I heard this piece of music … and it told me that this Kong was not a monster, and that this film was going to be a real heart-breaker as opposed to the adrenalised roller-coaster I had thought it would be. At that age, such a sudden realisation was like a glass bullet penetrating my mind. I was only a kid, and I loved carnage and action, both things that I expected to see in abundance in a lavish remake of “that old black-and-white creature-feature”. This music informed me that I was going to be in for something altogether different, and my values with regards to film appreciation would be changed forever. But, strangely enough, even at that age I didn’t mind at all. Such was the amazing and spellbinding beauty of Barry’s cue that I was instantly smitten and devoutly enraptured by this strange romance. The film may have much that can be derided but, beyond any doubt, it educated me in how your expectations could be shifted around and the whole experience become one of even greater value. Those echoing notes … they're playing right now, and I have to admit that it is incredibly difficult to write objectively about the cue. But Barry brings such a warmth to the piece with those long slow strings, woods and horn that he is almost saying to us … this moment ... this happiness can't last. The tone twists ever so slightly, creating a reverie of broken, doomed affection. The final section becomes clouded with dread, the strings searing with an unspoken and unknown feeling of approaching darkness. No-one is able to capture such tentative fragility as Barry. The clumsy matte-shots and obvious animatronic paw notwithstanding, the composer saw something here in this scene that clutched his own heart and implored him to provide these two disparate characters with some degree of happiness, no matter how brief and unlikely it may be. The cue could play against any scene featuring a pair of unsure lovers, but it is inseparable from King Kong, and intrinsic to the tragedy that will follow. There was always a lot of uneasy shuffling in the cinema during this set-piece, and never any laughter. The ridiculousness of the coupling was completely offset by a musical standard that looked far deeper than the absurd and the sensational elements. It is, to this day, the music that always comes to mind when I think of King Kong … and I am a massive fan of what James Newton Howard did with the Peter Jackson remake and, naturally, what Max Steiner accomplished way back in 1933. Nothing sums up the raw sadness of Kong's confused affections and his dreadful plight better than this.
Another massive and highly emotional track comes next in Full Moon Domain – Beauty Is A Beast. Although the sets and the ape-suit really don't do the sequence justice, there is a grim magic to the scene when Kong takes his tiny prize back to his volcanic twin-peaked lair in the highlands. Barry turns the love theme, now firmly affixed for Kong and Dwan, as opposed to Dwan and Jack, into a sombre meadow of fractured tranquillity. The sense of being on borrowed time is tangible … and we know that their time together is now severely limited. The theme is shadowed and tinged with despair. A ponderous climb to the summit of the dark mountain tops features glowering woods and breathless strings, the lull in Kong's lonely home etched with the poignancy of the oboe. A very tentative and slowed-down rendition of the love theme struggles to grant the mismatched couple some harmony, but the sudden attack of the giant snake brings with it a clamour of discord and lurching percussion. Drums, bass and brass roll around in ferocious turmoil, as the high strings then aid Dwan into the waiting arms of Jack, who has managed to come to her rescue, just in time. Barry's cue has shifted from ominous and spectral beauty, through an exquisite melody of strange love, right through to demented and percussive action.
And if action is what you want after all this pathos, then that is what you get, with wonderful dynamism and brutality in the stand-out cue of tense excitement of Track 7, the marvellously titled Breakout To Captivity, in which Kong thunders through the jungle after Dwan and Jack after they have escaped his lair whilst he was engaged in shredding that giant trespassing snake. Heading pell-mell back to the great wall, we discover that Fred Wilson has rigged the place with a gas-filled pit to trap the rampaging ape, and pulled the huge bolt securing the gate halfway back to make it easier for Kong to smash through. This is a tremendously visceral track from Barry, showcasing the composer at the height of his dramatic inventiveness. Ferocious percussion hammers and pounds all around us, chimes, anvil and all manner of metallic and glassy impacts gleam and clatter in a primal fury. The pace is terrific, the sheer bulk of the music intimidating. This is the reply to the irresistible Sacrifice – Hail To The King, the same instruments pounding away, the primitive fervour unstoppable but the hypnotic order lost now to animalistic chaos. Before, it was the natives calling the shots … here, it is Kong. You can almost imagine a section of the orchestra clattering on an array of suspended pots and pans with spoons and mallets. An FX element lets us hear Kong crashing through the disguised lid of the gas-pit, and his groaning submission as he succumbs to the knock-out fumes. Barry's pensive, floating motif informs us that we have witnessed the passing of a legend from a land hidden from time. Whatever happens to Kong, Barry is adamant that Skull Island has also been destroyed by modern Man's tampering.
One of the darkest and bleakest moments of abject misery and tortured inhumanity comes in the brutally honest titled track, Incomprehensible Captivity. Now locked-up in the huge confines of the main tank aboard the Petrox Explorer, the mighty Kong's rage almost sinks the ship until Dwan, feeling for him, crawls out over the hatch to quell his anger. When the ape sees his love he jumps towards her and the resulting impact of his landing knocks her down into his prison. Kong catches her and, after reluctantly letting her go again, resigns himself to his wretched incarceration. John Barry hammers the indignity and horror of his situation at us with tremendous soul-shaking depth using a series of low brass triplets that thud and echo around the steel cell. Violins wail a lament, while the cello and a slowly plucked harp underpin the cue with incalculable grief. It is a great passage, but it is a difficult and a devoutly dark one to listen to. We all know what is going to happen and so, it seems, does Kong. Barry's music is a song of omens.
It is fun to mock the infamous disco track, Kong Hits The Big Apple, and may writers do. But the camp silliness of the cue is purely intentional. For his debut in New York, Kong has been encased in a tight cylindrical cage and an absurd crown placed upon his once noble brow. The crowds have flocked to see Wilson's new wonder and to prostrate themselves at the shrine of all things Petrox. Wilson, bedecked in a ludicrous safari suit, attempts to mimic the sacrificial ceremony that took place on the island with Dwan reluctantly reprising her role as the bride. Naturally, all hell breaks loose. But, for this cosily weird track, John Barry pokes fun at the soft disco era of fuzzy big hair and The Love Boat with a woozy electric slide guitar solo. It depicts the period and its tackiness perfectly. Then he switches things around again. In a very clever little in-joke, he even has the church organ return in the second part of the track as he makes the transition from glitterball shuffle to mocked-up rendition of the Kong theme. This isn't camp, folks, this is inspired. He has taken what is presumably supposed to be the source music of this ridiculous and shameful celebration, and neatly integrated the motifs of the score, yet kept that warped razzmatazz sensibility the Petrox showcase. The organ spangles through the kitsch blitzkrieg, reigniting that doomed magic of Kong's aura, regardless of the degradations that Fred Wilson, who has had the King of Skull Island dressed up inside a giant Petrox petrol pump, and Italian special effects designer Carlo Rambaldi have done to him.
Track 10 is a marvellously moody piece. Having escaped from Kong on a hijacked motorcycle, Jack and Dwan find themselves outside a bar in a seemingly deserted Manhattan. Jack has seen the Twin Towers looming over the city and it has reminded him of something that he can't quite recall properly. Brooding brass chords help him mull it over in a pensive variation of the Full Moon Domain motif. Over a drink, they discuss the future and the possibility of lots of little sons and daughters of Kong – a strangely amusing and upsettingly surreal exchange – and Barry delivers a reprise of the love theme as we first heard it, only this time it is to the mournful midnight hour sound of the muted sax, a gentle piano heard beneath it. It is last orders in the ghost town and Barry's lush romantic theme has metamorphosed into a woozy, alcohol-tainted semi-dirge. Suddenly Jack remembers where he has seen the image of the Twin Towers before … and runs outside to confirm it. The sax, or maybe even the clarinet, folds over itself and Barry returns to the Full Moon Domain motif, cementing the idea in Jack's head as to where Kong will probably be heading. But, as he makes a frantic call to the authorities to inform them of how they can trap him at the World Trade Centre with nets not guns, Kong, having already trashed a train, caused a power blackout and crossed the Hudson, turns up and pinches Dwan from the bar.
That time-honoured date with destiny now begins in earnest.
Kong makes his decision to get to high ground and the only place in the urban jungle that seems even remotely familiar to him, so, in Climb To Skull Island, he begins his ascent of the World Trade Centre to the agonised strains of the rumbling three-note phrase from Incomprehensible Captivity. Barry raises his strings to imbue the doom-laden motif with a sense of tragic grandeur. The cue finishes on a sustained note of strenuous half-victory that hangs heavily in the air as Kong makes it to the top. Track 12, The End Is At Hand, is an insistent rhythm that follows Jack's exhausted climb up the inside of the tower, and the discovery that a squad of soldiers have also made the trip with a flame-thrower. Barry evokes the military with drums and a driving motif for the piano. Strings and brass warn us of the power-struggle about to take place at the top of the world. The track ends with another chilling crescendo after Kong makes that amazing leap from one Tower to the other, and engages in combat with the flame-thrower team, whom he decimates.
Curiously, Barry did not score any of the sequence when Kong battles the squadron of helicopter gunships that buzz around his head and horribly stipple him with machine-gunfire. Instead, he lets the scene play out to the sounds of the bullets, the screaming from both Dwan, who begs Kong to pick her up again so the air force won't shoot at him any more, and Jack, who bellows with rage at the slaughter being committed in tandem with the great ape's roar of defiance as he swats a gunship from the sky. In fact, this works extremely well in the film, Barry realising that the imagery is powerful and upsetting enough without his needing to embellish it any further. To be honest, the scene would have been unbearable.
His traumatic finale comes in Track 13's The End. Kong lies battered battered, shot-to-bits and dying, defeated by Man, on the smashed concourse at the foot of the World Trade Centre. The album lets us hear his heartbeat as it epically thuds into silence, the callous and jubilant crowd surging around his body. Searing strings swallow up grief that we feel, Barry's phrasing acting as a condemnation and a furious demanding of why this had to happen. Dwan finally gets the celebrity that she so craved, but the music makes it clear that she is a shattered image, a broken icon. She screams out for Jack, and he could get through the crowds to her … but he doesn't. He can't rescue her any longer. He doesn't like what he sees. Barry handles this difficult and unorthodox climax with no small measure of reproach. It is cold and dark with bitterness. Those three deep notes from Incomprehensible Captivity crash out again before Barry brings in the strings, horns and woodwinds to rise to a paralysing crescendo of unforgivable regret. The track then moves into a final rendition of the haunting love theme as, in the film, the camera pulls back on a long shot of Kong's ignominious and forlorn form lying in the centre of a ring of a thousand ghouls … and the end credits come up. Rarely has a film score made such a radical impact to the imagery seen on the screen. We weren't convinced, for one minute, that it wasn't Rick Baker in an ape suit, but John Barry's lush music, coupled with grand cinematography and some fine performances from Lange and Bridges, ensured that King Kong '76 would still win over legion of fans.
As to the inclusion of the heartbeat and other sound effects on the release, I like this gimmick simply because I grew up with it. They were on the original vinyl LP from Reprise (which I still have), and the previous CD release from Mask. Of course, the soundtrack would play better without such things, but when you are as tied-up with the story and the film as many devotees, such as myself, are, they are actually one the great little oddities about this album presentation. I am certain that there will, eventually, be an edition that is without the FX, but they have suited the experience for the last thirty-five years and I have grown quite fond of them.
But there are more considerations about King Kong's score than just a handful of sound FX. With the original material still held up in legal wrangles, FSM have only been able to release the album that fans have been familiar with since 1976. The original vinyl album was a much-cherished release, and then fans got the CD issue from Mask – which was apparently only a bootleg lifted from that recording – but now we have the official and cleaner-sounding release from FSM which I heartily recommend … as you can tell. But there has still not been a release of the full score from John Barry. Certain cues have remained unavailable outside of the film itself since its release and, although this is a bitter-sweet wish, there is always the prospect of this, and other incomplete or unreleased Barry scores coming to the surface in the wake of his passing, as we have seen with the veritable avalanche of Jerry Goldsmith material over the last few years. Things such as the marvellously eerie section that plays beneath Jack Prescott’s telling of the Kong legend to an incredulous crew aboard the Petrox Explorer, the little oboe-led motif for when Dwan's life-raft drifts into sight, the moment when the landing-craft slips through the fog and for when a “big furry blip” appears on the radar screen, and some of the chilling cues representing Precott and Carnahan (Ed Lauter) and the rescue team plodding through the jungle after the captured Dwan, especially the infamous log-twisting chasm set-piece. And, of course, there is more missing from the New York sequences, most notably that gorgeous church organ in an ecclesiastical solo as a priest makes the sign of he cross and retreats back into his cathedral at the sight of the passing Kong.
FSM's release is the first official CD mastered from the original 1/4” stereo album tapes, and as well as the much improved sound quality over the previous unauthorised Mask edition, boasts fine notes on the film and the score from John Barry experts Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker and Steve Woolston.
We still await a release of full score but, for now, this magnificent disc is still available from FSM, Intrada and elsewhere and provides a very fitting tribute to the great maestro, John Barry, from when he entered into that lush and melancholic phase of his career.
Very highly recommended indeed.
Full Track Listing
The Opening 2.14
Maybe My Luck Has Changed 1.48
Arrival On The Island 2.43
Sacrifice – Hail To The King 7.06
Full Moon Domain – Beauty Is A Beast 4.22
Breakout To Captivity 4.06
Incomprehensible Captivity 2.52
Kong Hits The Big Apple 2.33
Blackout In New York/How About Buying Me A Drink? 3.20
Climb To Skull Island 2.26
The End Is At Hand 1.41
The End 4.24
One of the great scores of the seventies, John Barry's King Kong elevated the very film that it decorated, smothering the viewer with emotions of such strength and power that the shortcomings of Dino De Laurentiis' lavish, big budget remake of the classic and vastly influential original could be easily swept aside, and the experience actually made quite profound. Without a doubt, Barry found the heart of the strangest romance ever conceived and painted it with elegance and lyricism. He was able to excite and terrify with his tribal sacrificial music, and he created a sense of myth, wonder and beauty about far away islands lost in time. He may have seemed an odd choice to score such a story, but Laurentiis' film was firmly entrenched in the bizarre romance of the story, far more so than the two versions that surround his take. He sought out Barry, knowing that he was a composer who could see beyond the ape suits and the matte-shots and the “disaster era” tropes that could, otherwise have dogged the movie. He knew that Barry would break hearts, even when the audiences might have been more inclined to cry tears of laughter.
Barry's score is one of his greatest, and most haunting.
FSM's release is a barnstorming one, even if it does only replicate what fans have heard before on the original vinyl edition and the unauthorised Mask CD, albeit with much better sound quality. It is irritating that we still don't have access to the full score that Barry wrote, and I will put money on it becoming available at some point, but this is certainly worthwhile for fans of the film and downright essential for fans of the composer. He reached a turning point with King Kong, and it is tempting to think that it was the great ape, himself, or else the eerie beauty of Skull Island, that moved him into this more melancholic and romantic phase.
With exciting cues of primal passion and such utterly captivating love themes – that shimmering piano still echoes deep within my soul – King Kong, John Barry-style, is a rare delight and a marvellous testament to the power of a composer the like of whom we will never experience again. Traumatic, sad and unbelievably poignant, King Kong is a masterpeice of film-scoring.
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