Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Volume 1 – music by Alan Silvestri

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Volume 1When the original Cosmos, hosted by Carl Sagan, premiered in 1980 on PBS, it was tracked with a hand-picked combination drawing from the classical orchestral repertoire and the synth-heavy works of Vangelis. It defined the show beautifully. Doing something even remotely resembling Cosmos in the 21st century, however, has a whole different list of demands. Photorealistic CGI allows actual images from space to be incorporated into beautifully choreographed and detailed simulations of space. It’s movie quality. The music should probably step up and meet that definition of epic as well.

With that in mind, it was no surprise to see veteran Hollywood composer Alan Silvestri selected to bring the new Cosmos to musical life. Silvestri’s score for the film version of Sagan’s Contact was one of the highlights of that movie, and if you understand the musical vocabulary of awe and wonder that his music brought to Contact, you’ll dig this, for that’s the same sensibility he brings to the 2014 series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Four generous albums of music from the series have been available digitally for some time, but this is their first official CD release, and the discs bring previously unreleased material with them (the music from a sequence covering the planet Venus and an alternate version of the deceptively gentle main theme).

The 21st century Cosmos has a sense of awe and wonder worthy of the original, but its more filmic sensibilities get a wide-screen musical treatment that would do any sci-fi movie proud. It’s unapologetically bold and adventurous, and very much the real thing – a real orchestra and choir are embellished, but very seldom overtaken, by electronics. Each episode featured at least one lavishly animated tale of a pioneering scientific mind, and Silvestri deftly navigated the narrow strait between “music from the part of the world that person was from” and “ethnic musical stereotypes”, usually by erring primarily on the side of scoring it like straight-up live-action drama. This volume’s suite of music from the sequence depicting the life of Giordano Bruno is really its emotional center, an island of human drama in an album of what might otherwise be considered “space music”.

4 out of 4But there’s nothing bland here – every moment of music has mystery and drama propelling it, much of it originating from that first episode in which Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us that we’re all starstuff. This soundtrack would be equally at home on the flight deck of Tyson’s “ship of the imagination”, or on the bridge of any movie or TV starship you care to name. Best of all, it accompanies a story much more grounded in reality. Just a beautiful listen, and if the existing downloads are any indication, the later volumes are even better.

Order this CD

  1. Cosmos Main Title (1:38)
  2. “Come With Me” (2:00)
  3. “The Cosmos Is Yours” (6:23)
  4. Virgo Supercluster (4:05)
  5. Multiverse (2:10)
  6. Giordano Bruno (2:39)
  7. Revelation of Immensity (3:57)
  8. The Inquisition (3:35)
  9. The Staggering Immensity of Time (2:11)
  10. Star Stuff (4:12)
  11. Chance Nature of Existence (3:27)
  12. New Years’ Eve (3:49)
  13. “Our Journey Is Just Beginning” (3:04)
  14. Venus (2:50)
  15. Cosmos Main Title – Alternate (1:54)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: June 13, 2017
Total running time: 48:31

Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future

Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The FutureRemembered these days primarily as a controversy magnet representing an ugly peak in the debate over children’s TV and toy tie-ins, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was also an attempt on the part of its creators to craft a mature sci-fi saga for kids. Sadly, this goal was often elbowed out of the way by Mattel demanding lengthier sequences to trigger features of their quasi-interactive Captain Power toys, and despite actually achieving a lot of what they set out to do, the writers were justifiably disgruntled at the thought of serving two masters. (The story editor, J. Michael Straczynski, ditched Captain Power to take a similar position on the writing staff of an relaunch of the decidedly more adult Twilight Zone.). Captain Power’s meditations on duty, honor, freedom, rights, and war are seldom remembered as often as the series’ status as a half-hour toy commercial.

Also seldom remembered is that this show had a great soundtrack. Assembled by Gary Guttman from his master tapes, the Captain Power soundtrack CD is a testament to the series’ surprising grab for orchestral grandeur befitting its mature storytelling style. Once past the predictably bombastic series theme, the Captain Power soundtrack is ful of startlingly effective dramatic music, wearing its John Williams/Star Wars influence on its sleeve unashamedly. The contrast to the usual kids’ show fare is huge: some shows from this era seemed to repeat a small handful of synth-and-drum-machine loops and call it a day. That Guttman and the producers of Captain Power were willing to go further is impressive, and so is this soundtrack as a result.

The “Love Theme” is more sweeping and romantic than you’d expect from a half-hour live-action kids’ series about a dystopian, cyborg-ruled future, straddling the line between John Williams and James Horner at his best, while action pieces like “Big Battle”, “Soaron”, “Pursued” and “Air Battle”, while obviously performed by a smaller ensemble than the average Star Wars soundtrack, still pack a powerful punch thanks to skillful orchestration. Some of the quieter cues are the bigget revelations here (my personal favorite is the short, sweet, and mysterious “Eerie Mood 3”).

A great many of the album’s tracks are under a minute, which brings us to perhaps the most amazing thing about the Captain Power soundtrack: Guttman composed and recorded all of the music without any footage in hand, essentially creating a library of shorter cues that could be strung together by the series’ music editor as needed. The number of tracks exceeding two minutes in length can be counted on one hand. But it’s a testament to the composer’s work (and, admittedly, the music editor’s work) that the material was composed with the actual footage sight unseen, and yet seems to fit it perfectly.

3 out of 4And all this for an underbudgeted half-hour show about a war against cyborg oppression (and, yes, about a line of toys too). This soundtrack is an impeccable reminder of an era when orchestral scoring for TV, esven kids’ TV, wasn’t the rarity that it is now.

  1. Captain Power Opening (1:32)
  2. Get Ready (1:45)
  3. Love Theme (1:53)
  4. Order this CDBig Battle (2:12)
  5. Sad Heroic Vamp (0:32)
  6. Pursued (1:37)
  7. Jumpship 1 (0:19)
  8. Air Battle (1:41)
  9. Sad Heroic (1:45)
  10. Bursting Through (1:17)
  11. Abandoned Streets (1:14)
  12. Stinger (0:22)
  13. Quiet Buildup (2:25)
  14. Soaron (0:30)
  15. Pursued Vamp (0:41)
  16. Eerie Mood 2 (0:25)
  17. Action Filler 1 (0:14)
  18. Captain Power Beware (0:21)
  19. Land Battle (1:23)
  20. Volcania (0:17)
  21. Sneaking Around (1:24)
  22. Eden 2 (0:47)
  23. Captain Power Vamp (0:32)
  24. Beware Of Dread (0:23)
  25. Power On – Alternate (0:19)
  26. Light Moment (0:31)
  27. Eerie Mood 3 (0:26)
  28. Captain Power To The Rescue (0:53)
  29. Action Filler 2 (0:34)
  30. Quiet Buildup Alternate (0:35)
  31. Action Filler 3 (0:13)
  32. Triumphant Battle (2:02)
  33. End Of Act (0:16)
  34. Captain Power End Title (1:04)
  35. Castle Volcania 2 (0:44)
  36. Seconds Ticking (1:11)
  37. Serious – Somber (2:16)
  38. Flame Street (0:58)
  39. Dark Mist (1:53)
  40. Captain Power Opening: 2012 Version (1:26)

Released by: Goddard Film Group
Release date: September 25, 2012
Total running time: 40:52

Cloak & Dagger – music by Brian May

Cloak & Dagger - music by Brian MayThe early ’80s saw a spate of video-game-oriented films, trying to cash in on the public’s seemingly unstoppable infatuation with that new entertainment medium. Cloak & Dagger, starring Henry Thomas (still a fixture in the public eye thanks to his then-recent appearance in E.T.) and Dabney Coleman (the king of early ’80s video game / computer flicks, having already appeared in WarGames, was easily the most kid-oriented of the first wave of video game movies.

For some reason, my memory had cheated a little bit in recalling this movie’s music. I hadn’t actually seen Cloak & Dagger since just a few years after its release, and for some reason I had it in my head that the soundtrack was somewhat similar to the music from WarGames, which was constantly on-edge and, thanks to some synth work, hip to the audience’s expectations from a movie featuring computers as a key plot point. In fact, Cloak & Dagger – getting its first soundtrack release thanks to Intrada – is nothing like that. For a supposedly tech-oriented movie, it’s startling just how old-school the soundtrack is.

Scored by the late Australian composer Brian May (not Queen’s lead guitarist, who’s still alive and dividing his time between astronomy and being the world’s best axe man), Cloak & Dagger‘s old-fashioned, strictly-orchestral scoring is almost out of place: it skews a lot older than the rest of the movie. Even the way the music was arranged, and the way the recording sessions were miked and mixed, makes the music sound older than the 1980s – in a strange way, it sounds like a recording from the ’60s or early ’70s, and not like the music from a kiddie techno-thriller at all. It’s nice music, but just seems strangely unhip next to the images it accompanies.

The action sequences fare better than the more contemplative moments. Coleman’s swaggering hero Jack Flack gets a nice signature theme, which gets turned around into a nice reveal toward the end of the movie when Thomas’ character realizes that it’s not military superhero/action figure Jack Flack, but his father (also played by Coleman), who has come to his rescue.

Cloak & Dagger could probably have done with a punchier, “younger” soundtrack, and it’s a great example of how misremembered a piece of movie history can be. As always, Intrada packs the accompanying CD booklet with a wealth of information about the movie (including something I’d missed: the plot of Cloak & Dagger is so close to Hitchcock’s Rear Window that the writer of the short story upon which Rear Window was based actually gets a story credit for Cloak & 2 out of 4Dagger). Aside from a mostly-forgotten arcade game by Atari (whose attempt at a movie product placement for an upcoming Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger game – represented here by footage of the arcade game – turned out to be a product placement for vaporware), this may be the only other merchandise Cloak & Dagger has ever inspired. It’s a decent soundtrack… for the wrong movie.

Order this CD

  1. Jack Flack Arrives (0:59)
  2. The Tower Of Life (3:33)
  3. Help, Police!… Murder (4:13)
  4. Return From The Mission (5:32)
  5. I Guess We’re On Our Own (1:38)
  6. Davey Gets Away (1:20)
  7. Run, Davey, Run (3:34)
  8. Nightmare Drive (5:05)
  9. Parking Lot Chase (3:56)
  10. We Gotta Save Kim! (1:06)
  11. Back To The River (2:01)
  12. Run Like The Wind (1:55)
  13. The Cross Fire Gambit (4:42)
  14. I Don’t Wanna Play (1:10)
  15. The End Of Childhood (2:21)
  16. Airport Prelude (1:28)
  17. Davey A Hostage! (1:22)
  18. Captain Jack Flack (6:49)
  19. Cloak & Dagger (End Credits) (3:49)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 57:13