Human Target – music by Bear McCreary

Based on the comic of the same name, Fox’s TV series Human Target may have already set a record: according to Variety, its music was recorded by the largest orchestra assembled for an American TV series in well over ten years. Human Target isn’t a terribly high-profile project, and Fox doesn’t reach deep into its pockets for no reason; that huge orchestra was hired because of the acclaimed composer handling the music: Battlestar Galactica alumnus Bear McCreary. It’s a pretty good bet that McCreary’s name is what got this music released, too: Warner Bros. Watertower Music label released two CDs worth of music as a digital download, while McCreary’s home label La-La Land Records unleashed a 1,200 copy run of a 3-CD set covering everything in Watertower’s digital release and then some, including a few work-in-progress sketches created as precursors to the orchestral sessions.

McCreary’s music is flat-out, unabashed action music of a kind that hasn’t been heard since John Williams was in the business of scoring every blockbuster that wasn’t assigned to Jerry Goldsmith. There are, in fact, a few passages of music that bring Star Wars instantly to mind. McCreary establishes the Human Target theme up front in the extended version of the main titles, and uses it as a motif in many, if not most, of the cues from the show’s episodes. Other themes begin to recur for the show’s ensemble of characters.

And if you’re wondering if it makes any difference that this music was recorded by the largest orchestra to record TV music in ages, fear not – you can tell. The balls-to-the-wall action scenes have the kind of full-blooded feel that samples and synths just can’t quite cut (at least not without sounding like a wall of synths). There are still some synthesizers in the mix, along with the usual suspects (i.e. Oingo Boingo alum Steve Bartek on guitar) and the kind of big percussion for which McCreary became known on Galactica, but the orchestra is front and center in the mix. (And for the record, it really doesn’t sound anything like Galactica.)

The show itself failed to grab me, but I continue to find myself humming bits of the soundtrack here and there, occasionally from episodes I didn’t even see. A major turnover of behind-the-scenes personnel between Human Target’s two seasons on the air left both 4 out of 4its original showrunner and McCreary out in the cold, and there seems to be little disagreement that the result was something less watchable (which eventually led to its cancellation) and certainly less listenable. And it’s perhaps just as well: the quality of McCreary’s work makes every released soundtrack a calling card, and it can’t be too long before steady feature work is more prominent than TV scoring on his resume, because this is big-screen-worthy music.

Order this CD

    Disc One

  1. Theme from ‘Human Target’ (long version) (1:31)
  2. Skydive (5:19)
  3. No Threats (4:17)
  4. Military Camp Rescue (4:37)
  5. Motorcycle Escape (5:29)
  6. Monastery in the Mountains (1:41)
  7. Paint a Bullseye (2:19)
  8. The Katherine Walters File (4:30)
  9. Switching Sides (6:09)
  10. This is Awkward (2:11)
  11. The Russian Embassy (3:32)
  12. The Devil’s Mouth (1:21)
  13. Ice Cubes (2:05)
  14. Allyson’s Past (3:05)
  15. Flipping the Plane (10:53)
  16. Driving Away (0:48)
  17. Airborne and Lethal (3:34)
  18. Chance’s Old Boss (3:54)
  19. Old Chance (2:14)
  20. Skyhook Rescue (7:05)
  21. Into the West (1:35)

    Disc Two

  22. New York City Arrival (1:52)
  23. Train Fight (3:33)
  24. Baptiste (2:39)
  25. Tango Fight (1:27)
  26. Maria and Chance (2:35)
  27. Katherine’s Killer (4:10)
  28. Confronting Baptiste (8:51)
  29. Courthouse Brawl (5:09)
  30. Stop Running (3:08)
  31. Not a Pacifist (0:46)
  32. Bullet Train (1:56)
  33. Gondola (8:43)
  34. An Old Life (3:21)
  35. Lockdown (5:02)
  36. A Bottle of Japanese Whisky (1:34)
  37. Victoria (3:29)
  38. The New Champion (5:56)
  39. Emma Barnes (3:10)
  40. Stephanie’s Ring (1:50)
  41. Port Yard Deaths (2:52)
  42. The New Christopher Chance (6:34)
  43. Theme from ‘Human Target’ [Short version] (0:40)

    Disc Three

  44. Flight Attendant Wilson (0:49)
  45. Round One (3:25)
  46. Emma’s Bra (2:24)
  47. Maria Gallego (1:58)
  48. Afraid in Alaska (1:21)
  49. Guerrero and Sergei (2:51)
  50. Chance Takes the Job (0:54)
  51. Tracking Device (3:03)
  52. The Black Room (1:41)
  53. Fighting Kendrick Taylor (1:27)
  54. Bertram (6:59)
  55. Sparring Guerrero (1:46)
  56. Scar Stories (3:35)
  57. Danny’s Killer (2:42)
  58. Chaos in the Cockpit (5:49)
  59. A Mistake (0:50)
  60. Chance’s Theme (Sketch Version 1) (1:17)
  61. Chance’s Theme (Sketch Version 2) (1:44)
  62. Katherine’s Theme (Solo Piano Version) (1:48)
  63. Theme from Human Target (Alternate Short Version) (0:38)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Disc one total running time: 78:16
Disc two total running time: 79:23
Disc three total running time: 47:11

The Lone Gunmen / Harsh Realm – music by Mark Snow

The Lone Gunmen / Harsh RealmLook up “SF television scoring of the past 20 years” and you might as well look up Mark Snow, who first brought himself to genre audiences’ attention as the sole musical maestro of every episode of The X-Files. What’s more, during much of the ’90s, he was concurrently working on several other Fox genre shows, also created by The X-Files’ Chris Carter, and more often than not those shows were X-Files spin-offs. This doesn’t even count other genre fare (i.e. UPN’s Nowhere Man). These days, Snow is ensconsed in his own musical fortress of solitude, scoring teen-Superman kinda-sorta-prequel Smallville, but he’s also handed the keys to that fortress to La-La Land Records, who has a number of Snow titles available now or coming soon.

The label has already issued a 2-CD set of Snow’s music from the first X-Files spinoff, the moderately-successful mid-’90s show Millennium, but this CD focuses on the less prominent X-Files offspring, the short-live Lone Gunmen, and another brief Chris Carter creation, the stylized “dystopian future” of Harsh Realm (which wasn’t connected to the X-Files). As different as these two shows sounded, they’re a good fit for sharing a soundtrack CD, as both are fairly atypical of Snow’s usual pad-heavy, atmospheric sound from The X-Files.

The music from The Lone Gunmen takes its cues from its characters, the less-than-deadly-serious trio of conspiracy theorists who aided and abetted FBI Agent Fox Mulder in several X-Files episodes. Now on their own, the Lone Gunmen tried to peel back the layers of other conspiracies with their unique talents, while having to deal with the fact that while they’re perfectly competent “back room guys,” they’re ill-equipped to be action heroes on their own. The show’s theme spoofs the echoing bass guitar of the James Bond franchise after kicking off with a tribute to Hendrix’ electric guitar rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, while the score cues themselves rely heavily on pizzicato string samples, further use of the bass guitar, and piano.

Harsh Realm veers closer to X-Files territory with its more introspective piano/synth material, but it doesn’t exactly lull anyone to sleep. One track in particular, “The Challenge”, is a marvel of pounding industrial percussion samples that could’ve been recorded yesterday.

4 out of 4Standouts from the album include the Lone Gunmen cuts “G.I. Jimmy,” “Elmers” (almost Carl Stalling-esque in places) and “Tailing” (with its surprising minor-key reprise of “The Star-Spangled Banner”), while the Harsh Realm highlights include the unease-inducing “Jump Back”, and “The Challenge”, which almost sounds like a ’90s prototype for the Torchwood theme.

Order this CD

    The Lone Gunmen

  1. The Lone Gunmen Main Title (0:45)
  2. Empty (0:23)
  3. Motiv-8 (1:37)
  4. Just What We Needed (2:42)
  5. Lost Causes (1:05)
  6. Rectal Palpation (1:44)
  7. G.I
  8. Jimmy (2:14)
  9. The Vaults (2:30)
  10. Lost Puppy / Confession (3:30)
  11. Elmer’s (2:28)
  12. Sawsall (5:13)
  13. El Palacio (1:56)
  14. El Lobo (1:37)
  15. Sling Blade (2:23)
  16. Wool / Poly Blend (1:40)
  17. Tailing (3:44)
  18. Memories Of Youth (1:12)
  19. The Lone Gunmen Theme – Alternate (0:49)

    Harsh Realm

  20. Harsh Realm Main Title (0:46)
  21. Overlooking Tradition (1:28)
  22. The Wound (2:35)
  23. Love Letter (2:26)
  24. Virtual Vista (1:00)
  25. Chain Gang (1:45)
  26. Jump Back (5:33)
  27. Harsh Realm Main Title – Long (3:22)
  28. The Challenge (1:57)
  29. Thirsty (2:40)
  30. Trickster (3:47)
  31. Two On A Switch (2:33)
  32. Roadblock (3:50)
  33. The Conspirators (1:22)
  34. Harsh Realm Main Title – Full (3:45)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 77:27

Battle Beyond The Stars / Humanoids From The Deep

Battle Beyond The Stars / Humanoids From The DeepThough the movies themselves have faded into that special pocket of semi-obscure hell reserved for stuff produced by Roger Corman, Battle Beyond The Stars and Humanoids From The Deep hold a special place in the hearts of soundtrack fans as the big-screen debut of a promising new young talent, James Horner. Hired with a mandate to try to duplicate the sound of – ironically – Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, Battle is basically the calling card that brought Horner into the Trek fold proper. I know I’ve jumped all over Horner in the past where originality is concerned, but let’s give credit where it’s due and give the guy a break: for this first movie scoring project, he was told to mimic Goldsmith. Say it with me again: Goldsmith. No pressure, eh? And then, on the strength of Battle, Horner was hired by Nicholas Meyer and asked to emulate himself. It’s no wonder Horner used and reused this basic material throughout the 1980s.

The nautical woodwind motifs that Horner refined in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan can be heard here in a slightly more primitive form, and his rapid-fire bursts of heroic brass can be heard here too, though with a rhythm that’s almost jazzy. What you will hear a lot of is the Blaster Beam, that unearthly electric stringed instrument that Goldsmith put on the musical map with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Its appearance here doesn’t sound quite as graceful as it did in that first movie, but with marching orders to copy Goldsmith’s style, Horner makes abundant use of it. In that respect, if you’re a fan of that rarely-used instrument, this soundtrack is a treat.

To be completely fair, while there is indeed blatant copying of such Goldsmith cues as “Spock Walk”, there’s enough originality within this score’s context that one can hear where Horner would have been labeled an up-and-coming young composer to keep an ear out for. Unfortunately, in later years, Horner would seem to have taken the instruction “Make it sound kind of like the music from…” a little too literally, and a few times too many.

Humanoids, though commissioned, composed and recorded at around the same time (and it actually hit the theaters before Battle), sounds altogether more assured and mature, with Horner developing some if his more “scary” motifs in their earliest form – much of Trek II‘s Mutara Nebula music can be traced back to this score. For his first major horror scoring assignment, Horner isn’t shy about borrowing from the masters, with plenty of Hermann-esque “stabbing” strings on display.

Put together, Battle Beyond The Stars and Humanoids From The Deep are a debut that, even despite the rough edges, would’ve done any Hollywood 3 out of 4newcomer proud. And even if I’m not Horner’s biggest fan in the world, I’m even less of a Corman fan – his greatest contributions have really been in the area of bringing top-notch talent into Hollywood that eventually turns out better material than he himself could ever manage – and these may be among the very finest scores ever to grace a Roger Corman movie (or two).

Order this CD

    Battle Beyond The Stars

  1. Main Title (2:00)
  2. Malmori Read Guard (3:52)
  3. The Battle Begins (4:33)
  4. Nanella And Shad (1:27)
  5. Cowboy And The Jackers (3:36)
  6. Nanella’s Capture (1:29)
  7. The Maze Battle (3:11)
  8. Shad’s Pursuit (3:23)
  9. Cowboy’s Attack (1:46)
  10. Love Theme (3:52)
  11. The Hunter (1:40)
  12. Gelt’s Death (1:30)
  13. Nanella (1:32)
  14. Heading For Sador (1:00)
  15. Destruction Of Hammerhead (2:36)
  16. Epilogue And End Title (5:02)

    Humanoids From The Deep

  17. Main Title (2:27)
  18. The Buck (3:45)
  19. Unwelcome Visitor (2:03)
  20. Night Swim (1:48)
  21. Jerry & Peggy (0:57)
  22. Trip Upriver (1:59)
  23. The Humanoids Attack (2:54)
  24. Jerry’s Death (2:04)
  25. Search For Clues (1:55)
  26. Strange Catch (1:07)
  27. The Grotto (3:22)
  28. Night Prowlers (2:08)
  29. Final Confrontation (3:05)
  30. Aftermath & New Birth (2:22)
  31. End Titles (2:10)

Released by: GNP Crescendo
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 76:35

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – music by Joby Talbot

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy soundtrackA quintessentially British film of a quintessentially British story, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy gets – for the most part – a surprisingly traditional orchestral treatment from a composer who has been involved with other quintessentially British projects. Joby Talbot, who provided the music for the TV series The League Of Gentlemen (as well as for the League’s big-screen debut), had a lot of masters to serve when creating the music for Hitchhiker’s Guide, and did his best to please them all.

Hitchhiker’s Guide actually has quite a rich musical history, from the use of existing works in the original BBC Radio series to the completely original, largely electronic music composed by Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for the short-lived TV series. Talbot manage to strike a balance between these and a more traditional SF-a-la-Hollywood approach nicely; the long legacy of Hitchhiker’s Guide is acknowledged by a nice new rendition of the Eagles’ “Journey Of The Sorcerer”, which has been the de facto theme song of the Guide since its first radio performance in 1978. For those segments of the movie which show entries from the Guide itself, Talbot is ably assisted by Nigel Godrich (who produced Radiohead’s OK Computer and worked on Jason Falkner’s Can You Still Feel?) in creating almost-retro synthesized cues that emphasize the animation and inject a bit of “Don’t Panic” levity into the proceedings.

One of the things that struck me so vividly upon first seeing the movie was the big, boisterous, movie-musical-style opening song “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”. Even without the dolphin visuals, it’s a striking way to open the movie, and quite frankly, it does an incredible job of straddling the line between what one would usually expect from a musical showpiece and offering a musical prelude to the end of the Earth. Its opening measures are jaunty and deceptively cheerful in doom-laden minor keys, a brilliant piece of musical storytelling (and misdirection). That tune recurs throughout the score.

One of the hardest things to judge about a movie score is whether or not it works away from the movie. It can still be great music, and film music isn’t always necessarily designed to be heard away from its accompanying visuals, but sometimes a score comes along that doesn’t make for the most satisfying stand-alone listening material. Hitchhiker’s, ultimately, falls into that latter category. There are several cues that make one sit up and take notice, but they’re the punctuation at the end of what sometimes amounts to fairly long musical sentences. I don’t ask that every soundtrack album out there should be wall-to-wall action cues, either. But some stretches of Hitchhiker’s Guide mean that this isn’t a soundtrack that stands up to all-in-one-sitting listening.

rating: 3 out of 4That said, there is some good stuff on here. Bringing up the rear as the last track is a real surprise, a remake of the original “Marvin” single “Reasons To Be Miserable”. Written by Douglas Adams himself (and originally performed circa 1980 by Stephen Moore), this is a more modern remake told in the third person by the new voice of the Guide, Stephen Fry. While I still prefer the original to this version, the fact that the song is even here is just another indication that the folks behind Hitchhiker’s Guide really did look back on the story’s origins with reverence. This soundtrack is a worthy addition to the canon.

Order this CD

  1. The Dolphins (1:00)
  2. So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (2:26)
  3. Arthur Wakes Up (2:53)
  4. Shoo-Rah! Shoo-Rah! performed by Betty Wright (2:51)
  5. Here I Am (Come And Take Me) performed by Al Green (4:13)
  6. Destruction Of Earth (1:31)
  7. Journey Of The Sorcerer (1:15)
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1:14)
  9. Inside The Vogon Ship (2:46)
  10. Vogon Poetry (0:48)
  11. Space (1:00)
  12. Vogon Command Centre (1:00)
  13. Trillian & Arthur Reunited (1:45)
  14. Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (1:40)
  15. Tea In Space (1:08)
  16. Deep Thought (2:06)
  17. Infinite Improbability Drive (0:55)
  18. Viltvodle Street Music (0:45)
  19. Huma’s Hymn performed by Gabriel Crouch (1:02)
  20. Capture Of Trillian (4:27)
  21. Vogcity (1:02)
  22. Love (1:44)
  23. The Whale (1:53)
  24. Planet Factory Tour (2:29)
  25. Earth Mark II (6:29)
  26. Magic Moments performed by Perry Como (2:37)
  27. Shootout (3:23)
  28. Finale (1:50)
  29. Blast Off (0:16)
  30. So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (Reprise) (2:54)
  31. Careless Talk (1:42)
  32. Vote Beeblebrox (3:27)
  33. Reasons To Be Miserable performed by Stephen Fry (3:37)

Released by: Hollywood Records
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 70:08

Highlander: The Original Scores

Highlander: The Original Scores soundtrackThis handy compilation album features music from the previously unreleased scores of all three Highlander films. Admittedly, the whole disc is worth it just for Michael Kamen’s orchestral counterparts to the original Highlander, which most people just seem to assume was scored by Queen. To the contrary, you’ll probably remember the cue “Rachel’s Surprise / Who Wants To Live Forever?” from the scene where Connor MacLeod has to deliver a fatal stab to himself in order to prove to his leading lady that he’s immortal…yowee, that’s gotta hurt! But the music is a beautiful rendition of the song usually associated with Queen, and that track alone 3 out of 4justifies the whole album. Thankfully, the overly synthesized Stewart Copeland pieces from the ill-fated second movie are kept to a minimum and are graciously short. The slightly less ultra-modern music from the only-slightly-better-fated third Highlander movie, scored by J. Peter Robinson, are nice, but it’s hard to beat Michael Kamen’s contributions to the original Highlander.

Order this CD

    Highlander by Michael Kamen

  1. The Highlander Theme (5:19)
  2. Rachel’s Surprise / Who Wants To Live Forever? (4:08)
  3. The Quickening (3:14)
  4. Swordfight at 34th Street (2:24)
  5. Under the Garden / The Prize (4:04)
    Highlander II: The Quickening by Stewart Copeland
  6. Finger Dip (2:00)
  7. Rebel Troops (2:09)
  8. Dam Raid (1:22)
  9. White Cloud (1:44)
  10. Mac Absorbs Reno (2:51)
  11. Shield Shatters / Alan Dies (3:52)
    Highlander: The Final Dimension by J. Peter Robinson
  12. Love Theme / Shrine Fight (5:30)
  13. Massacre – The Beginning (5:45)
  14. Laundry Room / Quickening II (3:30)
  15. Revolution (5:30)
  16. Final Battle / Quickening III / Epilogue (7:01)

Released by: Edel
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 61:08

Highlander: The Series – Volume 1

Highlander: The Series soundtrackMy greatest accolade for the music from Highlander: The Series is that it achieves a rare balance of contemporary, neo-classical and futuristic without overdoing any of those styles or stooping to cliches. That alone would make this a great soundtrack no matter what show it might have come from! Admittedly, quite a bit of the music from Highlander has slipped by me, though many of the pieces I’d been hoping to hear sans dialogue and sword-clashing turned out to be absent. Still, the music is very pleasant and exotic, covering many periods and many genres of music in keeping with the 3 out of 4show’s constant flashbacks to nearly every period of history conceivable. Sadly, the stuff from the episode Homeland wasn’t included, as only material from the first three seasons made it into this CD. Fortunately, it’s pretty obvious that the composer would enjoy releasing a second compilation of series music, so there may be hope after all.

Order this CD

  1. Steam Hole (1:19)
  2. Through Pictures Stories (4:13)
  3. A Woody Through Time / Out For The Night (2:13)
  4. Squaw Man (3:05)
  5. A Faded Memory / A Secret Place (4:23)
  6. Demon Miracle (3:19)
  7. Hand In Hand (2:37)
  8. He’s a Star / Level Playing Field (5:14)
  9. Just a Dream / Falling Rose (2:15)
  10. Samurai Suite (7:07)
  11. The Food Chain (2:38)
  12. We Are Warriors (1:00)
  13. Dosi Duncan (1:07)
  14. Big River (3:30)
  15. Moderate Monks (1:32)
  16. Promise of Better (3:42)
  17. Winds With You (2:08)
  18. Literacy Kills (1:15)
  19. Slow on the Road (1:55)
  20. Belly Dance / Pink Pension (3:09)
  21. To Happiness (3:30)
  22. En Position / A Life Upside Down (3:30)

Released by: Bellchant Records
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 64:55

Queen – A Kind Of Magic

Queen - A Kind Of MagicThis was about as close as the original Highlander film ever came to having an official soundtrack release, and many people didn’t blink an eye in the absence of score material from the movie. Not that this is a bad album – on the contrary, it’s rather good. This is the only place you’ll find the song “Princes Of The Universe”, by the way, as well as my favorite Highlander-themed song, “It’s A Kind Of Magic”. Some of the other Highlander tunes don’t trip my trigger quite as much; “Don’t Lose Your Head” 3 out of 4is okay at best, and “Gimme The Prize”, despite its killer mock-Scottish guitar solo, is filled with soundbytes from the movie, and I’m not a big fan of mixing soundbytes in with the music. Worth a listen.

  1. One Vision (5:08)
  2. A Kind Of Magic (4:23)
  3. One Year Of Love (4:26)
  4. Order this CD Pain Is So Close To Pleasure (4:19)
  5. Friends Will Be Friends (4:07)
  6. Who Wants To Live Forever (5:13)
  7. Gimme The Prize – Kurgan’s Theme (4:32)
  8. Don’t Lose Your Head (4:35)
  9. Princes Of The Universe (3:30)
  10. Forever – instrumental (3:20)
  11. One Vision – extended vision (6:23)

Released by: Hollywood Records
Release date: 1986
Total running time: 50:31