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

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

The Social Network – music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

The Social NetworkThe surprise Oscar winner for best score, this is the soundtrack of the ripped-from-the-headlines-and-then-Sorkinized film about the birth of Facebook, and the tumultuous tug-of-war over the ownership of the ideas and code behind it. With geek DNA permeating the entire story, it’s virtually a no-brainer that the movie would get an electronic score, and with that in mind, director David Fincher turned to Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross for the music.

Where this combination of talent really kicks in is on track 2, “In Motion”, which is a percolating electronic tour de force, piling on more and more layers of complexity and harmony as the tune progresses. It starts to edge into chiptune territory at times. It’s bright and jittery and punchy, and even the multiple false endings don’t become annoying, as it quickly resumes with even more layers of complexity. “Intriguing Possibilities” is another highlight, combining a similarly complex electronic sound with guitar licks that remind me a bit more firmly of Nine Inch Nails.

Other tracks lean a bit more in a retro direction, with the “Pieces Form The Whole” and “Carbon Prevails” combining more recent electronics with retro keyboard sounds. There’s also an ever-present piano in most of the tracks preventing things from sounding too otherworldly. A version of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” is gleefully noisy and nigh-on-epic.

One question I kept coming back to was “Was this an electronic score more worthy of an Oscar nomination, let alone a win, than Tron Legacy?” That’s a tough one. There’s precious little here that’s sonically new if you’ve spent much time listening to Nine Inch Nails at all – in fact, a few of the pieces are 3 out of 4even adapted directly from some of NIN’s more recent output – but for most members of the Academy, the Tron sequel’s music sounds more like what one expects from film music, whereas Reznor and Atticus’ opus doesn’t. Some folks may still be shaking their heads at Reznor winning an Oscar for best film score, but let’s face it: The Social Network sounds like nothing else in recent memory. That the music managed to cut through the sheer density of Aaron Sorkin’s wall-to-wall dialogue in places is almost a wonder. It’s worth a listen at the very least, and probably the trophy too.

Order this CD

  1. Hand Covers Bruise (4:18)
  2. In Motion (4:56)
  3. A Familiar Taste (3:35)
  4. It Catches Up With You (1:39)
  5. Intriguing Possibilities (4:24)
  6. Painted Sun In Abstract (3:29)
  7. 3:14 Every Night (4:03)
  8. Pieces Form The Whole (4:16)
  9. Carbon Prevails (3:53)
  10. Eventually We Find Our Way (4:17)
  11. Penetration (1:14)
  12. In The Hall Of The Mountain King (2:21)
  13. On We March (4:14)
  14. Magnetic (2:10)
  15. Almost Home (3:33)
  16. Hand Covers Bruise, Reprise (1:52)
  17. Complication With Optimistic Outcome (3:19)
  18. The Gentle Hum Of Anxiety (3:53)
  19. Soft Trees Break The Fall (4:44)

Released by: Null Records
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 66:10