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WALL-E – music by Thomas Newman

WALL-EThis is the soundtrack of a movie whose composer was either in love with the assignment, or lived in fear of it. Most movie scores are tasked with the job of underlining the emotional intent of any given scene, but with most movies this job is occasionally obscured by dialogue or sound effects. WALL-E had sound effects aplenty, but instead of dialogue, virtually the first half hour of the movie is expressed in terms of “robotic” processed grunts and exclamations. There are visual cues to the emotions being expressed, but the bulk of the legwork falls to the music: a unique opportunity for any composer to shine, but also a daunting task for modern-day composers accustomed to dialing the music back to make room for dialogue.

Thomas Newman, who had already worked with Pixar on Finding Nemo, took on the task and delivered what may be one of the best film scores of the 2000s, hands down. There’s a lot of music on the CD – and there’s a heap of music in the movie as well. Occasionally there’s a little burst of sound effects and “robot dialogue” from the movie in between songs, but to its credit, it never overlaps the music – and to be honest, I’d buy a whole CD of Ben Burtt’s brilliant soundscapes because the former Star Wars sound guru topped himself here.

The three songs heard prominently in the movie are heard here – the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and the two numbers from Hello Dolly! – as well as Peter Gabriel‘s hammer-the-theme-of-the-movie-home end credits song “Down To Earth” (which, to be honest, I liked better than either of the albums he’s foisted on us since being involved with this movie).

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up with Newman’s intricate, well-thought-out score, though. In some ways, he does the same thing Jerry Goldsmith did with Logan’s Run, but in reverse order: the “exterior” scenes on Earth and treated orchestrally, but once WALL-E boards the Axiom and enters the woeful artificial environment now inhabited by the descendants of the human race, our glimpses into life aboard that ship and the scenes involving the Axiom robots are given an electronic (but still melodic and playful) sound. As the action centers more and more on the fate of the sample of a live plant from Earth, the music returns to the orchestral vein, because the Earth is what’s at stake.

Tracks such as “The Spaceship”, “Worry Wait”, “EVE Retrieve”, “Hyperjump” and “WALL-E’s Pod Adventure” are orchestral spectaculars befitting just about any big-screen science fiction epic you could name. The music here has the entire weight of carrying the implications to the audience, and does the job brilliantly. Newman treats these scenes as Serious Events without worrying about scaring the kids off with spooky or scary music – so much so that even my own son has been asking me what the music “means,” enabling me to kick open some interesting conversations about soundtrack music and music in general with him. At the age of four. Thank you, Mr. Newman, for not “talking down” to the audience.

That’s not to say that the soundtrack doesn’t have a sense of humor. “First Date,” accompanying a montage of WALL-E sheltering the inert EVE from the elements (scenes that director Andrew Stanton reportedly wanted set to the vapid tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”), gets the kind of music you’d expect from a first date movie montage, except that most movies don’t have the girlfriend sitting comatose and unresponsive throughout the proceedings. The music is deceptively cheerful and becomes its own punch line.

Aboard the Axiom, there are some standout electronic and electronic/orchestral tracks – “Foreign Contaminant”, “Repair Ward” and “72 Degrees And Sunny” among them – which convey the robotic precision of the Axiom’s automated crew a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion and a lot of intricate guitar progressions from George Doering (a veteran session guitarist who’s also played on numerous Star Trek soundtracks). The dreamy “Define Dancing” was rescored late in production so Newman could hint at “Down To Earth,” which he co-wrote with Peter Gabriel.

Late in the movie, as the humans have to shake off the shackles of their own mechanical support systems in order to regain some semblance of a human existence and return to Earth, tracks like “March Of The Gels”, “Tilt”, “Desperate EVE” and “Mutiny!” – the latter of which sounds in places like it could’ve been part of The Matrix, of all things – combine the two approaches.

4 out of 4It’s a brilliantly cohesive collection of music for a movie that actually has meaning, and I applaud Disney for putting an entire album of orchestral score out there for the young set. The soundtrack album from WALL-E may just have the effect on my son’s generation that the soundtrack from Star Wars had on me. And that’s not a bad thing at all. This is one of the best genre soundtracks of the past decade from one of the best genre movies of the past decade.

  1. Put On Your Sunday Clothes performed by Michael Crawford (1:17)
  2. Order this CD2815 A.D. (3:28)
  3. WALL-E (2:00)
  4. The Spaceship (1:42)
  5. EVE (1:02)
  6. Thrust (0:41)
  7. Bubble Wrap (0:50)
  8. La Vie En Rose performed by Louis Armstrong (3:24)
  9. Eye Surgery (0:40)
  10. Worry Wait (1:19)
  11. First Date (1:19)
  12. EVE Retrieve (2:19)
  13. The Axiom (2:24)
  14. BNL (0:20)
  15. Foreign Contaminant (2:06)
  16. Repair Ward (2:20)
  17. 72 Degrees and Sunny (3:12)
  18. Typing Bot (0:47)
  19. Septuacentennial (0:15)
  20. Gopher (0:40)
  21. WALL-E’s Pod Adventure (1:13)
  22. Define Dancing (2:23)
  23. No Splashing No Diving (0:47)
  24. All That Love’s About (0:37)
  25. M-O (0:47)
  26. Directive A-113 (2:05)
  27. Mutiny! (1:28)
  28. Fixing WALL-E (2:08)
  29. Rogue Robots (2:03)
  30. March of the Gels (0:54)
  31. Tilt (2:00)
  32. The Holo-Detector (1:07)
  33. Hyperjump (1:04)
  34. Desperate EVE (0:57)
  35. Static (1:43)
  36. It Only Takes a Moment performed by Michael Crawford (1:07)
  37. Down to Earth performed by Peter Gabriel (5:58)
  38. Horizon 12.2 (1:27)

Released by: Walt Disney Records
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 61:54

Amazing Stories: Anthology Two

Amazing Stories: Anthology TwoThe second volume of music from Steven Spielberg’s short-lived TV anthology series Amazing Stories presents the complete scores from another dozen episodes, boasting the most diverse musical talent gathered on any of Intrada’s three volumes of music from the show.

After one of John Williams’ alternate takes on the show’s main theme, the late Jerry Goldsmith’s single contribution to the show – at the behest of director (and Gremlins collaborator) Joe Dante – kicks things off. Boo! starred Robert Picardo in one of his most obnoxious roles (and that’s saying something), and it seems like whenever I happen to catch a rerun of Amazing Stories, this is the episode I’m most likely to see for some reason. Goldsmith’s music here isn’t quite up to Gremlins standards, though – it’s very much a novelty piece, and – at least in this listener (and Goldsmith fan)’s opinion – not one of his better ones.

Billy Goldenberg’s score for What If…? is a bit more serious, but lovely, pleasant stuff – though it’s associated with an episode that I always felt was more heartbreaking than anything else. Dorothy And Ben, an episode I don’t recall ever having seen, certainly sounds heartbreaking; Georges Delerue was one of Amazing Stories’ most prolific composers and certainly seemed to be the go-to guy for those installments that wore their hearts on their sleeves. The Main Attraction embraces its setting by combining marching band music with occasional moments of tension and synthesizer musical effects-as-sound effects. David Newman (Galaxy Quest, Serenity) contributes the music for Such Interesting Neighbors (which stands next only to Boo! as the episode of which I’m most likely to see a rerun), and as one his earlier works it succumbs to a film scoring cliche or two, but he uses his orchestra well and comes up with what I’d describe as a fond homage to the John Williams style.

Thanksgiving, scored by Bruce Broughton (another musical frequent flyer on this series), goes down as my favorite episode of Amazing Stories, simply because it’s the one installment that reminded me, more than any other episode, of the great anthologies that started it all – The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits – complete with a macabre but poetically just sting in its tail. It’s probably my favorite suite on this anthology as well, with Broughton pouring on bravado (for David Carradine’s belligerently macho character) and wonder in just the right places.

David Shire is back for Hell Toupee on the second CD, a big, brassy homage to the way movies used to be scored, while Johnny Mandel (M*A*S*H, Being There) gives us almost cartoon-esque music for One For The Road. Arthur B. Rubenstein (Blue Thunder, WarGames) tackles the all-star Remote Control Man, an episode – predating the John Ritter movie Stay Tuned – about a guy whose new remote has some magical properties, and in this case it seems to bring characters to life who hail almost exclusively from the Universal Studios/NBC stable circa 1985/86. Rubenstein thus gets to hint at a number of theme tunes from that era, after an opening act of decent mysterioso music.

John Addison is up next with The Greibble, which darts madly between mystery and comedy every time the titular critter makes an appearance. Leonard Rosenman (Star Trek IV) cranks up the tension with the WWII-themed No Day At The Beach, which combines typical war movie action sequences with more somber passages. Another member of the Newman family gets in on the Amazing Stories action, with Thomas Newman lending a humorous, Christmas-carol-inspired score to Santa ’85.

4 out of 4Again, the packaging and liner notes detailing each episode and its music are almost worth the price of admission alone. Though there are plenty of familiar faces here, this second 2-CD set is also packed with composers who only did a single score for Amazing Stories, making it a completely different experience from the first volume, but still very worthwhile.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Amazing Stories Main Title, Alternate #1 (1:03)

    Boo! – music by Jerry Goldsmith

  2. The House / Sheena (0:36)
  3. Those People / Practice / Strange Feelings (2:57)
  4. Sharp Teeth / Let’s Scare ‘Em (1:50)
  5. What Fun / It’s OK / Jungle Zombie (1:57)
  6. Zombie Attack / Each Other (1:21)
  7. The Bike (0:26)
  8. The Jewelry (1:12)
  9. Catch Us / No Fall (1:35)

    What If…? – music by Billy Goldenberg

  10. Bubbles / Nails / Kitchen Odyssey (4:34)
  11. Obnoxious (1:47)
  12. Pregnant Lady (0:57)
  13. Crossing Guard / Steve / Born (5:04)

    Dorothy And Ben – music by Georges Delerue

  14. Twenty Three Thousand Dollars (0:47)
  15. Wrinkles (0:38)
  16. Be Quiet / Ben Leaves (2:45)
  17. Face Changes (0:59)
  18. Dorothy (4:49)

    The Main Attraction – music by Craig Safan

  19. Brad’s March / Brad’s Parking Space (1:58)
  20. Shirley (1:42)
  21. Meteor / Brad’s Fear / Attracting / Attractions (4:10)
  22. Brad Runs / Locker Room / Brad’s Honor (2:07)
  23. Magnetic Love (2:01)

    Such Interesting Neighbors – music by David Newman

  24. Al Driving Home (1:30)
  25. Water Vibrates (0:51)
  26. Through The Window / Off To Meet The Neighbors / Glad To Know You / Rose Eater (5:20)
  27. May Have Something (0:41)
  28. Microwave And Meatloaf / Off Kilter (2:54)
  29. Heat Seeker On Al (0:43)
  30. Emotional (2:31)
  31. Wide-Eyed Reaction (2:23)

    Thanksgiving – music by Bruce Broughton

  32. Momma’s Breath / The Package (2:39)
  33. Dora’s Message (2:12)
  34. Dora’s Gifts / Calvin Returns (2:33)
  35. Chicken Preferred / Turkey (4:42)
    Disc Two

  1. Amazing Stories Bumper #2 (0:04)

    Hell Toupee – music by David Shire

  2. I’m Harry Valentine (0:30)
  3. Can’t Remember / …As A Woman (2:47)
  4. Hell Toupee (0:17)
  5. Scratched Head / The Escape (2:00)
  6. Toupee Shop / Change Your Life (1:49)
  7. What Is It? / The Chase (5:10)
  8. Finale (0:53)

    One For The Road – music by Johnny Mandel

  9. Brainstorm (0:42)
  10. Free Drinks All Around (0:30)
  11. The Cupboard Was Bare / Pass The Oil (1:58)
  12. To Your Health (2:06)
  13. The Banquet (1:36)
  14. The Bridge (1:02)
  15. Reincarnation (0:30)

    Remote Control Man – music by Arthur B. Rubenstein

  16. Walter (1:47)
  17. From The Forties (0:34)
  18. Right Away (0:51)
  19. Super Over Source (0:50)
  20. Neon Signs And Fog (1:15)
  21. Something Just For You / Queen And Mrs. Cleaver (4:00)
  22. Simmons (0:45)
  23. Enjoying Yourself? (0:24)
  24. No Mice (0:35)
  25. To Bed (0:58)
  26. Pop Off (0:28)

    The Greibble – music by John Addison

  27. Off To Work / Tidying Up (1:40)
  28. Daily Soap (1:00)
  29. First Encounter / Is It Dangerous? (3:44)
  30. Lamp Eater (1:08)
  31. Nummy, Nummy (1:36)
  32. Hardware Dump (2:10)
  33. Gun Threat (0:58)
  34. Friends (1:10)
  35. Revelation (1:54)

    No Day At The Beach – music by Leonard Rosenman

  36. No Day At The Beach / Picking Up Cards / Turkey In The Face (2:06)
  37. Hey Casey / Get Some Sleep (1:32)
  38. Battle Stations (0:25)
  39. Gun Fire (0:22)
  40. Charging Pill Box (1:54)
  41. Dead Arnold (0:16)
  42. He Never Got Off The Boat (4:11)

    Santa ’85 – music by Thomas Newman

  43. From The Sky Above The House / From The House To The Within / From The Chimney And In Through The Window (5:42)
  44. Caught By The Law (1:42)
  45. The Reindeer / No Fingerprints / From The Jail To The Chase To Left Off (5:18)
  46. The Ray Gun (0:50)
  47. By Candlelight (0:28)
  48. Amazing Stories End Credits (0:29)
  49. Amblin Logo – Christmas Version (0:15)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2006
Disc one total running time: 78:03
Disc two total running time: 76:28