John Williams, |
I don't like writing essentially negative reviews. I especially don't like writing essentially negative reviews of performers/composers I am fond of. I really don't like writing essentially negative reviews for soundtracks of films I haven't seen, because I'm aware that all too often the music operates in concert with the images for which it was written.
Having said all of the above, here I find myself with the soundtrack to Minority Report, a movie I haven't seen, and composed by one of my compositional idols, John Williams. To be perfectly honest, I've been a Williams fan since Missouri Breaks (several films prior to that one about the big fish that made such a stir), and Williams in his composing prime is a force to be reckoned with, not merely as a composer of film music, but as a contemporary composer of serious merit in a "legitimate" classical sense. At his best, Williams can write both with incredible power ("Darth Vader's Theme," Star Wars) and emotional subtlety (pick any of the "Eliot" music from E.T.). He is comfortable with idiomatic expression (the fantasy on the nautical jig in Jaws) and has a mastery of ceremony (his Olympic theme).
All of which is why this work is such a disappointment. Without pounding a theme too solidly into the ground, this is ground that Williams has trod before, and to better effect, in Spielberg's A.I., the other dystopian future soundscape of recent memory.
The disc opens with Williams' standard overture, and right away the prevailing problem with the music becomes apparent. As with A.I., this will be an excursion into the sound equivalent of the visually murky future held out to us in both films. Stock brass fanfares give way to a sonic murk that, while it may suit the images it is married to admirably) fails to stand on its own musically. There then follow a sequence of pieces in which Williams reprises old musical themes; minor-chord glowering menace, followed by legato yearning, followed in turn by at-the-gates-of-peril, leading to a respite in "Sean and Laura," one of the few musical light moments in the entire disc. Then, we're back to murk and menace, followed by murk and mystery in "Greenhouse," and one of the most interesting moments in the work, some choral figurings in "Eye-Dentiscan."
As an aside, I think that Williams' most interesting new work has been done for massed chorales, and that may be his best avenue for new inspiration (q.v. choral work in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace).
We then escape from murk to the sprited chase music, "Anderton's Great Escape," still a pale imatation of Williams at his best, and more interesting choral experiments in "Visions of Anne Lively." The ethereal opening of "Lee Crow" gives way to the basic theme of murk, and the disc closes with the inappropriately titled "A New Beginning." This disc should be owned by Williams completists, and by those who thought the movie was a splendid piece of cinema, but Williams is capable of better, and you can tell him you read that here.