by David A. Koran
Being a James Bond 007 fan, I'd still have to say that the best pick of the litter happens to be John Barry's Octopussy. It's a score that has all the appropriate sensibilites that led up to and, yet debated, followed shortly thereafter. As with this, and the other releases from Rykodisc in this batch, we are given a hybrid recording, and I'm not speaking of the extra computer multimedia content. What I am speaking about is the addition of dialogue squashed between score pieces, becoming almost annoying (well, mostly annoying) and distracting. The logicians at the record company, and others like Rhino (who has recently released Casablanca in much the same way), feel that this gives those who have or haven't seen the movie an idea how the story line is portrayed with the accompanying music. Unfortunately, when we stress the "accompanying" factor of the music to the dialogue, we highlight that it's almost overpowering. However, this does work to the advantage of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang score since it's comprised mostly of Disney-esque sweet vocal arrangements which, in my own opinion, is just dialogue sung to a tune (see any recent Disney animation and listen to accompanying Menken score for a case study).
Once again, getting back to Octopussy, it's nice to listen to Barry keep his world-reknown tunefulness even after a myriad of Bond films (he scored two more, A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights before handing the baton to Michael Kamen for Licence to Kill). It's a testament to Barry and his ability to integrate the feel of the action seamlessly into his score while maintaining a noticeable separation to make sure the listener/viewer realized that there was some underscore they'd enjoy hearing while they were blinking (or for Octopussy as a movie, a few yawns now and then).
Probably the next great release from Rykodisc was the revival of Ernest Gold's It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World from the desolation of only being available on vynyl. This one suffered the "dialogue" bug as well, but overcame it by just being a great comedy score. Nowadays you couldn't get the cast that was assembled for this film without balooning above the cost of Waterworld / Titanic in cast salaries alone (heck, the film even had a cameo from the Three Stooges, my heroes!) Gold, along with Barry has the unique ability to take a title song and make it and intergral part of the score's melody with out suffering from the orignal goals of the score. A nice piece at the end of this release is the interview with the director, Stanley Kramer, and Ernest Gold himself, which after a while, I wish there was more of the interview to listen to, a glorious source of information.
Keeping with the spirit, the next two releases were good choices for those who don't like action or comedy scores, that of which were Carrie by Pino Donaggio and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Realizing that Carrie was based on the Stephen King book, listening to the first half of the score could make you wonder if they packaged the right CD with the packaging. It's a great standalone piece of music, melodic, well orchestrated, and when you get to the pieces that need to be errie, more appropriate than some mush that's been pushed out of Hollywood in the last two decades. The audio clips here on this release are a bit more appropriate and memorable ("They're all going to laugh at you!") than many of the others in the series. Finally, in the single CD releases, we have the Ian Fleming musical comedy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang starring Dick Van Dyke. As I mentioned before, this soundtrack is akin to many a Disney film of yore, complete with the sugary sweet lyrics and farcical bubble-gum melodies (yeesch!). Unfortunately, by todays standards, it remains quite dated especially when viewing the trailer included on the enhanced section of the CD.
The final release is of Frank Zappa's monumental 200 Motels. This release completes Rykodisc Zappa catalog (filling in the holes left for it a half a decade ago). Unfortunately I don't have a copy to review, but knowing Zappa, it follows in the absolute bizzareness that was his trademark ("just don't eat that yellow snow!"). It's a two disc set compared to the single discs in the rest of the series, setting you back an average of $15 US for the singles and $30 US for 200 Motels.
A nice addition, that makes up for the travesty of adding dialogue to the CDs, is the enhanced multimedia track that's viewable on most PCs and all Macintoshes. Right now, the track is comprised of a trailer, in Quicktime and MPEG formats and a link to Rykodisc's World Wide Web site. It would be nice if many of the other soundtrack manufacturers follwed suit since many of their parent companies already do it for the pop-rock releases.
Overall, Rykodisc's move is a breath of fresh air and hopefully will be continued as their engineers dig through all of MGM/UA's old tapes and their lawyers continue their licencing and re-use fee battles... Oh joy, oh rapture!