National Geographic Presents: The Last Vikings / Dr. Leaky and the Dawn of Man
Intrada (Special Collection Vol. 20)
Year Released: 1966 / 1972
Conducted by Ernest Gold / Leonard Rosenman
National Geographic Presents: Yankee Sails Across Europe / Grizzly!Intrada (Special Collection Volume 12)
Released: November 25, 2003
Format: CD (61 min)
Review: National Geographic Presents: The Last Vikings / Dr. Leaky and the Dawn of Man
3 / 5 Stars
The second volume of Intrada\'s National Geographic Presents includes two scores: "The Last Vikings" (1972) from Ernst Gold and "Dr. Leakey and the Dawn of Man" (1966) from Leonard Rosenman; it is a limited edition of 1500 copies. The first curiosity arises when you look at the track listing. For some reason the tracks from the 1972 show come before the 1966 show. While listening to the CD I failed to divine an explanation for this arrangement. My initial thought, on the basis of the mistaken belief that Vikings must, of course, be accompanied by violent, dynamic music was that the producers were going for a Holstean "Mars: Bringer of War" intro. The lie was put to that by the placid beginning strings of "The Last Vikings".
Having never seen either of these National Geographic specials it is difficult to judge their success as soundtracks. I can only guess based on my preconceived notions of the settings and topics. So perhaps my unease about Gold\'s laid back offerings is misplaced. Vikings are about raping and pillaging, right? Craggy fjords and craggier faces. Life thrown into sharp contrast amidst the forbidding reaches of icy, Baltic Sea tossed Scandinavian islands. The piccolo - and was that a harp? - in "A Warrior Past" doesn\'t match these mental images. The march feels more appropriate to a group of schoolboys making their way to the community pool. I don\'t know what kind of festival was on screen when "Ancient Festival" was being played but it sounds more like bingo parlor music than something that would accompany the raucous, drunken revelry of fearsome Vikings. The first half of "Shepherds (Original)" feels appropriately pastoral. You can imagine the National Geographic camera panning across the mountain vales of wherever. Then it suddenly breaks into monotonous strings that make you wonder if the shepherds have given up their idyllic life for a turn in the factories of Chaplin\'s Modern Times.
The problem isn\'t that any of this music is bad (okay, that change in "Shepherds (Original)" is a bit jarring); most of it is technically quite good with a strong, consistent theme. A little too consistent, perhaps. Most feature soundtracks offer a bit more variety than Gold is free to offer while backing a 22 minute TV documentary. But none of it feels fierce. I can\'t imagine burning down a village and raping sheep to this soundtrack.
The "Prologue" to "Dr. Leakey" promises a more boisterous set of tracks before slowing way down for "Dr. Lewis Leakey" (Wikipedia says his name is Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey) and "Leakey\'s Early Years". (He must have had a boring childhood to warrant such a lethargic track.) There are hints of subdued, percussive suspense (trapped in a cave while spelunking as a teenager?) before we\'re reassured once again by laconic strings. Once we enter the "Olduvai Gorge" the music slows to a delicate trickle. One can imagine a team of anthropologists carefully sifting dirt and painstakingly dusting some bit or bobble from Zinjanthropus.
Then something terribly exciting happens to cause "Bumper/Nairobi" to ascend instantly in a burst of horns which sets the stage of "African Wildlife" and "Stalking Lions". Old Australopithecus seems to have led a far more exciting life than the Vikings if these soundtracks are any guide.
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