Review: Duellists / The Riddle of the Sands, The
3.5 / 5 Stars
Ridley Scott's first feature as a director was 1977's The Duelists, a moody piece of filmmaking about two French officers in Napoleon's army squaring off against one another over a twenty year period. Having previously worked with Blake on a few commercials, Scott chose him to score his period tale. The result was an underrated score that is finally getting its due on this new promo CD.
Building on a melancholy-tinged main theme, Blake constructed a score that is the antithesis of a sweeping epic. The conflicts here are personal, and Blake's score possesses that feeling throughout. While there are brief moments of pomp and circumstance, most of the music underscores the small scale battle between these two men. Wind and strings are the instruments of choice in building the main theme and are used to excellent effect in drawing out the suspense during the many duels. There are also tracks that are somewhat reminiscent of the few playful cues in Dangerous Liaisons, a score that comes to mind when listening to this one.
While The Duelists broods in its cold climate warfare, The Riddle of the Sands (1979) occupies the other end of the spectrum, both storywise and musically. A tale of spies and the high seas in the early 1900's, Blake's score is full of rousing adventure music. A chorus-filled main theme sets the mood for what follows. Big and methodically paced, the music immediately brings to mind images of boats being tossed around by huge waves with men fighting against the elements. The main theme is infused throughout the score in different variations. A wise move on Blake's part as the theme is very catchy and has a certain heroic lyricism. Quietly sinister pieces alternate with pizzicatos and military snares in underscoring the drama. The music is very much in the vein of Basil Poledouris' war movie scores (Red Dawn, Hunt for Red October, Farewell to the King).
With two excellent scores back to back, it's odd that Howard Blake didn't move on to become a more prolific composer. His scores have a very classical feel and would make him an excellent choice in scoring even modern epics a la Poledouris. Be that as it may, Airstrip One has done a top-notch job in bringing these two underrated scores to light. The sound quality is good, as are the informative liner notes. Fans of classical adventures will definitely want to add this their music collection.
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