Pick Of The Week

[Pick Of The Week - The Omen Trilogy - by Jerry Goldsmith]

When Roman Polanski's film Rosemary's Baby was released in 1968, the floodgates were opened, and Satan became a major draw at the box office. Thanks to this film, numerous derivative films began to hit the screen at this time, and at least two made a major impact on American cinema. The first was William Friedkin's The Exorcist from 1973, which broke box-office records, and had audiences lining up for blocks. The second was Richard Donner's The Omen, which featured a landmark score by Jerry Goldsmith, and arguably set the standard for mainstream horror. Varese Sarabande has finally issued an expanded recording, marking the 25th Anniversary of the film's release. As a whole, the score can be looked at as an aural inkblot. During one listen, you may hear a tragic love story, which grows more and more desperate, as each cue progresses. Another time, you may find a Gothic orchestral and choral work, shot through with intense rhythms and chill-inducing choral passages. No matter how you look at it, the score is a classic, and thanks to Varese this recording offers an additional 15 minutes never before released, thorough track-by-track liner notes by Robert Townson, and incredibly improved sound.

"Ave Satani" opens the trilogy in a dark tonality right away, with the love theme (piano) quoted edgily against chorus, signifying the struggle between light and dark that will characterize the trilogy. The next cue is also the first previously unreleased piece, "On This Night". Here, Goldsmith introduces a sad 6-note motif in the strings, which will be heard throughout the score in many guises, and is usually associated with the anguish felt by Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck). The love theme closes out the cue, heard on piano, and is continued throughout "The New Ambassador".  "Where Is He?" reminds us this is a horror film, with chilled string and flute glissandi, which flourish into the love theme in high strings. This is a wonderful, yet brief, piece that was sadly missed the first time on CD. "I Was There", another newly issued cue, expands the "anguish" motif, into a 7-note dirge for low strings, winds, and bells for the scene where Thorn is informed of the truth surrounding his son's birth. "Broken Vows" is a highlight of the new cues, and was amazingly missed on the initial recordings of the score. This plays during the scene where Damien panics while his parents take him to church. The escalating rhythm of low piano's, scraper sticks, bass marimba and low strings, gives way to a full choral outburst, before fading into a fizzle of organ. "Safari Park" has been expanded to include the baboon attack music, which was also missed on other recordings. Essentially the same music as "Broken Vows", the attack rhythm from that cue is reprised here, yet the chorus is given a larger part, climaxing in a frenzied reading of the Latin lyrics by the chorus.

"A Doctor, Please", "The Killer Storm", "The Fall", and "Don't Let Him" follow, as they did on the original recording, although it should be noted that Varese has corrected the sequence to follow that of the film. The next new cue, "The Day He Died", opens with an ominous variant of the love theme, heard on timpani, piano, and sliding bass strings, furthering the sinister atmosphere as Jennings (David Warner) predicts his own fate. "The Dogs Attack" and "A Sad Message" offer alternate moments of terror and heartbreak, while "Beheaded" contains the previously unreleased scoring of Jennings' fate, with a crashing reading of the choral theme, which segues to dark strings, and a rare moment of repose from the chorus. "The Bed" was previously combined with "A Doctor, Please" to form "The Homecoming" on the original CD, and this cue offers one of the most emotional moments of the score. Flute and harp glissandi lead to the love theme on piano, heard against high trilling violins, signaling the measure of tragedy the story has taken. "666" is the final new cue, sounding a brief stab of strings and moaning winds, culminating in a shriek of flute and vibes, for the scene where Thorn discovers his son is the Antichrist."The Demise of Mrs. Blaylock" follows immediately, and this famous horror cue has never sounded better, sonically, with a terrific balance of rhythmic orchestra, high violins, blistering brass, and whispering chorus. "The Altar" brings the score proper to a close, although sadly the alternate take is all that exists, with the film version reportedly lost. The second half of the cue contains the actual main title, a shorter rendition of "Ave Satani". "The Piper Dreams", sung by Carol Goldsmith closes the album. Although the vocal still sounds as if it was recorded with far too much reverb, it closes the album nicely, shifting the focus onto the love material.

Longtime fans of the composer will find this new release infinitely improved over the original Varese CD. Previously, The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus sounded more like a chamber group, thanks to miking that was a bit too tight and somewhat restrictive of the forces the composer assembled. Here, it almost sounds as if the composer was allowed to return to Abbey Road in 1976 and record the score anew.  While the score may not be to everyone's taste, it's hard not to react to the emotions on display, and The Omen is easily one of the most effective horror film scores ever created. Kudos to Varese Sarabande for recognizing this landmark piece of film music history.

Damien: Omen 2, released by Fox in 1978, picks up seven years after the conclusion of the first film, and covers the young adult years of Damien and the discovery of his true identity. This film lays down the template for the films to come, advancing the plot (and Damien's rise to power), and assuring that all who get in his way are quickly and gruesomely slain. By sequel standards, the film is quite good, and falls somewhere between the classic first film, and the deplorable third film. William Holden and Lee Grant are good as Damien's uncle and aunt, yet one can't help but think they were cast solely due to a resemblance to the Gregory Peck and Lee Remick characters of the first film, both in appearance and performance. The film also tends to follow the original, in regards to the ending as well, which comes rather abruptly. Don Taylor's direction is somewhat by the numbers as well, pushing the action from one set piece to another, constantly telegraphing any shocks to come.

After releasing expanded editions of the first and last scores in the Omen trilogy, Varese Sarabande happily recovered the master tapes for Damien: Omen 2 in September 2001, just weeks after the first and last albums of the trilogy were released. Held by many fans as the best recording of the trilogy, the score is certainly the most action-oriented of the trio, a frenzied black mass with the large chorus in use on most cues. Previous releases consisted of a completely rethought re-recording, performed in London by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Lionel Newman.

The film tracks (recorded at 20th Century Fox, and again conducted by Lionel Newman), are significantly different than the London recording, both in terms of mixing and organization, yet not in content. In fact there is only 1:47 of previously unreleased music to this recording, the short "Aunt Marion's Visitor" and "Snowmobiles", one of the highlights of the album. This cue has been long sought after by fans, and while it fits nowhere into the trilogy, in terms of tone, it is a terrific pastoral cue, with a pulsing bass and string line that amusingly brings to mind the composer's finale from The Trouble With Angels! In what is possibly the second time this has been done with a soundtrack album (the other example that comes to mind is Film Score Monthly's issue of 100 Rifles again by Jerry Goldsmith), the London re-recording is showcased here, coupled with the world premiere release of the film tracks recorded in LA.

The differences are numerous on the remastered re-recording, including woodwinds that were previously unheard ("Claws"), several instances of the chorus and electronics ('The Knife') mixed differently. Many have stated to prefer the initial issue of these tracks, released on CD by Silva Screen in the late 1980's to the Varese re-mix heard here, although both appear to be a valid representation of the score. The orchestra is given a fuller rendering on the Varese issue, and the sound does not appear to have dated whatsoever. In many cues, the orchestral tracks have a "punchiness" that was lacking before, and while many will complain of the artistic license Varese may have taken with remixing the chorus, this recording has a fullness that seemed to be lacking before. Only one cue has notable distortion ("The Boy Has To Die"), although considering the tapes were releasable in the first place, this is a minor flaw.

The film tracks of the score feature numerous subtle differences, such as a more powerful organ presence (the same grand pipe organ at the Fox Studios that has been used on many classic scores), different performances in the electronics, and different phrasing and performance by the chorus. The cues are also broken up from the longer suites created for the re-recording, which also changes the listening experience somewhat. For longtime fans, it is the best of both worlds.

The music itself is relentless, and offers no love theme as heard in The Omen, and no cues of religioso beauty as heard in The Final Conflict. The score is single minded in its portrayal of evil, never losing sight of its purpose, and never allowing the demonic chorus a moment of respite. The only soft cues to be found are shot through with a dose of impressionistic unease ("Thoughtful Night" and "I Love You Mark"). As a whole the score caters well to the teenaged years of Damien, holding back the adult depth of character that will be explored in the third film.

Of course any arguments such as the above are moot, since Goldsmith fans will surely need to hear all sides of the score, and longtime supporters of this score will not want to be without this recording. Robert Townson's terrific track-by-track liner notes cover the film, placement of the cues, a brief history of the recording, and specifies which cues were combined for the re-recoding, and which cue from the film tracks corresponds to the re-recording. Minor controversy aside, this album, like the other Varese Deluxe Editions is a must have.

1981 saw the release of Graham Baker's The Final Conflict in what may have been the quickest turnaround for a film trilogy. Within five years, the blockbuster Fox trilogy had come and gone, and while the third film ended the series on a less-than-epic note, Jerry Goldsmith's score has been hailed as one of his masterpieces. Further additions to the series (in the form of a laughable telefilm) did not exactly further any hope for the series either. The finale of the third film feels rushed and tacked on, as if the filmmakers either ran out of money, or couldn't come up with anything substantial to close the film, while the main plotline is straight from the Ten Little Indians school of filmmaking. On the plus side, there are several above-average set pieces, a very good performance by Sam Neill as Damien Thorn, and of course, Jerry Goldsmith's sublime score.  Curiously, Goldsmith continues to perform the renowned theme of the first film in concert, yet a well thought out concert suite of this score would be even better, and could properly showcase the maestro's talent in the epic arena.

Varese Sarabande pleased many fans when it was announced this would be reissued with remastered sound, and this new deluxe edition will not disappoint. The opening statement of Thorn's theme, heard on french horns, now roars forth from the speakers, gripping the listener right away. The initial recording, overseen by Len Engel, was distant, pinched, and murky. Everything is now balanced properly, with the electronics distributed better than before, and other elements, such as piano and winds making appearances that were missed previously. Goldsmith embarked on making each successive score larger than that which came before, and for this film he uses the largest assembly of The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus to date, another facet of this album heretofore unheard.

The album also adds two new cues, and an additional 4:52 to the finale, totaling 12:03. "The Statue" is a chilling piece for bells and strings, which plays off the same atmosphere heard in Poltergeist. While this cue is nothing terribly exciting, it does play under a key monologue by Thorn in the film, and is welcome on this new recording. "666" opens with the cathedral bells, heard throughout the score, leading into more linear suspense scoring for strings. A quietly chilling piece, this is heard during the scene where Kate discovers the number of the beast on Thorn's head. Again, some of the string phrasing looks ahead to Poltergeist, and this cue is a worthy addition to the album. The added music to the finale consists mostly of transparent strings, bells, and the requisite shock effects, although the main theme is given a heavy, dirge-like reading that erupts into a blast of French horns. The best attribute of this new music is the long drone heard in violins, which builds unbearably into the glorious finale. By postponing this music for this period, it strengthens its eventual arrival, and makes an already powerful piece all the more so.

For longtime fans of the composer, this album is a must have, and may very well be the best Goldsmith album of last year. For those unfamiliar with the score, this is a great place to hear the composer writing large-scale orchestral/choral action ("The Ambassador, "The Blooding"), one of his most energetic scherzos ever ("The Hunt"), somber chamber-scaled atmosphere ("The Monastery", "Parted Hair") and one of the most magnificent finales of the art form ("The Final Conflict").

Varese's deluxe edition contains a terrific ten-page booklet of notes by Robert Townson, along with some color photos of the film. For the remastered sound, Erick Labson and Michael McDonald have outdone themselves, opening up this epic work into something that will sound new, even to those of us who have heard the original many times. A must for Goldsmith fans, this is one of the few 'epics' in the horror genre, and the closest Goldsmith has come to writing something of biblical proportions. While many clamored for an Omen box set when Fox released a 4cd box of Star Wars music in 1993, this is the next best thing. All three albums have wonderful liner notes, a cohesive art and color scheme, full-bodied sound, and extra tracks. The only complaint one could have is the lack of an explanation for several cues missing from The Omen and The Final Conflict, since The Omen laserdisc released in 1995 featured a gorgeous isolated score in stereo. All in all, a wonderful trio from Varese, essential listening for film score fans.