After snagging an Oscar for Chariots of Fire (1981), Hugh Hudson moved on to direct a film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic novel about the famous wild child who grew up with jungle animals, and had a rather awkward fling with snotty British folks and full-body fabrics.
Visually, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is stunning, and its regal scope is matched by John Scott’s orchestral score in which the composer interweaves Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in Ab Major, op. 55, and his own elegant theme for the ape man.
In 1984, Scott was moving into his peak feature film career, finally breaking away from (guilty pleasure) dreck like Inseminoid (1981), and free to indulge his gift for lyrical, large-scale orchestral writing in big budget productions that were partially spurned by the success of companies like Britain’s Goldcrest Films, makers of Chariots.
This production surge after a 10+ year downslide once again showed the high level of musical talent that lay untapped and underused in England, and Scott’s score was rightly cited as one of the film’s biggest assets.
The original soundtrack album was typical for the era – a few hairs about 35 mins. – and it is unfortunate that La-La Land’s producers weren’t able to find traces from the original recording sessions. It’s the same irony wall that befell the CD producers of Bill Conti’s The Right Stuff (1983), Carl Davis’ King David (1985) and John Corigliano music for Hudson’s next film, Revolution (1985) – three films with similarly large budgets.
Nevertheless, Scott’s music in the original album form offered an expert balance of themes. Most cues tend to hover around 2 mins., and there’s a sharp economy to the full thematic statement in the opening “The Family,” and more abstract variations in tense cues such as “Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” where brass fanfares and a snare drum duke it out with the strings’ own efforts to restate small thematic portions. The cue’s expedient denouement is particularly moving for the giant sonic waves Scott creates as theme portions struggle amid circular patterns.
The longer “Edge of the World” offers some stellar brass colorations and displays Scott’s versatility in crafting beautifully rich melodies and modernistic, clamorous cues where every coarse subtlety gleams due the score’s rich engineering. Within Greystoke, the strings represent stability, love, and loneliness, whereas brass seem to cascade and pierce moments of lyrical beauty with precision assaults. Scott also plays with the rival factions as Tarzan attempts to integrate into an alien, less primeval world.
Contrasting Scott’s own main theme is the Elgar extract (“Greystoke”) which symbolizes the stately grandeur of old English money and subdued ostentatiousness, and there’s a brief chanson (“Chanson de matin”) and a traditional polka that balance the album’s seismic orchestral conflicts.
The album comes to a close with the exquisite “Dance of Death,” where Scott’s spiraling, high register strings are set to a waltz rhythm, and deep brass that blossom from furtive to assaultive 5-beat figures. The cue closes with agitated strings and malevolent low tones which blend with modernistic brass harmonies.
The engineering of the original Warner Bros. LP made it an ideal record to test the stereo system (much in the way of Scott’s other masterwork, 1988’s The Deceivers). La-La Land’s mastering preserves the brilliance of the original alum, and the CD’s length has been slightly augmented with a brief “Overture” (a shorter variation of “The Family” cue) and “End Credit” music taken from the extended director’s edition, released on DVD.
Accompanying the CD are Jeff Bond’s liner notes and cue breakdowns, and colour stills which illustrate the studio’s substantive expenses on director Hudson’s epic and Christopher Lambert’s American film debut.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan