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3CDs: Space - Above and Beyond (1995)
Review Rating:   Excellent
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November 15, 2011

Tracks / Album Length:

CD1: 32 tracks / (77:15)
CD2: 37 tracks / (76:44)
CD3: 41 tracks / (78:01)


Composer: Shirley Walker

Special Notes:

30-page colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 3,000 copies.

Comments :    

After being part of the primary creative team with Chris Carter’s The X Files, Glen Morgan and James Wong leapt at the chance to create a lengthy episodic sci-fi series that in 1995 was perhaps ahead of its time for TV, in terms of scope, production values, and mandating the big screen sound of a full orchestral score with slight synth material. Fox bought the series and gave it plenty of publicity during the run of X Files, but the ambitious show didn’t seem to click enough with genre audiences, and as was the case with a network known for its impatience with under-performers, Fox axed the series after one year, sending Morgan and Wong back to the X Files where they continues to explore weird & disturbing occult stories.

My lingering impression of the series is disappointment, mostly from familiar characters, mediocre acting, and a strange sense of gravitas that left no room for even the slightest warmth, let along sense of humour. The actors were strapped into full-blown gravitas, and Walker’s score appropriately captured the dire circumstances of a human colony fighting off aliens through the sacrifices of valiant marines.

It may have been the point, but Fox’s hyping made it seem the continuity of former X Files talent would offer a similar variety of tone, and that shock may have contributed to the show’s tough attempts to find its rightful audience.

However, a key component to the show was Walker’s tight little theme which, in its full incarnation worked like a classic heroic theme from a sixties war film. Walker retooled the theme for a more strident militaristic march, and whether it was the showrunners’ intention, the heavy use of the march gave the scenes in every episode an unwavering sense of urgency. The downside, though, was an often maniacal repetition that certainly made the pilot feel overbearing, as though its makers wanted very hard to impart to viewers what they watching was Serious Drama, not pulp, and every ad break was bookended by a short theme bumper. (In addition to a synthesized theme demo, CD3 also features selections of the bumper music.)

In practice, Wong and Morgan went overboard, beating audiences with Walker’s theme in each episode, but for those who stuck around long enough, there were moments when Walker had almost free reign to focus on story, perhaps figuring by later episodes there was less of a need to restate the obvious; people either got the characters, or they didn’t, and the writers were taking risks with unique character arcs.

La-La Land’s 3-disc set fills a major void in Walker’s available C.V. by carefully selecting cues from multiple episodes, and unsurprisingly, the first CD is heavily aimed at the series’ main theme and variation, featuring straight statements and action renditions with brass, snare drum, and lovely brass writing.

Disc 1 will please fans that have been hungering for the pilot’s score, but those initially turned off by the show’s repetitive music will be surprised by the moody suites neatly arranged on Discs 2 and 3.

In place of cyclical militaristic material, CD 2 features brooding, low-key underscore and more slowly-drawn action cues, as in the suite from “Mutiny,” capped with a moving, almost elegiac finale that’s notable for the power Walker impresses using simplicity – lovely harmony, a kind of dead weight percussion at the end, and high register strings and woodwinds that rise above the orchestra for an appropriately brief period.

That suite is indicative of Walker’s gift for knowing exactly how much pity, heroism, and tragedy to score before stepping back, and it also allowed her to replay her militaristic theme in more intriguing arrangements, shifting the colour of brass in the “Ray Butts” suite, or giving it scorching desperation using high register strings and trumpets at the beginning of “Stay with the Dead” - the set’s most tender suite, and arguably the series’ best scored episode.

CD3 features slightly more robust suites – the tender and strangely regal couplet of “The Angriest Angel” and “Toy Soldiers” are highlights - but the reason the set (even CD1) deserve repeated listening is the quality of Walker’s writing. She was a superb orchestrator, adept at taking any theme and crafting myriad variations that met a scene’s dramatic pitch without err, be it the Batman animated films and TV series (all blessed with really fun scores) or The Flash, where she played with big sounds in orchestra and big band jazz.

Jeff Bond’s extensive liner notes pay appropriate tribute to Walker (who died in 2006. after scoring Glen Morgan’s rubbish Black Christmas re-imagining), and although she comparatively scored far less films than TV series, she left a substantive body of work that never fails to impress. La-La Land’s set features around 4 hours of music, and the mastering shows off the fine subtleties in Walker’s precision orchestrations.

Walker’s work in TV spanned a solid 25+ years, and includes regular stints on Falcon Crest (1984-1989), The Flash (1990-1991), Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), The Others (2000), and Batman Beyond (199-2001).


© 2012 Mark R. Hasan

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