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EVOLUTION – John Powell

evolutionOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Having never been particularly enamored with either of their individual works, I have often wondered just what kind of chemistry develops when Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell work together to enable them to write such charming and ebullient scores as Antz, Chicken Run and Shrek. I have also often wondered whose musical personality is the more dominant when it comes to these magnificent animation works – and now I think I know. Evolution, John Powell’s first major solo score since Face/Off and Forces of Nature, is a definite kissing cousin to the Dreamworks hits in terms of tone and style, and has more than changed my attitude of the Englishman as a composer in his own right.

Evolution, directed by Ivan “Ghostbusters” Reitman, is an action comedy set in modern day Arizona, and follows scientists Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and Harry Block (Orlando Jones), who discover a meteorite in the middle of the desert. Taking samples of the amoeba-like life forms which abound on the meteor’s surface, the scientists are astounded to observe the single-celled organisms rapidly evolving into complex – and rather vicious – alien life forms, which escape and begin to terrorize the small desert community of Glen Canyon. With the help of dim-witted trainee fireman Wayne (Seann William Scott) and klutzy military advisor Allison Reed (Julianne Moore), Ira and Harry set about finding away to stop the organisms – but will the Army, led by the pig-headed General Woodman (Ted Levine), cause more problems along the way?

The centerpiece of Powell’s score is the awesome heroic theme that accompanies the adventures of the central quartet as they go about finding an antidote to the alien evolutionary process. The score’s only drawback is that a fully-fleshed version of the theme does not appear until quite late in the album’s life. There are hints here and there – in the jaunty ‘Fruit Basket for Russell Woodman’ and the action track ‘The Mall Chase’ – but it is not until tracks 20 and 22, ‘The Fire Truck’ and ‘To Go Where No Man Has Gone Before’, that the theme really comes into its own. The final four cues are undoubtedly the highlights of the album, each one reveling in Powell’s knack for coupling a memorable melody with a bright and imaginative orchestral backing.

Powell’s action music for Evolution could not be further removed from that which he wrote for Face/Off back in 1997 – a critically acclaimed score to which I never warmed. Whereas Face/Off was all tight, electronic pulses, Evolution is open and spacious. In cues such as ‘The Water Hazard’, ‘Cutie Pie’, and the tremendously exciting set-pieces ‘The Mall Chase’ and ‘Monitors Out’, Powell gives his orchestra a great deal of room to breathe, filling the music full of delicious rhythms, a rapid pace, and a light, easy-going energy.

Powell conveys the sense of wonderment felt by the scientists about their discovery with some “magical” motifs in cues such as ‘The Forest’ and the beautiful ‘The Cave Waltz’, although parts of these are actually a little reminiscent of David Arnold’s motif for Godzilla from the film of the same name. In other cues, there is also a deep vein of country running through the music, presumably to illustrate the film’s modern rural western setting. Regular Thomas Newman collaborator George Doering contributes a series of guitar and saz solos – his efforts are especially evident in cues such as ‘In The Hall By The Pool’ and ‘The Army Arrives’.

Having written several lackluster efforts of late – including Just Visiting, the unreleased Chill Factor, and the upcoming Rat Race as a late replacement for Elmer Bernstein – one could be forgiven for thinking that John Powell’s career AWAY from his shared space with Harry Gregson-Williams was on a downward spiral. If Evolution is anything to go by, this is not the case. It has an incandescent spark of imagination which, when coupled with a tongue planted firmly in its cheek, results in an irresistible package. John Powell, despite being an established member of the Media Ventures brigade, has proved himself to be by far its freshest and most original voice.

As a side note, Evolution is the first new score to take advantage of a new payment system introduced by the American Federation of Musicians, whereby certain aspects of the dreaded re-use fee pay scale can be waived, allowing specialist record labels such as Varése Sarabande to release longer score CDs. As a by-product, the score for Evolution is listed as having been performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, and each orchestra member is listed in the accompanying booklet.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Meteor (0:53)
  • Cells Divide (1:23)
  • In the Hall by the Pool (1:42)
  • The Army Arrives (1:08)
  • The Ira Kane? (1:12)
  • Fruit Basket for Russell Woodman (0:44)
  • The Water Hazard (0:46)
  • Burgled (1:14)
  • The Forest (2:11)
  • The Cave Waltz (1:02)
  • Blue Fly (1:27)
  • Cutie Pie (2:18)
  • Animal Attack (1:10)
  • Dino Valley (2:04)
  • The Mall Chase (4:32)
  • Monitors Out (2:40)
  • Room for One More (1:28)
  • Fire (0:42)
  • Selenium (1:08)
  • The Fire Truck (2:29)
  • The Amoeba Emerges (2:14)
  • To Go Where No Man Has Gone Before (3:28)
  • Our Heroes (2:22)

Running Time: 40 minutes 17 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6256 (2001)

Music composed by John Powell. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony. Additional music by Gavin Greenaway and James McKee Smith. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Suzette Moriarty, Ladd McIntosh, Walter Fowler and Elizabeth Finch. Featured musical soloists George Doering and Mike Fisher. Recorded and mixed by Alan Myerson. Edited by Bunny Andrews. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by John Powell.

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