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CATCH ME IF YOU CAN – John Williams

December 27, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

catchmeifyoucanOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Steven Spielberg and John Williams have been working together since 1974, when the then-young director hired Williams to score The Sugarland Express. Their subsequent creative collaboration has become near-legendary, spanning almost 20 movies in as many years. Catch Me If You Can, their latest offering, is something of a departure for both of them: a) because Spielberg has made his first “light hearted” movie since the lamentable 1941, and b) because John Williams has given it a jazz score. The film is based on the true life story of Frank Abagnale Jr, who in the 1960s became the youngest person to be placed on the FBI’s most wanted list after committing a series of elaborate confidence tricks. Leonardo Di Caprio stars as the eponymous Abagnale, oozing bravado and charisma, while all the while being shadowed but never quite outwitted by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks, in an unusually low-key and monochrome role). Christopher Walken co-stars as Abagnale’s father, with Martin Sheen and Jennifer “Alias” Garner in extended cameos.

Despite hinting at it in Sabrina a few years back, John Williams hasn’t written a proper jazz score probably since he funked up the main theme to The Eiger Sanction back in 1975. His earliest roots, when he was still known as “Johnny” and was writing for music for films like A Guide For The Married Man and How To Steal A Million, were firmly in the jazz world; in fact, it was not really until he scored The Reivers that he was able to shrug off his “light-music” shackles.

The main theme – such as it is – opens the score by way of a bubbling sax solo based on the merest of thematic fragments – a few notes here, a bass line there, a quick sax burst there. The motif gets a slightly more rousing performance later on during ‘The Flash Comics Clue’, and comes and goes in other guises here and there, but never really makes a true impression. In fact, the one thing, which mars Catch Me If You Can as a whole, is the same thing which stymied scores such as Stepmom and Always – the lack of a clearly definable and memorable main theme. Thematic brilliance has always been Williams’ bread and butter, and scores which eschew them in favor of more meandering material, as this one does, seem somehow lacking as a result. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the music as a composition: on the contrary, there are flashes of genius, especially when Dan Higgins’s saxophone solos come to the fore. It just seems as though there are things missing; that things are in some way unresolved, as though you expect it to burst forth into some majestic motif, and it never quite does.

Having said that, there are still a number of small phrases which repeat throughout the score and at least give it textural consistency. In addition to Higgins’s work, there is a three-note figure which gets thrown around the orchestra with gay abandon, most notably in the ‘The Float’ (a cue which enthralls and frustrates in equal measure due to its schizophrenic nature) and the gentle, child-like, montage-style ‘Learning the Ropes’. The concluding cue, ‘Catch Me If You Can – Reprise and End Credits’, brings together the majority of the score’s motifs in a decidedly upbeat fashion, providing a welcome antidote to the darker, introspective material that preceded it.

The obligatory concert piece – ‘Recollections’ – is based around the theme for Abagnale’s father, and turns out to be a slightly melancholy five-minute lament which emerges from a moody sax solo into a brooding full-orchestra piece with a wholly lovely string-led sequence half-way through. Its two in-film recapitulations, the engaging ‘Father and Son’ and the more somber ‘A Broken Home’, feature more of the enticing string work, and bringing a delicate solo piano performance into the mix. As one would expect, action plays little part in Catch Me If You Can, with only ‘The Airport Scene’ featuring any kind of orchestral tension, by way of a clever vibraphone-led ostinato.

The other thing that’s interesting about Catch Me If You Can is the number of subtle Williamsisms which permeate the music. Snippets from recent efforts such as Minority Report and the new Star Warses jockey for supremacy with echoes of older scores as diverse as Dracula, The Reivers, Jane Eyre and even Return of the Jedi and E.T. It’s not a case of self-copying of anything as strong as that – more a case of Williams having such a strong and recognizable style, his personality comes shining through.

Mostly, though, a lot of this score reminds me of Minority Report, especially with the way the orchestra bubbles and churns away through its phrases, and the way in which the orchestra often emits its music from its lowest registers. Instrumentally, it is different from Williams’ 2002 sci-fi score, with bass clarinets and other deep woodwinds taking the place of the thunderous brasses. Stylistically, though, the similarities are quite marked, with undulating rhythms giving it both a sense of motion and quiet menace.

A handful of period songs pad out the album – Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland and Dusty Springfield are the stuff of legend, while Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ubiquitous ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ always makes me think of those 1960s movies where groups of bronzed young men in unflattering bathing suits lounged beside enormous swimming pools, drinking unfeasibly large cocktails and planning their next sexual conquests.

Having already written music for Attack of the Clones and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002, it’s a wonder Williams even had time to pen this music, let alone make it this interesting. As a whole, Catch Me If You Can is more interesting that it is enjoyable – fans of his rousing action material may be disappointed with the generally low-key nature of the score, while those un-used to hearing the more jazzy material may be shocked to hear Mr. Star Wars writing lounge music. Nevertheless, there is still much to admire, with the saxophone performances standing proud as the piece-de-resistance.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Catch Me If You Can (2:41)
  • The Float (4:56)
  • Come Fly With Me (written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, performed by Frank Sinatra) (3:19)
  • Recollections (The Father’s Theme) (5:16)
  • The Airport Scene (2:26)
  • The Girl From Ipanema (written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Norman Gimbel, performed by Stan Getz and João Gilberto featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim) (5:15)
  • Learning the Ropes (8:44)
  • Father and Son (3:15)
  • Embraceable You (written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, performed by Judy Garland) (2:50)
  • The Flash Comics Clue (1:47)
  • Deadheading (2:25)
  • The Christmas Song (written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells, performed by Nat King Cole) (3:10)
  • A Broken Home (4:25)
  • Doctor, Lawyer, Lutheran (3:12)
  • The Look of Love (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by Dusty Springfield) (3:31)
  • Catch Me If You Can – Reprise and End Credits (5:14)

Running Time: 62 minutes 26 seconds

Dreamworks Records 0044-50410-2 (2002)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by John Neufeld. Featured musical soloists Dan Higgins and Alan Estes. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by John Williams.

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