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FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX – Marco Beltrami

December 17, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

flightofthephoenixOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Marco Beltrami, by popular consensus, has enjoyed the most fruitful year of his career in 2004. Having already written excellent sci-fi scores for Hellboy and I Robot, he finishes the year with a score for director John Moore’s re-make of the classic 1965 disaster thriller Flight of the Phoenix. The original was directed by Robert Aldrich, starred Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough, and featured a good score by Frank De Vol. The new version stars Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi and Miranda Otto, but the basic stories are the same: a group of contractors from an oil company are forced to make a crash landing in the Mongolian Gobi desert after the plane taking them home runs into a huge sandstorm. Hundreds of miles from civilization, and with virtually no hope of rescue, the disparate group of survivors are forced to put their trust in the least trustworthy member of the group – a mysterious and insecure man who claims to be an engineer, and who says he can rebuild their wrecked plane and return them safely home.

When Marco Beltrami first began his tentative steps into the world of film music, before he scored the Scream movies, he was a student of the late, great Jerry Goldsmith. In many ways, Beltrami’s score for Flight of the Phoenix, which was written after Goldsmith’s death in July, could be seen as a personal tribute to him. One can almost imagine Goldsmith writing this kind of powerful, angry, superbly intelligent dissonance for a sequel to The Planet of the Apes.

Cleverly illustrating the isolation and desperate circumstances of the protagonists, Beltrami’s score is an exercise in percussion: although he employs the use of a fully symphony orchestra throughout, he highlights the sharper side of their timbres. The strings sting the listener; the brasses give out sharp, stabbing calls of anguish and despair; the multitude of drums, rattles and ‘assorted ethnic instruments’ perform in varying degrees of volume and intensity, weaving an intricate web of percussive sounds and textures in and around the symphony set. It’s an intriguing way of setting a scene, and it works wonderfully well, creating an overall sensation of being lost and alone in an alien world. You may still be on Earth, but you’re a long, long way from home.

Cues such as the opening pair of “Elliot” and “Approaching Storm” feature a vast array of percussive sounds which combine to great, powerful effect. The mesmerizing “Heat Dream” and “Heat Stroke” are an exotic concoction of enticing ethnic vocals, electric guitars and modern pop beats which seeks to send the listener into a heady trance – the music is familiar and appealing, but somehow in context it has a quite psychedelic effect. The powerful and angry “Model Citizen” incorporates ragged brass performances and vaguely unsettling woodwind flutters into an action-tempo; and the thrilling “Wing Crash” and “Nomad Surprise” have some excellent, chaotic piano performances, moments of thunderous orchestral action, and a helter-skelter pace which adds a great deal of excitement to the end of the album.

The few moments of traditional warmth and appeal come during the lovely “Men Hugging”, and in the conclusive “Homeward”, which unfortunately gives away the film’s ending, but at least offers a sense of triumphant resolution as the hardy adventurers finally lift off into the wide blue yonder.

I have always been a fan of Marco Beltrami’s work in the past, and his three 2004 scores have given me plenty of reasons to be confident that his work will continue to impress me in future. Flight of the Phoenix is an exciting, intricate intelligently-constructed action-thriller score of the highest order which will surely appeal to anyone who has followed the development of his career. With standards this high, there is much to look forward to.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Elliot (3:00)
  • Approaching Storm (3:20)
  • Desert Funeral (1:27)
  • Frank’s Plea (2:41)
  • Electrical Storm (1:16)
  • They Can Deal (0:59)
  • Night One (2:31)
  • Heat Dream (4:22)
  • Elliot Counts on a Runway (0:51)
  • Nomad’s Alive (3:22)
  • Model Citizen (3:12)
  • Man Missing (1:16)
  • Heat Stroke (1:38)
  • Men Hugging (1:20)
  • Dangers of the Desert (1:29)
  • Day Labor (1:32)
  • Wing Crash (1:16)
  • Nomad Surprise (3:04)
  • Homeward (1:25)

Running Time: 40 minutes 05 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6628 (2004)

Music composed by Marco Beltrami. Conducted by Pete Anthony and Marco Beltrami. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Bill Boston, Jon Kull, Carlos Rodriguez, Marcus Trumpp and Ceiri Torjussen. Featured musical soloists Phil Ayling and Yorgos Adamis. Special vocal performances by Petra Hayden. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Bill Abbott. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Marco Beltrami.

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