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NEXT – Mark Isham

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

For all the great scores Mark Isham has written in his career – and he has written some great scores – the one thing he’s never really been very good at is action/adventure and science fiction. It’s not for the lack of trying. Prior to sitting down to write this review, I revisited some of Isham’s earlier efforts in the genre to try to get a flavor for his action style, and much to my surprise I found that he doesn’t really have one. His 1994 effort Timecop is probably the best of the bunch, containing some actually quite hard-hitting brass action moments, but as far as scores like Blade and The Net are concerned the one overarching sensation one gets from the score is that of “listlessness”. The scores don’t really do anything memorable, never retain any prominent stylistics, and certainly don’t make you sit up and wish Isham would be hired for the next major action movie. Next, unfortunately, is more of the same.

Next is the latest in a series of films which fit in the sub-sub-sub genre of “time-travel thrillers”. Directed by Lee Tamahori, it stars Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson, who has a special ability that makes him unique – he can see up to two minutes into own his future. Clearly, a man with that kind of power does what any self-respecting person would do: he moves to Las Vegas to fleece casinos out of money. However, Cris’s happy-go-lucky lifestyle is tormented by a secret – while he cannot see more than two minutes ahead into how own life, he sees the whole life of one other person: Liz (Jessica Biel), a young woman he has never met. Meanwhile, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) is tracking Cris – having discovered his true nature, she solicits his help to foil a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. The film, which is based on the short story ‘The Golden Man’ by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, also stars Thomas Kretschmann, Tory Kittles, Jose Zuniga and Jim Beaver.

Isham’s approach to scoring next is firmly rooted in his genre styles, and is made up mainly of low-key orchestral stylings and electronic textures, which occasionally rise to accompany the action sequences. Despite being performed by a large cadre of members of the AFM Hollywood Studio Symphony orchestra, it’s an unexpectedly low-key action score which never truly engages the listener or raises pulse much beyond its resting state.

The opening cue, “8:09” is deceptively subtle, featuring a soft, almost dream-like piano motif accompanied by both synth and acoustic string washes, resulting in a quite lovely cue which sounds more like something Thomas Newman would write than Isham’s usual sound. This is clearly the theme for the ‘interpersonal, searching for answers’ aspect of Cris’s life, and it reappears in “Destiny”, at the beginning of “Carlotti Defines” and “Multiple Point Surveillance”, and during the finale cue, “I Believe Anything’s Possible”, giving the album a brief chance to catch its breath in between the more heightened moments.

The numerous action and suspense moments generally move along at a decent pace, jittery syncopated string textures accompanied by nervous, ticking percussion and unobtrusive, but nevertheless clearly noticeable drum loops to add depth and bass. Cues like “Give Me Two Minutes”, “Pier 18”, “Second and Broadway” and “A Show of Character” rattle along at a fair old click, but it’s the lack of real innovation in the writing these cues which is most disappointing. With a couple of exceptions (like “Breaking News”), and discounting some occasionally impressive brass performances, they sound like the kind of thing one of Hans Zimmer’s less talented assistants would concoct, having finally been given their first shot at a major movie. Isham has shown on multiple occasions that he can write exceptional action music – one need look no further than parts of The Black Dahlia last year – but his efforts on Next seem tired, workmanlike and predictable.

The hints of a main theme appear in “A Few Minutes of Your Time”, a mystery-shrouded piano melody which weaves its way in and around and through the electronic embellishments, as if trying to confirm that this very high-concept story still has a human core. It’s action-setting recapitulation in “Shadow Group” is a nice thought, but unfortunately whatever intelligent thinking went into its creation is overshadowed by the general blandness of the action material itself.

I really want Mark Isham to write a memorable, successful sci-fi action score which finally cements the credentials he has hinted at in other works, but has never truly embraced in his more prominent scores in the genre. It’s just so frustrating to hear what he can do elsewhere, only for him to restrain himself so much on a film where one might expect him to unleash the forces fully. Sadly, Next is not his action magnum opus; but there’s always the next score after that. And the next… and the next… and the next.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • 8:09 (2:10)
  • Give Me Two Minutes (3:19)
  • Destiny (2:07)
  • Pier 18 (3:37)
  • Carlotti Defines (2:50)
  • A Few Minutes of Your Time (3:19)
  • Multiple Point Surveillance (2:34)
  • Who Knows What’s Safe (4:04)
  • Breaking News (4:08)
  • Second and Broadway (2:44)
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (2:06)
  • Looking for a License Plate (2:09)
  • Shadow Group (2:04)
  • All Elements Execute! (2:05)
  • A Show of Character (3:39)
  • I Believe Anything’s Possible (3:41)

Running Time: 46 minutes 29 seconds

Lakeshore LKS-339192 (2007)

Music composed by Mark Isham. Conducted by Mike Nowak. Orchestrations by Nan Schwartz Mishkin, Erik Lundborg, Jeffrey Schindler and Clifford J. Tasner. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Robb Boyd. Album produced by Mark Isham.

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