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THE AVIATOR – Dominic Frontiere

February 20, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

theaviator-frontiereTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I would wager than 99% of the people reading this didn’t know that there was a film called The Aviator released 19 years prior to the Oscar-winning Howard Hughes biopic directed by Martin Scorsese – but there was, and this is it. The film is a period action adventure directed by George Miller – not the famous director of Mad Max and The Witches of Eastwick, but the less famous George Miller who directed The Neverending Story Part II and that movie about a seal called Andre. It stars Christopher Reeve as Edgar Anscombe, a rough and ready pilot working for the postal service in the 1920s, who reluctantly agrees to take a passenger, a rich heiress’s daughter named Tillie Hansen played by Rosanna Arquette, on his latest run. Naturally, the plane crash lands on a remote mountain range in Nevada, and the pair must fight to survive against the elements, most notably a pack of hungry wolves that sees them as their next meal.

The score for The Aviator is by Italian-American composer and conductor Dominic Frontiere, whose name is likely to be unfamiliar to a lot of readers. Despite his relative obscurity today, Frontiere had a full and long career: he was the head of Paramount’s music department during the 1970s, won a Golden Globe for his score for The Stunt Man in 1980, and wrote the music for such successful and popular films as Hang ‘Em High in 1968, Chisum in 1970, On Any Sunday in 1971, Brannigan in 1975, and Color of Night in 1994, as well as numerous episodes of shows like The Outer Limits and The Rat Patrol. A lot of his music was rooted in his first love, jazz, but he also had a keen orchestral sensibility, and on occasion his films allowed him to showcase his talent for writing music with a rich, symphonic sweep. Such is the case with The Aviator.

As one might expect for a film which deals with the freedom of flight, and the rugged landscape of Nevada, the score is anchored by a rousing main theme, subtitled “Here We Go,” which soars and swoops and matches the movement of the vintage biplane that Reeve pilots in the film. The theme is present in much of the score; cues like “The Crash” and “Our Luck Is Changing” feature it strongly, with unashamed romanticism and a nostalgic flavor of Old Hollywood, but Frontiere also cleverly allows his theme to play in counterpoint to some of the score’s more dramatic and tension-filled sequences, notably “The Forest,” “Air Terminal,” “Locked Pistol,” and especially “Old Man,” where the theme is superbly juxtaposed against energetic percussive textures and fast rhythms for strings.

Some of the action sequences are thrilling; the second half of “The Crash,” for example, features staccato string pulses, flaring horns, urgent percussion rhythms, swirling circular writing with descending scales, and a sense of breathless panic as Edgar struggles – and ultimately fails – to keep his plane in the air. Later, more dangerous-sounding textures dominate cues like “The Wolf Pack,” which throbs with more insistent tribal percussion, and introduces the brutal motif for dissonant brass that signifies the ever-present threat of lupine attack in later cues like “What You Need”.

The action is occasionally punctuated by swooning, vaguely comedic-sounding string writing, rich with Alfred Newman-esque vibrato and mischievous spirit, which speaks to the reluctant relationship that develops between Edgar and Tillie in cues like “Real Prize”. Their relationship becomes more clearly romantic in the lovely woodwind-led “Saw the Fire,” yet another throwback to the Golden Age of film music when composers were not afraid to heighten scenes with music that spoke directly to the characters’ emotions. The romantic scoring culminates in the lovely ‘The Cabin,” in which the two mismatched adventurers finally admit their feelings for one another. This segues into a wonderfully bold final statement of the main theme for the full orchestra in the “End Credits”.

The score for The Aviator was released as an LP by Varèse Sarabande in 1985, to coincide with the release of the film, but it never saw the light of day on CD until 22 years later, when producer Ford A. Thaxton and La-La Land Records released it, coupled with ten tracks from Frontiere’s score for the Clint Eastwood vehicle Hang ‘Em High, and a couple of bonus cues from his score for the 1970 western Barquero. As much as Hang ‘Em High and Barquero are worthy scores, The Aviator is the true gem: while its main theme may not be as famous as some of its contemporaries, it contains a similar bold spirit as other such period ‘flying adventure’ films as High Road to China or The Edge, and deserves to be more widely known by the film music community at large. The curious should begin their Dominic Frontiere collections right here.

Buy the Aviator soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Aviator Theme (Here We Go) (3:52)
  • Crash/Main Title (4:07)
  • Still With You (2:26)
  • The Crash (3:33)
  • The Forest (1:32)
  • Real Prize (1:09)
  • Saw the Fire (3:37)
  • Air Terminal (1:53)
  • Rabbit Hunt (1:34)
  • The Wolf Pack (1:03)
  • What You Need (1:53)
  • That’s Capital Peak (1:18)
  • Our Luck is Changing (1:41)
  • Have To Pee/Relief (2:06)
  • Locked Pistol (1:06)
  • Pole Wires/Old Man #1 (2:03)
  • Old Man #2 (2:53)
  • The Cabin (1:44)
  • End Credits (3:19)
  • Note: This release also features 10 cues (totaling 29 minutes 8 seconds) from “Hang ‘Em High” and 2 cues (totaling 6 minutes 8 seconds) from “Barquero”

Running Time: 43 minutes 26 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1053 (1985/2007)

Music composed and conducted by Dominic Frontiere. Performed by The Graunke Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by by Herbert W. Spencer and Jack Hayes. Edited by Rocky Moriana. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton and Dominic Frontiere.

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