Thursday, June 08, 2006

HIGH NOTES: The Hunt for Red October

As I sat down to write this entry, I was startled to realize that the score to “The Hunt for Red October” and I possibly have more of a history than I do with any other score (with the exception of “Star Wars”).

The music first found its way into my collection in 1990 as a cassette copy gifted to me by a co-worker when I was in high school. What prompted this, I can’t quite recall, but my first listen didn’t impress me, and the cassette was promptly forgotten. Sometime later, as I was in college, I bought a copy of the score on CD on a whim. What prompted that, I also cannot recall, save I was hungry for new music. This time, I loved it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, that when I finally remembered having a cassette copy, I assumed the cassette must have been of different music. Not so. The music was the same; I suppose my tastes had simply matured.

This CD stands out for several reasons. For starters, while we’re treated to ten tracks, only two of them run longer than four minutes. Even stranger, another pair of tracks don’t break the one minute mark! As a total, the CD barely makes it past thirty minutes, making it perhaps the shortest movie score in my collection, beating out my disc to “Blade II: Bloodlust” which clocks in just under thirty-four minutes. Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about this score is that I’ve never bought anything else by its composer Basil Poledouris. My movie tastes just don’t seem to run along the same tracks as his films.

Given his name, you might think Poledouris some European composer imported by Hollywood. I know I certainly did, but this guy was born in Kansas City of all places. He’s never quite garnered the same recognition as composers such as James Horner or Hans Zimmer, but he’s marked his own place within film music and with a rather diverse set of films. He’s scored “The Blue Lagoon,” “Robocop,” “Lonesome Dove” and even “Starship Troopers,” but his most renowned work was probably for “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Hunt for Red October.”

Enough about the composer, let’s discuss the music. As wide as the composer’s musical history is, “The Hunt for Red October” offers us just as diverse a score. He successfully draws on traditional elements, such as a male choir within “Hymn to Red October,” and synthesized percussion which dominates the final track, aptly named “Kaboom!!!” The music is both somber and fun, and I’m amazed at how Poledouris accomplishes it.

Perhaps my only gripe is the quality of the CD. I’m not so much bothered by the length, as I am the sound of these tracks. Often, a piece of music will be recorded a bit differently for the CD as compared to the film version. A good example of this is “Two Wives” which accompanies one of the most intense moments in the film as the Soviet Red October performs an unexpected course correction, unknowingly risking a collision with the American submarine USS Dallas. The film version of this piece is much more intense where as the CD version is more of a lovely, contemplative melody.

Other Scores by Basil Poledouris:

At some point in the past few years, I actually got rid of this CD, because I just wasn’t listening to it that much. Within the past year, I bought it again. In hindsight, getting rid of it the first time was stupid. I think I listen to it very little because I so associate it with one of my past writing efforts. Back in college, I started a book with the working title The Bear & the Serpent. I intended it as a story told within three time periods that eventually intersect in a place where several factions of Hell’s demons meet in battle… a civil war of the damned, you might say. I wrote as much as 17,000 words before stopping, and I’ve never found the right time to go back and finish it. At the time, I felt it some of my strongest writing (a sentiment I doubt I would have for it now). For this story, I went so far as to do research, learning what I could about 11th Century Scotland and the time of Shakespeare within the rule of James I. This was most likely the first time I did any research for a book I was writing. While there are no Russian elements to this tale, I constantly listened to “The Hunt for Red October” as I worked on that book. When I hear this music, I’m hearing the mood of that book. One day, I will return to The Bear & the Serpent. Of that, I’ve no doubt, but other “loves” have distracted me. Until then, I’ll hold onto this music and put it to ample use once again, when the time is right.

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