Wednesday, June 21, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Patriot Games

The second film in the “Jack Ryan” series saw a lot of changes. About the only cast member to return from “The Hunt for Red October” was James Earl Jones. Even the original Jack Ryan actor Alec Baldwin was replaced with the more seasoned Harrison Ford. The changes for this film included a new composer for the score. James Horner was signed on for the music, and while this certainly isn’t one of his more popular scores, I’ve always rather enjoyed this one.

The film involves a radical faction of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) targeting Great Britain’s royal family, so it’s not surprising that Horner decided to use a bit of local inspiration for the score. I think you can point to reasons this was a good and bad thing. On the plus side, it gave this score a very tense and moody sound. The bad? Well, there’s nothing to really tie it to the music from “The Hunt for Red October.” In fact, when Horner scored the third film in the series “Clear & Present Danger,” there’s very little to tie it to either of the previous Jack Ryan films. From a listening standpoint, the scores play as if from totally unrelated films.

As an individual score, there’s plenty to like about “Patriot Games.” The “Main Title” opens up with some haunting vocals provided by Maggie Boyle. A lot of the best music within this score contains her voice. The best piece with her in it is “Highland’s Execution.”

Another great vocal piece within this score wasn’t a composition by Hornerbut rather a piece by the Irish group Clannad. At the time of the film’s release, the song “Harry’s Game” was rather recognizable, because it was used in a popular Volkswagen commercial. I’m not sure how many would recognize it all these years later, though.

The score contains two long tracks, neither of which contains any of Boyle’s vocals. The first of these two long pieces is “The Hit,” which accompanies the terrorist attempt on Jack Ryan’s family in the U.S. I really like this piece, because it’s a nice slow build of intensity that manages to fit well with the rest of this mostly moody score. The other lengthy piece is “Assault on Ryan’s House” which I think does a less successful job in building the tension. It’s basically eleven minutes of suspensful music and little else. The tension level never really changes and makes for a dull experience after a while.

A lot of the serious movie score critics gave Horner a harsh thrashing for his work on this film. I will confess that while I enjoy this score, I can understand a lot of the criticism. The lack of a theme for Jack Ryan and his family and the recycling of themes from Horner’s previous films does hurt the final product.

Other Scores by James Horner:

One thing that I think proves “Patriot Games” was a better score than the criticism, though, was Horner’s score to another IRA-related Harrison Ford film entitled “The Devil’s Own” which came out a few years later. There are some notable similarities, but it’s clear that “Patriot Games” was by far the superior score of the two.

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