Friday, February 19, 2016

The Sounds of the End of the Back

Not long ago, I wrote about the expanded edition soundtrack of Alan Silvestri's score for Back to the Future Part II. Released at the same time was an expanded, 2-disc soundtrack of the score from Back to the Future Part III. The score for Part II, like the content of the movie itself, revisited a lot of material from the original movie. Consequently, I declared it an inessential album, something only for the real collectors. Part III, on the other hand, is something entirely different.

That's because, to a great extent, the music itself is something entirely different. Not content to mimic his famous Back to the Future score once again, Alan Silvestri created a number of themes, and explored an entirely different sound palette. Part III is a Western score rendered through 1980s sensibilities, using the established series melodies as occasional accents rather than the main focus.

The "Main Title," for example, introduces a new love theme for the character of Doc Brown, a theme expanded upon in "At First Sight," "The Kiss," and other cues on the album. It's a light and sweet melody carried by gentle strings, flute, and harp. It's almost like a lullaby, the most simply stated theme Silvestri created in the entire trilogy. There's also a new Western anthem (first composed for the teaser trailer at the end of Part II), developed in "Hill Valley" and "We're Out of Gas," and fully featured in the "End Credits."

But perhaps even more notable are the many cues in the soundtrack that don't rely on any recurring theme, new or old. "Indians" is a full-throated orchestral onslaught with thumping percussion; it fits perfectly into the idea of a Western film, making it perfect for this film in which fantasy Old West collides with reality. "The Hanging" is an unhinged action cue that bursts onto the scene with an ear-splitting sting. "You Talkin' to Me?" and "The Showdown" are clever explorations of classic Western suspense music, playing with rattles, ratchets, and sharp stabs of a flute.

When elements of the classic Back to the Future score do appear, they're almost always subverted in some way. Familiar themes are given to that staple Western movie instrument, the harmonica, in "Safe and Sound" and "Hill Valley." And then there's the big set piece climax of the film -- pushing the time machine in front of a locomotive. the sequence is scored with three different cues, all brilliant in their own ways like the famous clock tower sequence of the original. Each one expertly blends new phrases from the Part III music with classic phrases from the original film, weaving a sound that's both familiar and tense, chaotic and ordered. And all the while, pounding percussion represents the unstoppable force of the train.

Still, despite my praise, this expanded soundtrack does take "expanded" a bit too far. The second disc contains a lot of alternate takes that are rarely of notable difference from the ones used in the film. And the disc is stuffed to bursting with source music used during the clock christening and town dance sequences of the film -- songs like "Turkey in the Straw," "My Darling Clementine," "Arkansas Traveler," and more. (Oh, so much more.) Perhaps you'd want all of it if you're planning to host a hoedown, but even then you'd find it repetitive. Each cue runs several minutes, usually consisting of the same 20 to 30 second melody soloed in turn by each instrument in the old-timey band.

Despite that minor drawback, this is a soundtrack release you absolutely need to pick up if you're a fan of Alan Silvestri. I'd give it an A-, with the "minus" for the mostly superfluous second disc.

No comments: