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8.556801 - Classics at the Movies: Sci-Fi

The Classics at the Movies

The Classics at the Movies

Ever since the advent of talkies there has been a continuing debate on the nature and function of film music. For many it should be heard but not noticed. It should induce certain emotions but not obtrude on the consciousness of the audience. Yet it should be able to invest a scene with a variety of feelings, terror, grandeur, misery or gaiety. To understand what good film music can do for a film there is a simple test. If scenes from a film are shown with and without music, it will immediately be clear that good music can affect the feelings of an audience, without their being conscious of it.

If the function of film music has been the subject of debate, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that the nature of this music has changed very considerably over the years. Before the advent of talkies all cinemas had their own house pianists to provide music at every performance, illustrating the action on the screen. In the heyday of Hollywood film music was big business, with major studios turning out hundreds of films a year and having under full-time contract large orchestras. There were also many composers, orchestrators and song-writers attached to each studio. These were the golden thirties, forties and, to an extent, the fifties, with names like Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman, all with a European background, writing big scores for a string of Errol Flynn pictures and for films like The Mark of Zorro and The Prisoner of Zenda.

Steiner, Korngold and Newman were followed by a succession of American composers like Henry Mancini, the composer of the Pink Panther music, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Gradually, however, the really ambitious scores vanished or were reserved for multi-million-dollar projects. More and more films had to make do with loosely strung together pop tunes, or, in an increasing number of cases, more or less well chosen themes from classical music. In some cases the use of a piece of music in a film had a very considerable effect, as, for example, the use of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, now popularly known as the Elvira Madigan Concerto.

In the Naxos Classics at the Movies series we have gathered together many classical themes used in popular films. All of these well deserve a hearing in their own right, but they may also remind the listener of a favourite film or two.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Keir Dullea (David Bowman), Gary Lockwood (Frank Poole), William Sylvester (Dr. Heywood Floyd), Daniel Richter (Moonwatcher), Leonard Rossiter (Smyslov), Margaret Tyzack (Elena), Douglas Rain (voice of HAL)

Director Stanley Kubrick enlisted the help of well-known science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke for this visually-stunning journey from the "Dawn of Man" to the far side of the universe and back again. Originally made in the short-lived Cinerama format to be projected onto a huge curved screen — hence the "psychedelic" space ride in the second half — and making no concessions to popular taste or expectations, it has nevertheless endured as one of the all-time great films. Ground-breaking special effects were outstanding for their day and have since been imitated with varying success by scores of film makers.

Kubrick originally commissioned Alex North (who had scored his earlier film Spartacus) to write the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in the end he decided to stick with the classical pieces he had used as temp tracks by such diverse composers as Khachaturian, Johann Strauss II and the contemporary avant-garde Hungarian György Ligeti. The film also managed to make an unlikely chart hit of Also sprach Zarathustra, the tone poem by Richard Strauss, whose magnificent opening has been associated ever since with space travel, not to mention anything fatuously "awesome".


Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin), Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), David Prowse (Lord Darth Vader)

‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ an evil emperor has constructed a formidable ‘Death Star’ capable of destroying whole planets. Princess Leia, a member of the resistance movement, acquires the plans of it which luckily reveal a fatal weakness, but she is captured by Darth Vader, a Jedi knight who has gone over to the "dark side". A rescue is effected by Obi-Wan Kenobi, a legendary Jedi, and Luke Skywalker, a farmboy who turns out to be the son of another famous Jedi, with the help of Han Solo, a down-to-earth pilot and smuggler, and his large hairy sidekick, the wookie Chewbacca. In an exciting finale the Death Star is destroyed and the Emperor’s wicked ambition thwarted. This was the first in an immensely popular series.

Heard here are four excerpts from the film music by John Williams, including that for the delightful scene in the cantina with the funniest-looking array of characters ever seen in a film.


Director: Richard Marquand

Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (General Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Billy Dee Williams (General Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), David Prowse (Lord Darth Vader), Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi)

The Emperor himself oversees the construction of a new Death Star and at the same time Han Solo has been captured by a gangster called Jabba the Hutt. He is rescued by Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia (disguised as a bounty hunter), and Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker surrenders himself to Darth Vader and is given over to the Emperor who tries to force him to join the Dark Side. He does not succeed, however, and in the end the Rebels, helped by their new friends the Ewoks, are triumphant, and another Death Star is destroyed.

This was the third in the series, after Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and again the music is by John Williams. Heard here is the Parade of the Ewoks.

ALIEN 1979

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Yaphet Kotto (Parker), Ian Holm (Ash)

On its way back to Earth, the towing ship Nostromo investigates a signal received from a nearby planet. When they have landed there, a strange organism latches onto the body of one of the crew members, making him literally explode. Too late they understand that what they thought was a call for help was in fact a warning.

Jeremy Goldsmith is one of the busiest composers in Hollywood, with an impressiva range of scores, including those for Planet of the Apes, Patton, The Mephisto Waltz, Chinatown, Star Trek — The Motion Picture, The Boys from Brazil and Coma. Heard here is the Main theme from Alien; also included is the first movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik which also appeared in the film.


Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas), Gary Oldman (Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg), Milla Jovovich (Leloo), Ian Holm (Victor Cornelius), Chris Tucker (DJ Ruby Rhod), Luke Perry (Billy), Brion James (General Munro), Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister Jr (President Lindberg), Maïwenn Le Besco (Diva)

The time is the twenty-third century. Korben Dallas, cab driver and ex-starfighter one day has beautiful Leloo fall through his cab roof. She is an alien, sent from another planet to save the universe from evil and wants to enlist Dallas’ help in locating the priest Cornelius to fulfil her destiny. He realises that Leloo is in fact the fifth element to be united with the four moonstones entrusted to a diva on a planet called Fhloston. There are complications in the form of the evil Zorg, a wicked arms dealer trying to obtain the stones and with the evil force nearing Earth, Leloo has to be persuaded by Dallas that, with its record of wars and disasters, it is worth saving at all. He admits her love for her, they become lovers and the evil force is stopped.

The music appears in a scene where we see the Diva on the resort planet Fhloston performing part of the celebrated Mad Scene from Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor in surroundings that look suspiciously like the London Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.


Director: Robert Wise

Cast: William Shatner (Adm./Capt. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Cmder. Spock), DeForrest Kelley (Cmder. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, M.D.), James Doohan (Cmder. Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmder. Hikaru Sulu), Majel Barrett (Dr. Christine Chapel), Walter Koenig (Lt. Pavel Chekov)

The first of a number of films based on the Star Trek TV series, originally broadcast from 1966 to 1969 and something of a non-event at the time. Only with the subsequent re-runs did it really begin to acquire its cult status and hordes of fans world-wide. After much lobbying by these "trekkies", this first big-screen, big budget production was undertaken, but it proved to be a disappointment at the box office for its producers who were hoping to match the success of Star Wars. In spite of this, the series has continued and prospered, fans generally agreeing that the even-numbered films are the best. There are now nine films and on TV there have been further series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.

The score for the film is by Jerry Goldsmith but heard here is the original theme from the TV series, by Alexander Courage.


Director: Leonard Nimoy

Cast: William Shatner (Adm./Capt. James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Cmder. Spock), DeForrest Kelley (Cmder. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, M.D.), James Doohan (Cmder. Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmder. Hikaru Sulu), Walter Koenig (Lt. Pavel Chekov), Michelle Nichols (Cmdr. Nyota Uhura)

Admiral Kirk and his crew return to Earth to save it from a destructive space probe. They discover that the sounds emanating from the probe are those of a humpback whale which has been hunted to extinction. They travel back to the 20th century and bring with them a whale to the 23rd century, averting the danger to the Earth.

Leonard Rosenman is an American composer with a string of important film scores to his credit, including those for East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Barry Lyndon. Included here is the main title theme for Star Trek IV.


Director: Jonathan Frakes

Cast: Patrick Stewart (Capt. Jean-Luc Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. William Thomas Riker), Brent Spiner (Lt. Cmdr. Data), LeVar Burton (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge), Michael Dorn (Lt. Cmdr. Worf), Gates Mc Fadden (Cmdr. Beverly Crusher,

M. D.), Marina Sirtis (Cmdr. Deanna Troi, Counsellor), F. Murray Abraham (Ru’afo), Anthony Zerbe (Admiral Matthew Dougherty)

The peaceful Ba’ku planet has mystical regenerative powers which gives the inhabitants extra long lifespans. The Federation joins forces with the Son’a race to investigate this. It soon turns out that their allies want to evacuate the Ba’ku and take over the planet themselves. Though Admiral Dougherty tells Captain Picard to stay out of the conflict he refuses to do so, having fallen in love with Ba’ku Anij. The Enterprise defeats the fleet of the Son’a, and their leader, Ru’afo is beaten in single combat by Picard, but not before he has killed Admiral Dougherty.

Perhaps surprisingly, the soundtrack includes a great deal of classical chamber and instrumental music. Apart from the finale from the Haydn Lark Quartet featured on this CD, there is also the first movement from Mozart’s Hunt Quartet (Naxos 8.550542), as well as the first movement from Beethoven’s Pathétique Piano Sonata (Naxos 8.550045).


Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), Julianne Moore (Dr. Sarah Harding), Pete Posthlewaite (Roland Tembo), Arliss Howard (Peter Ludlow), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond)

John Hammond, who had created the dinosaurs out of fossilised DNA in the first film Jurassic Park, now wishes a record to be made of the dinosaurs living harmoniously. To this end he enlists the assistance of Dr. Ian Malcolm, inviting him to go back to the islands and to stay at Site B. Malcolm is reluctant and is only lured there by the presence of his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding. They are joined by Malcolm’s daughter, who has stowed herself away, and two technical crew. Unknown to this group of scientists there is a rival crew, led by Roland Tembo, which is in the employ of John Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow — their plan is to capture a Tyrranosaurus Rex and imprison it in San Diego Zoo. This gives plenty of opportunity for us to witness a wide variety of pre-historic monsters at their awe-inspiring best. Man against man becomes man against beast as each person battles to leave the island alive.

The slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata is heard in Hammond’s house early on in the film (and indeed in the same performance as featured on this recording) when Ludlow is explaining his plans for Site B to Malcolm.


Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Cast: Christopher Reeve (Richard Collier), Christopher Plummer (William Fawcett Robinson), Jane Seymour (Elsie McKenna), Teresa Wright (Laura Roberts), Bill Erwin (Arthur)

Richard Collier is a young writer in the 1970s. He has a visit from an old woman and travels with her through time to 1912. Then the woman is a famous actress and they fall in love. By mistake the magic is broken and Collier is brusquely brought back to the present. He dies of grief and is re-united with his loved one after death.

The music was taken from Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody which was also featured in a film called Rhapsody (1954) which had John Ericson as a concert pianist, not looking like Claudio Arrau but sounding remarkably like him.


Director: Norman Jewison

Cast: James Caan (Jonathan E), John Houseman (Bartholomew), Maud Adams (Ella), John Beck (Moonpie), Moses Gunn (Cletus), Pamela Hensley (Mackie), Ralph Richardson (Librarian)

The year is 2018 when there are no longer any nations and the world is ruled by a sort of central government. Wars have been replaced by a tough rugby-like game called Rollerball. The popularity of one of the players, Jonathan E, grows so big that the government feel their power threatened and decide to have him killed by increasing the brutality of the game. But with all other players either dead or severely wounded, Jonathan E is once more victorious.

There is quite a lot of classical music in this film. What most people will remember is probably the Bach Toccata (included here), heard at the very beginning and end, but when Ella and Jonathan E meet, their feelings are illustrated by the Albinoni Adagio (included on Naxos 8.556808 War, and 8.556622 Cinema Classics 2). Also, when Jonathan E goes to secure information from Zero, the Memory Pool, the end of the Finale from the Fifth Symphony by Shostakovich (Naxos 8.550632) is heard.

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