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After Star Wars completely changed every rule of science fiction, producer Dino de Laurentiis set out to reestablish these guidelines with his 1980 update of the classic Flash Gordon serials of the 1930's. Composer Howard Blake and rock band Queen joined the project as well, with the band writing several now-hideously-dated songs as well as some underscore. Fortunately, Blake still contributed an hour of orchestral score performed admirably by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Whereas Williams' Star Wars was an ingenious pastiche of Korngold and almost every popular 20th century British composer, Blake used the sole idiom found in the early serials. Quite simply, it was Wagner, Wagner, and more Wagner. Unfortunately, this plays a large part in the score's downfall - even though Richard Wagner composed a seemingly infinite amount of memorable and moving melodies, Blake only mimics the tense, horrific aspect of the German composer's music - namely, loud diminished or minor chord after loud diminished or minor chord - the kind of material that any player or elementary composer worth his salt can churn out effortlessly (probably one reason they used this technique in the early serials.) Blake, however, expands on this with a few touches of his own, including several quieter moments, somewhat foreshadowing James Horner's material for Krull. In the end, however, if I want Wagner, I'll simply pop in my Solti Der Ring des Nibelungen set - any imitation simply fails as music if you've already heard the real thing. The other major downfall is a reliance (albeit small) on Queen's songs as themes, several of which actually sound worse in their orchestral arrangements than with the band. This release is a composer promo put our by Super Collector, available from their website for a limited time. The CD also includes a suite from Amityville 3D, which is basically more of the same, but slightly more evocative and with vocals. Fans Flash Gordon the movie may want to pick this up, but everyone else should just purchase a Wagner highlights CD. (as a sidenote, Wagner is my current favorite composer (tied with Mahler) - every film music veteran should own a complete set of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the very least.)

Track by Track Analysis:

1. The Hero (:41)
Some huge orchestral main themes are overwhelmingly exciting, complex, and popular. Others, like this track, are not. Crashing, over-the-top brass fanfares with cheesy percussion accompaniment comprise this track, making the 40 seconds go on like 40 minutes.

2. Opening Scenes/Killer Storm/Plane Crash (7:15)
Thankfully, the underscore happens to be much better than the theme (a relatively unual characteristic for a score.) Blake's opening scenes come off as a suite of dark, organic orchestral writing reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, and Wagner, with the National Philharmonic brass frequently pouring out huge clusters of diminished chords amidst the lush string atmosphere. These antiquated sounds won't appeal to some because of the sense of pre-Williams darkness, in a period where every score had to sound exactly like Star Wars.

3. Rocket Fight (1:30)
While this action cue features some exciting brass writing, it also houses a comical clarinet theme that some may find off-putting.

4. Arrival/Mongo Greeting/Palace Entry/The Court of Ming (3:59)
A huge brass version of the main theme forms "Arrival," which segues into a section of transparent woodwind and celeste. This builds into another grandiose version of Gordon's theme. Finally, the track ends with assorted fortissimo underscore passages.

5. Barin and the Hawkmen (3:14)
Blake's nostalgic serial sound continues in this period of bombastic underscore, punctuated by the Herrmannesque orchestration of flutes and vibraphone.

6. The Princess/Dale's Seduction/Football Fight (2:13)
Blake composes a celestial theme for the princess, comprised of evocative strings and woodwinds. The final cue is a hilariously pretentious series of diminished chord outbursts with deliriously tacky percussion.

7. Bell and Coffin/Zarkov/Rocket Ship Fight (3:20)
This seemingly endless track is comprised of long stretches of transparent underscore punctuated by huge minor chord outbursts. It get better with a strangely evocative high string theme reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith.

8. Flight to Arboria/Harem (2:06)
The first cue houses some vibe/string orchestration, with an exotic flute theme and tribal percussion emerging in Harem, along with a passage reminiscent of Horner's modulated arpeggios.

9. Telepathy/Dale's Drug (2:07)
More bland underscore in the manner of the previous 2 tracks.

10. Arboria (:51)
This combines more of the synth arpeggios with, you guessed it, fortissimo minor and diminished chords. A (GASP!) tritone ends it.

11. Dale's Fight (1:32)
This action cue is based completely on an ostinato introduced in the first seconds.

12. Zarkov and Dale Escape (1:25)
This provides more Hornerific music in the style of Krull. (Surprisingly, Horner wasn't around back then as a huge composer - no I'm not drawing any parallels with the composers' work - it IS possible to extrapolate too far with that.)

13. Torture/The Swamp (2:11)
Not surprisingly, this is made up mostly of utterly uninspiring underscore, which turns dissonant at the end.

14. City of the Hawkmen (1:01)
One of the better tracks, this begins with modulating arpeggios and impressive brass chords, which dissolves into a dance-like melody.

15. Tree-Stump Duel/Beast in the Swamp (6:00)
"Duel" is easily the most boring cue in the score, consisting of a huge pianissimo minimalism passage. "Beast" is a serviceable action cue with several exciting brass fanfares (and a noticeable absense of diminished chords, at least until the end.)

16. Romantic Reunion (:27) (awww...)
A quick recapitulation of the love theme from track 6.

17. Duel on the Sky Platform (7:48)
Surprisingly, this lengthy cue is quite enjoyable, usint all the familiar techniques with an almost Goldsmithian frenetic energy. I sill hate the overdone diminished figures, though.

18. Firefight/Finale: Death of Ming and Flash's Victory (2:37)
The final action cue is an intriguing series of leaping string figures, followed by the predictably huge finale.

Amityville 3D
19. Main Titles (3:20)
20. Car Death (3:16)
21. The Boat Dock (2:57)
22. The Mermaid (2:15)
23. The Doll (1:08)
24. Mother (2:27)
25. The Beast (1:45)
26. End TItles (3:51)
This 1983 score contains a lot of the same devices and flavors as Flash Gordon, but blankets them in a rich supernatural setting with heavy use of soprano vocals and wild theremins. Highlights include "The Beast" with its wailing theremins and End Titles, with a ghostly reprise of the main theme.

In short, this promo release should be left for die-hard fans of Flash Gordon or Howard Blake. SuperTracks, however, should be lauded for their quality production values for this album.


Flash Gordon: The Final Score
Music Rating 5/10
   
Packaging/Liner Notes 6/10
Sound Quality 6/10
Length 6/10
Orchestral Performance 9/10

Flash Gordon is Copyright 2000 by Howard Blake.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.