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Music by Graeme Revell

With Red Planet, surely one of the year's most mediocre spectacles, Graeme Revell pens a highly inventive, yet compositionally tepid blend of techno backbeats, orchestral meanderings, and evocative, yet all too familiar vocals.  Although many have hailed Red Planet as a fully postmodern work of art, finally bridging the all too wide gap between popular dance rhythms and traditional orchestral odes, traditionalists retort that in order to successfully meld the two, the composer must at least begin with interesting music, an aspect which Revell, in his quest for a fresh sound, has unfortunately overlooked.  Red Planet provides an attempt for an apotheosis of the New Age mentality with lengthy, wandering odes and Latin chants for supposed opera superstar Emma Shapplin over a bed of celestial synthesizers, yet this display of "creativity" merely functions as banal background music that more often than not simply dissolves into nothingness.  In addition, Shapplin, if she has truly ever performed an opera role, possesses all the talent and power of a Charlotte Church, attempting to convert the masses with an immature, sometimes off-key tone color.  Birgit Nilsson she is not.  In several instances, Revell combines this innocent instrument with hordes of techno synthesizers and full orchestra, which actually prove to be the highlights of the score, managing to tame the madness into a fresh, thoroughly modern smorgasbord of color, with several tracks actually overshadowing the rest of the hackneyed catastrophe.  Yet these ten minutes of quality soon drown in an ocean of mindless orchestral and techno noise that, unlike the works of atonal masters like Goldsmith and Goldenthal, simply exists to disturb or excite.  Pangaea's 50-minute release preserves roughly 30 minutes of Revell's score, balancing it with several techno selections, most of which fit in with the "hip" nature of the score.  In the end, Red Planet can only be recommended to fans of techno, since, while it contains a few minutes of serviceable, average underscore, it will largely grate upon traditional music enthusiasts during the majority of its running time.

Track by Track Analysis:

2. The Inferno (4.31)
The first cue of Revell's score begins unobtrusively enough with a celestial synthesizer tone, over which Emma Shapplin enters, singing a repetitive, amateur Latin chant that hypnotically unwinds throughout the running time, backed by a light techno backbeat.  Again, these moments of tranquil New Age melodies provide calming background scoring, but contain little of compositional value, and their untrained minimalistic meanderings seem like a pale, updated version of Philip Glass' experimentations.

4. Mars Red Planet (3.25)
In Mars Red Planet, Revell transplants his solo writing for Shapplin to a full chorus, which adds a remarkably surreal atmosphere to the proceedings, but still fails to mask the inherent compositional flaws, with the melodies remaining thoroughly mediocre and amateur.  In terms of accompaniment, Revell expands to a full orchestra, serving both as accompaniment to the choral tune and an entity unto itself, providing an unbearably typical "awe-inspiring, tragic" melody that conjures images of Hans Zimmer on a particularly lackadaisical day.  In addition, the techno backbeats receive more volume than in the previous track, again revealing their hopelessly banal makeup, evoking visions of a rather precocious middle school band student playing with a MIDI keyboard.

5. The Fifth Heaven (4.53)
While techno fans repeatedly refer to The Fifth Heaven as Revell's defining moment, this reviewer hears little more than Emma Shapplin valiantly attempting to sound legitimate, yet falling out of tune horribly at the first remotely high notes, combined with the incorrigible noise of every drum machine cliché to appear in the last ten years, as well as an out of tune "African chorus" and pointless orchestral accompaniment.

7. Canto XXX (5.11)
Out of all of the eclecticism portrayed on Red Planet's soundtrack album, Canto XXX probably works the best.  Somehow, Revell manages to allow his true talent to shine through, if only briefly, composing a truly haunting blend of techno backbeats, full chorus, New Age synthesizers, and Emma Shapplin's vocals, now written in her native lower register.  Here, her innate lack of vocal strength works to her advantage, portraying an evocative, cherubic tone color.  While the track begins rather tepidly with a minimalistic piano/synth accompaniment, and the melodies usually remain banal, Revell's sense of orchestration provides an eloquent crescendo throughout the piece, and the coalescing of Shapplin's poetic, undulating vocal with full chorus, orchestral thematic interludes, and techno provides a powerful effect, transcending the limp experimentation of other tracks.

8. Alone (2.13)
The only score track to forsake the all-holy backbeat, "Alone" shows Revell at his most typical, composing a rather tranquil, mournful lament for incessantly routine piano tone clusters and a rather pointless string line that, while showing promise, never truly evolves beyond triviality.

9. Dante's Eternal Flame (3.40)
Eschewing Shapplin's light coloratura, Revell now introduces Melissa Kaplan, whose darker, more pop-oriented warble adds a certain Eastern quality to this track.  Unfortunately, the usual slapdash bed of techno backbeats and meandering orchestra makes its valiant return, and Kaplan's downright sloppy vocal abomination infuriates with its mind-numbing melody line.

10. Crash Landing (5.13)
The final track of Revell's underscore, Crash Landing possesses little form or cohesion, instead remaining content to pour out copious amounts of techno noise.  Its highlights come when Revell adds a dissonant chorus to the techno conglomeration, although this unfortunately degrades into a string ostinato, which serves as a showcase for various typical techno backbeats.

While fans of techno will undoubtedly have to own Red Planet's soundtrack album, traditional score fans should beware its hackneyed eclecticism, treating it instead as a failed musical experiment with only a few redeeming factors.

Red Planet: The Final Score
Music Rating 3/10
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Sound Quality 8/10
Length 8/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10

Red Planet is Copyright 2000 by Pangaea.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.

Sound Clips/Purchasing Options

CDNOW's listing for Red Planet contains sound clips of every track, along with a substantial discount.