Though John Barry achieved popular recognition for the swinging, loungey, noir-ish soundtracks he composed for the James Bond films, he moved to the front rank of film composers with his score for 1966's BORN FREE. Stylistically, the music of BORN FREE is miles removed from Barry's Bond soundtracks, though the composer's fondness for brass fanfares, stirring strings, and lush, intricate charts with stunning dynamic range is still intact. On the whole, however, the music to BORN FREE has a playful, innocent quality, evoking the nature of the wild animals at the film's center. As the movie is set in Africa, Barry employs a range of African percussion instruments, and sections of flute music (which often seem to echo the sounds of birds or other creatures). The arrangements are expansive and sweeping, giving rise to the sensation of open plains, and Barry's recurring musical themes parallel the film's action (the track titles indicate plot events). The score is, for the most part, surprisingly subdued, with occasional bursts of energy (mirroring tumultuous events onscreen) and its stirring title theme the exceptions. Barry won an Academy Award for the score in 1966.
Mercury Rising is a 1998 thriller directed by Harold Becker and starring Bruce Willis, Alex Baldwin and Mike Hughes. The government creates an unbreakable super code, they think. As a totally irresponsible and implausible decision some idiot in the government publishes the code in a magazine as a test. They never though the code could be broken, but a 9 year old boy with autism somehow breaks the code. Some people in the government then sees the boy as a threat to national security and wants to eliminate him. FBI Agent Art Jeffries, played by Bruce Willis, takes on the task of protecting the boy. This was quite a decent movie I thought, even though I felt the whole premise was very unrealistic. The government people are so incredibly stupid and even a boy with autism can’t break an unbreakable code. Besides that, there’s some fun to be had and this was while Bruce Willis still had a name worth checking out. The score is composed by John Barry.
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Hammett is the fictional story about a time in real-life writer Dashiell Hammett's ("The Maltese Falcoln") life. Directed by Wim Wenders, the 1920's era noir mystery contained an equally noir score by veteran composer John Barry. Fresh off of Body Heat and Somewhere in Time, Barry had no problem writing the jazzy score, which contains an interesting combination of slinky jazz numbers and ethnic Chinese cues. Beginning with the "Main Titles", which is performed by a single piano and clarinet, Barry immediately draws the listener in to this dark seductive world. The theme is simple and elegant, yet has an underlying sensuality about it. That sensuality is never fully realized in full orchestral form - except for a small moment in "The Wrap Up / Finale" - but it's still a very enjoyable theme.
He may have gotten his start with the hep swing of BEAT GIRL, then became a musical sensation for creating the cool jazz action of Agent 007. But for all of the lush stylings that John Barry used to define symphonic scoring as a contemporary “with it” sound, the composer proved he could make his approach sound just as contemporarily moving in the service of such historical dramas as MARY QUEEN OF SCOTTS, THE LION AND THE WINTER and THE LAST VALLEY. For if any music conveyed the feeling of untouched forests, royal intrigue and romantic mythmaking, then it was Barry’s theme-heavy scoring. Sure he’d latch onto a melody and beat you to death with it. But what a way to go, as Barry usually came up with a motif that you wouldn’t mind hearing ad infinitum, especially as his theme took on new life with each variation for strings, brass and winds. This was the kind of melody that helped make legendary figures into breathing, loving people, even when their movie got its kicks from turning such Technicolor heroes as Robin Hood and Maid Marian into characters just about ready for assisted living.
Another of John Barry's smouldering, moody thriller scores (Body Heat etc.), the kind of thing he does with a good deal of charm and edgy romanticism. Naturally for his legion of admirers this will be a most welcome treat, although to be entirely frank it is not one of his most distinctive soundtracks. While it hits all of the expected marks with the required poise and professionalism it also lacks freshness and at times sounds a little too much like recycled material (which with this composer admittedly always remains polished and likeable). Given these general musings and vague criticisms we are still left with a valuable addition to the wealth of John Barry work now available, something that is to be appreciated and I am certainly not complaining. (MWI)