The guys over at the filmscore monthly forums have a word for their most wished-for and cherished soundtracks; they refer to them as their Grails. Its a term usually reserved for those titles that, over the years, have gained an almost mythical standing, usually due to rights issues or ‘lost’/destroyed recording masters. Hollywood has not always seen soundtrack scores as marketable commodities outside of the film itself, and cost-cutting or negligent archiving has resulted in many scores being lost forever. Over the past few years however researchers have discovered many scores thought lost to the ages, and as Hollywood studios recognise a new revenue-stream from old films, specialist labels like Intrada, FSM and La La Land Records have released many gems as limited-edition CDs.
2012 has seen the release of three items that might be considered ‘Grails’ of mine. The first one was early this summer with the release of La La Land’s three-disc edition of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I have loved this score ever since I first heard it when seeing the film back in 1979, and subsequently bought the vinyl soundtrack album and later on further incarnations on CD. It’s a rich and powerful symphonic work that deserved a better film- indeed, I’d contend that the score is the best character in the film, its such an important element to the flawed, overly-rushed-to-release movie. This three-disc edition of the soundtrack is a dream come true to its fans; the complete score is spread over two discs, followed by several early pieces discarded from the score as themes were revised and redone, accompanied by the original 1979 album sequence. This latter section is important, as it arises that the album was mostly re-performed music conducted by Goldsmith during the scoring sessions, so the album we heard for so many years was not the score as heard in the film. Disc three features a further 74 minutes of alternates, rehearsals and related oddities such as a Disco-flavoured instrumental single that is a sobering reminder of the era the film is from, and a song by Shaun Cassidy based on the love theme. Sometimes when I see the disc sitting on my shelf I have to reach out and pick it up in a ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ kind of moment, just to check its real. After so many years waiting for someone to release the full score, to see it done so well and so complete, with all those unknown extras and sumptuous liner-notes in an extensive booklet, well, its a remarkable release.
As I write this I have a framed print of Frank Frazetta’s Conan painting “The Destroyer”, that I ordered from Frazetta’s own mail-order enterprise several years ago, hanging on the wall above me. Its a wonderful, amazing work of art that dates back to the original paperback covers Frazetta painted in the 1960s when REH’s barbarian became hugely popular. The ‘Howard boom’ that was fueled by Frazetta’s art and subsequent comics success of Conan culminated in 1982’s Conan:The Barbarian directed by John Milius and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film was quite successful and shot Schwarzenegger to Hollywood fame. Some thirty years later, the films wonderful score by the late Basil Poledouris remains one of the greatest scores of its time. Budgetary limitations on the film resulted in it being released in mono, impacting on the power of the films score and soundtrack during screenings, but the original album presented its highlights in stereo giving fans a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. The budget also impacted on the size and ability of the orchestras playing the music itself but to be honest I hardly noticed that whilst playing the score over and over. The album became the soundtrack to many RPG sessions and background music to my many paintings during my art student days.
The music in the film is integral to the whole, particularly as for much of the film, dialogue is kept to a minimum. The film being pretty much wall-to-wall music, over the years, many fans began to ask about that music missing from the original album. It transpired that the original score elements had been lost or destroyed, leading to the composer himself abandoning his own efforts to release a more complete soundtrack album. Varese released a slightly-expanded edition using additional cues with fair to middling sound issues. Recently a remarkable re-recording, that had the blessing of the composer prior to his death, was made correcting problems with the original recording, and it was believed this would be the last word on Conan. And yet film music fans have of late have become used to the adage ‘never say never’. After so many years of fruitless searches, the complete original score on 2″ 24-track reels surfaced at last and has resulted in a three-disc edition from Intrada. Whilst not as authoritative as the Star Trek:TMP set, as Conan was not such a major Hollywood production, nevertheless this release is another Grail for me. The Prometheus label’s re-recording wins hands-down on both performance and sound quality (although its differences are not always ideal) but this new Intrada edition is, after all, the actual original soundtrack, warts and all, and something we fans had believed lost forever. There are even nearly thirty-minutes of early alternates that are a complete surprise, featuring a spine-tingling version of the track Orphans of Doom, and it includes the 1982 album sequence as a fine highlights version and reminder of what used to be. Fans might be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed/weary of so many editions of the score, particularly following the Prometheus set, but yeah, its another ‘pinch me’ moment for me.
Finally, the third Grail soundtrack release for me this year is La La Land’s breathtaking 15-disc box of the Star Trek: The Original Series scores. Its everything; the complete music for all the episodes of the three-year original series, including some sound effects and even music not used in the show. Over 17 hours of nostalgic joy. As someone who, as a kid, was simply in spellbound love with this show, this release, some 45 years after the show aired, is just monumental. I only wish I could comment further, but unfortunately my (very expensive but to hell with the cost, it’s the original Star Trek! Its Christmas!) box set is, according to the USPS tracking website, still stuck in a sorting facility in New York. Has been for getting on for a week now, so yes, I’m getting rather concerned (although its insured, thank goodness) and yes, it looks like one big Christmas treat that I will not be getting this year, drok it. So I’ll have to comment further when I actually get the damn thing, and in the meantime just drool and dream over the gorgeous pictures of the set. Agh.