Musings About Music In Film

FOW Christmas: Turbulence


By Karol Krok turbulence1

Anything that receives a 17% Rotten Tomatoes score should be approached with caution. It’s unlikely to be a surprising treat, even if you believe most critics form some sort of ignorant clique unable to appreciate common person’s entertainment. In any case, the film just isn’t very good and did fare all that well. How could it? It was the millionth incarnation of Die Hard that would populate cinemas in the 90’s - not exactly a an excellent way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Which is a bit unfortunate, for Shirley Walker’s career especially.

This score remained unreleased for the past 16 years and could only be appreciated either on an elusive promo or through its abysmal movie. It is only now that La-La Land Records, guardian of everything Walker-related, released this hidden treat. If the film itself has some serious trouble living up to the Die Hard level of quality, the score does a much better job. The two musical works have actually quite a lot in common. Not only both of the share a similar basic scenario, but they also draw from Christmas tradition in order to subvert it and turn into something twisted and sinister.

Shirley’s score is mostly based on the infamous treatment of the pagan folk tune from Ukraine, which was originally associated with the celebration of the New Year. It has been later adopted into the Christian tradition and formed a basis for Carol of the Bells (also used in the second Die Hard film). In Turbulence, it is used pretty much as a main thematic idea related to the psychopathic Ryan (played by Ray Liotta) and introduced in the first track on the album ('Carol o’ the Bells/Christmas Shopping/I’m Innocent') in its traditional Christmas setting. It is not too long, however, before it succumbs into much darker and ominous Herrmann-esque sound. It’s amazing how many variations on this idea can be found in this music: from the action-packed 'The Take-Off' to the suspenseful 'Don’t Trust Him, Teri', to the downright creepy 'Last Breath'.

The theme itself goes through a major transformation over the course of the album, having less and less to do with holiday celebration tune and more with the infamous Medieval Dies Irae chant. Walker bends the tune and blurrs the line between the two (which can be prominently heard towards the end of 'Auto Pilot Landing'). Overall, it is worth noting that this literally rotting development is an almost complete inversion of what John Williams did in his Home Alone score, where Dies Irae motif (in that film related to the Marley character) is later revealed to be in fact 'Carol of the Bells'.

The other thematic idea is related to the main character Teri. It’s a bit more elusive line that emerges slowly over the course of the story, as the character grows into her more heroic persona, and is to fully stated in the finale ('The Landing/Welcome Home, Teri') and end credits. A much more emotional material, not necessarily typically associated with a thriller genre - a curious and interesting move by the composer.

The score is filled with colourful and rich orchestrations. The action music is fun and often over the top ('Topsy Turvy' and '747 Flyby'). Shirley clearly had fun with the assignment, but didn’t treat the project too seriously. There are nods to different fellow composers here and there as well, but done with gusto and style. She has also used some synthesizers, which provide the score with a Goldsmith-like slightly cheesy but endearing 90’s vibe.

The La-La Land album presentation contains the entire score plus one bonus track. Detailed and informative liner notes by John Takis are great companion to what is already a fun ride.. Not a serious work by any means, but a testament of a real talent in musical storytelling and treatment of the orchestra. All of that augmented by real sense of humour and wit, worthy of Michael Kamen’s Die Hard scores. Literally everything an action music fan could possibly ask for, especially around festive season.

Turbulence is out now from La-La Land Records