Musings About Music In Film

From The Archives: Blown Away

By Karol Krok

Critics weren't exactly "blown away" back in 1994. The bombastic action thriller, involving Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones squaring off against each other, got literally smashed upon its release and twenty years later nobody seems to even remember it ever existed. Yet, for film music enthusiasts this regrettable film is notable for two things. John Williams himself gets a fleeting cameo as the orchestra’s conductor on the streets of Boston. The second thing was Alan Silvestri’s unorthodox genre score.

Intrada Records label has released this complete work as their final title of 2013. The score was not available in other form beforehand, apart from its heavily edited film version. Thus, this release has been greatly anticipated by many fans. It is a long album but nevertheless holding a few surprises. Alan Silvestri is not exactly known for his artistic experimentation or unconventional approach to film music but this work certainly offers a certain deviation from this trend.

First of all, for a film that deals with terrorism and bombings, the score is dominated by mysterious woodwind flutters and harps, which seem to be much closer to what Alexandre Desplat would write for this type of picture (as he did in his excellent Hostage). For the most part, Blown Away feels quite far removed from the typical testosterone-pumping Silvestri. The writing is much more sensitive, suspenseful and atypically introverted. All of which makes it a very interesting subject of analysis but can also feel difficult to digest on this lengthy 74-minute album. Only towards the end, when the story reaches its climax, does the composer burst into his trademark action extravaganza (as heard in 'Final Fight' and 'Brakeless in Boston'). And even then, he shows an incredible restraint.

The thematic base is very intriguing, if somewhat elusive. The flowing woodwind figures, mentioned in the previous paragraph, seem to represent the instability and obsession of Jones’ psychopathic character. It definitely recalls Bernard Herrmann’s pioneering work for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Jeff Bridges’ introverted and downbeat theme is more of a simple motif, but gets quite a workout throughout the score, especially during its more boisterous statements in final sequences. There is another theme, associated with his uncle, even more lugubrious in tone, that gets the most pronounced statement in 'Saint Max' cue with the help of wordless mixed chorus. All those elements recur almost constantly throughout the work, often in dizzying counterpoint to each other. An interesting thematic whirlpool to mirror film’s obsessive personal conflict.

Another key ingredient of this score is pre-existing music and source pieces. The disc opens with Alan Silvestri’s arrangement of the traditional Irish song 'Prince’s Day' which reappears towards the end as well (thus, bookending the film nicely). It is a very haunting piece, yet again creating an unlikely delicate setting for the brutal conflict that will soon follow. For scenes taking place during 4th of July celebrations, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s greatly exaggerated 1812 Overture is used and numerous brief snippets dominate the second half of the score, often intercutting with the actual original material. To be frank, while loyal to film’s narrative, that kind of placement unnecessarily breaks the listening experience. Perhaps it would have been better to place those recordings in the bonus section.

All in all, Blown Away is a commendable and interesting work, favouring character over action, mood over bombast, but don’t expect to be entertained or involved by the album in its entirety. Despite excellent sound and typically professional treatment from the producing team over at Intrada, the album doesn’t soar the way it should. However, with some trimming here and there, one could create a very strong 45 minute programme to order to effectively showcase some of the most intelligent scoring in the career of Alan Silvestri.

Blown Away is out now from Intrada