Saturday, January 07, 2006

Baseball's 1-2 punch

Randy Newman
The Natural (Warner Bros./Wea, 1990)
9/10 (10/10)

Randy Newman's score for director Barry Levinson's 1984 adaptation of writer Bernard Malamud's baseball fable remains, like star Robert Redford's turn as the film's Roy Hobbs, somewhat mystic and decidedly larger than life. Newman's music flawlessly fuses overwrought Wagnerian grandeur with the more plaintive strains of Aaron Copland, arguably forming one of the film's most crucial narrative elements in the bargain. Perhaps because it's a score with a scale so broad and bold--the antithesis of Newman-the-songwriter's often terse, internalized musical monologues--the composer himself has since expressed reservations about the potent cues he's since dubbed "heromusik." Nonetheless, The Natural remains an impressive tribute to Newman's musical professionalism, even if his masterful craftsmanship produced something he's always seemed a bit wary of: a bona fide crowd pleaser. --Jerry McCulley

Randy Newman finally won an Oscar this year for his song written for "Monsters, Inc.," but he should have won at least one Oscar long ago. "The Natural" is, for my money, the best film score NOT to win an Academy Award. This is a score on a level with those Maurice Jarre wrote for "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago," where the music and the images on the screen create a film's emotional depth. The best proof I can offer for this is your own memory. Consider the following tracks from this film score: "Prologue 1915-1923," "The Whammer Strikes Out," "'Knock the Cover Off The Ball,'" "Wrigley Field," "The Final Game," and "The End Title." I bet that reading each of those titles immediately conjurs up both the music and the moment. Newman sets the emotional tone from the very beginning and underscores the film's best moments, which is textbook writing for the movies. His score for "Ragtime" is pretty good too, but "The Natural" is his supreme achievement. Newman might be better known for his quirky songs, like "Short People" and "I Love L.A.," but these film scores prove that when it comes to judging his talent Newman's music outstrips his lyrics big time. -Lawrance M. Bernabo

Soundtrack Express
-...however The Natural is one score that is now readily associated with all American sports. It gets played at big sporting occasions during intermissions, beforehand, indeed as many times as possible.

-It is the original ball game score, and while other efforts such as Field of Dreams and the rather similar The Babe by James Horner and Elmer Bernstein respectively have been excellent since, this is the original benchmark. Aside from the pop version of the main theme, this is a classic score, bathed in nostalgia and all American values showing that Newman had the scoring touch from the word go.

Film Score Monthly
"The Natural" is one of the great scores of the past 30 years. -Ron Pulliam

James Horner
Field of Dreams (Novus, 1990)
Key tracks: Old Ball Players, The Library, *The Place Where Dreams Come True
9/10 (9/10)

Elmer Bernstein, among the greatest of the golden age film composers, has lamented that there's not enough "artistry" in soundtracks today. He abhors the pop hit collections that pass for movie music albums, and the man's got a point. Perhaps he'd go for Horner's score to Phil Alden Robinson and W. P. Kinsella's fairytale ode to fathers, sons, and baseball. It's as evocative as the film itself, a shimmering corn field or a late-afternoon fly ball in every note. It's warm ("The Cornfield" is sweet, subtle, heartbreaking--like an echo, really), fun ("Old Ball Players" recalls Randy Newman's Ragtime score), and stirring ("The Place Where Dreams Come True" doesn't need a father-and-son game of catch to move you). A gem. No, a diamond! --Robert Wilonsky

Totally amazing! I had the great fortune in live in California for a few years and now back in the UK, I am aware how different the Spirit of Place is back there to here. This soundtrack accomplishes something that no other music or other medium has done for me, touching my soul with this Spirit that I loved so much and want to touch every now and then, to remind myself it was real. The spectral (yet very physical) player asks as he disappears into the Cornfield: 'Is this heaven, or what?' Yes this movie says and don't forget it! The music is generally quiet with no razamatazz, in fact, the whole CD seems a meditation on the quietude of the warm, balmy night. This tone picture is of the heart of America where the Corn grows and the Spirit of America in this fantasy, fresh, clean and pure bubbles from its original source. The repeated piano motiv, gentle, leaving almost a question mark in the silence is answered by the stillness and the heat of the night. The use of pan pipes as the baseball spirits appear and disappear in the corn provide an eerie almost Native American taste, almost whispering to me that this special Spirit, the magic of transformation, if we could see it, could from this source; thereby answering my concern of its lack back home here. However, like this music in totality it is subtle and under played, it is impressionistic, leaving you the benefit of making your own inferences from its suggestion for it would tell others something totally different. The orchestration and arrangement throughout is spare, relying very much on a solo piano although the depiction of the certain scenes like the Old Ball Players have been given a period flavor with jazzy and blues overtones. However, the underlying feeling is of magic, of transformation, of transcendence that goes to the heart of the American Dream. With our hero in the movie we don't understand what is going on but we are aware that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and we just have to sit back and enjoy it, going along for the ride. It depicts Life as not threatening, but as warm and kind as Doc Moonlight's Memories of his lifetime of care in his Minnesotan Community show. The message comes down to something like: You can make it, you will achieve it, this is what can be done if you just believe in what you do and do what you believe in. This is what the movie and the music tells me and reminds me of ten years ago when I stood under those same skies, communing with the Spirit and listened to the quiet of the warm night and believed.... -K. Farrington

Note: Score ratings in bold are Select Reviews, and "( )" the authors cited.