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A Review of the "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" Soundtrack Album

From: John Finneran
Sent: Monday, December 29, 2003 12:52 AM
Subject: Review of the Soundtrack Album

Note: Cinemedia Promotions, the public relations firm promoting the "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" movie soundtrack album, were kind enough to send me a copy of the soundtrack album, for which I volunteered to write a review. Of course, the opinions expressed in my review are strictly my own. My review is below:

The first thing to note about the soundtrack album is that it is missing much of the music from the movie: there's none of the fine chanties sung so memorably in the film; no, not even "Spanish Ladies". Rant and roar all you'd like, you can say farewell and adieu to any hope of finding them on this album.

The actual content of the album falls into two broad categories, which I'm going to call "regular music" and "soundtrack tracks".

The regular music is mainly classical pieces by Mozart, Corelli, Bach, and Boccherini. These parts are excellent, although the piece by Mozart seems oddly curtailed, being only one movement of a larger concerto. The highlight of these pieces is certainly the piece by Boccherini (track #14: La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid No. 6 Op. 30): this is the "plucking" piece performed by Jack and Stephen at the end of the movie. This is a tremendous work which is very rewarding to hear in its entirety. I did gain one insight into the movie by listening to these pieces: the piece playing in the background whilst Stephen, Padeen, and Lord Blakeney are out naturalizing in the Galapagos is the cello suite by Bach (track #9) because this is Stephen in his element and Stephen is the cello player (this might have been obvious to some viewers but it had slipped by me). Another comment on the classical pieces: there's tremendous comic potential in the pompous overblown names of these classical pieces ("Violin Concerto No. 3 K.216, 3rd Movement", etc.). Just as a thought exercise:

      'Well played, Stephen,' said Jack. 'What was the name of that piece?'

      'That, my dear,' said Stephen, after a momenatry pause, 'was the Peanutbutteranjelli grosso op. 247, k. 765, no. 7765.'

     'Was it indeed?' said Jack. 'Had you never played it before?'

      'I had,' said Stephen. 'Just a part -- a slice of it, before, but it perhaps did not stand out clearly, as I played a piece before and a piece after it. It was sandwiched between them, as you might say.'

     Jack nodded. 'Well, so it was,' he said. 'And to be sure it has a very -- what's the word I'm looking for, Stephen? It sounds very old, but it's not at all -- what is it?'

     'Crusty?' said Stephen.

     'Exactly, Stephen, exactly,' said Jack. 'That fits my thoughts most uncommonly well.'

Getting back to my review: the final part to the "regular music" section is track #11 "Folk Medley", a collection of dance pieces (but no singing: the title might be deceptive).

The second broad category I am calling "soundtrack tracks", and includes several tracks which are really not traditional music at all, but are more a collection of musical sound effects, that fit the moving images on the screen, but sound strangely incomplete when listened to in isolation. Track # 1, "The Far Side of the World", is perhaps the strangest of all of the tracks: parts of it are sonar type sound effects, parts of it are drum beats, and parts of it sound like traditional classical music It seems perfectly appropriate with the movie images, but by itself seems like the weird product of avant-garde sound experimentation. I didn't care for the soundtrack tracks at first, but, after repeated listening, I find them growing on me a bit. For fans of the movie, they might be worthwhile to listen to as they will help you to isolate and appreciate some of the disparate elements (the soundtrack, as opposed to the other sound elements and the visual elements) that make up the total effect produced by the movie.

The final track (track #15, "Full Circle") is another strange track: I would put this in the "soundtrack" category: it's not a traditional song, but more musical sound effects, with a murmuring man's voice somewhere inside it. After a few listenings at high volume, I was able to figure out that the voice was old Joe Plaice murmuring about the "phantom ship". The track's name, whether deliberately or not, recalls O'Brian's comment that he planned to bring his series "full circle" at the end. A spooky sort of ending, but I liked it, and it seemed an eeriely appropriate way to put a final O'Brian touch on things.

John Finneran

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