CD: Human Target (2010) – 3-disc set

December 20, 2010 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: La-La Land Records / Released: October 22, 2010

Tracks & Album Length: CD1: 21 tracks / (78:17) + CD2: 22 tracks / (79:25) + CD3: 20 tracks / (47:11)

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Special Notes: 20-page colour booklet with liner notes by composer Bear McCreary, showrunner Jonathan Steinberg, and star Mark Valley / 3-disc set limited to 2000 copies.

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Composer:  Bear McCreary

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Review:

Although Bear McCreary’s involvement with Human Target ended after the first season – Tim Jones (Chuck) took over the scoring duties for Season 2 – it’s a testament to the quality of his writing as well as his clout that La-La Land saw a need to release a 2-disc set (also available online as a download) and limited 3-disc set for fans wanting the show’s Big Orchestral Sound – common with McCreary, but less so for TV whose budgets aren’t always big enough to accommodate a big screen sound for each episode.

As a series, Human Target was designed as a nostalgic riff on humorous action films of the eighties, with wild stunts, undercover operations, death-defying feats, and smart-assed humour that makes them very distinct from the action films of prior or subsequent decades.

The genre was immensely boosted by robust orchestral scores, and even with a little bit of electronic goosing – synths, sequencers, samples, etc. – they will eventually age into some of the finest examples of orchestral scoring. Names like Alan Silvestri, Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith, Michael Kamen, John Williams, John Barry (via the Bond films), and James Horner were synonymous with action films.

One can also include Hans Zimmer, but McCreary doesn’t draw from Zimmer’s canon whatsoever, which makes his approach more distinct since Zimmer’s protégés absorbed identifiable stylistic habits that often trace their roots back to the Media Ventures sound.

If there’s any ghost that dominates McCreary’s music, it’s the Battlestar Galactica percussion, but heavy thumping organic drums have been part of his action arsenal for years – they just suited the tension and conflicts within Galactica and Caprica so well.

Human Target’s main theme is central to the series’ episodic scores, and its construction – elegant militaristic intro/heroic imagery/sense of personal honor code + agitated percussive midsection + full orchestral conclusion that hints at a deadly conflict on the horizon – is a perfect statement of lead character Christopher Chance (a mysterious man whose new goal is to help people in situations as desperate as the ones which previously dominated his past – as well as the adventures that take him on globe-trotting missions where he has to outsmart and out-fist nefarios.

The 3-disc set is comprised of two CDs filmed with the show’s meaty action and main thematic renditions, and a third CD with additional cues + plus early theme sketches. Most of the cues have been arranged for a dramatic narrative flow, and don’t follow the show’s chronological broadcast order, which is fine, since the main theme’s dominance has to be balanced out by dramatic peaks and valleys, as well as secondary themes to break up long stretches of action material.

For genre fans, it’s a treat to hear little gestures and sometimes unsubtle riffs on the stylistic action writing of genre masters. “Military Camp Rescue” is filled with the slippery orchestrations of John Williams’ Indiana Jones films, where strings are perpetually agitated, brass twitter and tremble, and musical themes swoop in grand, fast-moving gestures – lending Chance’s exploits an airy quality as he glides in and out of dangerous situations.

The specter of Goldsmith is very dominant in “Motorcycle Escape,” where three components sort of swirl around each other: a theme statement stretched or compacted depending on the level of character duress; and two groups of rhythmic patterns (an ostinato, agitated strings) that either overlap a separate pattern with percussion and brass. The Goldsmithian process involves one rhythm setting off the rival, and both occasionally overlapping or pushing the other into a tenser guise, which McCreary nails and augments with his own fat drums.

Goldsmith also shows up in “Flipping the Plane,” with agitated strings evoking Star Trek: The Motion Picture. McCreary adopts the string motif early into his cue, and makes it the dominant rhythmic ingredient, augmented with thunderous percussion, and broken up with a fuller recap of the series theme.

Silvestri’s knack for broad comedic strokes shows up in “Tango Fight,” insofar as McCreary evokes the composer’s perfect marriage of humour and action with amusing melodic bits tucked between thick rhythmic clusters. The action-comedy sensibility bleeds into the next cue, “Maria and Chance,” where McCreary captures the wilds of a jungle trek with ethnic flute and percussion, and little gestures (howling woodwinds) for comedy.

“Katherine’s Theme” is the series’ secondary theme for Chance’s lost love, and it’s a rare moment of tenderness and vulnerability in an otherwise fast-paced score. McCreary’s theme also shares similar harmonics with Chance’s Human Target theme, tying the two characters with harmonics and orchestrations – which reflects Chance’s ongoing inner torment from losing his rare love, and the revenge that’s seething within him.

“An Old Life” is even more unique for its exclusion of punchy low brass and percussion after the intro: McCreary focuses on lush, Herrmannesque strings with solo trumpet, and glides into the Katherine theme with oboe and gushing strings – an unsubtle tribute to William’ Raiders / Marion theme, which McCreary amusingly caps with a quick harmonic quote of the Raiders’ march in “The New Christopher Chance.”

McCreary also pays a slight homage to John Barry in “Scar Stories,” using strings and gentle flute for another rare tender moment in the series score, and there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to the liturgical “Monastery in the Mountains” where lyrics (from Psalm 34) are worked into a slightly different Human Target theme – once that harmonically echoes the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” (Seriously.)

The score material on CD3 differs from the rest with a more overt use of electronics, such as the warping metallic tones and thunderous percussion in “Guerrero and Sergei,” and funky bass groove and Galactian wooden claps in “The Black Room” that accentuates the caper-like tone of Chance and a computer nerd sneaking through ducts and entering a secret lab.

Disc 3 also contains one of the show’s best action cuts, “Bertram,” from the same episode as “Tango Fight” and “Maria and Chance.” Written in a hybrid of South American woodwinds, John Williams mysticism, and McCreary percussion, it’s one big crescendo meant to underscore a lengthy chase sequence, and each round of ethnic drums yields a thicker emphasis of rhythmic density (not to mention what sounds like a slight quotation of the ‘ethereal ghost’ theme from Goldsmith’s Poltergeist before a drum cluster closes the cue).

CD3 closes with two sketch versions of Chance’s Theme (the Human Target theme), each a bit reminiscent of Caprica – which is why McCreary kept refining the theme, and a lovely solo piano version of the Katherine theme.

With more than 3 hours of music drawn from the first season’s 12 episodes, it’s a wealth of music to absorb, but it’s never tiring; the album in fact grows on the listener quite fast, and it’s weirdly tough just playing one disc without delving into the others. The flow from between different levels of intense action is balanced by short harmonic and reflective thematic cues, and the music is beautifully orchestrated and engineered.

Pity most series don’t’ get this lavish soundtrack treatment, but this limited multi-disc set is a new benchmark in television soundtrack production.

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© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:BR / Film: Human Target, Season 1 (2010)

Interview: composer Bear McCreary (2010)

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

CD:  Caprica (2009)

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Buy from:

La-La Land Records

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Return toHome Soundtrack Reviews H

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Category: FILM MUSIC

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