CD: Breakdown (1997)

July 30, 2011 | By

Return toHome Soundtrack  Reviews / B


Rating: Excellent

Label: La-La Land Records / Released: June 7, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: CD 1: 12 tracks / (59:15)CD 2: 14 tracks / (58:20)CD 3: 10 tracks / (50:19)


Special Notes: 24-page colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 3000 copies.


Composer: Basil Poledouris




La-La Land’s 3-disc set is both a dream package for Basil Poledouris fans, and a fascinating examination of how a score evolves during the postproduction process as a director and / or producer feel major changes are necessary because the tone isn’t quite right.

We’ve become used to hearing alternate takes, early drafts of cues, and double-bill CDs featuring rejected and original scores, but two scores by one composer is something new and unique. LLL’s set allows the listener to trace the changes as Poledouris conferred with director Jonathan Mostow to fix problems, refine ideas, and get the music right for the finished product.

The two scores use the same themes, but the key changes are de-emphasizing the breadth of the orchestra, the richness of theme statements, and the density and depth of percussion and electronics.

Breakdown is anchored to a clattering rhythm which ripples and repeats its central core before a big dramatic slam, and restarts anew. In the “Main Titles,” Poledouris layers in a ticking pocket watch, and a rapping sound which rises fast and tends to lead up to the heavy slam. Over these beautifully ominous textures is an eerie electronic tone that’s partly an emulation of woodwind, human voice, shrill metallic whine, and a windy breeze, and it forms the melodic component to the opening cue.

In the original draft score, the title music features more melody as performed by electronics; but Mostow didn’t want the film to begin with any warmth; the stripped-down, final version evokes innocent travelers on a dusty, lonely road, with wide expanses that could hide unknown dangers:  get lost or stop in the wrong place, and vacation time is over.

By going minimal, the score matches the sense of being lost and abandoned, confused and emotionally isolated, and in the action cues, fighting against a group of baddies. The lone, windy melody is tied to Kurt Russell and his wife, and becomes their theme of desperation – as a husband searches for his missing wife, and as the wife’s voice and ethereal presence after she disappears from the film until the final reel.

It’s an efficient but elegant tactic to maintain a sympathetic undercurrent when a third of the film’s main characters disappears from view; and the bulk of the drama is a cruel battle of wits between classic archetypes: a clean-cut city boy, and a rugged country hick.

Poledouris evokes a bit of Bernard Herrmann through the orchestrations and harmonics in “Earl’s Truck By / Photos / No Help,” and there are brief bits of ambient-styled bridge cues that accent the sense of being lost on a desert highway, and running into a dead end, but the score has its share of strong action cues.

“Route 7-North” is one of several lengthy action cues where there’s a mix of classical and contemporary scoring – typical of Poledouris’ nature to organically fuse his love of melody, harmony, and contemporary sounds. An acoustic guitar twang launches the cue, a synth chord bleeds into the first kinetic section of rapping sounds and frenetic strings and piano hits, and that windy synth tone glides above the busy action.

The cue’s midsection has more busy string patterns, brass accenting percussion hits, and repeated sections which rise and crest with cymbal clashes. Poledouris also brings in a pulsing synth beat, and during its sustained bridge he adds more shimmering metallic sounds before pulling back the electronica for strings and brass. Synth and double-bass beats accent Russell’s onscreen scrambling, and the blend of busy orchestra and synths return, with deeper layers of percussion and rambling, deep piano hits. The cue then closes with a gentle lament for Russell’s wife, using strings and woodwinds before the music literally evaporates into silence.

“Route 7-North” is also one of four cues co-composed with Richard Marvin (the others being “The Bank,” “Speeding Truck Climb,” “Truck Falls”), who had previously scored Mostow’s 1991 TV movie Flight of Black Angel.

According to Jeff Bond’s informative liner notes, Marvin initially scored two cues independently, and the music was later merged with Poledouris’ work. Marvin’s score for Mostow’s Surrogates [M] (2009) illustrates the composer’s own knack for flawlessly blending electronics and orchestra, and it’s clear he was a perfect match for Poledouris, with the latter’s longtime assistant Eric Colvin making sure any seams between the contributing composer were erased, and Poledouris’ own music remained true to Mostow’s preferred minimalist design.

Colvin is also credited with composing a cue solo (“Jeff in the Truck”), as are Steve Forman and Judd Miller (“Bringing Money to Earl”), and it’s frankly impossible to tell who wrote what – which is the way it’s supposed to be. Everyone seemed to work hard in writing in the style begun by Poledouris, and there were enough quality checks to ensure no cue felt jarringly different; moreover, little motifs and touches were recapped to create continuity, be it a kind of electronic watery ‘splash’ sound combined with a rattling percussion hit, or the wailing, windy melody.

The shifting between pure orchestral and electronic hybrids is also consistent, so no cue is jarring. When the fat vibrato from double-bass strokes are combined with synth enhancements and percussion in “Speeding Truck Climb,” the instrumentation remains consistent with Poledouris’ stripped-down main title design.

In addition to overhauling cues, bringing in co-composers, and stripping down the instrumentation, a cue from the early score – “Heist Explained” – was rewritten and repositioned as the film’s “End Credits,” closing the film on a firm statement of miserable victory: the couple are reunited and managed to kill the sonofabitch responsible for their torment, but there’s no hint of hope – the mournful quality and increasing layers of brass merely emphasize the lives of the two characters have been irreparably scarred.

It’s a beautiful cue for the emphasis on gentle harmonics, and the way Poledouris stretches out his statement, so by its conclusion we frankly feel as exhausted as the characters. Warm instruments such as acoustic guitar, flutes, and strings provide slight aspects of humanity, but an ongoing two-note lament keeps on lower strings provide an undercurrent of misery. The revised “End Credits” ultimately gather all elements of the orchestra for a final statement, bringing the score to a close, but leaving the door open as to whether the couple will survive their ordeal.

LLL’s organized the mass of music – almost three hours’ worth – into Disc 1 (final score), Disc 2 (early score), and Disc 3 (alternates), and it’s easy to listen to the entire mass without a sense of boredom, or choose any disc to sample the score, because what was written is derived from Poledouris; it’s just the mass of music that makes the album rather daunting.

Prior to LLL’s release, Poledouris’ final and early scores floated around as cassette tapes which later begat bootleg CDs in 1999 and 2001. Some of the cues were taken from the isolated music mix, which featured a bleeding of source music, as well as volume dips and sync marking tones (“Jeff Sneaks Into House / Deke Freeze / Car Chase” was particularly affected by these flaws).

LLL’s set features properly mastered cues from superior elements, and it’s surprising this set not only emerged as a legit commercial release, but features unused music that could easily have been junked after the film’s release.

Breakdown isn’t a vintage Golden or Silver Age Hollywood score, but the producers still had to track down materials, do some archeological digging, and restoring cues – techniques honed by producers for releases of vintage Hollywood scores.

It’s a minor miracle we have the opportunity to sample a score’s development because Poledouris was able to record his first draft using full orchestra and synths, and for the composer’s fans, there’s about three hours of brilliance they can add to their listening repertoire.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography


Return toHome Soundtrack Reviews B

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Soundtrack Reviews

Comments are closed.