Career Intersections

August 23, 2011 | By

Of course this shot is in the trailer. It's inflammoniously glorious!

The Specialist [M] (1994) may not have been a highpoint in the careers of Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, and Eric Roberts (will you just look at that cast?), but it could be regarded as an important career intersection for the lot, seeing how the production occurred at a time when each person’s career was going through another downshift.

The marketing team must have loved playing up the alliteration with ‘Stallone and Stone’ in the ad copy, but both stars were slowly coming to the end of their feature film peaks.

For Stallone, he must have felt the cluster of nineties action films were becoming stale, and taking a physical toll on his body, whereas Stone realized little by little good roles would be few and far between because of the bias against aging actresses, and few producers would see her beyond a cinema sex symbol, after her breakthrough, peek-a-boo role as the scissor-legged femme fatale in Basic Instinct (1992).

Woods had already found satisfying work in TV – he’s great as the corrupt lawyer Roy Cohn in Citizen Kohn (1992) – whereas Steiger kept working, regardless of the increasingly diminished quality of scripts. He also needed a proper director to reign in his penchant for eating scenes, décor, actors and oxygen in giant mouthfuls, but then part of the fun for viewers was watching the powerful actor overindulge in his craft and get all googly-eyed.

Roberts had already fallen into that magical realm known as direct-to-video-Hell: he made a lot of films that were either destined for or ended up on cable TV and home video; and he rarely got a chance to shine on the big screen. Either no one knew what to do with him, or there was a certain oddness to his performance style that wasn’t sufficiently overt to build a whole film around, the way John Carpenter shaped Vampires (1998) into a James Woods showcase of blood, action, and verbal vulgarities by the barrel load.

As mediocre and plot-wonky as The Specialist is, it does possess a certain elegance, of which a good chunk can be attributed to John Barry’s score. It’s a rich orchestral work that quite frankly doesn’t belong in a nineties action film because in 1994 electronics had already made such strong forays into the genre, most composers were compelled to inject a bit of synthetic drum loops hither & thither.

Like Body Heat (1981), The Specialist is one of Barry’s finest noir scores, and whether it was producer Jerry Weintraub or hack director Luis Llosa who wanted a full-on orchestral score, someone deserves a hug. It’s one of Barry’s best works, and showed he could apply his action style outside of the James Bond realm.

Fans of Barry already know that the composer’s trick in scoring action was to go against it: lessen busy passages, and go against the grain by emphasizing harmony, melody, and lots of sustained sections that for the most part managed to work.

In The Specialist, Barry’s score transcends the flat characters and sometimes limply conceived action sequences (again: Llosa = hack), and the original soundtrack album featured a nearly hour-long selection of music, most of it built around a heroic march, and a stunningly gorgeous love theme that morphs into romantic, lounge, and mournful guises. Once in a while a composer writes music for a banal film, and you have to wonder where the inspiration really stemmed.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray offers up a gorgeous transfer with crisp HD sound, and I’ve uploaded a review, noting the film’s obvious failings and some pluses. As a disc, however, the sleek colours look great in a home theatre, and while not the best Stallone film from the nineties, it could’ve been worse: Oscar (1991), or maybe Stop or My Mom Will Shoot (1992).



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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