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Comments about the soundtrack for Back to the Future Trilogy (Alan Silvestri)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Todd China
• Date: Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 7:51 a.m.
• IP Address: donated.filmtracks.com

(The following donated review by Todd China was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in May, 2009)


The Back to the Future Trilogy: (Alan Silvestri) Varese Sarabande's re-recording of the Back to the Future Trilogy is one of the most frustrating film score albums I have ever bought. One only has to listen to the eleven minutes of music on the MCA original album to realize the utter and abject inferiority of John Debney's interpretation. The tempos are all horribly inaccurate. The main theme is noticeably slower, and the syncopated trombones in the middle section sound completely flat and lifeless, as if Debney and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra didn't know the meaning of the word "staccato."

On their website, Varese advertised this release with the promise that we would finally get the exciting and heroic "Skateboard Chase" and a complete rendition of the Clocktower sequence. The "Skateboard Chase" is painfully slow and obviously not the same as the original version. One only needs to listen to the first thirty seconds of "Hoverboard Chase" from Back to the Future II to realize just how flaccid Debney's take is.

The slow sections, such as "The Letter" and the second half of "Lone Pine Mall '85" sound close enough to the originals to be acceptable. However, I cringe every time I listen to Debney's take on "Clocktower Pt. 1." This track on the album is embarrassingly awful, especially when the readily available OST version is so obviously superior. The tempo, as usual, is agonizingly slow. Crucial percussion parts were inexplicably dropped, including an absolutely vital snare drum ostinato near the end, when Marty yells to Doc, "I have to tell you about the future!" There is no sense of the urgency, frenetic energy, and heroism of the moment. The snare drums that do remain intact in the piece are much too soft. In general, certain parts of the orchestra come off consistently muted, namely the snare drums and the piano. The piano in "Lone Pine Mall '85" is barely audible, which does much to detract from the impact of the cue.

The only cue that makes this album worth buying is "Clocktower Pt. 2." Although noticeably slower in tempo, the recording of this cue is very entertaining. Unfortunately, the trombones' phrasing near the end, as in the main theme, just doesn't seem right. This cue does show off some of the technical proficiency of certain sections of the orchestra, particularly the trumpets. The inclusion of "Doc Returns," adequately performed, is also a welcome cue on the album.

The selections from Back to the Future II are somewhat better performed than the ones from Part I, and the different ending of "The Letter" is fascinating. And for those of us who already have the soundtrack to Part III, the cues from this film on the album are a complete waste of time. They do prove one thing, though: any version of Back to the Future III that Debney could possibly come up with would no doubt have been woefully inferior. "The Ride" is performed at a faster tempo than the rest of the album, but the piece itself is really just a pastiche of music from the trilogy, with a few bars from Predator thrown in. It really does not add anything to the Back to the Future canon.

Finally, there is the issue of music that was left off from the original film. Sure, the music for DeLorean chase in the beginning of the film was not included. And how about the extended version of "Johnny B. Goode?" On the MCA soundtrack, the song fades out before it gets a chance to really cook, because that's when Marty goes crazy on his guitar, ending with that ear-bleeding riff. If they're going to waste our time polluting our favorite soundtracks with oldies, why stop halfway? The full version of "Johnny B. Goode" is hilarious and would have brought down the house if it had been included as a bonus track. In the future, I recommend all forty-five or so minutes of the score be released. Include all the songs too, except for that godawful "Time Bomb Town." And give us an extended "Johnny B. Goode."

I must confess, though, that I do listen to this CD fairly often. If you just skip "Clocktower Pt. 1," then the album is listenable and entertaining. I know how awful and inferior this performance is, but I love Back to the Future, and I just can't help myself. It's a guilty pleasure. The sound quality has none of the freshness and vibrancy of the original. What happened? Varese used to give us excellent recordings like Hollywood '95, Vertigo, and Frontiers. Now we get subpar recordings like this that sound like they were all done in one take. Take away one star if you're not a Back to the Future fan. ***






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