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Comments about the soundtrack for Heat (Elliot Goldenthal)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Mike Skerritt   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Thursday, July 24, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.
• IP Address:

(The following donated review by Mike Skerritt was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in July, 2008)

Buy it... if you're a Elliot Goldenthal collector or if you're a fan of ambient, textured music that is themeless but not without a sense of self.

Avoid it... if you prefer straightforward theme and variation scoring.

Heat: (Elliot Goldenthal) Reworked from a failed TV pilot, 1995's Heat pitted Al Pacino and his elite Robbery Homicide Unit against Robert DeNiro's no less professional and proficient band of thieves. With Dante Spinotti's blue-hued palette and the city of Los Angeles providing ample atmosphere, director Michael Mann sought once again to compile the moodiest, broodiest soundtrack possible. Who would've guessed that Mann, he of the slickly produced pop and circumstance, would find a musical alter ego in esoteric Elliot Goldenthal? An unabashed visualist with style to burn, Mann has not always been successful in matching his style with substance, but Heat, arguably Mann's best film to date, served up unusually high amounts of both. So into a filmography which now includes the likes of Jan Hammer, Trevor Jones, Randy Edelman and Lisa Gerrard stepped Elliot Goldenthal.

Still building his career through an impressive string of scores such as Cobb and Interview with the Vampire, the Goldenthal's heady, classically-based voice may not have seemed the likeliest match with Mann's visceral kitsch, but upon closer observation, the hiring would not seem so unlikely. Goldenthal often works abstractly with mood and texture, eschewing traditional leitmotivic, paint-by-numbers scoring. What Mann and Goldenthal did on this project was to contextualize Goldenthal's particular style to the genre, blending ambient electronics, drums and the Kronos Quartet to brood alongside Mann's slick camerawork. The resulting score is a beautifully rendered exercise in rhythm and texture, themeless but not without a sense of self. In one word: cool.

Both movie and album open with Heat, a seven and a half minute miniature masterpiece of mood that builds layers of high strings, drums and electric guitars into a cacophony of sound as the movie's first set piece, an armored truck heist, is staged and executed. Of the near thirty minutes of score on the album, it's the longest and strongest cue. Also of particular note are "Steel Cello Lament," "Of Separation" and "Coffee Shop," which underscores cinema's only moment when Pacino and DeNiro share the screen, although an urban legend persists that the two heavyweights were never actually together while filming the scene --which is possible, since both faces never share a moment on-screen, but not likely.

To augment Goldenthal's score, Mann, ever the world music guru, peppered the soundtrack with entries from several other artists. Usually, score and songs are mutually exclusive in a film, but perhaps the most surprising asset of this album is its consistency. Goldenthal's voice is true and unique, but it fits in nicely with disparate work from the likes of Michael Brook, Brian Eno, Passengers, Lisa Gerrard (whose work here is quasi-gothic and less pop-influenced than her later output), Moby, guitarist Terje Rypdal and Einsturzende Neubauten. The songs are composed of the same basic elements--electronics, percussion, electric guitars and a boatload of atmosphere--that the score is, and the singular tone strengthens the seventy-four minute running time.

Where the album fails is as an exhaustive representation of the music as used in the film (not surprising given a three-hour running time, but you get the point). Several cues have been edited or modified from their film versions, and a few of the strongest musical moments from the film (notably the fantastic, propulsive piece when DeNiro finally tracks down the crooked broker who tried and failed to kill him) have been omitted. In the grand scheme of such a strong album it's a minor quibble, but consider this a plea for Volume Two. (Non-Goldenthal side note: The version of Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" on this album is not the same version that was used during the film's end titles, which can be found on two different Moby albums.)

Heat remains a creative highpoint for Michael Mann and one of many for Elliot Goldenthal, though debatably it has not gained proper recognition among film fans and score fans alike. Reputations may create stigmas, but on occasion they create pleasant surprises. Both the score and the resulting soundtrack album are uniformly strong; this is the perfect music for a driving under the moon at two in the morning (trust me). But if you're expecting a verbatim collection of cues as used in the film, you'll have to stick with watching it. ****

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rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. Scoreboard created 7/24/98 and last updated 4/25/15.