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Black Sunday
Composed and Conducted by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer

Produced by:
Lukas Kendall
Mike Matessino

Film Score Monthly

Release Date:
January, 2010

Also See:
Jurassic Park
The Towering Inferno
Star Wars: A New Hope

Audio Clips:
16. Airborne/Bomb Passes Stadium (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

19. The Take Off (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

24. The End (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

29. The Explosion (Revised Ending) (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Limited specialty release of 10,000 copies. The unusually high quantity of the FSM pressing was intended to keep the album available at its initial retail price of $20 for a few years.


Black Sunday

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Sales Rank: 224784

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Buy it... if you seek a grim, but intelligent maturation of John Williams' morbidly suspenseful thriller material that developed throughout his disaster scores of the 1970's.

Avoid it... if you expect any part of this score to rival Williams' famous alternatives in 1977, for as technically precise as his subdued ideas for Black Sunday may be, they are not as memorable in most of their elaborations.

Black Sunday: (John Williams) The spectacular success of disaster films in the first half of the 1970's had fizzled by 1977, but that didn't stop studios late to the party to attempt their own thrillers with unlikely plotlines. By the time of Black Sunday and The Swarm, among others, the genre was no longer attracting massive box office returns or awards consideration, especially with the space fantasy era officially in full swing. Paramount's Black Sunday stretched the concept beyond the usual realm of natural disasters and instead fashioned its story as one of political revenge, though mass terror and death were still the potential outcome. After the Israelis turn up the heat on the Palestinians in response to the Black September terrorist attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics, their battle is carried to America. There, the Palestinians almost succeed in their plan to smuggle a massive, dart-shooting bomb into the country, hang it from the bottom of the Goodyear blimp, and detonate it at the Super Bowl (with the American president in attendance). After solving logistical hurdles involving the use of the Goodyear name on the blimp and the shooting of actors interacting at (and interfering with) actual NFL events, director John Frankenheimer was left to populate the film's earlier portions with a suspenseful cat and mouse game featuring actors Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, and Marthe Keller. The film was well received critically but failed to generate much popular interest, a circumstance that extended to John Williams' score. In the year that otherwise brought Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind from the quickly ascending composer, it's no surprise that Black Sunday became lost in the mix. By comparison to its two highly recognized peers of 1977, the score for Black Sunday was thematically functional but underwhelming, edited extensively in the final version of the film and, despite the composer's early intentions, neglected on album. There is nothing in the instrumentation or constructs of Black Sunday that can compete with the memorable elements in Williams' other scores of the year, though his collectors will undoubtedly find merit in his subdued but still technically precise ideas for the concept.

While rather straight forward in its thematic constructs, Black Sunday is often restrained in its presentation of those ideas, leading to a morbidly somber and perpetually unsettled and ominous tone until its final moments. The score features two primary themes and one seldom-referenced secondary idea. By far dominating the personality of Black Sunday is the methodical motif for the Palestinians, represented by a series of four-note phrases that always begin with straight, almost mechanical repetition in its first phrase. The theme haunts the score from its opening moments to the final fade at the end, easily malleable in relation to the other themes and intensifying in performance depth as the plot to explode the blimp progresses. While the theme lurks on celesta and woodwinds earlier in the score, it is finally translated into its final, brass incarnations in "Miami," one of the film's more memorable scenes (as the blimp is first seen). Several momentous brass expressions of the theme, in a style typical to Williams' darker fanfares for his own disaster scores of the early 1970's, await the blimp's final journey to the stadium and collision with it. A handful of powerful cello, piano, timpani, and bass woodwind churnings of the theme produce highlights of the score, including another driving performance for a great shot in "Bomb Passes Stadium" (depicting the bomb on its way to be joined with the blimp as the game is starting). The relentless reminders of this propulsive theme, extending with stealth into the resolution cue and original end credits, serves as a reminder of the unyielding, focused threat of terrorism that spans even beyond this picture. As the theme changes its meter in its later, more accelerated performances, it takes on a personality similar to Jerry Goldsmith's tense material for urban thrillers in the 1990's, a characteristic that applies especially to the two variations of "The End." Interestingly, as the terrorists' theme is allowed to merge with underlying rhythms in this score, it begins to form a very clear mould for Williams' tumultuous motif for the raptors in Jurassic Park, especially in the use of rolling bass woodwinds in the mix. The ending of "Underway" is quite surprising in this regard. In fact, the connections between Black Sunday and Jurassic Park are plentiful in these passages, including the use of enhanced synthetic bass effects to expand the music's dynamic reach.

The second main theme for Black Sunday accompanies Robert Shaw's lead Israeli commando and is a clear precursor for Williams' redemptive but alluringly tragic theme for "the force" in Star Wars. This idea, while faithfully developed by Williams until its first full incarnation in the closing resolution scene, was considerably damaged in its application to the film due to the score's significant rearrangement in the editing process. Ultimately, you never hear this theme in full in the final cut of the film, though its interactions with the terrorists' theme, as well as its own intriguing manipulations for the character's thought process, can be appreciated on album. The third theme in Black Sunday is only heard on creepy piano in "Building the Bomb" and disturbed strings and celesta in "The Last Night," and it represents the doomed love affair between the lead Palestinian agent and the mentally unstable Vietnam veteran who will pilot the blimp. This theme is a bit too tortured for even fans of Williams' 70's romance ideas, its harmony twisted into eerie formations. A handful of other instrumental touches are used by Williams to accentuate certain concepts in the film, most notably an array of clicking percussion as the fuse on the bomb is lit and the distinct flourishes of the harp to address the vague romanticism of the blimp. The employment of the celesta, usually in conjunction with strained high violins, leads to cues difficult to enjoy on album ("Moshevsky's Dead," "The Test," etc). Outside of the intermingling of all of these themes and instrumental identities in Black Sunday is the standout cue "Preparations," which bursts with a fugue that foreshadows several similar, striking multi-string-lined expressions of rhythmic force to come for the composer. Also of note is "The Explosion," which was originally deemed too anti-climactic by the filmmakers, so Williams returned for a later recording session to specifically provide what would eventually be known as one of his blazing brass fanfares in the bombastic major key. The replacement 30-second cue for the very end of the film sounds like a combination of the nobility of The Towering Inferno's exterior shots (in the performances of the Israeli commando's theme) and the show-stopping timpani pounding and sixteenth notes on trumpets later to grace the composer's Star Wars prequels. The tone of this short cue is completely different from the rest of the score, but a welcome relief.

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Overall, Black Sunday is an accomplished score but not necessarily a truly memorable one. The relatively archival sound quality doesn't allow the many intricacies of the instrumental colors to expose themselves well enough to casually appreciate. Once it starts cooking in the second half, there is much to like about its outwardly menacing attitude. Though the first half of the score is equally grim, it blends into the background much like Williams' just previous Midway did outside of its major thematic performances. The theme for the terrorists is afforded some truly fantastic statements that easily earned him his paycheck (it almost makes you wish they had accomplished their aim, if only to hear what kind of glorious variation Williams could have made on this idea). Those who appreciate the composer's use of low woodwinds to denote suspense (a la E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) will love the maturation of this primary theme. Those nostalgic for Williams' infusion of pop rhythms and instrumentation into his vintage disaster scores will find equal merit in the composer's solo trumpet and light jazz arrangement of the Israeli's theme in his original end titles cue. Thus, altogether, Black Sunday is the kind of score that will appeal to Williams collectors but convert few outside of that group. Long represented on album by only substandard bootlegs, it was finally given proper treatment by Film Score Monthly in 2010. This outstanding, remastered presentation of the score allows listeners to hear it as Williams had intended, which will give them the opportunity to consider an extensive amount of material dialed out of (or rearranged in) the film. Included are the source cues recorded by Williams for the game and beyond, as well as the original end credits cue without the pop percussion and an edited approximation of the end credits material heard in context. Unfortunately, the masters of the revised version of "The Explosion" could not be located, so the score's single most memorable moment reverts back to mono sound from a seemingly inferior source. Aside from this one major detraction, the FSM Black Sunday album will not disappoint. Had the score been recorded digitally twenty years later, a vibrant soundscape for the composition would likely have afforded it a fourth star in its rating. True enthusiasts of the composer can even extend comparisons of this score to Williams' last music for the screen before going into semi-retirement in 2005, Munich. The dark hues are equally sinister in both scores. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 337,530 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.02 Stars
Smart Average: 3.03 Stars*
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 63:57

• 1. Beirut (0:37)
• 2. Commandos Arrive (1:15)
• 3. Commando Raid (5:30)
• 4. It Was Good/Dahlia Arrives/The Unloading (3:11)
• 5. Speed Boat Chase (1:50)
• 6. The Telephone Man/The Captain Returns (2:14)
• 7. Nurse Dahlia/Kabakov's Card/The Hypodermic (3:28)
• 8. Moshevsky's Dead (1:57)
• 9. The Test (1:55)
• 10. Building the Bomb (1:53)
• 11. Miami/Dahlia's Call (2:26)
• 12. The Last Night (1:28)
• 13. Preparations (2:42)
• 14. Passed (0:31)
• 15. The Flight Check (1:49)
• 16. Airborne/Bomb Passes Stadium (1:46)
• 17. Farley's Dead (1:33)
• 18. The Blimp and the Bomb (3:12)
• 19. The Take Off (1:43)
• 20. Underway (0:39)
• 21. Air Chase (Part 1) (1:12)
• 22. Air Chase (Parts 2 and 3)/The Blimp Hits (7:19)
• 23. The Explosion (2:36)
• 24. The End (2:15)

Alternates and Source Music: (8:58)
• 25. Hotel Lobby (Source) (1:49)
• 26. Fight Song #1 (Source) (0:51)
• 27. Fight Song #2 (Source) (1:45)
• 28. The End (Alternate, Without Percussion) (2:20)
• 29. The Explosion (Revised Ending)/The End (Film Edit) (2:12)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The album contains Film Score Monthly's usual level of extensive notation about the film and score.

  All artwork and sound clips from Black Sunday are Copyright © 2010, Film Score Monthly. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 2/22/10 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2010-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.