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Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
James Horner

Performed by:
The London Symphony Orchestra and The Ambrosian Singers

Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:

Also See:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Apollo 13
The Omen
Capricorn One

Audio Clips:
2. Lillian's Heart Attack (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

4. Michael's Gift to Karen (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

6. Race for Time (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

7. Final Playback/End Titles (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release.



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Sales Rank: 286021

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Buy it... if you're tired of being bombarded with James Horner's easy, repetitive, melodramatic works for the mainstream and desire a score that may not be completely unique in construct but remains as menacing and raw as anything else in his career.

Avoid it... if you are adverse to scores that utilize "organized chaos" and a snarling, truly frightening tone of choral and symphonic brutality to balance their ethereal fantasy elements.

Brainstorm: (James Horner) So the question is this: when one of the two lead stars of your film dies in an accident shortly before the completion of principal photography, do you can the film permanently and collect upon the actor's insurance, or do you make the necessary rearrangements to release the film to the public anyway? The 1983 Douglas Trumbull film Brainstorm had much more going for it than simply the publicity of actress Natalie Wood's death in a boating accident in 1981. The plot of the science fiction thriller postulated about the ethical implications of a mechanical invention that records the sensory experiences of one individual and allows for the playback of those feelings to the brain of another person. This technology not only attracts the most intense scientific minds but also the attention of corporate and government interests. The situation gets complicated when one of the scientists realizes that she is having a fatal heart attack and records the last moments of her life, leading to speculation about whether another person feeling those end of life recordings would also die or, more fantastically, learn about what happens upon death. The idea behind the plot is universally admired, but the execution of it yielded a finished film that concentrated mostly on the machine itself and marginalized the characters. A creative combination of varying film sizes and vibrant special effects were dazzling, an expected feature given Trumbull's own credits in that area (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Bladerunner). Ultimately, however, Brainstorm is only remembered for Wood's death and the speculation about co-star Christopher Walken's involvement in that incident. While the producers of the film sought to scrap the entire venture and collect the insurance, the contract for the film gave Trumbull the ultimate say in the matter. He re-wrote a handful of scenes, changed a few camera angles in revised shooting, and dedicated his finished product to Wood. The two-year delay and the publicity surrounding the post-production and accident controversy couldn't save Brainstorm from the fact that it had flaws in its character setup, but at the very least it accomplished the goals of making the audience think and allowing one last glimpse of the popular Wood on screen. Trumbull was so distraught by the entire production that he never directed a Hollywood film again.

Almost as a sidebar at the time, Brainstorm also gave a 30-year-old composer an opportunity to expand his horizons in the science-fiction genre. Outside of his work on B-rate sci-fi schlock, James Horner was really only known for his incredibly surprising score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the time. His assignment to Brainstorm allowed him to redefine similar sounds and conjure new ones for both the ethereal and horrifying elements of mechanized telepathy. Unlike the Horner projects to follow (with a more family-oriented tone of orchestral majesty and vintage jazz), Brainstorm is a work that very strikingly alternates between the grandiose mystery of the concept's possibilities and the horrors of its downside. Thus, Horner's score sways dramatically from gorgeous choral harmony to excruciating symphonic chaos frequently and sometimes violently. Even in the score's moments of beauty, there is a sense of raw brutality lurking in the secondary performance elements (and therefore the tone of the composition). Because Brainstorm does contain a love story, Horner offers a lovely crescendo of melodramatic choral progressions that eventually develops into a curiously baroque theme for strings and piano. Hints of the choral introduction to this theme are struck down by dissonance in "Main Title," though the idea is offered in extended format in "Michael's Gift to Karen," a scene in which Walken's character summarizes his life with Wood's character in a touching but slightly creepy mental recording. This theme is revisited at the end of the picture, and while it's rather unique in Horner's career (a rarity for the composer in the 80's and 90's), the theme's distinctly classical presentation in "Michael's Gift to Karen" and "End Titles" is an odd choice. The story of Brainstorm doesn't really fit with the sound of a rambling baroque piano and string quartet, but perhaps Horner was attempting to accentuate the other-worldliness of the scenario with this disparate style. Moments of intrigue in Brainstorm are handled with extensions of the choral performances, often times floating detached from the ensemble in an appropriately disembodied mix. The choir's role is important to the score's darker half, too, in which Horner forces the singers to exclaim and sigh in a fashion not unfamiliar to Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking work for The Omen (and its sequels). At times, the women in the choir outright yell and shriek wildly without regard to pitch, a technique which is an effective but highly disturbing.

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The horror and thriller elements in Brainstorm are truly where the score's heart resides, and it is in these moments that a collector of the composer's works will find both the most interesting and exhilarating material. As previously mentioned, the horror cues in Brainstorm are extremely frightening. Horner employs "organized chaos" in three cues to allow certain parts of the symphonic ensemble and choir to follow linear lines of harmony while the rest simply pluck, bang, strike, blurt, and puff in seemingly random, atonal performances. Heard in "Main Title" and the two later playback cues, this effect is a precursor to some of the harshest, bass-heavy material in Vibes. The last minute of "First Playback" and first two minutes of "Final Playback" would make Elliot Goldenthal proud, the latter degenerating into a messy mixture of what sounds like an ensemble warming up indiscriminately. These parts of the score are, without a doubt, unlistenable. Appreciate themÉ use them to annoy your roommates or neighborsÉ but don't expect to revisit them often. On the other hand, Horner's more cohesive action elements in Brainstorm are the true treat of the score. Building upon a determined piano rhythm in several cues, this material transforms from its Apollo 13-like, timpani-pounding suspense with tingling treble accents and notable muted trumpet usage in "Gaining Access to the Tapes" to full fledged brutality with ripping snare drum, banging chimes, and extremely harsh brass rhythm-setters in "Race for Time." The latter cue's forceful personality, emulating both Goldsmith's sense of conspiracy from Capricorn One and Horner's own raw rhythms representing Khan in Star Trek II, is nothing less than a highlight in Horner's complete career filmography. When you hear collectors of the composer lament the loss of the edgy brass and percussion dominated tone of forceful rhythmic power from early in his career, this single cue from "Race for Time" stands as perhaps the best embodiment of that discussion. A more singular cue of note (but an equally compelling one) is "Lillian's Heart Attack," a brilliant representation of the dying scientist's struggle to record her own death with a combination of snarling bass tones and desperate exclamations of Horner's famed four-note motif of evil from the entire brass section. This cue's massive ensemble crashes are among the best of Horner's career. Overall, Brainstorm is an admirable score that remains a daunting challenge on its only (short) album. Something has to be said for the nervous, menacing energy that Horner stirs in this work, even if it is truly insufferable in its most thrilling explosions. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: ****
    Music as Heard on Album: ***
    Overall: ***

Bias Check:For James Horner reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.13 (in 98 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.19 (in 187,990 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.03 Stars
Smart Average: 3.07 Stars*
***** 22 
**** 27 
*** 26 
** 19 
* 24 
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    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Alternative review at
  Southall -- 5/10/12 (2:53 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 30:15

• 1. Main Title (2:15)
• 2. Lillian's Heart Attack (3:18)
• 3. Gaining Access to the Tapes (2:49)
• 4. Michael's Gift to Karen (6:54)
• 5. First Playback (3:21)
• 6. Race for Time (4:53)
• 7. Final Playback/End Titles (6:50)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a note about the score from the director.

  All artwork and sound clips from Brainstorm are Copyright © 1985, Varèse Sarabande. 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 8/22/09 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.