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Cutthroat Island
Album Cover Art
1995 Silva
1995 Nu.millennia
Album 2 Cover Art
2005 Prometheus
Album 3 Cover Art
Composed and Co-Produced by:

Conducted by:
David Snell

Orchestrated by:
Brad Dechter
Frank Bennett
Don Nemitz
Jeff Atmajian

Co-Produced by:
Ford A. Thaxton

Performed by:
Labels Icon
Silva Screen Records FILMCD 178 (European)
(May, 1995)

Nu.millennia 00009-4 (American)
(May, 1995)

Prometheus Records XPCD 157
(March, 2005)
Availability Icon
The American "nu.millennia" album is long out of print, however the identical European Silva album (released concurrently) is still available at some outlets. The 2-CD set from Prometheus is available primarily through soundtrack specialty outlets.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you define your swashbuckling pirate music by the parameters of Hollywood's Golden Age and seek the one truly impressive translation of that sound to a masterful digital-era recording.

Avoid it... if loquacious bombast of relentless and dramatic orchestral and choral intensity, consistent in its massive scope over the course of two hours, is simply too much ruckus to tolerate (no matter the score's status as a modern classic).
Review Icon
WRITTEN 3/31/98, REVISED 2/10/08
Cutthroat Island: (John Debney) If you measure the success or failure of a motion picture production only by its profitability, then Cutthroat Island ranks among the most disastrous ventures in the history of Hollywood. Costing $92 million and only returning $10 million in domestic performance, the film suffered the consequences of a tragic series of production failures and mishaps. The concept of a large-scale swashbuckling adventure on the high seas was frightfully overdue by the 1990's, with the last major entries in the genre long forgotten in the 1950's. Unfortunately, the loss of two of the three lead actors in the days before the beginning of production, endless changes in the script (extending well into the filming), and the last-minute loss of a composer for the soundtrack all compounded the problems. Despite being quite entertaining in parts, Cutthroat Island was doomed by terrible word of mouth, and the endeavor largely ended the cinematic careers of director Renny Harlin, his wife and lead actress Geena Davis, replacement lead actor Matthew Modine, and, most importantly, forced the Carolco studio itself towards its inevitable bankruptcy. It didn't do much good for producer Mario Kassar either, whose first choice to score the film was David Arnold, the young Brit whose meteoric rise to the mainstream of Hollywood scoring was supported by Kassar's recent projects. Arnold, however, would have to bow out of the production due to scheduling conflicts. He had spent two weeks writing music for Cutthroat Island, and, by his own admission, "a few bits and pieces" of the ideas he conjured for the film would be adapted into Independence Day. He would have his own opportunity six years later to spread his wings in the swashbuckling genre, to an extent, with The Musketeer. While Arnold was pleased by his material for Cutthroat Island, none of it was actually recorded, and contrary to popular belief, the replacement composer did not use any of Arnold's ideas in his own music for the film. That replacement was the little-known John Debney, who career had already been hyperactive with the same B-rate projects that still earn him most of his paychecks fifteen years later.

The rampant speculation about John Debney's score for Cutthroat Island is due to the simple fact that so many of the constructs and orchestration heard in its various parts are so similar to the style that Arnold would perpetuate in his own career during the 1990's. With both composers claiming that they had no effect on each other for the purposes of Cutthroat Island, it would be most likely that Arnold's music for Independence Day was influenced by Debney and not vice versa. Adding fuel to fire of the debate has been the intriguing circumstance of Debney's inopportunity to return to the genre in order to flesh out his ideas further and stake a claim to the style of the music over the wishes of Arnold's somewhat stubborn fanbase. Also interesting to note is that the only other composer working in Hollywood during the 1990's and 2000's whose music comes close to the style of Cutthroat Island is Alan Silvestri, who was originally set to score the first of the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean films before he was sacked in favor of the Hans Zimmer machine of industrialized (faux-)orchestral music. One of the reasons why Cutthroat Island is held with such resoundingly high regard by traditional film score collectors is because it does exactly what Debney set out to accomplish: pay tribute to the masters of the Golden age who defined the concept of orchestral pirate music (and most of this sound is owed to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's extensive influence going back to the mid-1930's) and modernize the concept with an ambitious combination of the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices. Debney succeeded so well in providing a satisfyingly powerful and current reincarnation of the old swashbuckling spirit that many of the fans who cherish Cutthroat Island are the same ones who despise (or at least marginalize) the Zimmer-led production of music for a Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that features sounds more appropriate for modern military thrillers than the genre it resides within. The soundtrack was one of the few enduring highlights of Cutthroat Island, and Debney seems to be among the few crew members unscathed by the film's poisonous touch.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.24 Stars
***** 2,480 5 Stars
**** 892 4 Stars
*** 554 3 Stars
** 179 2 Stars
* 169 1 Stars
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Read All Start New Thread Search Comments
Not a Top 10 Worst Movie - Top 10 BEST and not just for the music alone!
Elaine Barrett - November 5, 2010, at 2:57 a.m.
1 comment  (1170 views)
Holy crap, it's awesome!
Richard Kleiner - October 20, 2010, at 9:23 p.m.
1 comment  (1210 views)
I think this music should be tought in school...   Expand >>
BNR - January 2, 2009, at 3:20 p.m.
2 comments  (2720 views)
Newest: December 12, 2009, at 9:32 Richard Kleiner
Trailer music?   Expand >>
xeriouxi - December 10, 2006, at 9:50 p.m.
2 comments  (3502 views)
Newest: September 24, 2008, at 3:24 booboobasher
An excellent and well-composed score
Sheridan - August 26, 2006, at 4:51 a.m.
1 comment  (2244 views)
Debney Owns All Pirate Flicks   Expand >>
HornerFan2006 - April 17, 2006, at 2:39 p.m.
2 comments  (3735 views)
Newest: July 16, 2006, at 12:00 Jeroen

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1995 Albums Tracks   ▼Total Time: 70:24
• 1. Main Title/Morgan's Ride (4:38)
• 2. Carriage Chase (7:20)
• 3. The Language of Romance (2:39)
• 4. Setting Sail (1:03)
• 5. To the Bottom of the Sea (2:43)
• 6. Morgan Takes the Ship (4:30)
• 7. The Funeral (1:30)
• 8. The Rescue (3:41)
• 9. Discovery of the Treasure (2:19)
• 10. The Big Jump (2:38)
• 11. The Storm Begins (2:33)
• 12. Morgan Captured/Sword Fight (5:23)
• 13. Shaw Steals the Map (3:30)
• 14. Escape from Mordechai's (2:09)
• 15. Charting the Course (2:19)
• 16. First Kiss (1:54)
• 17. The Battle (6:09)
• 18. Dawg's Demise/The Triumph (3:31)
• 19. It's Only Gold/End Credits (9:42)
2005 2-CD Set Tracks   ▼Total Time: 145:46

Notes Icon
The 1995 Silva album contains the following notes from Renny Harlin and John Debney:

"John Debney has recently emerged as one of the most talented and versatile young composers on the music scene. It was my great fortune to work with him on Cutthroat Island. He has created an incredible, large scale score, recorded by the 120-piece London Symphony Orchestra. In hiring John, I took something of a chance. I had heard his demo tape and loved it, but Cutthroat Island is a huge movie and is extremely demanding and complex in its music needs. However, as soon as I heard John's work, I knew he was the right choice. His score surpassed my wildest expectations. Every time I arrived at the studio, I was amazed at his inventiveness and talent. It was always a pleasure to hear his latest melody." -- Director Renny Harlin

"Where to begin? I was thrilled when I recieved word that I would be composing the score for Cutthroat Island. Rarely does a composer get the chance to write music for a canvas as large in scope and adventure as this film. When Renny Harlin first showed some footage to me from the film I became even more excited and yet a bit apprehensive. The score, I felt, had to be every bit as large and grand as the film. I wanted it to harken back to the great pirate/adventure scores of old and yet not be "Old Fashioned". Also, from what Renny said, there would be a tremendous amount of music needed. A bit daunted I pressed ahead. Almost 2 hours of music later, I jumped on a plane and was immediately blown away upon hearing the impassioned performace of my score by The London Symphony Orchestra (complimented by The London Voices). Needless to say, it was a glorious series of recording sessions at Air Lyndhurst Hall in London. Renny was terrific to work with and I will always be deeply grateful for his belief, loyalty, and support on this score. Enjoy!" -- Composer John Debney

The 2005 Prometheus album includes extensive notes from Paul Tonks about the score and film, as well as a revised note from John Debney (written in November, 2004) looking back at the experience fondly. The correct order of tracks for the 1995 albums (as they appear in the film) is as follows: 1, 8, 7, 3, 2, 12, 14, 4, 15, 16, 11, 5, 13, 9, 10, 6, 17, 18, 19
Copyright © 1998-2015, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Cutthroat Island are Copyright © 1995, Silva Screen Records FILMCD 178 (European), Nu.millennia 00009-4 (American), Prometheus Records XPCD 157 and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 3/31/98 and last updated 2/10/08.
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