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Empire of the Sun
Composed, Co-Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer

Co-Conducted by:
Janine Wagner

Warner Brothers Records

Release Date:
December 9th, 1987

Also See:
Saving Private Ryan
Jurassic Park

Audio Clips:
2. Cadillac of the Skies (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

3. Jim's New Life (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

7. Liberation: Exsultate Justi (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. The Streets of Shanghai (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release, available in the late 2000's for under $10.

  Winner of a BAFTA Award. Nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Grammy Award.

Empire of the Sun
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Our Price: $9.86
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Sales Rank: 77281

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Buy it... if you seek a wide emotional range from John Williams, straining in its turbulent, sometimes sparse suspense material but redemptive in its wondrous fantasy half (and famous theme).

Avoid it... if you require a strong sense of continuity and flow in your soundtracks, because the film's indecision about balancing the horrors of war and a boy's imagination translate directly into a disjointed score.

Empire of the Sun: (John Williams) So much potential went unrealized in Steven Spielberg's 1987 World War II film Empire of the Sun that J.G. Ballard's autobiographical story largely wasted its chance to make a significant impact as a whole. Like all of Spielberg's films, there are moments of brilliance, and in Empire of the Sun, they come early. A young British boy (played by newcomer Christian Bale) lives a life of privilege in Shanghai just prior to the Japanese invasion of the war's start, and in one of the director's most compelling and frightening scenes (once again dwelling upon child and parent separation issuesÉ major hang-up for Spielberg throughout his career), he is separated from his family inside a mob of frantic evacuees. From there, the boy ends up in an internment camp for foreigners, learning all the methods of stealing and scamming his way to likeability and survival. The key to his positive mental outlook is his fascination with the sky and airplanes, fantasizing about aircraft battles and maintaining good knowledge of the vehicles. The story lives through his imagination, which is both an appealing element and, unfortunately, the film's downfall. Empire of the Sun went on to several academy award nominations, all in technical fields, and the reason it did not attract better accolades or particularly strong reviews at the time was due to Spielberg's inability to reconcile the imaginative side of the plot with the necessary horrors of war depicted throughout. Because Spielberg presents the boy's life in a series of episodic scenes, Empire of the Sun loses its sense of direction and ultimately concludes without having delivered a clear, consolidated message. This fault is unquestionably reflected in John Williams' music for the film, continuing a fruitful collaboration that occasionally suffered hiccups. While veteran collectors of Williams' scores stand by Empire of the Sun, some even proclaiming its greatness, the fact remains that it suffers from the same split personality as the film. The quality of the composition aside, it is a score of two incompatible halves, contributing to the awkward imbalance of fantasy and reality in the harrowing circumstances on screen. On one hand, you hear the jubilant, celebratory music of both the boy's imagination and his eventual liberation (known best in its concert arrangement, "Exsultate Justi") . On the other is the grim, deeply disturbed ambient material for the actual depictions of wartime hardship. Alone, either half of the score for Empire of the Sun would be effective, but together they especially produce an awkward album experience.

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The light half of Empire of the Sun ranges from the effortless fun of the frolicking title theme in "Jim's New Life" to wondrous full ensemble harmony representing the airplanes in "Cadillac of the Skies." In both "Imaginary Air Battle" and "Liberation: Exsultate Justi," Williams explores lovely variations on this material, foreshadowing the warmth and sense of freedom that both Home Alone and Hook would more tackle to much greater lengths shortly thereafter. The addition of a choir to Williams' standard orchestral tones was something relatively new in 1987, though the technique is as much a highlight here as it would be in Hook and several other later works. The choral concert arrangement of the primary theme (in Latin), "Exsultate Justi," is by far the most famous piece remembered from the score, though like the similar application of the primary vocalized themes in Saving Private Ryan and Amistad, this recording is not particularly representative of the remainder of the score. In fact, Empire of the Sun is dominated in its running time by its frightfully darker half, arguably more interesting music that may or may not translate to an engaging listening experience depending on your opinion of Williams' suspense and horror material. In the most turbulent portions, the instrumentation and tone of JFK and Jurassic Park is hinted, "The Streets of Shanghai" strongly suggestive of the latter. The anguish of "Lost in the Crowd" causes emotional responses similar to equally troubled parts of A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The lengthy "The Return to the City" rumbles with a bass rhythm reminiscent of Christopher Young's material from the era. Like the equally long "No Road Home/Seeing the Bomb," this cue is ultimately atmospheric; with whining string effects, lonely shakuhachi flute, faint reminders of a classical existence on piano, and disembodied chorus, these cues maintain a sense of wonderment, though in a distinctly oppressed atmosphere. Existing by itself is the four minute "The Pheasant Hunt," a straight precursor to the jungle-like suspense material of sparse construct in Jurassic Park and a cue that all but kills the album's flow. When you add the three source inclusions, themselves disparate in style and breaking up the continuity of Williams' original contributions, Empire of the Sun is a difficult soundtrack album at best. There is much to appreciate in the score, though like the film, there is general lack of overarching direction that forces the score to react without consistent references to a memorable core of ideas. As such, Empire of the Sun is the kind of Williams music that is easy to recommend, but not an album to revisit in its entirety too often. *** 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 336,549 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.27 Stars
Smart Average: 3.18 Stars*
***** 39 
**** 46 
*** 49 
** 34 
* 19 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Underated score...
  mikioma -- 9/1/09 (6:10 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 54:29

• 1. Suo Gan* (traditional) (2:19)
• 2. Cadillac of the Skies (3:48)
• 3. Jim's New Life (2:33)
• 4. Lost in the Crowd (5:39)
• 5. Imaginary Air Battle (2:35)
• 6. The Return to the City (7:45)
• 7. Liberation: Exsultate Justi (1:46)
• 8. The Brtish Grenadiers (traditional) (2:25)
• 9. Toy Planes, Home and Hearth (adapted from Mazurka Opus 17 No. 4 by Frederic Chopin) (4:37)
• 10. The Streets of Shanghai (5:11)
• 11. The Pheasant Hunt (4:24)
• 12. No Road Home/Seeing the Bomb (6:10)
• 13. Exsultate Justi (4:59)

* featuring The Ambrosian Junior Choir and soloist James Rainbird

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Empire of the Sun are Copyright © 1987, Warner Brothers Records. 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 8/11/09 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.