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1998 Varèse

2011 Varèse

Composed and Co-Conducted by:
John Williams

Orchestrated and Co-Conducted by:
Robert O. Ragland

1998 Re-Recording Conducted by:
Rick Wentworth

1998 Re-Recording Performed by:
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra

All Albums Produced by:
Robert Townson

Labels and Dates:
Varèse Sarabande
(October 6th, 1998)

Varèse Sarabande
(Original Recording)
(October 10th, 2011)

Also See:

Audio Clips:
1998 Album:

2. Main Title (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

20. Matt Takes Off (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

22. End Title: Midway March (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

23. Men of the Yorktown March (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

The 1998 album featuring the re-recording was a regular U.S. release, but it fell out of print and sold ten years later for about $30. The 2011 release of the original recording is a Varèse CD Club title limited to 3,000 copies and available initially for $20 through soundtrack specialty outlets.



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Buy it... if even one of John Williams' less acclaimed and less cohesive epic scores of the 1970's is worth investigating based on its two enduring themes of concert fame.

Avoid it... on the 2011 limited release of the original recording if you seek the best available album for Midway, in which case a 1998 re-recording of almost all of the score on the same label is the far better experience.

Midway: (John Williams) World War II movies of the 1970's were much different from the ones that had come two decades before. Gone were the blindingly patriotic undertones of the classic films and in vogue was a more documentary-style examination of the famous battles and personas of the war through a neutral lens. The scope of these films, however, had not diminished, and with 1976's Midway, Universal Studios and director Jack Smight enlisted a stunning cast of A-list veterans that included Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner, all as commanding officers. The telling of the actual battle of Midway, a pivotal moment in the war during which the Americans gained the upper hand in the Pacific over the Japanese, was rather sloppy, mixing the seemingly obligatory amount of distracting character development in with battle scenes that relied far too heavily on archival war footage and therefore were somewhat confusing. In retrospect, Midway is an ambitious failure, one that lacks the sincerity of those that had come before. The representation of the Japanese angle of the narrative is especially puzzling, failing to give the commanders of the enemy fleet a convincing reaction to the unfolding events. At some point, too, you end up with too much star power for the good of one film, and Midway is a bit distracting in its deep collection of talent. Smight had worked with composer Jerry Goldsmith several times before (and would do so again), and despite Goldsmith's award-recognized experience in this genre, the director received the services of John Williams, whose track record with Universal was likely a determining factor in his involvement with Midway (Williams and the studio had hit the jackpot with Jaws the previous year). Williams, though not as famous as he would be after another year, was already a two-time Oscar winner, a veteran of disaster films that had become the blockbuster standard in the first half of the decade.

This production was another opportunity (like the more noteworthy Earthquake) for Williams to score a film that would utilize "Sensurround," a Dolby Digital 1.1 format that essentially took a monaural mix and added a subwoofer for increased range. Generally, Williams' score sounds good in the film despite the fact that the Sensurround didn't do much more than provide indiscriminate hums in the lowest region. For a film of well over two hours in length, Midway actually did not avail itself of much music from Williams. His contribution was limited (by intent) to just a fraction of the movie, inhibiting his ability to make a significant or cohesive impact on the narrative. He wrote two themes for Midway, both likely to be recognized by fans of the composer from their many concert variations that he has conducted through the years. The primary military fanfare for the film is a march with slight John Philip Sousa inclinations that was itself likely inspired in part by Goldsmith's Patton, though almost obnoxiously enthusiastic bridge sections of the theme root it firmly in Williams' stylistic corner. This idea, while heard exclusively in the end title sequence, didn't really fit with the tone of the majority of the film and therefore its usage in the actual score is quite rare, limited to fragments of mostly its primary phrase in the cues "Red Parks Fighters," "Good News for Nimitz," and "Matt Takes Off." The second theme is summarized in the concert arrangement "Men of the Yorktown March," a construct more frequently used for Nimitz's on screen moments and in nostalgic moments such as "Missing the Flatlands," "Ensign Gay Afloat," and the finale just before the conclusion of the film. This theme, very pastoral in the flowing strings that Williams would employ many times to represent the best of America in subsequent years, is more frequently utilized in the score. The closing of its concert version, with pulsating high brass, is a highlight of the entire score. The best moments of underscore from Midway come in cues like "Good News for Nimitz," in which Williams creatively merges the two themes by using the primary march as counterpoint to the Yorktown theme.

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Unfortunately, outside of these two themes, Midway is a surprisingly dull work, quoting sequences from Williams' disaster epics and frequently neglecting to establish a direction in any of its many short cues. The "Main Title," for instance, slowly builds to a classic Williams-style crescendo of power, but this piece's ambitious, driving rhythm in the final minute doesn't have anything in common with the rest of the work. The music for the Japanese is particularly disappointing; though respectful, its barely audible woodwind solos and piano and harp figures do not do justice to the weight of the Japanese commanders' dilemmas. And only in "Hiroshima Harbor" do you hear Williams make any attempt to provide the Japanese with an ethnic musical element. The action music in Midway is satisfying in short bursts but fails to maintain energy for long. The entire score suffers from a lack of overarching character development in the thematic structures. It is thus a disappointingly anonymous score compared to Williams' other epics of the period. Long unreleased in its original recorded form, Midway was commissioned by Varèse Sarabande for a re-recording with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (under the direction of Rick Wentworth) to coincide with the film's first DVD offering in 1998. The crystal clear digital sound is welcome and the performances are strong, but the score didn't need this treatment as badly as Williams' underappreciated 1979 score for Dracula, which would have been a far worthier candidate for a complete re-recording. Some listeners will find that the wet ambient mix of the re-recording obscures too many of the intricacies of Midway, though given that this was, for more than a decade, the only non-bootlegged version of the score available, some leeway had to be given. The mid-range brass especially benefit from the resounding reverb effect, with French horns very satisfying in their fuller, harmonious statements in "Main Title" and "Matt Takes Off." The actual original recording of the score was finally released by Varèse on a 3,000-unit pressing in 2011, though master tapes were lost for several key cues, forcing partial restoration from inferior secondary sources. On the whole, Midway is a sufficient score with a pair of famous concert pieces. Just don't expect the remainder of the work to match the same level of appeal. *** 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 338,227 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.91 Stars
Smart Average: 2.91 Stars*
***** 19 
**** 24 
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** 32 
* 21 
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    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   FVSR Reviews Midway
  Brendan Cochran -- 8/25/14 (3:28 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (1998 Re-Recorded Album): Total Time: 35:32

• 1. Prologue (0:31)
• 2. Main Title (2:52)
• 3. Yamamoto's Choice (1:14)
• 4. Signal Corps Con (1:31)
• 5. Yamamoto's Second Meeting (2:22)
• 6. Hiroshoma Harbor (0:49)
• 7. Haruko's Dilemma (1:00)
• 8. By Order of Nimitz (2:41)
• 9. Canceling Operation "K" (1:56)
• 10. Strawberry 5 (1:25)
• 11. Attack Begins (2:19)
• 12. Missing the Flatlands (0:50)
• 13. Morning of the Battle (1:18)
• 14. Red Parks Fighters (1:26)
• 15. Scout (1:12)
• 16. Ensign Gay Afloat (0:40)
• 17. Burning Carriers (1:16)
• 18. Crash Landing (1:50)
• 19. Good News for Nimitz (1:10)
• 20. Matt Takes Off (0:57)
• 21. Matt's Crash (1:12)
• 22. End Title: Midway March (2:27)
• 23. Men of the Yorktown March (2:35)

 Track Listings (2011 Original Recording Album): Total Time: 37:18

• 1. Prologue/Main Title (2:59)
• 2. Yamamoto's Choice (1:22)
• 3. Signal Corps Con (1:24)
• 4. Yamamoto's Second Meeting (2:18)
• 5. Hiroshima Harbor (0:49)
• 6. Haruko's Dilemma (1:03)
• 7. By Order of Nimitz (3:16)
• 8. Canceling Operation K (1:30)
• 9. Strawberry 5 (1:16)
• 10. Missing the Flatlands (0:52)
• 11. Morning of the Battle (1:18)
• 12. Scout 4 (1:01)
• 13. Ensign Gay Afloat (0:39)
• 14. Burning Carriers (1:20)
• 15. Crash Landing (1:50)
• 16. Good News for the Nimitz (1:18)
• 17. Matt Takes Off/Matt's Crash/Red Parks Fighters/Attack Begins* (4:06)
• 18. End Credits* (2:45)
• 19. The Men of the Yorktown March (3:12)
• 20. Midway March (2:46)

* restored from separate monaural sources

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert of the 1998 album includes notes about the score and film, but not much information about the re-recording process. That of the 2011 album includes extensive information about all aspects of the film, score, and albums.

  All artwork and sound clips from Midway are Copyright © 1998, 2011, Varèse Sarabande (Re-Recording), Varèse Sarabande (Original Recording). 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 8/15/09 and last updated 11/4/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.