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Amazing Stories
Album Cover Art
1999 Varèse
2006 Intrada
Anthology 1
Album 2 Cover Art
2006 Intrada
Anthology 2
Album 3 Cover Art
2007 Intrada
Anthology 3
Album 4 Cover Art
Composed and Conducted by:

2006-2007 Anthologies Produced by:
Douglass Fake

1999 Re-Recording Conducted by:
Joel McNeely
John Debney

1999 Re-Recording Performed by:

1999 Re-Recording Produced by:
Robert Townson
Labels Icon
Varèse Sarabande
(May 18th, 1999)

Intrada Records (Anthology 1)
(May 12th, 2006)

Intrada Records (Anthology 2)
(August 29th, 2006)

Intrada Records (Anthology 3)
(June 12th, 2007)
Availability Icon
The 1999 Varèse Sarabande album is a regular U.S. release, available commercially in stores. The three anthology sets from Intrada in 2006 and 2007 were limited to 3,000 copies each. Despite anticipation that demand for these sets would be feverish, neither of the first two anthologies sold out in the first year of release.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on the 1999 Varèse Sarabande re-recording if you only have a passing, casual interest in this series and its wildly varying musical styles.

Avoid it... on the second Intrada anthology set if you seek the highlights of the series in original form, most of which appear on the first and (mostly) third anthologies.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 6/11/99, REVISED 10/5/07
Amazing Stories: (John Williams, Various) A great concept with poor execution, the "Amazing Stories" television series of the mid-1980's was a model of wild inconsistency, and it was that variance that led Steven Spielberg's idea to an unfortunate end after only NBC's initial commitment of 40+ episodes over two seasons. Nobody would argue that "Amazing Stories" offered some of the best science fiction and fantasy television ever seen, but for every brilliant episode directed by one of Hollywood's greatest minds, there was a surprisingly stale dud. Such was the inevitable fate of an idea that allowed for each episode to contain a different director and crew; the quantity of episodes was the show's greatest weakness. Had the number per season been cut in half, with only the truly best entries offered, "Amazing Stories" may have survived several seasons longer. As the episodes have aged, though, the standout stories have continued to linger in the memories of viewers who were originally caught up in all the hype of the series' debut. Both the list of directors and composers contributing to the series were extraordinarily impressive. That list of composers alone includes most of Hollywood's big names today, some of whom obscure at the time. Spielberg had always insisted on a significant budget for the music of each episode, employing his usual partner, John Williams, for the title music and two scores for memorable episodes. The opportunity to write short scores (usually 15 to 20 minutes at most) with 45 or so studio musicians was too much fun for most composers to resist, and most standard director/composer collaborations extended to "Amazing Stories" episodes. The locations and ensemble of each episodic recording differed significantly; for the standout episode of "The Mission," John Williams utilized 66 musicians, an unheard of sum for the television medium at the time. In other cases, lesser known composers employed only their own array of synthesizers for the task, sometimes recording their work far from Hollywood. As you would expect, the sound quality of each episodic score was highly varied, as was, of course, the actual style presented by each composer.

In the end, most listeners still equate "Amazing Stories" with John Williams, and his impact on the series cannot be debated. Williams approached the project as though it was a feature Spielberg film, providing all the complexity of character typical to his work. His adventure writing for the series' title theme is as wondrous in tone as any of his major scores of the 80's. Demand for a recording of this theme on CD led the Varèse Sarabande label to commission a recording of the title music, as well as two episodic scores, by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the direction of Joel McNeely and John Debney. This 1999 recording may not have stirred up as much interest as the other recordings of the RSNO pressed by Varèse in the late 90's, but for many years it was the only souvenir on CD from the series. In the mid-2000's, Intrada Records would unlock the vaults containing all the master tapes for the show's actual music and produced, over the years of 2006 and 2007, three 2-CD anthologies of that material. This review will cover all three of those anthologies first, and will follow up with the Varèse re-recording at its conclusion. While Doug Fake at Intrada must have been delighted by his access to pristine master tapes for the entire series upon his efforts to produce the anthologies, his task of arranging all the vastly differing episodic scores into listenable packages must have been an adventure all in itself. The anthologies don't seem to have any particular scheme of arrangement in relation to composers or the recording or air dates of the music or episodes. In fact, the only distinction one could make about the presentation of the scores throughout the three Intrada products is that they were arranged to sell best, holding off on the two strong hour-long episodes' scores (by Williams and Alan Silvestri) until the third product. The Intrada anthologies offer nearly everything a listener could wish for from the series, though it should be noted that one of the two episodics by Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek, as well as music by the often underachieving Brad Fiedel, was left off of the sets. Additional Elfman material can be found on his "Music for a Darkened Theatre: Volume Two," however. The remaining scores missing from Intrada's albums were composed by names you likely won't find in the rest of your film music collection.

John Williams composed several different versions of the title theme, short bumper music at commercial breaks, and end titles. The first Intrada anthology from 2006 opens with the most famous version of Williams' title theme, recorded with the full 60+ ensemble from the recording session of "The Mission." From there, we hear Williams' score for the first (and famous) episode, "Ghost Train." Smaller in stature, the score resembles Williams' softer character scores of the 80's, with a surprisingly anti-climactic conclusion during the train's arrival. It is the only episodic score to utilize the title theme of the series, delicately weaving it into the score in full once and in short references throughout. "Alamo Jobe," the series' third episode, was the lone entry by James Horner. His music here is a curious cross between his standard 80's action motifs and the instrumentation that would be so prevalent in his The Mask of Zorro score (and sequel). With flavor from harmonica, acoustic guitar, and castanets, this episodic work would be among the most interesting to hear performed by a full ensemble. For "Gather Ye Acorns," series regular Bruce Broughton would create a very slight Americana tone led by harmonica and woodwind, with a jaunty rhythm led by piano highlighting the end. Two source cues, including some blazing rock music in "1985," interrupt the proceedings, but definitely wake you up. The engrossing, Emmy-winning episode of "The Doll" features an understated effort by Georges Delerue, another series regular. Strings, woodwinds, harp, and celeste eventually build to a lovely thematic statement during the episode's final scene of realization. Composer Billy Goldenberg was among the most active in the series, having worked with Spielberg in his early efforts of the 70's (before meeting Williams). For "The Amazing Falsworth," Goldenberg creates a chillingly dissonant score, with strange textures and manipulations revolving around a solo piano representing the story's primary character. David Shire, whose presence was also heard multiple times on the show, provided "Moving Day" with an interesting musical battle between the orchestral (earth) and synthetic (alien). While the final two tracks bring the best of these elements together, the sick alien march in "That's Alturis" is quite memorable.

While Delerue receives most of his attention for his other scores in the series, his work for "Without Diana" is superior. The last score recorded for the series, it opens with the great old swinging style of Delerue jazz and concludes with a lush and melodic series of thematic statements typical to the composer's romantic sensibilities. The often discussed "Mummy, Daddy" episode and score features an early Danny Elfman with the assistance of Steve Bartek in their prime era of creativity. It's vintage Elfman comedy, with a touch of Beetlejuice and Tales from Crypt in its crisp recording of percussive specialties. Highlighted by organ and harmonica, this thirteen minutes will be a delight for any Elfman collector. For Clint Eastwood's "Vanessa in the Garden" episode, Lennie Niehaus offers a conservative score more lushly robust than many of his more famous works. Concluding the first anthology set is Broughton's "Welcome to My Nightmare," a score much different from his other entries in the series. An awkward balance between Herrmannesque horror and keyboarded romance, it's easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. The second anthology, released later in 2006, continued the same format Intrada presented on the first product. After a variant on Williams' title theme, the Joe Dante/Jerry Goldsmith collaboration continues with "Boo!" Coming at a time when Goldsmith was at the height of his synthetic endeavors, the composer turned down the usual 45 player offer and only used 13 to create a largely electronic score not in the ranks of his best. A standard, pretty family theme for woodwind and keyboard is really all that ties this score to Goldsmith's usual tendencies. An even smaller ensemble was employed by Billy Goldenberg for "What if...?" His chamber orchestra cues and synthetic keyboarding are overshadowed by one wild rock track. Delerue's overrated score for "Ben and Dorothy" features mostly strings and acoustic guitar. Its final few minutes are memorably attractive, but the score as a whole is too subdued for a solo listen. The first of two scores by Craig Safan on these sets exists for "The Main Attraction," the second episode of the series. For the anti-high school jock story, Safan uses a parody of a school marching band as his title theme and an equally comical parody of movie love themes for the nerdy ending.

Ratings Icon
Average: 3.78 Stars
***** 354 5 Stars
**** 240 4 Stars
*** 171 3 Stars
** 88 2 Stars
* 70 1 Stars
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Mike Dougherty - October 5, 2007, at 6:11 p.m.
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Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1999 Varèse Sarabande Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 41:27
• 1. Main Title (John Williams)* (1:08)

The Mission: (John Williams)*
• 2. The Mission (0:32)
• 3. The Jinxed One (1:14)
• 4. Broken Landing Gear (2:05)
• 5. The Captain's Frustration (2:52)
• 6. The Parachute (3:02)
• 7. The Control Tower (1:11)
• 8. I'm Father Kay (1:25)
• 9. Good-byes (2:22)
• 10. Jonathan Begins to Draw (6:02)
• 11. The Landing (5:12)
Dorothy and Ben: (Georges Delerue)**
• 12. Twenty Three Thousand Dollars (0:53)
• 13. Wrinkles (0:46)
• 14. Be Quiet (2:36)
• 15. Ben Leaves (0:27)
• 16. Face Changes (1:16)
• 17. Dorothy (6:29)

• 18. End Title (John Williams)* (0:31)
* Conducted by Joel McNeely
** Conducted by John Debney
2006 Intrada Anthology 1 Tracks   ▼Total Time: 135:04
2006 Intrada Anthology 2 Tracks   ▼Total Time: 154:31
2007 Intrada Anthology 3 Tracks   ▼Total Time: 157:34

Notes Icon
The insert of the 1999 Varèse Sarabande album includes notes by producer Robert Townson and an "Amazing Stories Episode Guide," which chronologically lists the name of every episode, its air date, its director, and its composer. All three of the Intrada anthology sets include excellent notes about each episode and score represented, as well as anecdotes, quotes, pictures, and general information about the series. None of the anthologies includes, curiously, an episode list.
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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 Amazing Stories are Copyright © 1999, Varèse Sarabande, Intrada Records (Anthology 1), Intrada Records (Anthology 2), Intrada Records (Anthology 3) and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/11/99 and last updated 10/5/07.
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