Review: Far And Away (1992)

Composer: John Williams

Label: MCA Records

Catalogue Nr.: MCD 10628

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Far And Away was director Ron Howard's cinematic take on the journey of Irish emigrants to America where they hoped to find own land and a better life. This journey is described through the eyes of two very different characters: the young and rough Joseph Connelly played by Tom Cruise and the prosperous but arrogant Shannon Christie played by Cruise's ex-wife Nicole Kidman. Even though each of them is the complete opposite of the other, they find out that their dreams are the same and both are quickly forced to help each other to survive and to realize their dreams which leads them to the great land race of 1893. Director Howard had a very personal connection with the topic since three of his great-grandparents actually participated in that land race. Sadly, the film quickly falls into a mushy love story stereotype that feels rather clumsy and slow at times and that was probably the reason why it tanked with a world wide box office result that was barely covering the costs of the production. 

The score:

Ron Howard does not restrict himself to only one composer which is the reason why Far And Away marks his one and only project where he worked with film music icon John Williams. After the rather low-key but effective score for JFK (1991) and the childish but extremely rich firework that was Hook (1991), Williams had a chance to create something entirely different for Far And Away. He responded to the story of the Irish settlers with a naturally very strong Irish and Celtic sound and therefore, some excellent, playful performances by the Irish band The Chieftains are perfectly merged with his classic orchestral structure. The score is again rich of themes and often carries a very romantic tone. The ethnic influences are used to near perfection and shine mainly during the rather subtle first half of the score while Williams' orchestral firework takes off near the end in yet another rousing but somehow overblown finale. There is definitely a climax in this score that steadily builds up as Joseph and Shannon are getting closer and closer to the realization of their dreams.

Bagpipe and low piano riffs open the score in "County Galway, June 1892" and go into a gentle pan flute statement of the main theme as the camera is flying over the shores of Ireland. "The Fighting Donellys" is introducing a playful and somewhat childish theme for Joseph with an upbeat performance by The Chieftains with fiddle and flute. A more subtle approach comes with "Joe Sr.'s Passing / The Duel Scene" which carries some depressive tones during its first half for strings and horns as well as a 3-note figure for low strings that Williams would use later in scores like Saving Private Ryan (1998) or The Patriot (2000). Bagpipes and subtle string suspense accompany the foggy duel scene and a rendition of Joseph's theme by the Chieftains goes into a full orchestral statement of the main theme when Shannon rescues Joseph. "Leaving Home" is mainly a variation on the main theme for flute and strings while "Burning The Manor House" strikes with chaotically dramatic atonal music. A cue of pure light-hearted Scherzo-fun ala Williams is "Blowing Off Steam". A more mature and stronger version of Joseph's theme is heard in "Fighting For Dough" and builds up from a performance by The Chieftains to a victorious march for full orchestra. This build up is slightly reminiscent of the catchy "Presenting The Hook" from Hook (1991).

Calm and gentle Celesta and clarinet playing is heard in the very subtle "Am I Beautiful?" which carries a quiet piano solo of the main theme at the end. "The Big Match", on the other hand, starts as a rousing action cue with big brass fanfares, militaristic drums and a string figure reminiscent of "Into The Trap" from Star Wars - Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi (1983) when hothead Joseph enters a big fist fight while the second half brings dark atonal riffs and crying strings when Joseph is loosing that fight. "Inside The Mansion" is a rather unspectacular cue, though not as hollow as the comparable passages from Always (1989), with calm celesta that accompanies Shannon's memories of her luxury home that she has left and a piano solo of the main theme takes over when Joseph is kissing Shannon. "Shannon Is Shot" is a dramatic cue that starts with screaming strings and falls back into the subtlety of piano and celesta. The cue "Joseph's Dream" is introducing a new theme for the spirit of the settlers that are heading for land in Oklahoma. This glorious theme comes as an exciting orchestral build up with lots of brass when Joseph joins these settlers and an uplifting rendition of the main theme for full orchestra is in between the glory of this composition.

More subtle tones, mainly for solo pan flute, return in "The Reunion" before "Oklahoma Territory" brings a playful western sound for flute and horns that Williams' would later revisit in The Patriot (2000) for the cue "To Charleston". The cues for "The Land Race" and the race to the river are exciting and controversial at the same time. Here, Williams unleashes a larger-than-life firework of orchestral power with the themes duelling each other throughout the rousing piece of Americana that will sweep you away. In the film, however, the music almost feels too big since the Land Race itself is actually a very grim affair with terrible accidents and people being shot and murdered. If you look at John Williams' more recent output, it seems doubtful if he would approach such a scene in the same bombastic manor today without integrating some dark undertones. The finale cue "Joseph And Shannon" is closing the score with the typical Williams climax. Sales of this CD were boosted by the synth-heavy new age song "Book Of Days" performed by Enya which is a disturbing contrast to Williams' score that takes off again for a final rendition of the most important themes in the "End Credits".

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 83%

Score as heard on CD: 89%

TOTAL: 86%

 

The presentation:

Over an hour of John Williams' music is presented on this CD and that pretty much covers the best pieces while the quality of the recording is crisp and very clean. The booklet contains short liner notes by Bob Dolman about the film and score plus coloured pictures from the film. Overall, this is a good presentation which makes you forgive the rather out of place new age song that breaks up the flow between the finale cue and the end credits.

Presentation by the Label: 71%

 

Summary:

Far And Away contains one of the strongest and most effective merging of John Williams' classically oriented orchestral craftsmanship with traditional ethnic folk music performed by the Irish band The Chieftains. Admirers of his orchestral bombast will enjoy this score as well, even though some cues are almost to glorious and bombastic especially when you watch the film. It was the time when Williams was criticised for this larger-than-life approach that certainly works wonders on CD but is sometimes a little too much in the film. Far And Away contains moments of subtlety but they come off as rather unspectacular compared to the big cues. That being said, the score is still a very good effort and the strong Irish touches make it a unique gem in Williams' filmography.

 Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

                             Tracklisting:

01. County Galway, June 1892 (01:55)
02. The Fighting Donelly's (02:18)
03. Joe Sr.'s Passing / The Duel Scene (04:41)
04. Leaving Home (01:55)
05. Burning The Manor House (02:43)
06. Blowing Off Steam (01:31)
07. Fighting For Dough (02:02)
08. Am I Beatiful? (03:38)
09. The Big Match (05:56)
10. Inside The Mansion (04:24)
11. Shannon Is Shot (04:06)
12. Joseph's Dream (03:08)
13. The Reunion (03:50)
14. Oklahoma Territory (02:12)
15. The Land Race (04:56)
16. Settling With Steven / The Race To The River (04:08)
17. Joseph And Shannon (03:14)
18. Book Of Days (02:53)
19. End Credits (06:35) 

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