Review: Volcano (1997)

Composer: Alan Silvestri

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: VSD 5833

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Volcano was one of the two forgettable disaster (or disastrous?) movies from 1997 about seismic catastrophes. The other one, called Dante's Peak, was somewhat superior but still far away from being a good film. Volcano still had superior effects and a solid acting which could not save it from being a box office failure mostly due to the story and dialogue which consisted of pure nonsense. The best aspect of this flick is actually Alan Silvestri's score which is way better than John Frizzel's attempt of scoring Dante's Peak. Amazing if you look at what Silvestri had to deal with.

The score:

Composer Alan Silvestri has worked on many terrible flicks during his career but still managed to produce classy work due to his amazing natural talent. Volcano certainly belongs to these flicks although Silvestri already scored films that are far more worse than Volcano (hard to believe isn't it?). Anyways, 1997 was a very prolific year for the composer with many diverse projects such as the romantic comedy Fools Rush In, the slapstick comedy Mousehunt and Robert Zemecki's sci-fi movie Contact. Alan Silvestri certainly delivered great work on all of them while Volcano stands out as the only action score from the composer in this year. It is sometimes familiar in tone to Judge Dredd (1995) but can't really measure up to the sheer brilliance of its predecessor.

Once again, much of the score is pretty dark despite the relatively bright opening cue "Main Title" with its pleasant celesta, flute and woodwinds. Deep and brooding sounds in the cue perfectly function as a foreshadowing of the mayhem that is about to start soon. Tension builds up in "Miracle Mile" with the constant pizzicato string rhythm accompanied by quietly rambling piano. During the cue's second half, the orchestra suddenly strikes and goes into a terrifying atonal passage for strings, percussion and brass before threatening dark fanfares and highly dramatic string writing take over. This part of the cue slightly resembles a passage of Silvestri's score for Death Becomes Her (1992) though it sounds much more impressive. The last minute of the cue features solid action music with striking brass performances and the composer's usual sensibility for exciting rhythms.

"Tarnation" opens with pure orchestral mayhem: whirling horns and deep atonal brass eruptions create music that Alan Silvestri certainly not composed in that form before Volcano. Actually, the entire brass writing of the score sounds more like something from Elliot Goldenthal although there is an unmistakeable Silvestri-sound which ties everything together. The main theme has its first appearance in this cue, accompanied by striking clashes of percussion, atonal sounds and a predator-esque rhythm. The second half of the cue is dominated by dreary statements for horns and strings accompanied by militaristic percussion. This continues into "Team Work" which is introducing a somewhat heroic secondary theme in the form of a broad silvestri-march with big fanfares accompanied by an ethereal choir. Pounding percussion, nervous strings and dreary horns are heard in "Build A Wall" interrupted by occasional brass fanfare statements of the secondary heroic theme. A beautiful trumpet solo starts to play against the dreary horns, representing an echo of heroism within the destruction of the fire and chaos.

The dark volcano theme opens the cue "March of the Lava" accompanied by heavily pounding percussion including something that sounds like a clashing anvil. The cue rises until brass fanfares bring back the heroic theme to literally fight against the dark volcano theme. This thrilling battle of the themes belongs to one of the most exciting compositions Alan Silvestri has ever penned down and thus the cue also became one of the most used pieces in TV documentaries. The film version is somewhat different with heavier strikes of the anvil and a slightly different ending, so the album version is most certainly an unused alternate take of the same cue. "Roark's Missing" features militaristic percussion during its first half and goes into a breathtaking finale for strings and brass. This is another cue that is reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal's style. Maybe a cue from his Alien 3 score (also a fox film from 1992) was a part of the temp track here. Alan Silvestri still managed to let his own melodic style shine through the Goldenthal-esque orchestration of the cue. The last cue "Cleansing Rain" consists of a fine melody with a relaxing tone, performed first by strings and a nice flute solo in the middle of the cue which goes into an impressive epic statement for choir at the end before the score is quietly fading away.

Volcano is one of these scores that is closely merged together with the visuals as it perfectly mimics the movement of the lava and the volcanic eruptions with dark and atonal outbursts of orchestral music. Unfortunately, the score can't really play against the loud SFX and disturbing dialogue in the film because it was simply mixed too low. Great work, people! You received one of the best disaster scores of the 90's and drowned it in hectic dialogue and sound effects. The only portions of score that really worked well in the film are "March of the Lava" and "Cleansing Rain". Volcano is a score that really benefits from the presentation on CD.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 69%

Score as heard on CD: 78%

TOTAL: 74%

 

The presentation:

Varese Sarabande released this short album of the score with less than 30 minutes of music. Actually we should be thankful to Varese that they did release it despite the poor box office performance of the film. Still, the presentation is not really outstanding. A simple two page booklet with some pictures from the film is the only goodie here. If only there would be more score. Additional 10 minutes would have certainly been possible. The entire score part that accompanies the sequence at the Beverly Center is missing as well as some music from the beginning of the film, not to mention that "March of the Lava" is just an unused alternate take.

Presentation by the Label: 51%

 

Summary:

Volcano is a strong disaster score with a nice main theme, solid action music and a beautiful finale of epic proportions. The CD offers many ideas during its short running time that will excite all fans of orchestral terror and heroic fanfares though it is a very dark score with pretty weird sounds at times. Maybe it will take some time until the score will grow on you but it is certainly worth having as a pretty unique experience of Alan Silvestri's music.

 

                                     Tracklisting:

  1. Main Title (2:46)
  2. Miracle Mile (4:00)
  3. Tarnation (5:55)
  4. Team Work (2:41)
  5. Build A Wall (5:02)
  6. March Of The Lava (3:43)
  7. Roark's Missing (2:46)
  8. Cleansing Rain (2:31)