Working on season two of Buck Rogers put me in a sci-fi mode last night. Fair enough. So I actually carved out time to watch two (count 'em two!) movies before going to bed. Neither were very long and I was wide awake still.
Forbidden Planet was the A title, The Angry Red Planet was the B title. The former is famous. So is it's landmark "electronic tonalities" score. Fifties sci-fi arguably doesn't get much more classic - not counting The Day The Earth Stood Still that is, so I'll go right on to the one set on Mars.
Never boring. Kind of odd "Cinemagic" process gives off a slightly 3-D look to everything on Mars but it also makes everything blurry. Bright pink-red color, but little definition to the otherwise cool plants, monsters and terrain of the angry red planet. Still, never boring is compliment enough for B sci-fi. But worthy of special note: Paul Dunlap writes a decidedly unique orchestral score. Okay, sort of orchestral. Okay, tiny ensemble is even more accurate.
Novachord, theremin provide the cool spacey effects, xylophone, snare drum and tympani provide the rhythm and texture... and two French horns cover everything else! Yep, that's it! Probably a budgetary decision. But genuine composer chops are needed to create dramatic music out of an ensemble of seven or eight players that can cover so much territory... and Dunlap shows off those chops. The two horns constantly launch with open fifth ideas that spread into various motifs and other melodic devices. Beyond that, Dunlap of course doesn't have the firepower to go very far. So, and this part is cool, he almost always has his tympani doing rolls, the player sliding around with the foot pedals constantly changing notes. It becomes a kind of rumbling wall behind the horns. The electronic effects literally hover everywhere. Then the xylophone creates its own striking, rhythmic figure that's vivid. The snares cover the requisite opening military/scientist scenes. And then there are those two horns, non-stop, carrying the heavy load. Just the two of them. An impressive feat! So this is the entire color palette Dunlap had to work with. Admittedly it makes sense in a lean and mean movie absent much color beyond red. Oh! Also worthy of mention: Dunlap did actually go into full thematic mode just once - for the end credits. An American International trademark was in their rolling all credits including actual titles at the end. Maybe they were just way ahead of their time. Anyway, so Dunlap adds one more player, a pianist, and goes full bore into an uptempo theme complete with two French horns in the lead, percussion driving it along, and piano filling in all the harmonies. It's flavorful. It's cool. Or should that be, red hot. Whatever. It's really quite good.