Cuckoo's Nest and Lord of The Rings Revisited

Concord Music Group has chosen a curious time to dig into its soundtrack archives to reissue super deluxe editions of some classic and near-forgotten late 20th Century film music.

AR-CuckoosNest225.jpgOr perhaps its the perfect time, what with the legions of Crosley-toting hipsters grooving on vinyl anew, and with their desire for all things perfect and pristine, maybe the timing for these reissues is just right and a stroke of genius! Add to that fact that a generation of now-well-to-do Baby Boomers are nearing retirement so perhaps there is demand for some of the soundtracks from their youth.

While I've already looked at the reissue of Amadeus in an earlier review. Here are two others in the series worth considering, especially with the holidays coming up.

CUCKOO FOR CUCKOO'S NEST

The most remarkable thing about listening to this Academy Award winning score is just how much of a role the music played in the film. I haven't seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in ages, yet the music is triggering mental images of scenes in the film, underscoring the power of a brilliant score to bring a movie to life.  

That this score was created by the great Jack Nitzsche -- he of Wrecking Crew / Phil Spector fame as well as working with the likes of Neil Young and many others -- underscores why it shines so brightly. Combining orchestral sounds with rustic tones of Mandolins, Fiddles and Theremins is just the tip of the iceberg. 

AR-McMurphySepia.jpgI love the "Medication Valse" which seems to combine acoustic orchestral instruments with what sounds so much like the same Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer Stevie Wonder used around that time on "Village Ghetto Land" (from Songs in the Key Of Life) -- such a distinctive sound, that. Who knows: perhaps the whole track was assembled on that synth which (according to the Wiki) allowed layering of different sounds simultaneously including orchestral flavors. These tracks really stand on their own outside of the film, with "Bus Ride to Paradise" feeling like a lost Van Dyke Parks interlude.

The sound quality on this reissue is really very nice. Remastered from the original tapes, they have kept the general feel of the original -- I went out and found a used copy before listening to this -- and brightened things up a bit. Frankly, on music like this, I am ok with things being a bit brighter as its not really the kind of music you crank up to 11, but still it sounds full and rich. "Cruising" has a nice warm sounds with its percolating Marimbas, florid Flutes, soaring Slack guitar and lush strings this side of Mantovani, it all works together neatly, pre-dating the sort of musical mash up one might expect from the likes of Tom Waits or, well, Van Dyke Parks. 

The sound on the nice, dark, perfectly centered,180-gram black vinyl is rich and inviting. 

This is good stuff that stands on its own. And the deluxe package, while perhaps seemingly overkill, its actually pretty cool. Compared to the original, the cover art is crisply printed with good color balances and such -- I suspect they went back to the original production elements to make this. The set comes with a lovely glossy 16-page LP sized booklet with rare stills and essays including one by by Director Milos Forman. You get a neato 30" x 24" poster of Jack Nicolson taken through a fence in his leading roe as rebel patient McMurphy -- you know, if I had this poster in college it would have been on my dorm room wall!  

Best of all, you get a pair of buttons: one says "McMurphy Rules"  and the other "Beware Big Nurse." If you don't get those references, perhaps its time for you to get on your Netflix and watch a film that rattled society more than just a little bit. 

Question authority, man!

CIRCLING BACK ON LORD OF THE RINGS

AR-LordofRings225.jpgI'll be honest, when the animated version of Lord of the Rings came out in 1978, I simply wasn't into it and never got around to seeing the film. That was just me in too-cool-for-school Junior year of High School, embracing all things new wave, punk and even prog rock. 

Animated by the great Ralph Bakshi, I really don't know why I skipped over it. I do know its time for me to see it as I am a big fan of animation and especially as I had read -- and loved -- the original J.R.R. Tolkien stories. I have also enjoyed Peter Jackson's more recent live action version of the stories. Curiously enough, the first thing I noticed when I opened this package and saw the included reproduction of an animation cel from the film was how much the characters in this version look like the live actors in Jackson's film -- apparently, according to the Wiki, this 1978 film was an influence on Mr. Jackson so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised! 

Anyhow, this super deluxe package reissues the full two LP set on 180-gram black vinyl and includes a huge replica theatrical poster, a map of Middle Earth (!), a 16-page illustrated book and much more. 

AR-LordofRingsexposed225.jpgThe reissue sounds good overall, with the discs well centered and the vinyl dead quiet. As a soundtrack listen, this one is a bit different than Cuckoo's Nest, sounding more like traditional adventure movie music, working with mostly traditional orchestras from what I can tell.  While I don't know for certain, I'm hearing a bit of that sort of high end ultra-crispness in the recordings that tends to be an artifact of digital processing of some sort. Liner notes reveal that the producers used the remixed masters as supervised by legendary film composer Leonard Rosenmen in the 1990s, it with a somewhat brighter sound ("a notable lift in terms of sound and quality" according to the notes). 

So, while this album does include the expanded versions of tracks that appeared on the original score, to keep the album closer to the original 1978 release, they have not included the supplementary music added by the composer for that 1990s re-invention. Thus this version is something of a unique beastie, a release that die-hards will want get yet which can be also be enjoyed by the casual fan.

Fun stuff!

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