I'm not convinced that America is ready for Paul Verhoven, I think his European sense of humour just doesn't translate well with audiences there and his films generally seem less successful than they ought to be. Let's face it, Starship Troopers was a piss take of epic proportions, much funnier than Tim Burton's curiously leaden Mars Attacks!, but of course it looks like, and was sold as, a straight laced, huge budget sci-fi movie. Therefore, the perverse comedy aspect drew a general blank from American audiences and critics, but everyone I saw it with here in the UK found it hysterical. It works as a parody of Beverly Hills 90210 and Dawson's Creek with giant bugs and gratuitous violence, what more could you want?! Even if the satire didn't register, the action was deliciously gory and the CGI bugs brilliantly realised, the production itself was straight laced, the context wasn't. It therefore is unsurprising that instead of a Danny Elfman style parody of B-movies past (one of the few aspects of Mars Attacks! to be spot on), Basil Poledouris wrote a booming and gloriously unsubtle action score that gives David Arnold a run for his money.
One of the most amusing aspects of Verhoven's enterprise was the faux interactive television news, 'Would you like to know more?' which so neatly parodies current American news networks, it's quite worrying. Basil Poledouris' sarcastic brass fanfare opens the album, followed by the hilariously po-faced Fed Net March. This segues seemlessly into Klendathu Drop - 'It's an ugly planet, it's a bug planet!' - the first of several hugely bombastic action cues, which take everything deadly serious, even if incredibly over the top. Best of the bunch is the almost psychotically frenetic Tango Urilla which just builds and builds, with brass and percussion piled up recklessly, what makes it a work of minor genius is that it doesn't lose direction or coherence, it just works. One aspect that makes the score work so well is that every track has its own themes, there isn't really any repetition, but they are interrelated and similar enough in style that this doesn't matter. It does mean that each action cue has some melody on which to hangs its bombast, it's not just aimless noise.
There are a couple of token quieter moments, Dizzy's Funeral is actually quite fetching, even if the moment is only brief and rather superficial. Brainbug takes the invention of the orchestration further with a B movie style organ theme for the rather disgusting thinking bugs. They Will Win reprises the Fed Net material with enough conviction to make you want to sign up to be mercilessly slaughtered by an almost endless succession of giant alien insects. The album ends with Into It, which appears in the film and is composed and performed by the composer's daughter. Not a great song, admittedly, but a passable, grungy rock number. It is a disappointment that Varese's album is so short, it's not a piece of art, but given the film, this was hardly likely. However, at a time when really good action scores are perilously thin on the ground, Poledouris takes the form to almost hitherto unexplored levels of overkill, while actually writing memorable and well considered music. It seems crazily uncontrolled, but in fact it's extremely carefully constructed and is half an hour of brass and percussion bliss. Oh and the strings play sometimes too.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad