Michael Caine got his first major role in Zulu and was accompanied on what is little more than a boy's own adventure dressed up as historical drama. John Barry's brief score for the original features one of his most famous title themes and was superbly re-recorded by Silva Screen. Zulu Dawn eschews the more minimal 60's approach to scoring and contains a more lengthy score by Elmer Bernstein. Like the original, Zulu Dawn is an exotic adventure starring Peter O'Toole and Elmer Bernstein's rugged scores reflects the sense of adventure more than Barry's slightly more stoic effort.
Whether the reasons were artistic or otherwise, Bernstein wisely avoids any reference to Barry's original and his new theme is much more of an outward bound adventure theme, most prominent in Glory. It is wildly over the top, but captures the gung-ho spirit of the film superbly. The score is one of those pleasing efforts that has track titles that promise excitement and adventure and actually deliver on the promise. Just minutes in and The Chase is hurling the listener forward with forbidding choral passages, with pleasant echoes of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. Bernstein isn't perhaps renowned for writing very aggressive music, but he is certainly capable when the film requires. The Hunt, More Zulus and the final few cues are all hugely exciting and filled with almost boundless energy.
Although the chorus has a slightly primal urge to it and the occasional bit of percussion adds a slightly exotic flavour, Bernstein remains on fairly traditional territory, much like Williams approached his Indiana Jones scores some years later. Bernstein does carefully avoid his more obvious Americanisms and the marches are in an enjoyable British style, most obviously in Regimental March. River Crossing and the aforementioned Glory have a classic British army march bravura that is enough to enliven even the most reluctant patriot. The suspense is of a typically high quality, Bernstein often sounds like a composer who can't keep still and there is always movement during even the most low key passage. It is arguable that stillness is perhaps preferable in the film, but on disc, continual movement serves to constantly engage the listener.
I was trying to think of things wrong with this score, even the best scores have something wrong with them, but frankly it's so appealing and exciting that it's difficult to dislike. It doesn't have the masterful subtlety of Bernstein's drama scores, but it's as bustling and exciting as his music for westerns. The sound quality is excellent, the Royal Philharmonic give a bracing performance and there isn't a dull moment. True, it doesn't make any attempt to avoid glorification of the events, which essentially ended in a massacre and there is little hint that the film is really a tragedy. In our post Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan time where war is hell and reaps nothing but tragedy, this kind of war as exciting adventure, is a thing of the past, but it doesn't half inspire some exciting music. Brilliant stuff.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad