Forming an ongoing association with makers of documentaries about the development of the atomic bomb might seem an odd line of work, but William Stromberg and John Morgan have done just that. After the success of Trinity and Beyond, we have two further films, Atomic Journeys and Nukes in Space. The former is specifically about nuclear test sites and the impact on their environments, while the latter, as the name implies, is about the development of bombs that explode in the upper atmosphere. The titles of the films are clearly meant to suggest 50's B movies and as such, it's perhaps unsurprising that there is more than the odd whiff of 50's sci-fi music. All it really needs is a theremin.
The longer selection is from Atomic Journeys that, in the tradition of Trinity and Beyond, filters the sound world of Bernard Herrmann through Stromberg and Morgan's own ideas, although the antecedents are less specific here. The most memorable idea is a slightly psychotic march that first appears in the fourth track. Had I been told it was an alternate theme for Danny Elfman's Mars Attacks! I wouldn't have been in the least bit surprised. Its wild eyed energy perks up the score on every appearance, which is just as well as much of the underscore is pretty low key. The momentum is just about maintained, but listening to it is something akin to Bernard Herrmann's less regarded works where you feel you ought to think its brilliant, but in truth, can't quite convince yourself that it's all that interesting on its own, no matter how curious the orchestration is. Variations on the march become more frequent in the later tracks, but the inertia of some of the earlier tracks is somewhat frustrating.
Nukes in Space is a somewhat more engaging work with a better sustained pace and a greater variety of moods. After some Day the Earth Stood Still and Fahrenheit 451 arpeggio figures, another rousing, Soviet edged march is introduced in V-2 March and the militaristic tone is continued in the bracing Military Buildup. I like to think that I'm not only impressed by orchestral pyrotechnics, but subdued music can easily become unengaging and that is often the case during Atomic Journeys. A number of tracks could easily have been omitted without losing any valuable material. At under twenty minutes, the selection from Nukes in Space is less than half the length of Atomic Journeys, but has more variety, despite its relative brevity. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra perform with distinction and the sound is crisp without being harsh. Not an unqualified success, but the good parts are excellent, just unfortunate that a little more pruning wasn't applied when assembling Atomic Journeys.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad