The most famous filmed incarnation of Herman Melville's classic novel is undoubtedly John Huston's 1956 version starring Gregory Peck as Ahab and almost as well known is Philip Sainton's, score which evoked the epic sweep of the sea. Surprisingly, Peck returns to star in this new TV movie version, but this time as Father Mapple and Patrick Stewart taking the lead role as Ahab - a role that was foreshadowed by a few of the scenes in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact as Picard vows to kill his own white whale, the Borg. To have such a fine cast in a TV movie is quite an achievement, but Hallmark seem good at assembling great actors and production staff, which extends to the music. One regular contributor is Christopher Gordon, who became something of a cause celebre in 2000 when word spread about his superb, but generally unheard score to the apocalyptic On the Beach, another (excellent) Hallmark production. Moby Dick is a story that can't really fail to inspire a composer; the mixture of ocean going adventure, psychological torment and a doomed protagonist is a potent mixture.
Gordon lays his cards on the table from the outset with a wonderfully memorable main theme that swirls up from the opening of Call Me Ishmael, although it conjures up nautical adventure more effectively than it does represent the story's main (human) character. Since the main crux of the story is a man's quest for revenge, some of the score, particularly in the first half, is a shade more introspective. The main theme is only reprised for larger scale occasions, such as the heraldic Farewell. One aspect that doesn't quite work is the pseudo authentic music for Queequeg, which is all percussion rattles and chanting, a somewhat overused musical cliché in American TV shows' depictions of Native Americans. However, it constitutes only a small proportion of the material here. Although the quiet intensity of the score gets closer to the soul of the story, it is the broader moments that are the most memorable and one of the finest is There She Blows! a terrific, swirling scherzo that combines nautical adventure with a hint of mystery and danger. Gordon's equivalent of Williams' classic Man Against Beast from Jaws, although the music is entirely Gordon's own.
The second half has a more epic sweep, with several further action sequences, interspersed with several impressive, atmospheric cues, particularly Midnight Sea which wouldn't be out of place in a Herrmann score. Hallmark offer such great production values by not working in expensive LA and thus the performers are non-union musicians in Australia. However, the performance is every bit the equal of the expected of Hollywood players and has the added bonus of ensuring a long album, even if it feels just a touch long in places, especially since some of the brief cues don't add a great deal. However, many of the quieter moments are often worth a repeat listen in order to get a feel for the full scope of Gordon's score beyond the obviously exciting moments. With that in mind, a superb effort and highly recommended.