Gods and Generals is the newly produced prequel to the successful Gettysburg. Both films, directed by the same director, deals with the American Civil War, of course, with Gettysburg focusing on... well, the Gettysburg battle, while Gods and Generals bases its plot on the events leading up to the battle. Randy Edelman wrote the music for Gettysburg - a score heavy with synths that owes much of its popularity to the grand and powerful main theme. Despite the fact that my lousy review of it, here on this site, gives it four shiny stars, Gettysburg is actually not a very good score, something I re-discovered when listening to it for the first time in several years, doing some research for this review. It's rather cheesy, actually.
And John Frizzell has previously mostly written scores for horror films, such as "Ghost Ship", "Thirteen Ghosts", "Alien: Resurrection" and "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer". Not exactly the type of composer one expects to get hired to do a score for a big Civil War film. So, I wasn't expecting much of these gentlemens' joint effort for Gods and Generals. Which probably is one of the reasons I love it as much as I do. It took me completely by surprise. One should point out that this above all is Frizzell's score. Edelman has only contributed a small number of cues. And although they are quite good, Frizzell's parts sort of beat the crap out of Edelman's, similar to how Trevor Jones' material for The Last Mohican ran in circles around Edelman's music for the same film.
The score is mostly very somber and restrained, with noble strings and brass. And occasional guest apperances by a medium sized choir makes the music even more elegiac. And dramatic. Because even though Gods and Generals isn't one of those typical war scores with heroic brass fanfares and pounding percussion it's brimful with dramatic music that will sweep you away. As will the wonderful main theme. Very sad and mournful, this is the scores' center piece. It crops up in a large number of tracks, in various disguises and shapes, but is mostly performed by slow strings, like in the absolutely gorgeous "You Must Not Worry For Us", or by brass, in "To the Stone Wall", where a proud French horn takes charge. Or by full orchestra in many other cues. It will knock your socks off.
Frizzel, and Edelman, also makes use of traditional instruments associated with the time of the events, such as the fiddle (performed by Mark O'Connor), tin whistles and uilleann pipes (the two latter instruments performed by Paddy Moloney). I must admit that this feels somewhat like a tired cliché, although a necessary cliché - what would a film about the Civil War be without some fiddle solos? And the sound of a lonely tin whistle is always something worth a big shiny gold star in my book. "The first Crop of Corn" is a perfect example. Damn, I'm getting all teary eyed listening to it... There's also some excellent piano solos heard in a couple of (Edelman) tracks and as we all know - piano solos equals good music (that's a simple equation to remember: piano solos = good). Nuff said.
Although the choir above all is used as a supporting "instrument", humming in sotto voce, it is allowed to really shine in one track, "VMI Will Be Hear From Today". Think Glory and then think "Charging Fort Wagner". Which is a rather good comparison, I must say, since both Glory and Gods and Generals are two rather somber and restrained scores, with one I'm-gonna-sweep-you-off-your-feat-with-this-choir piece each.
So, that's it really. Gods and General's is one of the best scores of 2003 so far and as close to a five star rating that it's actually a little silly that I am not giving it five. But even though it is a damn fine score, it lacks that one tiny special ingredients that would have turned it into a masterpiece. So four stars it is.
I won't mention the two songs included that much. "Going Home", performed by Mary Fahl, is an OK song, as is Bob Dylan's "Cross the Green Mountain". It's Bob, after all. The soundtrack CD also comes with a "limited edition" bonus DVD, which features music videos (the two songs, of course) and some footage from the film. Nice.