Few films composers have made as big a splash with their first mainstream film score as David Arnold did with Stargate, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's big budget, old fashioned sci-fi epic, with an Egyptian twist. It seems remarkably prescient of Devlin and Emmerich to pick Arnold whose only previous film composing credit was The Young Americans, which required a very contemporary score and certainly nothing that suggested he could pull such a rich orchestral epic out of his hat. The cynical (and perhaps realistic) might note the involvement of Nicholas Dodd in almost all of Arnold's scores and that scores by other composers for which Dodd has orchestrated do seem to have a lot of what we associate with the Arnold sound, but that's certainly not to play down the numerous fine (if admittedly often rather bombastic) scores that Arnold has composed in his career.
You know that someone is thinking old fashioned when a film has an Overture and not just opening credits music; true, it's not an overture in the traditional sense music for before the curtain goes up on the titles, but it's certainly nice to have a few minutes of music over the credits to set the mood and draw the audience into the movie. Arnold certainly hits the ground running, introducing his richly harmonised main theme that uses all those juicy seventh chords that contemporary composers often shy away from (see John Ottman's anemic re-harmonisation of Williams' seventh laden Love Theme from Superman). Yes, it sounds old fashioned, but it's also memorable and full of character. It also has the distinction of drawing inspiration from before John Williams and, while some would probably gawp at the suggestion, there is more than a little of Dr Rozsa here and throughout.
Arnold gets considerable mileage out of his main theme, reworking it endlessly, from surprisingly sprightly in the oddly titled Mastadge Drag to a minor key militaristic variant for Kurt Russell's marines. Indeed, so different is it here that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was an entirely different melody. Different parts of the main theme leave room aplenty for ways to use it, some of the most fetching being the more reflective descending string figure which injects some striking moments of elegance. Conversely, when applied to Ra, it's intimidating; impressive to have a villain melody led by the strings and not the percussion or brass. The pleasing, but effectively low key love theme - most notably in Daniel and Shauri, and later in the tender The Kiss - does much to counter the argument that Stargate is unnecessarily bombastic. Sure, Arnold wears his heart on his sleeve, but give me that any day over wet, vague and non-specific orchestral scores; sometimes films and film music are about spectacle and here both deliver in spades. The Ten Commandments for the sci-fi generation.
There are other highlights aplenty; the longer tracks are uniformly terrific, notably The Stargate Opens which brilliantly moves from splendour to terror to action, but closing with a truly gorgeous choral motif that is only disappointing due to its brevity. There is, of course, action, although perhaps less than one might expect, but Battle at the Pyramid delivers the kind of thrills that Arnold fans love (all without a percussion loop in sight). Arnold even leaves room to conclude his score properly in Going Home, which is considerably more subtle and dignified than one might imagine. Varese's Deluxe Edition adds seven tracks and a few seconds onto other tracks here and there. Being from 1994 there is little room for sonic improvement, although some may welcome the occasional extra detail in the re-mix, it almost detracts from some of the score's broad sweep. The additional eight minutes probably aren't worth it for anyone who has the original release, but Varese's is the obvious first choice. For old fashioned, epic, memorable, tuneful schmaltz with a modern, sci-fi twist and nary a dull moment, you can't go far wrong. Cracking stuff.