Thursday, June 04, 2015

Return to Oz complete score CD review

Several years ago, I had a dream that the soundtrack for Return to Oz was reissued. I'd like to think that I dreamed of a 2-disc set, but the main thing I remember is that it featured a photo of Ozma in her royal dress from the end of the movie, holding her OZ scepter... under a lunch pail tree.

While I don't believe any photo like that exists (though if any artists who read this blog want to take a shot, be my guest!), my dreams surprisingly came true with Intrada's new release of the complete score of Disney's Return to Oz, which I finally got my copy of today.

Spread across two discs, the entire score of the film is represented. Often soundtrack albums only include major moments of the score and sometimes, they don't feature the music as heard in the film at all, but new arrangements by the composer, who redesigned the score for an album issue. (And sometimes, their involvement isn't there.) In this case, you hear every bit of music you heard in the film and then some as some music bits were cut, but have now been restored. (So if you were wanting to match this up to the film to create an isolated score version—Sam—it might not work.)

The original CD release cover art
Return to Oz did get a soundtrack album in 1985, which I own on vinyl. It was reissued four years later on CD by Bay Cities, but it quickly went out of print. This led to it becoming a popular bootlegged item online. However, Intrada has you covered now. To fill up otherwise empty space on Disc 2, after a handful of tracks featuring alternate cues, the original soundtrack album's tracks are presented.*

One may well argue that Return to Oz features one of the best scores an Oz film has enjoyed. The truth is that Oz in film has enjoyed a rich musical history from Nathaniel P. Mann's scores for The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays to Louis P. Gottschalk's score for The Patchwork Girl of Oz to MGM's The Wizard of Oz to Journey Back to Oz to The Wiz and even up to Danny Elfman's score for Oz the Great and Powerful. But one must admit that David Shire's score for Return to Oz is certainly a milestone. (Unless you have no ear for great film music.)

Shire's music is certainly magical. Instead of going for a sound you'd hear in music from the beginning of the 20th century—when the story takes place—or music to draw in contemporary audiences, he instead created a score that feels timeless. This is because he based it on the characters instead of periods. Creating themes for each character and the situations in the film, Shire composed an excellent, multi-layered score to go along with the film's visuals, sound effects and dialogue. This makes the music quite inseparable from the film, from the stirring opening, to the escape in the storm, to Tik-Tok's heavy marching theme, to Jack Pumpkinhead's hollow-sounding music, to the Nome King's growing anger theme, to the lively Rag March and of course, the beautiful closing credits.

Some might argue that the film score should be enjoyed with the film, and that's certainly a good point, but there is no reason why a soundtrack album cannot present the music to be enjoyed separately and Intrada definitely produced a perfect presentation right here.

In addition to the great music you'll hear on the CDs, there's a nice 28-page booklet that features Drew Struzan's classic "Escape From The Emerald City" poster art and on the other side, his pretty scary "Mombi" poster. (One can switch the booklet around to show either one.) Inside the booklet is a nice rundown of the production and release of the movie, illustrated with movie stills, set photos, behind the scenes photos, and two pieces of concept art by Mike Ploog. Also there is a cue assembly list for the tracks and a little afterword about the creation of this album.

This isn't just a great release of the score of the movie, this is a definite Return to Oz collector's item!

The CD can be ordered directly from Intrada and Amazon. Creature Features was offering a limited number of copies autographed by David Shire, but they have already sold out. However, check out their podcast section as their fourth episode interviews Walter Murch, and they discuss—you guessed it—Return to Oz.

* Just about the only thing not carried over from the original soundtrack CD is the original liner notes. While some may pass and others seek it out for completion, there is a complete set of scans for viewing and downloading here.

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