Review: Independence Day Live

Independence Day 22 September 2016Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Maida Vale Singers

Conducted by Gavin Greenaway

Hello, boys, we’re back!

Independence Day is never likely to feature on any of those Top 10 Movies of All Time lists, but for a lot of people – myself included – it’s one of those almost-guilty pleasure films that is ridiculous in so many ways, but which draws you in from the first shot of the alien craft’s shadow passing over the Apollo 11 landing site and keeps you engrossed till the fireworks at the end. It owes a lot to Kenneth Johnson’s V in terms of some of its visual iconography, and it’s unashamedly American – which, as was pointed out by David Arnold in his pre-screening talk last night, is interesting, given the director was German, the creature designer was Greek and the composer was British (from Luton – cue audience cheers!). Some of the effects are a bit creaky now but they still hold up on the big screen. However, the glue that holds it all together is David Arnold’s score.

The Royal Albert Hall premiere of ID4 Live saw Arnold chatting with the project’s producer Tommy Pearson for half an hour or so, covering some of the same areas as we did in the interview (here). Arnold revealed that he was present when the White House model was blown up and that he was originally going to play the British officer in the desert sequence (the scene got cheers and a round of applause when it eventually appeared!). He was asked about the “Morse code” music around that scene, drawing comparisons with other such use in scores over the years. There was also an explanation as to how conductor Gavin Greenaway would be able to keep the music completely in sync with the orchestra: on the stand is a screen showing the movie, which is marked up digitally with assorted signs – such as a red spot for a specific entry, or a green line moving across the picture as a countdown to starting – that give him the exact cues. This is an update of the old school style of music editing for film, where the physical film would be hole punched by the music editor before being displayed on a big screen at the sound stage where the orchestra was recording.

ID4 liveArnold also talked about the mammoth job faced by Tristan Jakob-Hoff, the arranger, who spent nine months working on creating the live score from Nicholas Dodd’s original orchestrations. Because the effects were late coming in, Arnold often composed the music before the scene was edited with all the elements, and there were numerous changes to the picture after the score was already in the can. This means there are moments in the cinematic version where a bar is repeated (think of it like a glitch in the Matrix – you hear a bar, and then you hear it again), to fill in the time so that the important musical moment can be achieved. Often this reworking is done without recourse to the composer, so this live version was an opportunity for some of the bumps to be smoothed out. And they were, in style. There are a couple of very obvious places where this happens in the movie, particularly in the build up to the original firing of the superweapon, but not in the version we saw and heard last night.

Some of the film with live orchestra screenings have had subtitles – Star Trek Into Darkness definitely benefitted from them; Back to the Future needed them! – but Arnold explained they had decided not to have them for this show. That surprised some members of the audience (it was being commented on quite a bit in the break between the talk and the film starting), but they (and I) really didn’t need to worry. Sound engineer Geoff Foster was live mixing the film, balancing the orchestra’s sometimes fortissimo (or even louder) performance with the dialogue and the effects tracks absolutely brilliantly to the extent there were lines of dialogue that I had never heard before that were previously lost in the mix.

Conductor Gavin Greenaway was similarly brilliant – he must have lost a few pounds in weight from the energetic performance he gave from the podium, particularly in the presto section accompanying the escape from within the mother ship. His whole body language suggested someone who was absolutely loving the thrill of the performance, and the players and singers followed his lead. With three sets of tympani providing a solid bass (and base), the RCPO gave an excellent rendition of Arnold’s thoroughly enjoyable score.

img_1279If you’re a fan of this film, or of David Arnold’s music, then get to see this when it’s next performed – as the composer himself pointed out, it’s a considerably better way to watch it than on one of Channel 5’s regular airings! And someone should seriously be thinking about recording and releasing this revised score…

Verdict: Today we celebrated our Independence Day! 10/10

Paul Simpson

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