March 2005

Edward Shearmur - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Sony Classical 93932
Released: September 2004
Format: CD

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

People seem to either love or despise Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Those who hate the movie condemn it for having a weak story and overwrought swashbuckling. Those who love it compare it to serials from the '30s and '40s as well as Star Wars. I have not seen the film. However, taken on its own qualities, Edward Shearmur’s score supports either opinion.

I am no stranger to Shearmur’s work as a film-music composer. I loved his sweetly melodic score to K-Pax and thought his efforts elevated the mediocre monster movie Reign of Fire. I consider both scores original. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a departure from this. It is a strained, unapologetic homage.

Throughout this disc I was frequently reminded of themes made popular by Superman - The Movie, Star Wars, the Star Trek films and, at its most frenetic, Independence Day. Listeners will associate much of what they hear to the scores of contemporary composers John Williams, James Horner and David Arnold, but the majority of Shearmur’s ideas sprout from masters like Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Elmer Bernstein.

Shearmur’s score is deliberately over the top, verging on corny. And that’s the point. Writer-director Kerry Concern’s ambitious story is all about World War machismo and fantastic images of larger-than-life aerial dogfights. Horns trumpet the actions of courageous heroes risking life and limb for what they believe in, with all the brassy attack the orchestra can muster. I only wish Shearmur offered a break from the bravado. An hour of score boils down to only a few solid themes that become repetitive after 15 minutes. Shearmur’s music may serve the film, but it does not hold up on its own as a separate listening experience.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a well-recorded score. It is apparent that someone with experience was at the helm of the live-orchestra recordings. Instruments are well distributed across the soundstage. Dynamics are much better than expected, though there are moments where crescendos are obvious victims of heavy-handed compression.