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Mac and Me (Alan Silvestri)

May 13, 2014

Cover_macandmeMAC AND ME

Alan Silvestri, 2014 (1988), Quartet Records
23 tracks, 59:01

We all known that terrible films can sprout excellent soundtracks. This is a classic example; and Alan Silvestri’s out-of-this-world(!) score finally sees the light of day.

Review by Pete Simons

WINNER “Best Re-release/Special Edition/Archival Score”, 2014 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.

What is it?

You may not want to know! “Mac and Me” is a sci-fi family-adventure film from 1988 about a family of aliens stranded on earth. One of them befriends an Earth-child, whilst secret services are trying to hunt it down. Oh yes, it’s a complete rip-off from “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” and also serves as a vehicle for product placements ranging from Coca Cola and McDonalds to Skittles. Director Stewart Raffill made the rather cool “The Philadelphia Experiment” a few years earlier, but has not really done anything of note since. A quick stroll through IMdB shows that most of the film’s cast retired not long after this (I’m sure there’s a joke here, but let’s not go there…), with only Christine Ebersole still active today.

Alan Silvestri provided the score. What persuaded him, we’ll never know. Of course he was very much in demand following successes like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “Predator” and “Back to the Future”. You could argue that, for a little while, he was the go-to-guy where friendly aliens were concerned. “Flight of the Navigator”, “My Stepmom is an Alien” and “The Abyss” were also written around that period. And come to think of it… that very much sums up “Mac and Me”. Musically it sits very nicely amongst those – and surprisingly it is overall probably one of the most enjoyable in this line up! The film is a mix of slapstick comedy and driving action; which reflects in the score. Spain’s Quartet Record has now been able to release this little gem of a score.

What does it sound like?

First and foremost this is classic Alan Silvestri in all its glory. Lush themes, driving action music and twinkly synth pads – it’s all here. You’ll hear his familiar methods to raise the tension, or to generate a sense of wonder and adventure. True to form, the composer structures the entire score around a small number of themes and styles. He employed the same technique on scores such as “Blown Away“, “Clean Slate” and “The Perez Family“; and many others (I only list these three so I could link to their reviews, wink wink). On album it makes for a coherent listening experience, though some may find it can get repetitive.  “Mac and Me” suffers a little bit from this, especially where the synth-dominted cues are concerned. Silvestri’s orchestral writing is lush, eventful and varied. The composer, however, does not really vary much on his synth parts. He sort-of gets away with it here because he does overlay his synths with varying solo instruments – often another bell-like synth pad, but he does switch to oboe and violin on a few occasions.

Superficially, the album could be divided into two sections: the synth-driven cues and the orchestra-led cues. The aliens are accompanied by airy synth pads, usually overlaid with sparkly sounds and harp glissandos. Their theme is quite simple – basically a fluctuating four-note motif, backed by varying chords (for silky strings). The style and indeed the melody reminds me of Gizmo’s theme from Jerry Goldsmith (though I’m also getting hints of “The Bodyguard” and “Shattered”). This theme and its synths can be heard straight off the bat in “Family Planet” and “Overture”; and later in “Mac Cries”, “Mac on the Hill”, “Mac Trapped in a Vac”, “The Question is What”, “I Won’t Let Anybody Hurt You”, “She’s Alive” and “Raising the Dead”.

Although somewhat repetitive, the synth work here is one of Silvestri’s finest ever. It is certainly a lot more mature than his other scores from around that time; or even his recent ones for that matter. I know I keep saying it, but Silvestri’s usage of electronics often sounds dated and clumsy; even on his recent works. His choice of sounds on “Mac and Me” however is apt and excellent, more akin to “No Words” from the much later “Contact” than anything else. He tends to mix the pads with live strings, which might just explain why they sound so much more pleasing on “Mac and Me”.

The album opens with these dreamy synth sounds, but “Family Planet” soon turns into a playful orchestral cue. Tuba, bass clarinet and bassoon are running circles around each other, like a precursor to the similarly playful “Mouse Hunt”. There are fragmented hints of the main theme on muted brass and mallet instruments. The lengthy, lyrical main theme can first be heard in full during the “Overture”. It is so quintessentially Silvestri that it instantly feels familiar. It’s one of his typically nice and unassuming feel-good melodies. I actually whizzed through my Silvestri collection to work out if he hadn’t nicked it from (or re-used it) elsewhere, but I don’t think he has. The theme is first presented by flute, is then carried over to the strings and later to the brass whilst violins are rushing in the background.

Things are about to get a lot more interesting though. “Mac Escapes”, “Eric Takes the Plunge” and “They’re Not Dangerous” owe a lot to “Predator”, of all scores! So much in fact, that the only thing missing is that wooden clattering sound. The bass piano, the fluttering brass, frantic orchestrations and especially the high-pitched shifting strings remind of “Predator”‘s jungle music. Many of the orchestral tracks are quite frantic in nature, i.e. fast-paced writing with various instruments (usually woodwinds) being played off against each other. Kudos should go to orchestrator James Campbell. Even when Silvestri doesn’t employ his main themes, he creates uniformity through recurring ostinatos and motifs. You’ll hear the same runs and 3-note motifs, going through various keys, throughout the album.

Tracks like “New Home”, “Shower Prints” and “First Night Out” rely heavily on Silvestri’s energetic writing for woodwinds. “Shower Prints”, although in itself not the most interesting cue, very clearly states one of Silvestri’s secondary motifs for the aliens – four descending chords, followed by a quick triplet (usually on woodwinds). He keeps changing the key, and the motif gets bounced around the orchestra. In this particular track it sounds a little too formulaic, but I’m highlighting it because it is such a clear example. This motif is one the score’s key building blocks and returns several times.

“Car Chase” and especially “Big Chase” see the composer combining his archetypal action music with the score’s main themes. All the while, strings and woodwinds are providing very lively support. The former of these cues is a bit more cartoonish, perhaps more in line with “Roger Rabbit”, whilst the latter is more adventurous and, partly due to its prominent use of trumpets and snare drums, closer to “Back to the Future”. At times I even wonder if the composer tried to channel a little bit of “Cocoon”. Though the album hasn’t finished just yet, these cues do provide a satisfying and rousing finale.

What does close the album are two songs (“You’re Not a Stranger Anymore” and “Take me, I’ll Follow You”). Both are written by Silvestri with different collaborators (see the tracklisting below for details). Songs were never really Silvestri’s forte, and these two are quite poor even by 80s standards. The former is based on the score’s main theme, but… really the less said about these songs, the better. With the inclusion of lyrics, it actually becomes clear that “You’re Not a Stranger Anymore” (and thus the film’s main theme) sounds quite similar to the classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” (from 1940’s “Pinocchio”). Now I know why it sounded instantly familiar!

Is it any good?

As I said earlier, it owes a lot to other Silvestri scores from that period, such as “Roger Rabbit”, “Flight of the Navigator” and “Predator”; though equally it serves as a very early precursor to both “Contact” and “Mouse Hunt”. It’s an archetypal Silvestri score with lush themes, colourful orchestrations (especially where the woodwinds are concerned) and sparkly synth pads. Considering the quality (or lack thereof) of the film, it is a surprisingly mature score. Synths were never the composer’s strong point, but “Mac and Me” includes his finest electronic work. And the orchestral cues are as rousing and energetic as anything Silvestri has ever written. If anything, the synth cues are a little repetitive and the orchestral cues can be a bit schizophrenic; though this is undoubtedly due to the film’s clashing mix of oddball comedy and feverish action sequences. Also, the adventurous main theme is somewhat underused in favour of the simpler aliens theme and the frantic motifs. Again, this is simply due to Silvestri’s leitmotivic approach and what the film dictates. It’s still a nicely balanced and varied score; and it’s running time of an hour feels just about right.

With “Blown Away”, “Clean Slate/The Perez Family” and “The Abyss” recently being (re)released and with “Cosmos” still going strong, 2014 is already shaping up to be a great year for Silvestri-fans. It’s great news then that Quartet Records has been able to add “Mac and Me” to this list. The sound quality is fantastic, as if was recorded just yesterday. Compliments should also go to Daniel Schweiger. who provided the very extensive and informative liner notes. That he managed to write 10 pages worth of notes speaks volumes about the music.

Rating: [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. Family Planet (4:15)
02. Overture (4:31)
03. Mac Escapes (2:46)
04. Mac Stows Away / Grabs Coke (0:24)
05. Into the Valley / Pretty Nice (1:38)
06. New Home (1:28)
07. Family Photo (1:01)
08. Shower Prints (1:18)
09. First Night Out (1:40)
10. Mac Cries (1:15)
11. Eric Takes the Plunge (2:59)
12. Mac on the Hill (0:50)
13. Mac Trapped in Vac (4:13)
14. Strange Pets (0:43)
15. The Question Is What (2:37)
16. Car Chase (1:24)
17. I Won’t Let Anybody Hurt You (2:34)
18. Big Chase (3:37)
19. She’s Alive (4:10)
20. They’re Not Dangerous (2:07)
21. Raising the Dead (4:27)
22. You’re Not An Stranger Anymore (3:45)
(Music by Alan Silvestri; Lyrics by Bob Gaudio, Judy Parker & Mike Curb; Performed by Jara Lane)
23. Take Me (I’ll Follow You) (5:33)
(Composed by Alan Silvestri and Bobby Caldwell; Performed by Bobby Caldwell)

Availability

Released by Quartet Records (limited to 1,000 copies, which have now sold out).

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