The Lost World -Jurassic Park- Original Soundtrack
The Lost World -Jurassic Park- Original Soundtrack
Sonic Images Records
February 10, 1998
Buy Used Copy
One would be hard pressed to find anybody who fondly remembers The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released in 1997 on Saturn and Playstation to coincide (of course) with the theatrical release of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster sequel to his first Jurassic Park movie. While the game tried to shake things up by having the gamer play as one of five different characters — including both humans and dinosaurs — the 2.5D platform jumper suffered from a number of gameplay problems that made it another entry into the very long list of mediocre video games based on a film license.
If there is anything memorable about The Lost World: Jurassic Park, it’s the fact that it was one of the first games to include a fully orchestrated soundtrack. What’s more, the score in question was created by none other than a young Michael Giacchino, at the time coming off his deliciously eclectic composing debut Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow. Giacchino had recently started working as a producer for Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks Interactive and The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s turned out to be his first composing job for the company. Giacchino’s later recollection of his first meeting with the legendary director is both insightful and amusing. According to Giacchino, the decision to record the soundtrack with an orchestra — and not with sampled music as planned — was more or less made on the spot when Spielberg surprised the game’s producers and Giacchino in a meeting by asking when the score would be recorded, casually assuming that this had always been the plan. Little did anybody know at the time that this decision would alter the course of video game music history. The Lost World: Jurassic Park displayed Giacchino’s knack for creating orchestral game scores and his next Dreamworks project would be the groundbreaking Medal of Honor. Setting The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s soundtrack further apart from other scores of this era, it received a commercial, stand-alone soundtrack release on CD in the USA and Europe.
Despite what one might believe in the case of a young composer who admires John Williams’ scores and works on a game produced by Steven Spielberg, Giacchino doesn’t make any thematic references to either the first nor the second of Williams’ Jurassic Park soundtracks. At the same time, Giacchino’s score hardly establishes a thematic identity of its own, with none of game’s different characters receiving a particular sonic footprint. What Giacchino’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park does have in common with its cinematic counterpart is its propensity for dark and violent action material that sets both scores apart from the sense of wonder that Williams’ original Jurassic Park score exuded. Most of the game score album is devoted to such music, despite what the album’s opening track might lead you to believe. In fact, “Into the Trees” starts out as a jolly march that is quite reminiscent of Williams’ Indiana Jones soundtrack — one of several such occasions on the soundtrack, although the similarities are rather fleeting and never a sign of lacking inspiration. “Into the Trees” does hint at the darkness to come with a more sinister middle section, but this doesn’t stop the track from finishing in decidedly exuberant fashion with bright brass fanfares.
However, that mood is soon gone by the time “The Forest Explodes” comes around. Its opening angular string figures herald a much harsher composition and the ensuing orchestral scherzo conveys the atmosphere of a frantic chase perfectly. The ingredients to the piece are familiar, particularly how the hyper-active violins push the track forward while the brass carries most of the fragmented melodic material. However, what makes the piece a success is its pure sense of unhinged energy and Giacchino’s ability to pack an impressive number of musical ideas into the cue’s short running time, without sacrificing the music’s flow. Indeed, almost every cue on the album, despite never being significantly longer than two minutes, displays a satisfying amount of development and more often than not plays like a well proportioned musical mini drama. “Base Camp Rampage” ramps up the intensity further and introduces a stylistic streak several other action cue will include as well: dissonant orchestral material that sometimes displays a distinct horror sensibility. In “Base Camp Rampage”, this tendency makes itself heard during the track’s upwards shooting, dissonant violin figures and atonal, percussive piano chords that thrown into the orchestral frenzy. Add to this a brass section that takes center stage even more than on “The Forest Explodes”, either through imposing, slowly building chords or brusque action melodies, and you get one of the most raucous and entertaining tracks on the whole album.
Later action cues largely follow the same scherzo formula and only slightly vary in their approach. While this means that there’s hardly a dull moment during these pulse-pounding compositions, a lack of sufficiently characterful melodic elements causes the action tracks in the latter stages of the album to sound a bit anonymous. This becomes particularly obvious on those cues that rely on propulsive rhythms rather than varied orchestral mayhem. The six-note melodic phrase that drives “Climbing the Tower” is a rather simple construct and proves simply too thin to carry the whole composition. “Break for Freedom” is more entertaining and skillfully weaves elements such as chaotic string pizzicati and glissandi into its textures, but its later resolute rhythms only carry the piece so far.
Also, “Break for Freedom” most obviously unveils one of the score’s sore spots: it’s comparatively underpowered orchestral sound. It’s difficult to say how much of this issue is due to the album’s recording or the size of the orchestral forces deployed — Giacchino worked with just 40 members of the Northwest Sinfonia. But those unaccompanied cello rhythms at 1:15 simply sound too hollow to make much of an impact. This absence of a completely satisfying, full sound haunts most of the action material, and while a piece like “Welcome Mr. T-Rex” is another display of Giacchino’s skills at writing colourful, dense orchestral pieces, it’s difficult not to wonder how much more effective the cue’s massive brass chords could be if given a more forceful sound. Furhtermore, another factor that contributes to a slight feeling of sameness towards the album’s end is the simple fact that every cue on the album has the almost exact same length: about two minutes. This seems like a restriction that’s been imposed due to technical rather than creative limits — it’s doubtful that Giacchino was happy with the way the horns chords at the end of “The Plains” aren’t even given time to properly fade out. Again, it’s a testament to Giacchino’s skills that this limitation never becomes a serious problem. There’s simply too much happening in most pieces that the listener would worry about the similar track lengths, but here as well, there would have been room for improvement and an even more impressive result.
But regardless of these ultimately minor issues, Giacchino’s action music remains diverting throughout and produces some of the album’s highlights. For example, there’s “San Diego”, which intriguingly features both harsher and more upbeat elements than most other similar cues. Alternating between sections driven by metal percussion and comparatively light brass material of “Into the Trees”, “San Diego” creates some ear-catching contrasts and makes for a nice change after the dark-hued earlier scherzo cues. And given that the piece reprises melodies from the album’s first track and ends on a positive note, it would also make a great close to the soundtrack — if the album producers had actually chosen it to be the final track. For “Raptor Wasteland”, the by then familiar mix of action and horror elements gives way to a sumptuous, uncharacteristically expansive melody for the full string section, while never letting quite go of those dissonant snippets of sound that add intriguing texture to the composition. And if you’re searching for some uninhibited orchestral ruckus, look no further than “Laboratory Hunt”. Its atmospheric introduction, courtesy of eerie strings over threatening timpani and tolling bells, convincingly builds tension before more orchestral chaos is unleashed and this time even more effective due to the unsettling calm that preceded it. Starting off with a section for frenzied, panic-inducing violins, Giacchino really lets loose on this cue and has his large percussion section power this sonic onslaught, which ends with a trumpet melody battling against orchestral polyrhythms.
It’s not all tense live-or-death action though — Giacchino also concocts some more atmospheric material which rather scores the game’s locations than the action itself. It’s these tracks that greatly help to vary the album’s pacing and to avoid the score becoming a monotonous collection of frantic tunes. At the same time, these compositions never break the album’s flow and stylistically tie in quite well with the action material that surrounds it. This is partly due to similar sensibilities — a number of the more languid pieces take the more unsettling moments of the action tracks and use them as the foundation of a whole composition. It’s certainly no surprise that tracks like “Dinosary Graveyard” sport an appropriately ominous sound, haunted by quiet chimes that restlessly wander through the piece’s textures. Apart from that, it’s all the high-pitched eerie strings, violin glissandi and fragmented melodies one might expect, but this familiar ambiance is pulled off effectively and the occasional melodic brass elements contrasts nicely with the surrounding dreary mood. “The King’s Lair” is more forthright in its deployment of disquieting sounds, now replete with brusque brass motives and ghostly male choir. These somewhat generic horror sounds are later mixed up with contrasting martial elements such as emerging march rhythms and building brass chords — a combination that works surprisingly well. More ominous than spooky, “Volcanic Fault” begins with appropriately cavernous wood percussion and droning deep strings, before a clarinet solo carefully peaks around the corner. Once more, orchestral elements literally clash when uncanny violin harmonies and anvils strikes attack the melody, now carried by the flutes.
Most surprising is the existence of some downright playful cues on the album that also give Giacchino the chance to shine through the use of highly creative orchestrations. The most adventurous of these tracks is “Beneath the Surface”. Its opening for deep string tremoli and oppressive brass chords is nothing out of the ordinary, but then the piece takes a turn for the almost whimsical with a bouncy rhythm in the woodwind and harp, which is played over abrupt, isolated deep string figures that keep interrupting the jaunty mood. Later on, off-kilter violin harmonies and harp arpeggios, together with a flutter-tongue flute solo, perform harmonically ambiguous melodies against heavier orchestral elements in a composition that defies easy categorisation and proves the most interesting piece on the whole album with its heady mix of timbres. “Aisle of Giants” knows equally well how to combine contrasting moods and gradually shifts from charming pizzicato and exotic wood percussion rhythms to a more sombre mood carried by timpani and brass, while never entirely abandoning its initial delightful atmosphere.
As with the action material, some of these tracks wear a bit thin and lack personality, usually due to material that is too insubstantial. Such is the case with the unisono march motive and tense string ostinati on “The Canyon Brigade” which grow tiresome after a while, even though the march motive is backed by some orchestral counterpoint toward the end of the composition. Similarly, “The Sulfur Fields” relies too much on rather humdrum melodic motives, although it does a decent job at painting an image of blazing heat through its opening suspended brass and male choir chords, which are backed by rumbling deep string tremoli. Meanwhile, “Enter Carefully” orchestral fragments are barely held together by organic hand percussion sounds and the track only picks up the listener’s interest once it introduces an enhanced array of percussion instruments and more complex rhythms towards the very end.
One word about the album’s last track: according to the information on the CD case, “Primordial Forest” and its light-hearted tones that are similar to “Aisle of Giants” should finish after two minutes. However, after a short break, the music picks up again and continues for well over ten minutes. It’s not clear if this material are alternate takes or music that wasn’t used in the game. In any case, it’s not worth much attention: predictably, most of it is simple underscore, consisting of various, shifting layers of ethnic percussion, adorned with atmospheric additions from the brass and string sections. After almost ten minutes of orchestral rambling, the album finishes on a rather bizarre note with another light-hearted march that you’d be likely to hear from your local high-school marching band (if that band had a small string section).
Giacchino makes quite an auspicious debut with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. His talents at writing rich orchestral material is never in doubt, just like his ability to imbue even short compositions with an admirable degree of both variety and fluidity. His frantic and sombre action tracks, despite a generally underpowered overall sound, pack quite a punch and are consistently entertaining, although not always particularly memorable. Meanwhile, Giacchino’s more atmospheric compositions showcase his stylistic breath and through their original combinations of moods and textures provide some of the album’s most fascinating moments. Not all of the material on this soundtrack is top notch composition-wise and the uniform running time of each track feels unnecessarily restrictive. There are stronger scores by Giacchino that those interested in his body of work should try first before coming to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but if you’re familiar with Giacchino’s more familiar soundtracks, you’ll most likely also enjoy this creation of his. All things told, this soundtrack marked Giacchino as a composer to be reckoned with and hinted at greater things that would soon come true.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.