Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (1953) was one of the first CinemaScope films,
and while the poster reproduced on the back cover of the booklet of this release
sports the legend "You see it without glasses in CinemaScope", alludes to the
supposed three-dimensional properties of the CinemaScope image, the advertisers
surprisingly missed out on the opportunity for even more hype. An integral part
of the CinemaScope process was stereo sound, and Beneath the 12 Mile Reef
was no exception, so direct from the original mastertapes we have the rare
opportunity to hear an original 1953 soundtrack in true stereo. (Film Score
Monthly have also just released the soundtrack to the very first CinemaScope
film, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)).
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef
Original Soundtrack Recording, conducted by Bernard Herrmann, 1953.
Film Score Monthly Vol.3 No.10 (CD, 2001, 55 minutes).
Parts of Bernard Herrmann's music for Beneath the 12 Mile Reef are
familiar to fans of the composer from Charles Gerheart's Classic Film
Scores series of the 1970's, and it is well known that Herrmann took
advantage of the stereo recording process to create a unique sound by scoring
sequences for no less than nine harps which he had distributed across the
recording studio to produce an exceptionally wide soundstage. With the film
being relegated to rare television showings in mono, excepting a recent American
DVD release this current album represents the first opportunity many will have
had to here Herrmann's score as he originally envisioned it. And this is one
score where the sound is particularly integral to the overall effect. Recording
techniques were primitive in 1953 when compared to today, but ever innovative
Herrmann pushed what technology was available to the limit. Thus for the
underwater sequences Herrmann had the orchestral recordings played through
speakers on the soundstage and re-recorded, effectively creating a reverb track
which was then mixed with the original orchestral tracks to create a sound with
more atmosphere and depth and a greater sense of mystery and space. Part of what
this means is that while this original can not compare in terms of resolution
with a modern digital recording, it does have a very specific quality which
gives it a special place in both recording and film music history. Add to this
the fact that this is a very important score musically in Herrmann's career and
you have all the makings of an essential release.
Surprising then that it has taken 48 years for this soundtrack to make its
album debut, but while it has certainly take a time Film Score Monthly
have done Herrmann and Fox proud with a first-rate presentation. As expected,
the booklet, in terms of notes, illustrations and printing is of a very high
standard. Lukas Kendall informs us that "There is a subtle wow throughout which
is impossible to eradicate or repair." Well yes, it is there. But you'd really
have to be listening out for it to let it spoil your enjoyment. There is the
occasional moment where it becomes more pronounced, but one soon finds oneself
so swept-up in the music the imperfections barely register. Certainly anyone
used to putting-up with the crackles, pops and distortion LPs are prone to won't
be bothered by the 'wow' factor here.
And the music? At 55 minutes and 22 cues this is the complete score, a
mixture of the romantic and the lugubriously menacing, with underwater scoring
which may sound clichéd today, but if so only because Herrmann effectively
established the sound of many an undersea adventure with his music here. Pieces
such as 'The Undersea Forest' are essentially benchmarks for an entire sub-genre
(pun intended) and prefigure Herrrmann's baroque orchestration for many a Ray
Harryhausen fantasy feature. There is a lyric quality to 'Elegy', the more
mournful aspects of the score having a melodic quality in common with The
Snows of Kilmanjiro (1952) and Vertigo (1958), the climactic cues
building to the battle with 'The Octopus' being fine examples of suspense
writing giving way to intense action.
An excellent album of a landmark (or should that be watermark) score. While
there is a certain amount of repetition between cues that may put off the more
casual listener, it's doubtful the casual listener will ever hear of these
series of releases, and for the dedicated Herrmann buff this is simply a joy.
Copyright © 2001 by Gary S. Dalkin / The Bernard Herrmann Society.|
All rights reserved.