So I just got these in the mail and am very happy about it. Okay, The Phantom
(expanded edition) wasn't as incredible as far as comic book action-adventure scores go (it's certainly not really of the same calibre as Elfman's Batman scores, Goldsmith's The Shadow, or even some other major contemporaries like Debney's CutThroat Island), but it has some good stuff in it and the theme for the main character is pretty nice - if under-utilized. I guess the real major problem is the lack of stronger secondary material for the villain Drax, the romance side, and even things like the Jade Skull and the pirates at the end. The score needed more epic and ultimately didn't really have enough of it to maintain interest all the way through as focused on low-grumbling atmospherics as it was.
However, that score for me was just a filler in an order for something massively more exciting: the complete original score for the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian
. Basil Poledouris' Conan has been one of my absolute favourite scores of all time largely from the moment I first heard it. Now this one's had a bit more of a tough history to it as when Poledouris originally recorded the score in Rome with local union musicians, he was faced with certain unfortunate problems. The lack of skilled enough players to perform the music as he wrote it was always an issue and him not having access to a lot of special instruments he specified in the orchestrations needed some improvisation to make work, resulting in a score that he was never entirely pleased with. Though the score for Barbarian was never quite as much a disappointment to him than his later Conan the Destroyer score recordings would be, he always was disappointed of not getting to do these ambituous scores to the level that he wanted them to be at. Although, as a positive, the rougher performances and scratchier recording did add a specific touch of "barbarity" to the sound of these movies... well, more so Barbarian than Destroyer, as the latter is painfully badly performed no matter how puritanical you are about original film recordings (Destroyer actually has a full, modern re-recording - which I also have - that is one of the few I actually prefer over the original).
But Barbarian was still instrumental in not only defining a lot of the movie itself, but it put Poledouris straight on the map of notable film composers and it is one of the few film scores that has managed to gain a lot of cross-over appeal even outside of film and orchestral music buffs. The 50 minutes presented on the original soundtrack album was quite generous at its time and the early CD (one of the first CDs ever produced) has never been out of print since. However, sometime in the interim the original tapes got stashed away somewhere to the point where everybody seemed to have lost track of them. And while there was an expanded version of some 70 minutes of the music put out in 1992, the additional material came from the composer's own downgraded copies instead of the original tapes. It got to the point where for decades everybody, including the composer, believed the original recording had been destroyed and that a full score release could never happen. However, as it just so is that after years of search, the complete recorded elements for Barbarian were finally located in pristine condition in a Universal studio vault and the result is this beautiful 3-CD deluxe set of the complete score + alternates and even the original soundtrack album.
Now truly stunning material that has never seen the light of day before isn't exactly abundant, as the 1992 release did a pretty good job of filling out some of the most notable music not heard on the original album. However, seeing as that album has been out of print for well over a decade now and has been fetching high prices ever since, this album is truly a blessing for those who originally missed out on that CD. Plus, you still get some notable cues never released before, notably "Pit Fights" for Conan's early gladiator career, all the music from the Tower of Set sequence (complete with the "Las Cantigas de Santa Maria" source piece), the one missing bit from the "Battle of the Mounds" scene, and the final "Head Chop" of Conan decapitating Thulsa Doom. A lot of the other music is either source music like material, percussion improvisations or, in a couple of moments, re-edits of other cues to reflect how those scenes appeared in the film for which no original music was recorded. What all of this makes for is 110+ minutes of music that can be distilled down to around 79 minutes of truly high caliber music for a fantastic custom album to sink your teeth into . Also it's nice to have the original soundtrack album still included as there's still certain things in it that are better than the actual score - and happily Intrada has even gone to the extent of offering the original album prologue with Mako's voiceover (a vital mood setter as far as I'm concerned - cheesy as it is) for a release I honestly can't ask more out of. This is truly the ultimate Conan release that many believed would never be possible, but as time has shown again and again, "never" is a highly subjective term.
Incidentally, there is also a full re-recording of Barbarian, done in 2010, and based on the original sheet music of the composer (who sadly died of cancer in 2006), acting as an interesting little historical glimpse on what the original score could have been like given optimal circumstances. It won't supercede the original for me, but is a nice alternative to anyone wanting a modern alternative to this iconic score.