Cast your minds back to 1995, when a movie entitled CUTTHROAT ISLAND was doing the rounds at the cinemas, this for me was the ultimate pirate movie at the time and I still find it more entertaining than the Pirates of the Caribbean series, (sorry and all that, but I do). This not only goes for the movie but also the musical score by John Debney, the music in CUTTHROAT is robust, epic, jaunty and filled with adventure and romance, which is what a good Pirate movie score should be, don’t get me wrong here, I love what Klaus Badelt did on Pirates and then of course that was built on by Hans Zimmer, but CUTTHROAT for me has the edge musically and also cinematically. Debney’ s fast paced soundtrack underlines and punctuates meticulously all the action taking place on screen and the music is also highly listenable away from the images. The films storyline or plot is a simple one and one that we have seen so many times before, but do we tire of it, no we don’t especially when it is presented in such an entertaining way. A female pirate Morgan, played by Geena Davies and her companion Shaw, portrayed by Matthew Modine, race against their rivals led by an unscrupulous and sadistic character, played convincingly by Frank Langella who is excellent in the role of Dawg, to find a concealed island that has a fabulously rich treasure trove.
So, it’s the normal run of the mill Pirate adventure that we have been watching since movies like LONG JOHN SILVER, TREASURE ISLAND and CAPTAIN BLOOD etc, done in the time-honoured Hollywood tradition of swash and buckle with sword play, chases on land and sea and loads of villains and a fair number of romantic interludes. John Debney’s marvellous score lends much to the proceedings and becomes an important part of the overall film making process, it is fair to say that the film would have been poorer with Debney’s powerful and relentless action cues and would have struggled without his richly romantic and lush themes that underlined the scenes with Davies and Modine. The soundtrack was issued on Silva Screen records at the time of the films release as a one-disc set, then came a double CD set and more recently an extended version on a digital site. This is the version I have chosen to review, available on Spotify, it boasts 39 tracks, some of which are alternate takes or synth demo cues. The score is performed by, THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and the choral performances are courtesy of THE LONDON VOICES. The sound achieved by the composer is very Williams-esque as in John Williams, the film in fact was originally assigned to composer David Arnold, but due to scheduling problems, (they always say that don’t they) Debney got the call from Director Renny Harlin. I for one am so glad that Debney worked on the film, it is one of the most effective scores for a Pirate movie that I have heard in years, and as I say I have to be truthful and say I prefer it to any of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie soundtracks.
Arnold did start work on the score and in interview admitted to writing a few bits and pieces for the movie, which he re-used or arranged into his score for INDEPENDANCE DAY and maybe re-used in THE MUSKETEER a few years later., it also noted that the style employed by Debney in CUTTHROAT ISLAND does bare a striking resemblance to Arnold’s INDEPENDENCE DAY, but that is neither here or there, unless you want to analyse the scores and ask the question who influenced whom.
The film however did not do well at the box office, receiving negative reviews, the movie had multiple re-writes and actors such as Michael Douglas who were originally on board for one reason or another decided not to stay with the production, funnily enough at the same time it was being praised for its high quality production values as in locations, rich musical score and cinematography. It was to be the last film from Carolco Pictures before they ceased production in 1996, the company did relaunch in 2015. But like so many box office flops the movie has in recent years attained something of a following. It was to be one of the biggest flops of all time on paper.
The recording commences with MAIN TITLE-MORGAN’S RIDE, this is a perfect opener filled with wonderfully soaring strings and flyaway woods that are enhanced by brass and percussion, in a rousing and full-blooded working of the films central theme. This is however short lived as the composition, slows and moves into a more poignant and melancholy piece, but this too is soon edged to one side as we return to the thundering CUTTHROAT theme, with choir, strings, brass and powerful percussion. The composer adds so many elements to the piece it is almost as if he is throwing everything at the listener, and yes, its good. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed after hearing this commanding and theme laden opening, it will leave you breathless, literally, but wanting more. Debney’s use of choir is nothing short of stunning, and he supports and underlines it with timpani, brass and strings adding depth and a rich musical persona to the proceedings. This can be heard to great effect in track number 2, THE RESCUE, this is also the cue where I think you will be making comparisons with either INDEPENDENCE DAY, STARGATE, or even ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES. CUTTHROAT ISLAND is nothing short of magnificent musically, it is a tour de force of robust, powerful themes and infectious sounding musical motifs that ooze melodic excellence.
It is a romantically laced work which also contains shades of comedic writing, a style which we had already witnessed within Debney’s music for the movie HOCUS POCUS two years previous. To analyse each and every track on the recording would I think be wrong, let it be sufficient to say that I recommend this highly, you will not be sorry if you add this to your collection, in fact I guarantee you will be returning to it on a regular basis.