All the right tracks: Hot flicks, cool music

You've read the book, you've seen the movie, you've bought the doll and you've even pocketed the miniature, plastic gizmo they're passing out at fast-food restaurants.

What's left? The soundtrack, natch.


Soundtrack synergy, they're calling it, the mushrooming rush of fast-selling CDs and cassettes from pop movies, newly released albums crammed with spot hits, unusual classics, clever covers and/or lilting orchestral scores. Whatever the style, they're big, big business, from the days of "Saturday Night Fever" -- still the all-time No. 2 album seller behind "Thriller" -- through the more recent Whitney Houston smash "The Bodyguard."

Summer is no exception. If anything, summertime pulp is the ideal candidate for piggy-backing music sales onto the seasonal roundup of action movies, sexy mystery-thrillers, buoyant romances, comedies and that noteworthy dinosaur epic by what's-his-name.


"Jurassic Park"

Speaking of which, it's both easy and fashionable to dump on John Williams, whose harmonious, orchestrally soaring pop scores have become as recognizable as the blockbuster movies they decorate.

To be fair, Mr. Williams has been as reliable as any element of director Steven Spielberg's evolving factory, almost (but not quite) saving the day at times, as he did with "Empire of the Sun," where his regal melodies ennobled an otherwise muddy streak of storytelling.

With "Jurassic Park," Mr. Williams may have turned out his finest work so far. As with "Jaws," which was well-served by the anxiety-ridden music that began this twosome's long (and ultra-profitable) association, Mr. Williams rises to this latest Spielbergian challenge with a majestic, stately theme that boasts a simplicity missing from the ornate pomposity of his score to George Lucas' "Star Wars."

"Park" is every bit as uplifting and dramatic, but its hook stems from a much simpler, nearly minimalistic three-note melody, repeated ad infinitum and then converted into five-note and seven-note variations. The album as a whole, of course, like most incidental movie music scores, is flush with what seems like filler, rambling bits that function naturally as cinematic backdrop -- those taut, tension-packed strains that work well when there's, say, a giant Tyrannosaurus rex on the big screen in need of musical accompaniment.

But for leisurely home listening, these itchy, moody selections don't play as well out of context, and much of the 16 tracks on the "Jurassic Park" soundtrack is unavoidably made up of them.

"The Firm"

For more sophisticated listeners, the original musical score for "The Firm" is a jazz piano fantasia and a bigger intellectual delight.


Composer Dave Grusin's movie credits include "The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Havana" and "Tootsie," and he won an Oscar for scoring "The Milagro Beanfield War." For the Tom Cruise thriller "The Firm," he digs back into his origins as a piano major at the University of Colorado: "The Firm" is a field day for piano fans.

Hip and savvy, its driving, pounding finger rushes (delivered by Mr. Grusin himself) seem especially fond of register contrasts, wallowing in the low notes one minute only to leap to the high-note keys in the next. Mr. Grusin's is an impressive double whammy, underscoring a movie with a jazz album that makes for pleasant home listening from start to finish.

But both those scores fall into the old-fashioned, instrumental movie melody category, a style that sometimes seems in danger becoming a dinosaur itself.

Pop synergy is what the real soundtrack mania is all about, dovetailing a hit movie with a pop album of tracks, sometimes old, sometimes borrowed, but increasingly new, as well.

"Last Action Hero"

"Last Action Hero," notwithstanding the film's somewhat disappointing initial box-office, promises to be a top seller with heavy metal fans, offering as it does a cutting-edge compendium of crunch rock zingers. Already the album has produced a string of singles, including two new releases from Alice in Chains ("What the Hell Have I" and "A Little Bitter"), Queensryche ("Real World") and Megadeth ("Angry Again").


In addition to other cuts by Cypress Hill, Def Leppard and Anthrax, there's also a pair from two true, heavy metal -- and here's that word again -- dinosaurs: AC/DC's new "Big Gun," the first in this album's roster of singles, and a live version, recorded last year, of Aerosmith's "Dream On" chestnut.

Similarly cutting edge, in an even more gritty, socially muscular vein, is "Menace II Society," a who's who of hip-hop.

This soundtrack is packed with hard-core gangsta rap, pathological menace, urban revolt and lyrics liberally dosed with images of violence and gun play.

In that sense, the album, by no means for the weak-hearted, goes hand in hand with the critically admired movie directed by the brother team of Allen and Albert Hughes. Spice, Ant Banks, Kenya Gruv, Too Short, Mz. Kilo, Da Leach Mob and Smooth are just some of the gang.

Hovering somewhere between the worlds of silky instrumental mellow music and in-your-face hard rock is the pop content of the score to "Sliver," the Sharon Stone-William Baldwin sex mystery. In addition to original music by Howard Shore, the album boasts a reggae cover to the Elvis classic "Can't Help Fallin' in Love," by UB40, and technopop plinks and mood music by Enigma. There is no better musical consensus builder, of course, than Tina Turner, whose unique blend of pop, rock, blues, soul and easy listening has entrapped fans from all five genres over the years.

Unfortunately, the dozen remakes she supplied for the new movie biography "What's Love Got to Do With It," are so-so going.


There's an aged, nasty tinge to "Why Must We Wait Until Tonight," but diehard fans of this ultra-classy lady might be better served by her original versions of "Proud Mary" and the title track.

"Sleepless in Seattle"

One of the most unusual soundtracks, if not albums, to come along in quite a while is the gossamer potpourri for "Sleepless in Seattle," the whimsical romance starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The word "eclectic" doesn't begin to describe this gingerly lineup. Jimmy Durante, long overdue for musical rediscovery, boasts two selections, "As Time Goes By" and his inimitable, dare-we-say definitive, "Make Someone Happy," scratchily soloing to rousing choral and orchestral backup. Easy-listening nirvana.

There's also Louis Armstrong in "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," Gene Autry in "Back in the Saddle Again" and Nat King Cole doing "Star Dust," classics sandwiched in and among the likes of Joe Cocker's "Bye Bye Blackbird," Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones' marvelous "Makin' Whoopee" and Celine Dion and Clive Griffin's "When I Fall in Love."