Review by Jeff Commings
When Steven Spielberg and John Williams decided to include classic songs from the 1960s on the Catch Me If You Can soundtrack, many score fans groaned. Would Spielberg make the same mistake that Oliver Stone made on Born on the Fourth of July, putting higher priority on the songs that filled the film, slapping a few measly minutes of original score at the end of the CD as an afterthought?
We know how highly Spielberg regards Williams’ contributions to his films, and the CD release to his surprisingly light film reflects that. Williams gets about 45 minutes of the 65 minutes on the disc, and the score, though often repetitive in the film, is such fun to listen to at home.
The film starts with a colorfully animated scene inspired by the 1960s opening titles of Saul Bass, and Williams reaches back into that era to create one of the most inspired marriages of music and visuals. As the hand- and computer-drawn images of two men run through airports, banks and hospitals, John Williams tells us that this isn’t the weighty drama of The Defiant Ones or The Fugitive.” We’re about to be treated to two-and-a-half hours of pure fun. A vibraphone, strings and a sexy saxophone set the pace for a buildup to one of the most inspired themes Williams has created (at least in terms of orchestration). Then the finger snaps came in. Oh, what a great touch! The sliding theme he wrote for the saxophone and strings never gets serious, and has that jazzy feel that was sadly lost in the hipster era where the film is set.
Unfortunately, this is the last time we hear the theme for at least an hour. More on that later.
The CD follows with concert arrangements of the two other themes that dominate the film. Most of the cues in the film have their origins in these nine minutes. The first is called “The Float,” written as a theme for the teenager Frank Abagnale Jr., who spends the bulk of the film conning Pan Am Airlines out of millions of dollars, while posing as one of their airline pilots in order to jump from city to city. The theme has a playful energy that never gets too childish, but never overtly suggests maturity. The use of flutes and strings keeps the theme breezy, light and whimsical. The beauty of the theme is that it never pretends to be smarter than the character it represents. And the freewheeling saxophone riff (with piano accompaniment) near the middle adds a nice touch. If this theme sounds similar to “Harry’s Wondrous World” from the Harry Potter films, it’s only through the instrumentation. If one listens to the theme and can recall a con man instead of a boy wizard, then Williams has done his job.
If “The Float” is the energy of the movie, “Recollections” is the introspective heart. It’s the theme for Frank Abagnale Sr, played in the film by Christopher Walken. Though the character attempts to maintain his dignity in front of his son while his life is eroding, the theme never shows signs of redemption. Dan Higgins’ work on the tenor saxophone is unparalleled, and brings out the sadness of the character. You almost feel this concert arrangement played in a blues bar in the 1960s, almost like the bar Frank Sr. hangs out in near the end of his life.
The film gives little time to original score, letting source music add emotion, highlight or make fun of most of the scenes. Too often the stretches between Williams cues lasts an entire reel, and you find yourself waiting too anxiously for the next score moment. In the hands of another director/composer teaming, such long waits between score moments wouldn’t be surprising.
The main chase theme is one of the casualties of using source cues in the film. Of the three main themes, it’s the least used, and when it is heard, we only get a minute or two at a time. Hearing it during the first meeting of Frank and Carl Hanratty would have beefed up the scene more, or during their confrontation in the French check-making factory (which would have required the sound mixer to remove the heavy bass drone of the machines in the scene). As I watched the film a second time, I wondered how much more fun the scene with Frank and his eight young stewardesses-in-training would have been with a masterful mix of the chase theme and Frank’s theme instead of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.” While the use of the song adds a lighter touch to a scene that was pretty breezy already, it never comments on the moment, particularly when Frank and his men run out to the car only to find a man posing as Frank.
Outside of the opening and end titles, the chase theme is only heard for about four minutes on CD, in “The Airport Scene” and “The Flash Comics Clue.” And even in “Flash Comics,” it has to share 45 seconds with Frank’s theme. It is my favorite of the three themes in the film (like “Spyders” was in Minority Report), so at least hearing it as the final theme in the end credits was a consolation prize.
I praise John Williams for his musical choices in Catch Me If You Can — in terms of original score. Writing this score gave him the opportunity to return to his roots without backtracking. It is a great counterpart to his current spate of loud action scores, and suggests that maybe Williams — and Spielberg — should consider a run of light comedies. As long as we get to hear more Williams and less Sinatra.
Review by Anthony Goats
As has been said so many times before, the film music of John Williams works on two separate levels, both supporting the film it was commissioned for and existing apart from the film as a unique musical experience. With the score for Catch Me If You Can, Williams once more proves the truth of these assertions.
The jazzy riffs of Williams’s score perfectly evoke a powerful sense of time and place, immersing the listener in a unique musical world, at the same time making use of many “Johnny-isms”.
01. Catch Me If You Can. From the opening vibraphone flutter to the “snappy” closing, this first track sets the album up perfectly. Like many other Williams scores (The Sugarland Express – Harmonica; Seven Years in Tibet – Cello), CMIYC features a solo instrument, in this case the Alto Saxophone. The soloist (Dan Higgins) makes his first appearance in the score here, accompanied by “cool” jazz chord progressions and occasional frenzied runs in the woodwinds and strings.
02. The “Float”. There are some musical moments in the Williams canon which, upon first listening, reach out and grab the listener and seem to last forever, lingering the memory. (For example, the distressed piano of A.I.‘s “Abandoned in the Woods” or the spine-tingling pizzicato strings for the spiders in Raiders of the Lost Ark’s “In the Idol’s Temple”). “The ‘Float’” presents two such moments of epiphany. At the 2’00 mark, muted trumpets lead the orchestra into a stunning crescendo. The piano runs at 3’27 and 4’00 are equally thrilling. These are just two outstanding moments in what is probably the greatest track on the entire CD. Pure genius.
03. Come Fly With Me. Frank Sinatra. * I’ll discuss the non-Williams music at the very end.
04. Recollections (The Father’s Theme). A melancholy duet between Alto Sax and Vibraphone highlight this emotional piece. Sentimental strings take the melody for a moment, but only for a moment. The saxophone quickly regains control and brings the piece to an end.
05. The Airport Scene. A more intense rendition of the score’s opening vibraphone flutter begins this track, and recurs throughout, often passing back and forth between various sections of the orchestra, another traditional Williams maneuver. Though not a full orchestral blowout (think an extremely toned-down “Motorcade” from JFK), this cue nonetheless provides the CD’s first (and only significant) use of atonal strings and pounding timpani. Short, but interesting.
06. The Girl From Ipanema. Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. *
07. Learning the Ropes. An expanded and more fully realized rendition of the theme first heard in “The ‘Float’” with brief hints of “The Father’s Theme” and the main theme from track 1 thrown in for good measure. There are also a few moments of more “traditionally orchestrated” music. At well over eight minutes long, full or orchestral digressions, this cue doesn’t have the same intense and compact feel of “The ‘Float’”.
08. Father and Son. This cue is a restatement of “The Father’s Theme” from track 4 with differing orchestration. Featured in this arrangement along with the Alto Sax is piano and English Horn.
09. Embraceable You. Judy Garland. *
10. The Flash Comics Cue. A brief cue consisting mainly of re-orchestrations of both the main theme and the “Float” theme, leading to a strong climax.
11. Deadheading. This is the only cue to contain no direct quotations of any of the film’s three main themes. In spite of this lack of thematic material, the cue fits in perfectly with the rest of the score.
12. The Christmas Song. Nat King Cole. *
13. A Broken Home. Here we have a more heart-wrenching rendition of the “Father’s Theme”. This cue feels “darker” than any other occurrence of the theme thus far.
14. Doctor, Lawyer, Lutheran. This track is almost entirely composed of a “playful” rendition of the “Float” theme, and a brief coda consisting of material from “Deadheading”.
15. The Look of Love. Dusty Springfield. *
16. Catch Me If You Can (Reprise and End Credits). The best of the score in one easy to use package (mostly). The “Float” theme and the main theme are played in succession, but the Father’s theme is conspicuously missing. Nonetheless, a satisfying conclusion to a most satisfying CD.
* The inclusion of these non-Williams songs is not as irksome as some other official soundtrack releases have been (particularly Born of the Fourth of July), and in fact add to the atmosphere of the CD. The one exception is “The Christmas Song”. It feels totally out of synch with the rest of the music on the album.
I would rate this OST release as 4 ½ stars out of 5. It contains some of John’s most innovative writing in years. Its three main themes are outstanding, although the CD relies rather heavily on those themes.
Review by JoeinAr
For whatever reasons, I had serious reservations about Catch Me If You can. I was prepared to not like the film, or the score. After the summer of 2002, I was disheartened by John’s mediocre Attack of the Clones, and while I like the score to Minority Report, I would never jump for joy over it either. I was in a serious John Williams fun.
When the Chamber of Secrets was released I was overjoyed. Suddenly I was happy with John again, still I had limited expectations, expectations that took a turn for the worse when our fellow post Roald gave it a disastrous review. But then something wonderful happened. I heard the score to Catch Me If You Can. By the sheer power of music I was transported back to the 1960’s. There I was spontaneously snapping my fingers and tapping my heels. What was this new/old kind of music?
I said it before and I will say it again, John Williams didn’t score Catch Me, Johnny Williams did. This infectious romp from the ’60’s through the eyes of this charming con artist is in my opinion, the single best score of the 21st century. This score will never be mistaken for Holst’s The Planets. It may be a distant cousin to Henry Mancini’s great Pink Panther Scores, however don’t expect the same. Johnny has his own expectations, built on the spirit of jazz, and his musical roots. How easy it is to imagine Johnny, sans the turtleneck, as he glides through his music, sporting a crisp 2 pc. black suit and hat, with perfectly shined shoes. Call it West Side Story meets Frank Sinatra. Speaking of Frank, the score features several songs (including Come Fly With Me, by Frank) that compliment rather than detract from Johnny’s music. These songs gather new life and new fans in their inclusion.
On a personal level I am taken by 2 cues in particular. The Float and Father and Son. You can almost imagine this score having come before Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, and Raiders. It is in a place out of time, a time each can experience just by listening. Here’s to hoping after you’ve taken a listen that you come away snapping your fingers and clicking your heels.
Reviewer’s Rating: (*****/*****)