Friday, June 30, 2006

A look to the future of film scoring: James Dooley

I've loved Dooley's music ever since I first experienced it in the Madagascar Penguins short Christmas film [clip]. Unfortunately, the Media Ventures (now known as Remote Control Productions) 30 year old composer has been blessed with precious little solo projects since he came on to the then-Media Ventures soundtrack-writing team. Although he worked alongside Hans Zimmer as his Chief Technical Engineer for the 2000 (film music) epic Gladiator (full track: "The Battle"), and collaborated with the team on countless other projects, including The Ring, King Arthur, Matchstick Men, and the original Pirates of the Caribbean.

His first solo film scoring job was in 1999 for the NYU's student body creation: The Good Man's Sin. It was a start, but Dooley had to be satisfied with it, because it was his first solo credit, and began a long string of films little more than 10 or 20 minutes in length (among them: Things Fall Apart [clip], Bit Players [clip], Untitled: 003 Embryo [clip], and his best during this period: Agua Dulce [clip]) . He also composed the HBO sports documentary Rebels of Oakland, which quickly became the network's highest rated feature of its kind in three years. Additionally, Dooley is credited with the music heard in the theatrical trailers for Elf, Man on Fire, and King Arthur, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Da Vinci Code, and Spider-Man 3. He's also done the music for United States Marine commercials as well as promos for the luxury-sedan, the Maybach.

By the time he got his first major job scoring the music for the documentary flick: The Mars Underground in 2005, Dooley was like an oil field waiting to be tapped. Over half a decade working under and alongside other Media Ventures stars like Harry Gregson-Williams, Nick Glennie-Smith, Klaus Badelt, and of course--Hans Zimmer had primed him for greatness. His work for this movie was grand and sweeping, full of crescendos and themes, masterful and hypnotic, exploring the far reaches of the musical universe (while the film explored the universe of space). Few composers have put together such a marvelous set of compositions for their first major effort. Check out these clips: "Arrival on Mars," "Spreading the Word,"Building Our Civilization, the ethnic "History has taught us" and the unreleased twenty-third cue.

After this incredible achievement, Dooley had seven other credits that year (2005), including--in my opinion--his best work since the Mars project: the video game for SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs. The score was everything that Media Ventures stood for; Dooley didn't really carve out as much of a unique and original niche that he had in the Mars documentary, but it was an adrenaline-pumping score, full of heroic motifs and pounding brass. At the same time, James made sure to keep away from the pitfall that had swallowed up fellow Media Ventures/Remote Control Productions composer--Steve Jablonsky--which was: too much energized rock music with little or no underlying melodies to hold up the rhythms. Jablonsky's Island soundtrack failed on account of this. But Dooley's video game music did not, as you'll hear from these clips: (note the quick build up to the Crimson-Tide-esqu sound--with a theme that sounds very nearly like the one from Spirit: Stallion--of the) "Main Theme,"Morocco Opening,"Portland Boat Chase." This soundtrack is up there with the all-time video game greats like Gregson-Williams' Metal Gear, and the score to Medal of Honor.

After such an explosion of brilliant sound (featured heavily in these last couple of highlight scores), James Dooley could no longer be ignored by the film industry, and he was picked up to score When A Stranger Calls, a drama/thriller about a babysitter who is harassed by a mystery phone caller who seems to know every move she makes inside the house. Well--that's because the guy calling is IN the house, too!! Ah! Anyways, this genre of horror music was a first for Dooley, and he didn't completely shine in his major film debut. Don't feel too bad for him; ever since Bernard Herrmann's musical backdrops for Hitchcock's movies, Hollywood has been hard-pressed to find ANYONE who can put together a decent horror-movie soundtrack that sounds decent on CD. Dooley joined a slew of composers with his "Stranger" soundtrack that put up gallant efforts, though, and his talents were still showcased in certain cues like: "The House,"60 Seconds,"Aftermath," and the horrific "Hunting Jill" (my favorite cut from the score).

He's got another film coming out yet, this year that features his music; it's another thriller Bone Dry. It probably won't be spectacular (thriller's rarely are, though this year's Firewall was pretty close; musically speaking), but it WILL be good.

And Mr. James Dooley WILL still be composing fo--statistically speaking--many more years. At thirty, he's still got a lot of chords left to right, and tons of themes to construct. Watching--and hearing--this young guy's career progress will be quite a treat, and--I'm predicting--amazing! As the older Remote Control Productions team begins to taper off--and perhaps even (God forbid!!) die, due to old age--we'll be able to fall back on a very reliant back-up.

James Dooley.

Thanks for taking this little biographical journey with me. It was fun.

Take care!
-Sam Van Eerden


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