Composer of the month John Barry month

Soundtrack review: Game of death (John Barry – 1978)

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“Game of death” was the last unfinished movie for Bruce Lee. It’s not even a movie really…just a collection of outtakes, interviews and unfinished scenes. But this strange movie benefits from a special score…John Barry does this all the time. I can imagine him sitting on his chair, imagining notes and coming up with themes almost oblivious of what’s going on on screen. There are a few James Bond movies where he did that and here, he goes at it again.

No matter how strange, or bad, or silly or spectacular a movie might be, John Barry’s music is at the same astonishing level. He doesn’t get dragged in the problems or faults of the movie. He loves music too much and he is too good at it to compromise. There’s rarely ever been a composer as dedicated to the craft as he was.

It is very exciting for me to recognize John Barry in this score. It’s all there…his same big band orchestral style reconstructed in a way to be different from James Bond. But every now and then I feel like Bond himself comes from around a corner to help a little. “Game of death” is driven by two main themes which recur in different orchestrations and styles. There’s the main theme which sounds like a slightly funkier version of a James Bond theme and the love theme, jazzier and more melodic: “Will this be the song I’ll be singing tomorrow”.

With all this “Game of death” still ends up as one of the more unusual Barry scores. The funky inserts reminiscent of European police movies make me feel a great joy. The composer takes a small step out of his comfort zone and the result is brilliant. I would pick “End title” and “Billy and Ann’s love theme” as my favorite variations from this score. As with almost every other John Barry score I could listen to this one over and over again without being bored or getting tired of it. His unique style just speaks to me like a dear friend and I always want to hear the whole story.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 15 / 38

Album excellence: 40%

Highlights:

Main Title / Set Fight With Chuck Norris

Billy’s Funeral Dirge

Garden Fight

Billy and Ann’s Love Theme

End Title

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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