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Soundtrack review: Mercury rising (John Barry – 1998)

Composer of the month John Barry month

Soundtrack review: Mercury rising (John Barry – 1998)


“Mercury rising” is the other movie in which Bruce Willis has to protect a child with problems. Before ”The sixth sense” there was this movie where an autistic but brilliant kid cracked a secret government code which made all the agencies nervous. Ruthless Alec Baldwin sends a team of assassins to kill the boy and his parents. Bruce Willis finds the boy and tried to protect him from this madness. John Barry wrote the score and this review is part of John Barry month.

John Barry is a special composer to me. He’s one of the few musicians who have almost a perfect record of delivering great film music. Every score by him is a joy to listen to. I know beforehand that the music will be sensitive, melodic and with lush orchestrations. The story begins with memories of our favorite melodies from the James Bond movies. It’s that unique and unmistakable sound that almost acts like a silencer for the action and craziness on screen. It’s the orchestra that plays like a gentle brook before a brass instrument rises slowly like a hidden monster that comes from underwater.

“Simon’s theme” is serious and touching and the flute is at the heart of the cue. This instrument tells us that the theme was written for a child; it brings that innocence and it makes us care for the boy and his story. The flute also slowly hypnotizes me and opens a whole new world around me. “The puzzle” keeps the same dark but welcoming tone with some well places piano strokes which make me thinks of numbers flowing on a screen. I can understand the sequence, it makes sense.

I always appreciate the cohesiveness of John Barry’s compositions. The changes in mood and rhythm are subtle and polished and never sudden. The music is smooth as honey and protects the ears and soul. Even when things get serious and dramatic the composition keeps the melodic flow and doesn’t try to deliberately make us react. You are free to feel and think when listening to this music. John Barry provides the thick dark canvas on which each of us can bring his own colors and feelings. I love the fabric of this score. It’s made from threads of flute and it never lets me forget that the main character is fragile and innocent.

“Meeting with Kudrow” is a beautiful downward spiral that gets more and more ominous, louder and louder within the same dark confines the score created early on. You will not here a happy cue on “Mercury Rising” but absence of light can be beautiful as well. The large brass instruments and their echoes dominate and I recognize parts of the sound of “Moonraker” here. If writing a score and keeping a deep, constant rhythm were an endurance exercise of balance, “Mercury rising” could hold on forever without dropping the ball.

Fans of John Barry’s unique sound will love this score. It’s more of the same golden orchestral goodness that’s very rare in today’s film music. John Barry wrote a story, pure and simple. This artist was one of a king and we are fortunate enough to be able to take joy and comfort in his immense legacy.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 21 / 34

Album excellence: 61%


  1. The Story Begins…
  2. Simon’s Theme
  3. The Puzzle
  4. Meeting With Kudrow
  5. Simon Is Going Home
  6. Rooftop Arrival
  7. The Story Ends…
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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