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Soundtrack review: Return to Oz (David Shire – 1985)

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“Return to OZ” is a sort of sequel to the famous “The wizard of Oz”. It’s based on the series of books and sees Dorothy, unhappy at home, return to the magical land she had once visited only to find it destroyed. She pairs up with a few new characters and manages to turn this around. 30 years after the release of the movie Intrada brings forth an extended presentation of David Shire’s score. This release also includes a lot of extras and the original presentation of the score. There’s been a lot of David Shire special releases lately and this can only be a good thing since this composer rarely disappoints. I’ve heard him score a number of different genres with the same attention for details and intensity.

I must admit I am floored by the beginning of this score. The “Opening sequence” is the sweetest and most heartbreaking violin melody. I wasn’t expecting poignancy like this in a fantasy film. I have heard cues like this one before but usually in movies about World War II or heavy Russian dramas. I guess this opening wants to tell us that our Dorothy isn’t happy at home anymore. I know I spend a lot of time talking about one cue out of 50 but the impact of this overture was something else.

I should have known though. This is David Shire and he never does something less than exciting and challenging. “Return to Oz” slowly develops into a vast Romantic canvas that the orchestra paints with diligence and care. I feel even more as if I was listening to the dramatization of a turn of the century novel. I get the same satisfaction from this score that I would get from reading hundreds of heavy pages about families, romances and years passing.

The music is much more serious than I would have expected. There are often dark and menacing tones that probably support the usual storm or the broken landscape of Oz. There’s a descending motif that really worries me at times. Then there’s a theme like “Oz – the ruined house” which ranks right up with the best of them. It’s playful, it’s ominous, it’s carnival like and all these motifs waltz with each other for 5 minutes of excellence. I can almost see an evil force stalking the unsuspecting child characters.

David Shire took the time to write themes for each character in the movie. Dorothy, Tik-Tok or Jack Pumpkinhead all get their separate treatments which are very cleverly reprised throughout the score. It’s nice to listen to the music and imagine when each character should be on screen or when the more dangerous scenes happen. The character themes are wonderful and sent me back to my early years when I would watch cartoons or children’s movies and somehow this sound stuck inside me for all these years. I never heard this score or saw this movie but they fit with the image and sound I had back then. “The hall of heads” brings even more nostalgia with a sound that makes me think of “1001 nights as well” and even reminds me of the “Prince of Persia” games I used to play.

Still for me the best parts of “Return to Oz” are the sorrowful and meaningful violin themes. That heavy sound that echoes a large scale romance is very dear to me and I didn’t expect to find it in the world of Oz. This isn’t enough to make me revisit this score but that’s more because I have no emotional connection with the movie and the story. I appreciated David Shire’s composition for what it is, a couple of hours of great music that sometimes found a counterpoint inside me.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 23 / 123

Album excellence: 20 %

Highlights:

Opening Sequence** (With Sweeteners)

Finding The Key*

The Ride To Dr. Worley’s**

Ozma In Reflection*

Oz/The Ruined House**

The Hall Of Heads**

Jack Pumpkinhead**

Flight Of The Gump* (Revised #1)

 

 

 

 

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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