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First to the Moon (Alexander Bornstein)

July 4, 2019

First to the Moon is a new documentary film that tells the amazing story of the Apollo 8 mission and the three men that crewed it. Through restored archival films from NASA, The National Archives, and the Astronaut’s own personal collections, this documentary takes you through time from the upbringing of each crew member and onward to present day. The score is by Alexander Bornstein, a protegee of Christopher Lennertz, so you know you should be in good hands.

 

With the moon landing now 50 years behind us, this year sees the release of a couple of films and documentaries about space/moon travel. Apollo 8 didn’t land on the moon, but it was the first to orbit it. First to the Moon is produced and directed by Paul Hildebrandt and features a score by Alexander Bornstein, who has an extensive working history with Christopher Lennertz (and was credited as additional composer on several of Lennertz’s scores such as Lost in Space, Baywatch and Shaft). He has also worked alongside Mark Isham on episodes of Cloak and Dagger and Safe and Sound (Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams) and The Twilight Zone (Marco Beltrami). Judging from his IMDb entries, he’s been working steadily (as co-composer, arranger and synth programmer, etc.) for the last decade or so.

Those are some fantastic titles to have amongst your credits, not to mention the various opportunities to work with different composers. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Bornstein before now, and I approached First to the Moon with mild trepidation. However, it very quickly became clear that any apprehension was completely unfounded. First to the Moon is a great score from a clearly talented young composer.  Bornstein combines the Budapest Symphony Orchestra with synths, powerful percussion and acoustic guitar (by Brian WInslow) to create a score that is full of both wonder and tension, excitement and danger.

It has to be said, the score does occasionally trigger memories of other scores, such as Gregson-Williams’ The Martian in “The Good Earth” (the synth arpeggios), Desplat’s Godzilla in “Becoming Apollo 8” (the string ostinato) even Margeson’s Eddie the Eagle in “Crew” (again, the synths) and perhaps a bit of Price’s Gravity (during “What We Really Discover”, as well as a touch of Thomas Newman through the use of legato oboe-like sound throughout the score. Whether this indicates temp-track love, composer preference or purely coincidence – I don’t know, but for this reason I could imagine some people finding the score a bit formulaic or generic. I, however, love it.

There’s a lot going on in this score that resonates with me. There’s some exciting action music (strings, horns and thundering percussion) in cues like “1968”, “Becoming Apollo 8” and “Fireball”. There are some nice tender and playful moments in “Crew”, “Model Rockets” and “Earth’s Grasp”. Absolute highlights are the lengthy and at times majestic “The Good Earth”, “Dark Side of the Moon” and the upbeat-turns-melancholy “What We Really Discovered”. The blend between orchestra and synths is brilliantly executed and both elements really compliment and enhance each other.

First to the Moon may not be the most original score on the block, but its craftsmanship is admirable, and its enthusiasm is infectious. At approximately 50 minutes, the album is long enough for the score to tell its story without overstaying its welcome. I’m a bit wary of making some sort of back-handed compliment, but First to the Moon is an absolutely lovely, easy-going score that has found itself on repeat quite a lot here. Definitely worth checking out. More info and clips can be found on the NoteForNote website.

First to the Moon, Alexander Bornstein, 12 tracks, 51m, Notefornote Music 2019


Review by Pete Simons (c) 2019 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Reviews

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