Friday, November 15, 2019

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977) Official Soundtrack Release

     Has it been almost two years since I last made an entry here already? I never even got round to finishing my 2017 movie viewing highlights, and I had two more entries to go with that one. A lot of things have been happening these past few years, not that any of that is remotely isolated to me personally, but, without a lot of detail, I'll just say things haven't been great.

     If we're lucky in life, we get a few brief moments of respite from the turmoil, and there are a precious few little things in my life that have brought me that kind of joy. One of those things, for me, is the giant monster movie. That really takes the edge off, and if I'm too busy to sit down and watch, then I can listen to those amazing sounds of monster roars and city destruction in the background for a meditative experience. I mentioned in my October 2017 highlights posts (Part 4 on Horror Hosts and MST3K, specifically) that 1987 was a big transition year for me when my family moved to Florida. It was that same year that Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds was released on VHS under the title Legend of the Dinosaurs courtesy of Sandy Frank. This film became a symbol of change in my life, and it is 100% subjective and sentimental. It is often called one of the worst giant monster movies ever made, but I have a very important place in my heart for it. Sentimentality aside, I think it deserves a little more respect than it gets. It goes without saying that when I discovered an official soundtrack CD release coming in October 2019, my mouth watered. I couldn't simply get this album and enjoy it alone: I had to talk about it.

CD cover for the 2019 soundtrack release of 1977's Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds.

     I've been semi-obsessed with Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds, or LOTD as I call it for short, ever since the first time I saw a VHS promotion at a local video store. I don't know what was running through my head that convinced me to pass on it at first glance. I had a weird conservative side to me back then, and I was a little reluctant to consider a dinosaur horror movie released under a "Just for Kids" video label. It was a ridiculously hypocritical notion considering how much horror I watched as a kid, but I used to have an annoyingly insistent ideal about age-appropriate material. FOR OTHER KIDS, not for myself. I even used to make audio recording mix cassettes of TV songs and favorite movie quotes, and I would edit out curse words like I was some kind of network content moderator. It was silly, but maybe it was a subconscious reaction to the amount of exposure I had to things that were decidedly not age-appropriate in my childhood. I was self-conscious about a lot of the things I liked. Of course, I was a kid and didn't come at a lot of ideas rationally. It wasn't until nearly a year later, sometime in 1988, that I saw LOTD on Creature Feature with Dr. Paul Bearer on a Saturday afternoon in Florida. If anyone in Florida reading this recorded Dr. Paul Bearer shows in the late 80s and has this broadcast, it's a holy grail of TV horror host material I desperately want to see again.

     It should be apparent how much this means to me that I didn't jump on here to talk about two other very important releases the same month: Mill Creek's inaugural blu-rays for the Ultraman series and Criterion's gigantic (literally) Spine #1000 release of the complete Showa Godzilla series. Those two releases are certainly worthy of many reviews on their own. I have been making my way through those blu-rays with a great deal of joy. October was a spectacular year for the tokusatsu fan of the West, but I was extremely lucky to stumble over a post on Twitter announcing that Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds was getting a soundtrack CD release in Japan. It's been a long time since I bought an import, let alone a music CD. In this age of digital downloads and MP3's, I'd pretty much shifted my entire music collection over to file data to save space. Even as I write this, I'm ripping the CD to my portable music player so that the actual album can be stored for display and so that it doesn't get worn out from overplay. I wish I had thought of that before I played my Sailor Moon S The Movie soundtrack CD too many times in the car on the way to school when I was in my 20s.

     Listening as I write, this is truly the way the LOTD soundtrack was meant to be heard. It's a jazzy, bluesy mix of emotion that moves from calm elevator music to loud jazz riffs with a heavy beat. More interesting still that something with this kind of style would be the driving force behind a 1977 movie about man-eating dinosaurs, but many Toei features of the 70s were known for the signature style of their soundtracks. Up to this point, the only listening experience I had for the soundtrack was an isolated film score audio track on a fan-subtitled DVD, and the difference between that and the official album is stark. So much sound is sacrificed when it is added to the background of a movie. Masao Yagi composed something special with an album that stands well on its own, but I love it just as much for the frantic feeling it gives me as a horror soundtrack, moving back and forth from peace to panic.

     The crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 remarked more than once that the soundtrack felt "wrong" and didn't fit the movie. I don't know how to feel about that. It was the music that initially drew me into this film the first time I saw it, but I will admit that there can be a jarring feeling to it. LOTD, however, is chaotic as a film and needs some chaotic music to go with it. Despite the focus on man-eating dinosaurs, the plot tries to set itself up as a disaster movie. When we reach the climactic moment of true chaos in the film, the soundtrack provides a soft and romantic lyrical number. It's like The Poseidon Adventure's "There's Got to Be a Morning After" or Michael Jackson's tear-jerking theme from Ben. It feels like it doesn't fit, but somehow it absolutely fits the moment.

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds insert booklet back and CD.

     If a complete listening experience for the soundtrack wasn't enough, several unused and instrumental bonus tracks put an extra red ribbon on this release. Sadly, Beau Yatani and the Last Longhorn Band didn't make it into the soundtrack. I would have liked to hear them without the crowd noise and applause. Japanese Bluegrass/Country is an interesting sub-genre of music.

     One other piece of incidental music, however, did make it onto the album: the lullaby of the lake. This traditional Japanese song is beautiful on its own, and the audio version in the film perhaps does it the least justice of any song on the album. The extra tracks give almost everyone a solo as the trumpet, saxophone, and electric guitar all have their time to shine, and one track has the bassoon player go absolutely nuts with a solo. I could have listened to them riff on the final dinosaur death battle theme for an hour. At least we get about ten minutes or so of it with all of those tracks combined. Finally, the sound effects. Typically, I do not think much of sound effects on a soundtrack album, but these are the types of sounds you play in the background at a haunted house. The creatures sound like demonic forces as synthesized winds howl through the air. Those same whooshing winds are present throughout the key tracks of the album, letting you know that some toothy beast from the sea or sky could appear at any moment to sweep you off the ground into its waiting maw or talons.

     The Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds CD soundtrack (CINK-76) can be purchased at fine import outlets like CDJapan. That's where I got mine. I haven't watched the movie in quite some time. I think it's time to dig it out again.