"Gandhi" and "The Dark Crystal," both of which are doing well at the box office, offer up two of the more distinctive soundtrack albums of recent years. The connecting factor: the inviting sense of a different world ("Gandhi") and another world ("Dark Crystal").
"Gandhi" is a joint venture dominated by master Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar; the other party is George Fenton, responsible for the orchestrations and some additional music. Like the film, the soundtrack starts at the end of the story, with Gandhi's funeral: A newsman intones an elegy over a soft, haunting three-note chant that is simplicity itself. After a couple of standard entries (including an extended section of martial music by the Bands of the Raj), Shankar and his coterie of Indian musicians begin to establish the prevailing moods of the film with short splices that are at times percussively energetic and at other times ethereal and spiritual: Either course is compelling.
The first musical meetings of cultures occur on "Massacre at Amritsar and the Aftermath," and "Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram and Reflection of Early Days." They work surprisingly well, with Shankar's sinuous melodies coursing through Fenton's elegiac orchestrations. The centerpiece is the finale, "For All Mankind," which starts off with an a cappella Indian chorus singing clear and uncluttered before shifting to a reprise of the opening chant augmented by the sitar: It's moving and involving. There's only one tiny snippet of Gandhi himself, and that's wasted: More of Gandhi's electrifying presence and innate wisdom could have been included at no expense to the music.
Trevor Jones, already responsible for the fabulous soundtrack of "Excalibur," has matched that work on "The Dark Crystal." In some ways, it's old-fashioned in the Erich Korngold manner: There's a similar fullness and excitement to its majestic melodies and sweeping orchestrations. But Jones also incorporates subtle shadings via a trio of synthesizers and by using such antique instruments as the krumhorn and flageolet, a Regency instrument capable of sounding two independent pitches simultaneously. By subtly integrating old and new sounds and filtering them through the middle ground of the London Symphnoy Orchestra, Jones creates utterly distinct tonal hues.
For a funeral involving the evil Skeksis, he can be pompous and overbearing, a synthesized organ melody trampling through a brassy arrangement; for the journey of Jen, Jones evokes heroism and hope with an undercurrent of apprehension; to represent the love that grows between the Gelflings Jen and Kira, he creates an enchanting theme verging on lushness, extending it at one point to a wordless, ethereal, innocent vocal line intertwining with the flageolet. There are contrasting themes for the good and the bad forces; they meet in counterpoint at the appropriate "Great Conjunction" (Stravinski would have appreciated it), which is followed by a radiant finale suggesting light and life after a long darkness. From the vivid anticipation of the overture to the release of the finale, Jones' work stands alone quite well, and that's the mark of a truly powerful soundtrack. ON RECORD, ON SCREEN THE ALBUMS GANDHI (RCA ABL1-4557). THE DARK CRYSTAL (Warner Bros. 23749-1). THE FILMS: At area theaters.