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The first time I watched Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun I was utterly spellbound. It's a highly spiritual journey and quite overwhelming in many ways. Thanks, in no small part, to the music of John Williams. I don't wax rhapsodic about every Spielberg and Williams collaboration (honest!), but this one does demand a fair amount of gushing in my mind. Something which very few do when talking about this entry on the resume of both gentlemen.

La-La Land Records and Mike Matessino have poured much love and respect into their new 2-CD release of the award-winning score by John Williams and it's been a real treat to be able to revisit the score with a new perspective. Admittedy, we knew some music was absent from the film due to the original 1987 album. We didn't know why though, presuming it was another example of JW providing lengthier cues for an improved listening experience. Mike Matessino provides a fascinating insight into how Empire of the Sun was spotted and scored in his booklet essay, as well as an article written especially for JWFan.com. It's a very unique scoring approach which is quite bold.

I invited Mike to speak with me about this important film and score for my radio programme in Northern Ireland, albeit heavily edited. What follows here is the full unedited 70 minute conversation with plenty of analysis, statistical research and commentary on numerous tracks from this wonderful new album. 

We start with John Williams accepting his BAFTA Award for Best Original Music...

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Comments (14):Log in or register to post your own comments
I am overjoyed to hear this interview. 'Empire' has remained my favourite film by Spielberg throughout the decades. Great to hear it finally getting it's due. Bravo to all concerned with this release and this radio program!

The best thing about this was the audio clip from John Williams' accepting the BAFTA. He sure is not a man of many words (but of many sixteenth notes...).

This is simply wonderful! And, for me, a nice bonus was, heard near the beginning, the very different performance of "Exsultate Justi" from the Spielberg/Williams album on Sony Classical with the Boston Pops and the American Boys Choir (Amazon has a used copy of that CD for just 1 cent plus $3.99 shipping). I won't say that it's BETTER than the version we're used to on the soundtrack, just different, slightly more masculine, and I immediately bought it as soon as I finished listening to the program. As someone who has bought more than 10 different recordings of Mahler's gorgeous 4th symphony, I get enormous pleasure out of different interpretations of favorite pieces, so it's not unusual for me to buy some of the same compositions again and again. But I'm straying from this excellent interview with Mike Matessino about the L-L-Land release of "Empire of the Sun," and I hope others here will take the time to listen to it!

Incidentally, I didn't realize that the film lost money until I heard this interview, and IMDb tells us this:

"Empire of the Sun" Box Office:
Budget: $38,000,000 (estimated)
Gross: $22,238,696 (USA)

When you have to gross at least twice, sometimes 3 times, your budget just to break even, this movie clearly lost a lot of money, although this doesn't include foreign box office or any money it may still be making in home video and TV broadcasts. But it's not encouraging.

https://soundcloud.com/timburden/remembering-empire-of-the-sun

Great Work by all!

I remember as a younger person...watching Empire of the Sun. I had read JG Ballard's Novel about a year before the film came out. I got it. I even got what Steven Spielberg was doing. Many critics didn't get the film. WHILE...yes, some of the sequences of the Camp was too clean, and pretty. But, I know we are seeing the film through Jim's eyes.

I was enthralled with John Williams score. It was powerful, beautiful and wonderful.

I loved Empire of the Sun...it made me cried several times. Cadillac of the Skies. I Surrender. And The Ending.

The Film is held together by a young actor name Christian Bale (Whatever happen to his career)lol. Who is in every scene.

Great Photography by Allan Daviau.

To me...this is Steven Spielberg's second best Directed effort!

townerbarry: And yet it's one of Spielberg's few "bombs," losing money at the box office. Ridiculous.

townerbarry: And yet it's one of Spielberg's few "bombs," losing money at the box office. Ridiculous.

As they explain in the notes..it was a film that Critics didn't give a great review. But now, the today's audience is finding it again..and giving it a highly rated review.

I got it when Empire of the Sun came out many moons ago. We were seeing a film through's Jim's eyes. All this child like images.

At one point and time, Spielberg produce the film, and wanted David Lean to direct. Lean said he was too old. Lean told Spielberg you should direct Empire of the Sun.

Empire of the Sun was only nominated for 6 tech awards. Spielberg..I believe said right before the nomination were coming out, picking up his award from the National Board of Review...that he didn't think it would be nominated for major awards at the Academy.

But yet Spielberg was nominated for Best Director at the Directors Guild, for Empire of the Sun.

Spielberg..I believe said right before the nomination were coming out, picking up his award from the National Board of Review...that he didn't think it would be nominated for major awards at the Academy.

He must've seen The Last Emperor.

I remember Rolling Stone said that John Williams should win an Oscar for Witches of Eastwick and have it taken away for Empire of the Sun. Some critics said the music ruined the film!!???


The early reviews contained many negative comments about the music, especially the use of "heavenly choirs" to enhance moments of high emotion. There was a widespread perception, not entirely unjustified, that Spielberg had a tendency to try and overwhelm his audience with an assault on all the senses.

What can anybody say? Some people prefer understatement and simply dislike film music that seeks to affect our emotional response. They seem to feel that imagery and montage and even dialogue are legitimate "cinematic" means to this end but music is not.

Most of us would disagree.

Rozsaphile: Re: They seem to feel that imagery and montage and even dialogue are legitimate "cinematic" means to this end but music is not.

Both the director and the composer walk a narrow and precarious line, and more times than I'd like to admit, I've seen (and heard) composers use more when less would have been more effective. Plus there are a lot of filmgoers who don't care to hear ANY music. Most of us here at FSM pay fairly close attention to the music when we watch a movie, and we love it when it works and sometimes groan when it doesn't. John Williams' score for "Empire of the Sun" was the sort that was guaranteed to polarize, and we've seen quite a disparity of opinion on it in the main "Empire" threads. It's been so long since I saw the movie that I honestly can't remember whether or not the music seemed too heavy-handed -- maybe I'll pull out my DVD of it later in the week (and I came across it while channel surfing HD cable less than an hour ago, but chose not to start watching in the middle of it). The fact that La-La-Land has been selling the 2-CD set, which isn't cheap, is testament to the enduring popularity of the score, and I've written elsewhere that it sounds wonderful and I don't resent a penny that I spent on it.

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