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Universal Launches Music Restoration Program, New Soundtrack Imprint (EXCLUSIVE)

Universal has embarked on a long-range plan to preserve and restore its unreleased movie music and, starting next week, release some of these scores as limited-edition soundtrack albums.

The imprint will be called Universal Pictures Film Music Heritage Collection, and its first release, to be formally announced Tuesday, will be Michel Colombier’s music from the 1970 science-fiction film “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”

Following in August will be Henry Mancini’s score for the 1979 Peter Sellers remake of “The Prisoner of Zenda.” Both will be on the La-La Land label, which specializes in movie and TV soundtracks.

“We’re a century-old media company,” Mike Knobloch, Universal Pictures president of global film music and publishing, told Variety. “As much as we’re always looking forward, sometimes we have to look back, and recognize and value our history. Our catalog dates back to the beginning of cinema and the advent of sound. This is just the tip of the iceberg that’s in the vault.”

The hunt for unreleased scores began about a year ago, Alexia Baum, director of music publishing for the studio, said. “It’s incredibly valuable intellectual property. We want to make sure it has a permanent, safe home.”

Upcoming titles, to be released every other month, are expected to include Ennio Morricone’s colorful score for the 1970 Clint Eastwood film “Two Mules for Sister Sara,” previously only issued on vinyl; the final two scores in the “Airport” series, “Airport ’77” by John Cacavas and “The Concorde: Airport ’79” by Lalo Schifrin, both unreleased; 1989’s “Fletch Lives,” by Harold Faltermeyer; and the Gil Melle score for the 1977 horror film “The Sentinel.”

NBCUniversal’s vast television archives may eventually become part of the program, executives said.

Explained Eric Polin, senior vice president for music publishing for the studio: “We occasionally get requests for things that we know we have the rights to, but there are no physical assets. Around 2015 the studio started an asset preservation project, so there was an actual budget allocated. Now we are proactively going into the vaults with a list of what we’re interested in. First and foremost, this is an asset preservation and restoration project. Putting these out on soundtrack albums is a bonus.”

Even scores that don’t wind up as commercially available albums may still be restored, digitized, and made available for licensing purposes, Polin says. “One synch license will more than pay for the costs,” he points out.

Serving as producer for these initial albums is Mike Matessino, who in recent years has received praise for his expert restoration and release of many high-profile scores from “Jaws” and “E.T.” to “Superman” and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

Matessino has been researching, evaluating, and digitally archiving a number of Universal-owned scores “so that the material exists in an accessible and monetize-able way. Happily most of them will be able to be released as albums. There is a lot of history to explore at Universal and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

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