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Review: Jerry Goldsmith's Frontiers

by Jason Comerford

I wish that I could say that I completely liked Jerry Goldsmith's new compilation disc, Frontiers, which features the maestro conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in rerecordings of his science-fiction themes and suites. I hate to bash Goldsmith, because he's coming off a great year of scores from 1997, but it makes for a very mixed bag, with its pros and cons as evenly matched as the scores it showcases.

The disc starts out well enough with the end credits from Star Trek: First Contact, with an excellent rendition of the rapturous First Contact theme, one of the better themes Goldsmith has written. I think that the Star Trek fanfare is the one piece of music from the Goldsmith oeuvre that will be inexorably linked to him for eternity; it's appropriate, therefore, to have three Star Trek excerpts included on this CD, but enough already. People are sick of the Raiders March popping up on Williams compilation after Williams compilation; I for one am sick of the Star Trek music popping up on sci-fi collections each month.

Frontiers' second track is the six-minute concert "Overture" from Twilight Zone: The Movie, which covers three of the four mini-films from that feature. I used to watch the film repeatedly when I was a kid, but haven't seen it in years, which accounts for my ignorance when it comes to this music, but I think it's a fine achievement, and as far as I can tell the RSNO rendition is flawless. Following Twilight Zone is the brassy, vigorous "Main Title" from Capricorn One, Peter Hyams' straightfaced camp classic.

I've always liked Capricorn One's theme, but the rest of the score has always seemed a bit lacking in comparison; like a few of Goldsmith's scores (Rio Conchos comes to mind), Capricorn One coasts on the effect of its main theme, and seemingly little else. (And an excerpt from Goldsmith's other Hyams score, Outland, as Kevin Mulhall's as-usual exacting liner notes explain, was supposed to be recorded for inclusion on Frontiers, but no performance material on it could be found. Which is a shame, because I find Outland one of Goldsmith's better sci-fi efforts, right up there with Alien and Poltergeist.)

Ten minutes from Logan's Run succeed Capricorn One, and they're a beaut. Logan's Run begs for a new release (the Bay Cities CD is long out of print), for it's one of the best things Goldsmith wrote during the seventies, which is no small compliment. The gorgeous love theme and swirling impressionistic subtheme that mark "The Monument" are recreated flawlessly, as is the triumphant finale that "End of the City" presents.

Next comes Frontier's midsection, which sags dangerously. The Illustrated Man's "Main Title" gets a cursory reading, which isn't anything close to an insult because the music, outside of the novelty of a solo vocalist (here Claire Rutter), isn't anything special. Neither is Damnation Alley, the main and end titles of which are included on the disc. Damnation Alley features an ascending four-note trumpet motif that's right out of Twilight's Last Gleaming and other pseudo-military Goldsmith scores from the time period, and it's listenable, albeit unremarkable. (The "End Title" features a different but equally unmemorable theme for trumpet and strings.)

"The Enterprise" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture succeeds The Illustrated Man, and while it's nice to hear a new version of the piece conducted by the composer, I must say that I still prefer the original rendition. Following that is Frontiers' Achilles Heel, a totally orchestral rendition of the main theme from Total Recall, sans electronics. Recall is the finest action score Goldsmith has ever written, and its driving, edgy synth patches are what make it great; the acoustic recreation here gets points for effort but still can't match the original. And the lame concert-style finale for the track hurts it more than anything else.

Damnation Alley comes next, then after that the obligatory cover of the much-maligned theme to Star Trek: Voyager. I'm not a Trek fan (I watch the movies, and that's about it), and I've never seen an episode of Voyager, but I enjoy the theme, even though it can't beat the TMP fanfare. Its inclusion here is pleasant and painless, but seems to really exist only to a) remind people that Goldsmith is the Star Trek composer of choice, and b) to pad the disc's running time past 45 minutes.

The disc wraps up on a high note with the inclusion of the first-ever Goldsmith-conducted version of his "End Titles" from Alien. The score's bumpy history with director Ridley Scott is well-known (which might explain the absence of any music from Goldsmith's rejected score to Legend here), and it's a true thrill to hear the music under the direction of its composer. After all these years, the Alien score is still as incredible an achievement as it was back then; a marvel of orchestral complexity in its deceptively simplistic construction, and it's a fine finale to Frontiers.

There are plenty of scores that I think may have had better luck on this compilation: Legend, Outland, Explorers, Gremlins, Planet of the Apes, The Omen, Star Trek V; even excerpts from Goldsmith's scores to the old television episodes of The Twilight Zone would have been interesting. While it's nice to have some of the lesser-known science-fiction scores that Goldsmith has composed included on Frontiers, I think that sometimes getting the music out there is less important than its quality. Whatever the reasons are for the choices on this disc, and for the choices of the scores that aren't included, Frontiers still makes for an alarmingly spotty presentation. One would wish that the energy and passion that's invested on the part of Goldsmith and Varese executive producer Robert Townson on their series of Alex North rerecordings would be channeled here; given their breathtaking success on their recent Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? rerecording, Frontiers seems a letdown in comparison. At any rate, Frontiers may present some lesser-known and unavailable music, but sometimes music that's lesser-known and unavailable is so for a reason.

The Other Review of Jerry Goldsmith's Frontiers

by Jeff Bond

Just to totally undermine our journalistic integrity, I thought I'd provide another point of view on the Frontiers album, since in this rare instance, I disagree with just about everything Jason just said. A few minor glitches aside, I found Frontiers to be one of the most consistently enjoyable and well-assembled albums from Varese this year, and probably the best of the Goldsmith/Royal Scottish National Orchestra collaborations.

In the case of the Twilight Zone overture, it should be pointed out that this has at least one major difference from the original version, in that the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" section employs music from a different section of the score than Goldsmith's original end title cue used, focusing on the material that plays as John Lithgow's character is about to glance out his window right into the face of the wing gremlin.

What really bugged me about Mr. Comerford's review was the way that he blew off a few of "the maestro"'s best works. Capricorn One is possibly the seminal action score of the '70s: its influence is still being felt 20 years later (have a listen to Die Hard and Titanic if you don't agree). In fact, I'd venture to say that the only reason anyone remembers the movie Capricorn One is because of Goldsmith's music. Far from "coasting on its title theme," the Capricorn One score ingeniously develops the piece, offers numerous striking, intense orchestration effects and hypes the suspense in the film like nobody's business. The edgy action writing covering the astronauts' escape from captivity, their pursuit by scary government helicopters (brilliantly underscored by Goldsmith in a way that almost gives the machines a personality all their own), and the hero's final escape makes for some of the most exciting film scoring in the past few decades.

Likewise, Rio Conchos set the tone for much of Goldsmith's brilliant western scoring and offered up a number of brilliant action cues that did far more than just play out the title theme (although it does receive several exciting treatments). As for The Illustrated Man, Goldsmith himself has said this is one of his favorite works, and I think the title theme is one of the most haunting, melancholy melodies in the composer's oeuvre. The problem on Frontiers is really the choice of the soprano, who's a little too throaty and gussies the vocal line up with too much vibrato as opposed to the eerie, plainsong style of the original. And while Damnation Alley's title music owes something to Twilight's Last Gleaming, the end title is a beautiful piece of Americana more redolent of Logan's Run. If anything, The Illustrated Man and Damnation Alley deserve a fuller treatment than they're given on Frontiers, and I hope they get one someday.

It amazes me when I hear some of Goldsmith's subtler '60s and '70s melodic work as evidenced in The Illustrated Man, Damnation Alley and The Other dismissed so casually today; I wonder if it just isn't sexy enough for people used to hearing Celine Dion belt out the latest Top 40 movie theme.

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