May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Challenge
conducted and produced by the composer * Orchestrated by Arthur Morton * album produced by Ford A. Thaxton
PROMETHEUS PCR 505 [60:27]
Purchase from: Crotchet

Jerry Goldsmith first worked with director John Frankenheimer in the 1950's on the series Climax! and Playhouse 90. Since then they have made three feature films together. Seven Days in May (1964) and Seconds (1966) are both considered classics, while the third film, The Challenge (1982) is rather forgotten. In the 60's and 70's Frankenheimer was a master of the terse, hard-edged thriller and action drama, helming such titles as The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Train (1964), Grand Prix (1966), French Connection II (1975) and Black Sunday (1977). Then something seemed to go wrong, and while he made some decent films, there was nothing approaching the classics of the first two decades of his feature directing career, at least not until his unexpected and spectacular return to form with Ronin (1998).

By repute, The Challenge isn't a bad film, but apart from some polished action sequences and the interest inherent in it's westerner-goes-to-Japan scenario, there seems to be little to distinguish it from many other violent, well-made crime dramas. One of the things that does set it apart is Jerry Goldsmith's superior score. Never before issued on album, this score has achieved near legendary status among Goldsmith fans, and hearing this first CD release, it is easy to see why. This is big, rousing action-orientated Goldsmith, the sort of bold, driving score which has won the composer a particular following.

All the expected suspense music is present and correct, but it is the action writing which really delivers, while throughout Goldsmith employs oriental instrumentation without ever over-cooking the brew. The booklet notes that much Japanese music is resolutely western in instrumentation, but that the film composer has to present something that sounds appropriate from the point of view of a western audience's perceptions of Japan, while not patronising, stereotyping or resorting to cliché. A tall order, and perhaps only a Japanese could say how well Goldsmith succeeded.

What is not in doubt is that the resultant CD was worth the wait, being first rate Goldsmith in a line of percussive, explosive tautly melodic scores from The Blue Max (1966) to Capricorn One (1978), with even an echo of Planet of the Apes (1968). There is a love theme in the tradition of The Wind and the Lion (1975) and several thrilling set-pieces: 'The Wrong Sword', setting the stage with echoes of Papillon (1974) and The Swarm (1978) for much of the blistering musical drama to follow.

There are 16 tracks in just over an hour, which means that the album has several quite extensive sequences, 7 of the tracks running (often considerably) more than four-and-a-half minutes. Occasionally tracks have been combined, and everything plays in a musically satisfying sequence. The album was produced from the two original 16 track master tapes, and the sound is crisp, detailed and has great dynamic impact. It has been mixed in stereo (the film was released in mono), and processed with the addition of Lexicon digital reverb. Doubtless some will howl with outrage and demand a 'pure' release of the music, condemning this 'adulterated' issue. Life is too short to worry about such things. The debates about the merits, artistic, technical and ethical about such 'after the event' post production will doubtless run for years, but this album as produced by Ford A. Thaxton sounds great. The notes by Gary Kestler are informative and there are well reproduced b/w stills in the booklet. No Goldsmith fan should be without a copy, but nor should anyone who enjoys first rate adventure soundtrack albums.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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