Usually deemed interesting only for Stan Winston's Oscar-nominated make-up
effects, the 1981 box office flop "Heartbeeps" does present
a curiosity from another behind-the-scenes guru. As John Williams musically
accompanied droids so well with "Star Wars" and worked with
producer Michael Philips before on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind",
he had a special advantage for scoring this science fiction comedy in which
two robots hit the road and fall in love (whilst aggressively pursued by a malfunctioning
The movie's eccentric underscore hardly fits among the upper tier of any point
in Williams' career. He wrote it as an experiment, one that went a bit awry,
and really quite a bit silly. There are ersatz-Goldsmith electronics, pop French
horns, groovy beats, and an overall dramatic mood that is only half-serious,
with Williams unfortunately prone to giving a wink during the score's curiously
few intense moments, hinting that everything will probably be okay. Some of
it consists of carryovers from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"
and, while the sweetness of its key melody suggests that it is a prototype for
"E.T.", much of it is closer to later odds-and-ends (not necessarily
good odds-and-ends) from "SpaceCamp" and "Always."
Yet the score is thematically charming, with at least four witty '80s period
Williams tunes, including one cleverly built into 'Crimebuster', a discotheque
scherzo for the copbot turned vigilante. The main theme is memorable, though
slightly distant before being gradually fleshed out; a warm melody for the 'bots
in love radiates perfectly well alongside the composer's other love themes from
the period; the above-named baddie motif is simple, but assertively used; and
then there is a jokey ditty that brightly recalls the droid music in "The
Empire Strikes Back".
This release heralds the return of Varese Sarabande's Soundtrack Club for filmusic
collectors, with a limited run of 3,000 copies. The packaging is rather unattractive;
a reproduction of the cartoonish poster art is on the cover, and washed-out
or overly dark stills from the film accompany the track-by-track booklet notes
by Robert Townson. Sound is indicative of its period.
Williams originally wrote "Heartbeeps" as his first all-electronic
score, but changed his mind someplace along the line. One can hazard a guess
on the reasoning behind the switch. His tasteful synth writing that came before
(and after) stopped far short here -- probably shocked by the profusion of goofiness.
What this means for listeners is that the album requires a certain manner of
hearing. So, some call "Heartbeeps" one of the worst film
scores of all time. Others call it one of the most underrated scores of all
You can name it, but at least one aspect defies pigeonholing.
You can't call it unsurprising.