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On The Downbeat
 April / May / June 2012
(revised 8/6/14)
(revised 2/9/19)

On The Downbeat - Profiles:
* (April - June 2012) Jerry Goldsmith & The Films Of Michael Crichton

* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012) Scoring The Films Of Ray Harryhausen
* (Sept ./ Oct.. 2011) Maurice Jarre

* (July 2011) Michael Kamen
* (May 2011) Basil Poledouris

                                                                                              Jerry Goldsmith (1929 - 2004)



by CEJ

     Film history is replete with more than a few artistic “marriages”.   Famous actor- actor pairings like Tracey / Hepburn; actor-director “brotherhoods” along the lines of Scorcese / DeNiro; and of course well known and loved director- composer collaborations.  Bernard Herrmann & Alfred Hitchcock (PSYCHO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, VERTIGO, et al), David Cronenberg & Howard Shore (THE BROOD, SCANNERS, THE FLY, NAKED LUNCH, etc.), Spielberg / Williams (JAWS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SCHINDLER’S LIST and more); and of course Jerry Goldsmith & Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON, PLANET OF THE APES, ISLANDS IN THE STREAM, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL).  But there was also Jerry Goldsmith & Robert Wise (THE SAND PEBBLES, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE); Goldsmith & Joe Dante (GREMLINS, INNERSPACE, THE ’BURBS); Goldsmith / Frankenheimer (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, SECONDS), Goldsmith / Scott (ALIEN, LEGEND), Goldsmith / Verhoeven (TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT, HOLLOW MAN), Goldsmith / Hanson (THE RIVER WILD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) and, … well, you see where this is headed.  It’s an accepted natural world axiom that lightning never strikes twice in one place.  And in Hollywood creative circles it's even more unlikely.  It’s therefore nothing short of unheard of that a single artist of any filmic discipline would be so respected and in demand over the course of their career as to strike up not one or two creative “lightning strike” relationships with a fellow artist, but to enjoy a long and impressive list of such repeated collaborations.  But such was the case with the late (and to call him “truly great” is an understatement ) composer JERRY GOLDSMITH (1929 -2004).          
   Michael Crichton (1942 - 2008)

    Those following our site‘s “online library” of articles are aware of the esteem in which we hold the legendary composer, with clips of his music and background info on his scores woven into the fabric of our articles on TORA! TORA! TORA!, “The History of THE PLANET OF THE APES”, THE SATAN BUG, LOGAN’S RUN and more.  In fact type his name in this page’s search window and get two pages of references on our site alone for his films spanning the last half century.  An odd footnote however is that even among film and music aficionados one of Goldsmith’s most prolific, versatile and repeated artistic collaborations is also one of his least lauded - that of his seven time pairing with equally legendary techno-thriller novelist / screenwriter / director & producer MICHAEL CRICHTON (1942 - 2008).

     Crichton - the immensely popular multi-hyphenate talent behind THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, WESTWORLD, JURASSIC PARK, DISCLOSURE, TWISTER, THE LOST WORLD, TIMELINE, TV’s E.R. and a slew of other hits, and Goldsmith were more than “another pair” of filmic collaborators.  From their first partnering in 1972 on Crichton’s film directorial debut (the TV movie PURSUIT - based on the author’s biological terrorism novel BINARY written under the pseudonym “John Lange”) to their final pairing on TIMELINE (the composer’s operatic score to Richard Donner’s 2003 time travel thriller ultimately replaced by one by Brian Tyler) would develop a 30 + year friendship with the dramatic sensibilities of each man's work never ceasing to compliment the other hand in glove; and with both men always maintaining a high regard for the other’s artistic abilities.

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     When once asked to posit an explanation for Goldsmith’s astounding success within the film and TV worlds (part of that success being seventeen Oscar nominations - PLANET OF THE APES, PATTON, CHINATOWN, THE WIND AND THE LION, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MULAN and THE OMEN - which he won by the way, among them), Crichton’s response was a simple, succinct and accurate encapsulation of Goldsmith’s entire career, “Jerry is a musical genius, and he works hard ”.

     High praise from one many considered an equally impressive genius.  Actor Sean Connery (who starred in Crichton’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY and RISING SUN), when asked in a 1993 Premiere magazine article (remember PREMIERE?) why Crichton’s stories could at times prove difficult (as well as sometimes controversial) to adapt properly, lauded the writer/director as “Perhaps too clever (smart) for Hollywood”.  And the fact that to this day Crichton is the only person to ever have a book (DISCLOSURE), film (JURASSIC PARK) and TV series (E.R.) all in their respective #1 slots simultaneously, would seem to bear this out.  Steven Spielberg’s e-mail to the New York Times (Nov. 5, 2008) at the time of Crichton’s death perhaps summed it best:
    “Michael's talent outscaled even his own dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK. He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the earth. In the early days, Michael had just sold THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN to Robert Wise at Universal and I had recently signed on as a contract TV director there. My first assignment was to show Michael Crichton around the Universal lot. We became friends and professionally JURASSIC PARK, E.R. and TWISTER followed. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."   

Crichton and Spielberg on set 1992 - JURASSIC PARK

      As much as we’d love to delve into the separate then ultimately converging career backstories of both men, it would be a time and space impossibility, as well as redundant, for there are already hours of filmed documentaries, book chapters, and printed and online magazine articles well covering it all.  Rather, as with our previous “On The Downbeat” entry “MUSIC PHANTASMAGORIE: SCORING THE FILMS OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN, we choose to let the combined work speak for itself by presenting for comparison music excerpts from the Goldsmith / Crichton canon followed by (where available and allowable) selected corresponding film sequences for which many of the tracks were composed.  

     There’s something for everyone - from genre “fan boys” to cinema historians, students, musicians, budding composers and straight-up Saturday/Sunday afternoon movie buffs.  We lovingly consider ourselves members of all those categories.  So kick back with us, crack open a “brewski” if you've got one, crank up the sound and fire the imagination as we examine and enjoy ...

* CONGO (1995)
* RUNAWAY (1984)
* COMA (1978)
* THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)
* PURSUIT (1972)
* TIMELINE (2003)

*Note - The film listings are in no particular order, chronological or otherwise. 


* CONGO - 1995

     Crichton’s thrilling (and smart) 1980 novel - a high tech upgrade of R. Rider Haggard’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES, became one of the most critically derided of films adapted from his works.  The original novel told the story of a race between American and Japanese computer firms to a lost African city (“Zinj”) buried beneath the ancient flow of a still active volcano.  The object of their quest - rare blue diamonds with properties conducive to the creation of a new breed of super computers using refracted light, rather than electricity, as their energy source.  And the “key” in finding the city - “Amy”, a young in-captivity test subject gorilla who (patterned after the real life communicating gorilla “Koko”) has been taught remedial human sign language. Whew! The circuitous fifteen year odyssey from page to screen saw many high profile names attached to the project at various times, including director John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING-’82), as well as Steven Spielberg & George Lucas who, if one believes rumor, for a short time toyed with the idea of folding the story into a new INDIANA JONES adventure. 

     When the film version finally debuted in June of ’95, fans of the novel (us included) were appalled by not only the excising of the entire “high tech race” scenario and “super computer” narrative McGuffin, but also by the inclusion of a high degree of camp exemplified in the creation of Tim Curry’s “Romanian Philanthropist” Herkermer Holmolka - a character not indigenous to the novel, and who (until the arrival of Jar Jar Binks some years later) arguably held top slot as one of the most despised characters in genre film history.

       It also didn’t help that, after becoming accustomed to the CGI dinosaurs of Crichton and Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK two years prior, the gorillas of CONGO (including the deadly and mutated lost city guardians known as "the Greys”) were realized via actors in costumes abetted by animatronics.  This because at the time, computer FX imagery had not yet advanced to the degree of replicating realistic hair and fur as well as it had smooth or scaly skin.  Monetarily the film was a hit, returning in excess of $150 million on it’s $53 million budget, but it was not well remembered, even by Crichton, who - in spite of the fact that it was made by friends of his (JURASSIC producer Kathleen Kennedy and FX maestro Stan Winston) didn’t much care for it.  

     One facet however of which everyone agreed was one of the film’s greatest positives was it’s expansive, high adventure score by Crichton’s old friend Jerry Goldsmith.  Brought in late in the game to replace an earlier more ‘earthy” musical effort by James Newton Howard (THE SIXTH SENSE, THE DARK KNIGHT, I AM LEGEND, E.R.) Goldsmith’s score is one of the film’s only components truly capturing the “tone, vibe, feel and smarts” of Crichton’s novel.  CONGO’s director Frank Marshall said the film “... was a big summer movie, and needed a big, orchestral, popcorn movie score”; and also that he, “… explored with Jerry the idea of incorporating a lot of African instruments and sounds”.  To this end Goldsmith created a sonically “big sky” anamorphic epic in the classic David Lean tradition, augmented by the more modern usage of electronics, a massive battery of percussion, and the vocal talents of Soweto born singer/poet Lebo M, who actually performed similar duties on Howard’s rejected score. 

     Best known to American audiences as the ethereal “chanting voice” on Hans Zimmer’s Oscar winning THE LION KING score, Lebo had earlier contributed vocals and additional music to Quincy Jones’ THE COLOR PURPLE as well as Zimmer’s THE POWER OF ONE.  In later years he’d similarly enhance Howard’s OUTBREAK and BLOOD DIAMOND, as well as THE LION KING ON BROADWAY, and Zimmer’s score to the Bruce Willis mercenary thriller TEARS OF THE SUN.

     Always lauded for his sense of complex Bartok-ian / Stravinsky-like “off-rhythm” rhythms, Goldsmith’s percussion section gets a brutal workout in the climactic “Kahega” as the guardian Grey Gorillas rain down upon and violently attack the explorer/raiders of the lost city.  As the creatures were bred centuries ago for one task - to kill interlopers, their descendants (now inbred) have a “one track mind” obsession to that task - evidenced musically by Goldsmith’s usage of a repeated “stagger rhythm rift” reminiscent of the needle on a vinyl record album skipping continually.  

play "Spirit of Africa - Main Title"

play "Bail Out"

play "Gates of Zinj"

play "Kahega"





     After less than stellar critical responses to both the novel and Mike Hodges’ film version of his THE TERMINAL MAN (1972 and ‘74 respectively), Crichton rebounded with two extremely popular back to back historical adventure best sellers - both using true life incidents as jumping off points.  THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1975) integrated into it’s fictitious narrative the infamous “Great Gold Robbery of 1885”, wherein a shipment of bullion was apparently stolen from a train in motion as it sped it’s way across the English countryside.  And EATERS OF THE DEAD (1976) was a 10th century adventure chronicling the travels of an educated Arab emissary who falls in with a group of Viking warriors, then must join them in battle against a  “supernatural” legion of man-beasts threatening one of their settlements.  The first three chapters of DEAD would be based on the actual journal writings of real life emissary Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, and the remainder of the book on a clever reworking of BEOWULF.  

     THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY would coalesce because of an earlier suggestion to Crichton from his WESTWORLD producer Paul N. Lazarus that he consider a story about “trains”.  Not simply interested in “trains” in and of themselves Crichton had recently become enthralled with the history of Victorian England, as well as fascinated by recent studies on the psychology of the 1970s-era “professional criminal” -  he who committed felonious deeds not because of desperation or addiction, but as a chosen “trade craft”.  


     The film version of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (in the U.K. titled THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY) would be produced by John Foreman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING) and Dino De Laurentiis (LA STRADA, DEATH WISH, DUNE), and would be directed by Crichton himself - his fourth time behind the camera after PURSUIT, WESTWORLD and COMA.  It starred Sean Connery (in the first of his two collaborations with the writer/director) as gentleman genius and heist planner extraordinaire Edward Pierce, Donald Sutherland as “Screwsman” (key expert) Robert Agar, and Leslie Anne Downe, drop dead sexy (and school-girlishly charming) as Miriam - a chameleon like actress who also happens to be Pierce’s mistress and criminal partner.  

     In the same year of 1979 in which Goldsmith composed two of his most acclaimed science fiction scores - ALIEN and STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, he’d stun audiences with the surprisingly droll yet spirited “polished period pastiche” of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.  Connery (and Crichton) capitalized on the former 007’s roughish charm to keep the film’s proceedings refreshingly tongue-in-cheek and none-too-serious; and so does Goldsmith’s light, frothy orchestral concoction do the same.  In fact one of the score‘s most grin-inducing aspects is how almost every track, is driven by a relentlessly “chugging” train-like rhythm. 

    Having just finished three years of back to back darkly serious compositions including THE OMEN (’76), TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING, MacARTHUR, DAMNATION ALLEY (all '77), COMA, CAPRICORN ONE, THE SWARM, MAGIC and THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (all '78), Goldsmith welcomed the opportunity to lighten up.  In a 1981 SOUNDTRACK MAGAZINE interview he’d recall, “It was terrific fun for me to do”; and how on the English recording stage he’d said to Crichton, “Can you imagine a bunch of Americans doing a piece of Victorian history. Mind they don’t throw us out of here!”.

play "Main Title"

play "Kiddie Caper"

play "The Gold Arrives"



pg. 1,2,3
pg. 4 (Michael Crichton bibliography / filmography)
pg. 5 (Jerry Goldsmith filmography)

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