- Composed by Basil Poledouris
- Intrada / 2013 / 55m
It’s only natural that we wonder, from time to time, what might have been. What if I’d done X instead of Y? Basil Poledouris made a brave choice back in 1990 – one made out of profound loyalty to a friend but which probably cost him a shot at the real big time. He had of course scored some big films up to that point – and scored a couple more – but that one critical decision perhaps stopped him from truly entering the A-list. He had signed up to score Kevin Costner’s directorial debut, Dances with Wolves – a project with real prestige. But then his old friend John Milius – who had given Poledouris his first big break when he hired him to score Big Wednesday, and who hired him again to write the composer’s most beloved score, Conan the Barbarian – was getting his team together to make Flight of the Intruder. Milius hadn’t had a success in a while and this film – a Reagan-era war movie being made after the Reagan era had ended – didn’t seem likely to buck that trend. Poledouris couldn’t score both films because the schedules coincided. So, out of loyalty to his friend, the man who had really helped launch his career, the composer stepped away from the film that could have launched his career into the stratosphere (of course, John Barry went on to write a brilliant score for Costner’s movie and win an Oscar for his troubles); and a cruel twist of fate saw the Milius film then get delayed, so Poledouris could in fact have scored Dances with Wolves after all.
When Flight of the Intruder was finally released, it got savaged by critics and took less than $15m at the box office, effectively ending Milius’s career as director (he made a few tv movies and wrote some screenplays but never directed another film). Poledouris’s music was unreleased at the time but, over two decades later, makes its album début as part of the Intrada Special Collection. While the score does go on to feature some of the rah-rah patriotics one might expect to hear in the score for a Milius war movie, in fact it begins in less than cheerful fashion – the first two cues are called “Morg’s Death” and “Morg’s Funeral”, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s not exactly a laugh a minute. The combination of orchestra and keyboards the composer employs creates a very sad soundscape, and as Nick Redman astutely points out in his liner notes, it’s intriguingly quite close to that employed a few years later by Hans Zimmer in his brilliant score for Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
Just a hint of the main theme emerges in the third cue, “Chase for Five Dollars”, an action track very much of its time, with the electronic accompaniment; Poledouris doesn’t unleash it in all its glory (and it is glorious indeed) until quite a bit later in the score. ”Iron Hand Mission” is a nicely heroic piece, full of innate courage and bravery; again it is never quite fully developed here, the composer carefully setting the stage for things to come.
A surprisingly warm new theme is heard in the affecting “Boxman’s Death”, similar in a way to the sweeping style Poledouris had employed in his previous score for Milius, the wonderful Farewell to the King. The score’s middle section doesn’t have quite so many delights on offer – the electronics do sound rather dated and some of the suspense music just sounds a bit like killing time. That said, the second half of “Raid on Hanoi” is vintage Poledouris, thrilling and heroic.
Finally in “Alpha Strike” – 12 tracks and half an hour into the score – the main theme bursts forth and it’s a wonderful moment. It’s one of the most memorable and most impressive themes of this composer’s career, a bit cheesy perhaps but it would take a churlish man to hold that against it given the film it’s written for. Things are only just starting to get rousing, too – Poledouris builds and builds through the thrilling “Keeping the Faith” before the patriotic theme gets unfurled once more in “Alpha Mike Fox Trot”.
The last pair of cues, “Rescue” and “Final Scene”, are about as rousing as film music gets, the main theme again at the forefront of proceedings. While as a whole I don’t think this would be considered amongst the top tier of film scores by this fine composer, it has more than enough fine parts to it to make the purchase an easy decision for any Poledouris fan. That theme is just wonderful and there are a few very fine action tracks to go with the pair of rather moving set-piece cues which usher the album in.
Rating: *** 1/2