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Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
  • Composed by Jerry Fielding
  • Intrada / 2013 / 79m

Irwin Allen was long considered Hollywood’s master of the disaster movie but as the 1970s wore on, his films became renowned as disasters of an entirely different kind, coinciding with him deciding to start directing them himself, first in 1978′s The Swarm and then in 1979′s Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, both commonly included on lists of the biggest Hollywood turkeys.  Beyond the Poseidon Adventure saw two crews battling to get into the wreckage of the doomed liner (the subject of I think his best film), Michael Caine leading one and Telly Savalas the other.  The big budget which was available to most of his previous films wasn’t quite there this time, but he still managed to assemble a fine cast – as well as the two male leads, there were Sally Field, Karl Malden, Jack Warden, Peter Boyle and many other familiar faces.

John Williams has always seemed to have a pretty good sense of what films to do and which to leave behind, and his lengthy collaboration with Allen was ended before The Swarm, with Jerry Goldsmith (who, like Williams, had worked with Allen on his tv shows in the 1960s) stepping in on that occasion.  For Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, it was the turn of a different Jerry, Fielding, to take on the compositional duties.  Fielding was one of the première film composers of his time – an intellectual, like Alex North, writing stridently modern, always incredibly bold and forthright music, frequently for films that didn’t seem to come close to deserving him.

Jerry Fielding

Jerry Fielding

It’s amusing to read in the liner notes to this album a bit of promotional gumpf from 1979, announcing that Fielding had just recorded his score for “the most thrilling action-suspense motion picture ever filmed”, describing his music as “lush”, announcing the release of a pop vocal and telling the salivating reader to “be on the lookout for these valuable and strongly selling products that bridge the gap from screen to sound.”  I don’t know what became of the pop vocal, but it took 34 years for Fielding’s music to finally arrive on an album, courtesy of Intrada; and only someone with significant hearing problems would listen to it and describe it as “lush”.

It is anything but lush – this is exceptionally dense music, feeling almost aggressive in its intelligence, the fierceness with which the composer’s bold vision is planned and executed.  The strident main title music – dark and murky, multiple layers densely packed together, developed separately, paths crossing from time to time – it sums up the score beautifully.  The early part of the score is the more low-key – well, low-key by Jerry Fielding’s standards – often seeing instrumental colour from various soloists, the orchestra generally kept small, sometimes joined by fairly primitive electronics – a little oboe phrase here or a snare drum passage there appearing like brief bursts of illumination under the deep water.  A couple of brief moments of warmth are all that permeate the general coldness – the lullaby of “Tex” giving a childlike innocence to the character played by Slim Pickens; then a lovely passage for the strings in “They’re With Me” that I guess some might even describe as lush.  Generally, when the melodies appear, they are more underplayed – the haunting, strained “Wilbur’s Secret Ailment” is full of desperate anguish.

The middle portion of the score cranks up the tension, introduces some flurries of action – “In the Tunnel” dominated by a swirling string motif employed through several cues to provide a feeling of movement.  ”He Builds a Bridge” is a six-minute masterpiece of film scoring, the claustrophobic atmosphere crafted brilliantly by Fielding, a raft of emotions on display as the piece progresses, ending up in a warmer, more melodic place, a mood which continues through the lovely “Conversations While Waiting”, placing particular dramatic emphasis on a lighter human aspect.

The score’s third and final act is introduced in the thrilling “Gun Fight”, as florid a piece of action music as you’ll hear, flurries and bursts of brass, strings, percussion, beautifully-drawn.  ”Hannah Kroax” features some even more upfront and dramatic brass writing.  The film’s finale is underscored by the ten-minute “Great Escape”, beginning in almost impressionistic territory, an array of percussion initially providing colour (as through the whole score) against tension-laden passages before a wonderful scherzo dominates the second half of the piece.

The score concludes where it began, the end title reprising the march heard over the opening titles (a revised end title cue is also heard, in the bonus track section, focusing more on the tender theme heard early in the score in “Wilbur’s Secret Ailment”).  Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is, like almost all of the music by this remarkable composer, as rewarding as it is challenging.  It is bold, always up-front – yet never showy.  Emotion is carefully conveyed, but the Hollywood film scoring convention of lush romantic sentiment couldn’t be further away.  The album’s sound quality is first-rate, allowing every layer of Fielding’s dense music to shine.  Liner notes are split into three parts, by Jeff Bond, Douglass Fake and Nick Redman, and each part is excellent.  This is a wonderful album.

Rating: **** 1/2

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  1. Craig Richard Lysy on Tuesday 16 July, 2013 at 14:12

    Wow, who would have known! Fielding is an acquired taste for me and I will check this out based on your fine review James. All the best.