- Composed by James Horner
- Intrada / 2013 / 100m (score 88m)
The third entry in the Jack Ryan movie series (and the second and lastto feature Harrison Ford as Tom Clancy’s hero), Clear and Present Danger sees Ryan caught up in an illegal US operation against Colombian drug lords. Like the other films in the series, it is a good piece of untaxing entertainment, in the steady hands of director Philip Noyce, who had made Patriot Games a couple of years earlier. Also returning from that film was the composer, James Horner.
Horner’s music for the film seemed for many years to be completely under most people’s radar, which always seemed odd because it’s a first-rate action score. Then, as is often the case, it attracted some fresh attention almost two decades later thanks to an expanded release, this time from Intrada. While it certainly displays a lot of influences from his earlier works (and thus people bothered by such things should keep away), as is often the case, Horner fashions these various strands together to craft something which is – taken on its own terms – something unique to this film. Taking his cue from the slightly self-important nature of the storytelling, at times there is a really grand sweep to the score which only Horner would provide for this type of film and which works wonderfully well.
Indeed, the opening three tracks of action music on the original album, on Milan – which between them occupy almost twenty minutes – should be heaven for any Horner fan. The main title introduces the fabulous Coplandesque main theme, with a wonderfully dynamic trumpet performance. ”Operation Reciprocity” brings in the score’s “ethnic device”, which is a shakuhachi sitting underneath more suspenseful orchestral material – it may not have been anything new (ethnic flutes were an almost constant presence it seemed in Horner’s music of this period) but it’s great the way he blends them in here, and the track also introduces another dynamic brass theme. Finally, the very lengthy “The Ambush” is a model piece of action/suspense scoring with incredible musical architecture, gradually building to its explosive finale; the shakuhachi may be Japanese but it actually perfectly evokes the Central American rainforest locale of the film and is present throughout almost all ten minutes of “The Ambush”, notable too for its frantic string passages, tense electronic percussion and frequent bursts of very noble-sounding brass. I’d rank it as one of the most thrilling action pieces of Horner’s career.
On the expanded album, several things are different. No fewer than nine new cues, all under two minutes, appear between these action pieces; I won’t tread over old ground again about the virtues of well-considered sequencing, but much of the impact of those tracks on the original album came from them being together. Still, I’m sure if the album had always been this way, I wouldn’t have thought anything much was amiss. Worse, Intrada has bizarrely opted to use the film recording of the opening title piece instead of the album recording – I know that some people get all upset when their soundtrack album diverges in any way from the music as heard in the film, but really, surely for album purposes the producers should think about the greatest musical value rather than rigidly sticking to the film (where choices are of course not bad on a primarily musical basis). Omitting the magnificent brass chorale which opened Horner’s original take on the main title presumably made some sense to director Noyce, but it doesn’t make any sense to me and the first thing you must do if you get Intrada’s album is program the album arrangement from the bonus cue section and never listen to the film version. (It seems that John Takis agrees because his liner notes open by saying Horner’s score “begins with a burst of martial percussion and rising figures for horn and trumpet” which isn’t actually true if you listen to the album as it has been presented by the record label.)
Fortunately that lapse in judgement is easily rectified, so that’s enough moaning. There’s so much quality here. Of the tracks on the original album, “The Laser-Guided Missile” introduces another flavour, a surprising (and, I think, fresh for Horner) use of keyboards which adds a layer of mystery and no small amount of class. In “Looking for Clues”, the composer returns to his old favourite piece by Khachaturian (a clear inspiration on Aliens and others) – it may be familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, nor effective. ”Deleting the Evidence” is another suspense-laden piece, with more new melodic material – and another old favourite, the crashing piano. ”Greer’s Funeral / Betrayal” is as fun as it sounds, the composer here adding a tragic air as his music turns considerably darker (including a haunting return to the “Looking for Clues” material).
“Escobedo’s New Friend” sees the keyboards come back, this time with added layers of electronics and a more prominent role for the pan flutes, before things really explode in “Second Hand Copter”, a really powerful piece of action music. Horner doesn’t do this balls-to-the-wall stuff very often these days, but he was very good at it back when he did. Finally, the end title, “Truth Needs a Soldier”, sees a particularly noble reprise of the main theme, but also adds a sense of calm after the relative chaos of what’s gone before. (“Escobedo’s New Friend” on the Milan album is edited down from three different cues, which are indexed separately and included in full on Intrada’s album – in this instance, a good decision.)
The expanded album almost doubles the length. Particularly during the early parts of the score and album, there’s nothing of great significance; it is simply a case of the familiar ideas from the cues long-familiar being fleshed out and given a little more depth – for instance, the Khachaturian theme now first appears in “Jack’s New Office”, the dynamic synth action theme is heard a couple of times before its previous introduction in “The Laser-Guided Missile”, in both “Cortez Arrives in US” and “Try Lindo Brand”. It is later in the score that the new tracks leave more of a mark – “Greer’s Last Hospital” is a subtly touching synth cue, but it’s in some of the action music that the real thrills are to be found, such as “Cortez Kills Escobado” and “Jack Creates Diversion” but particularly the wonderful, expansive “Woodroom / Finale”.
Nobody could deny that at times Clear and Present Danger feels like one of those “James Horner greatest hits” scores – but what sort of person doesn’t like James Horner’s greatest hits? A crazy person. This is a very well-designed and realised score, with all the elegant construction of the composer’s more popular scores for the box office giants, but translated into an action setting. It’s top quality stuff and I’m sure any fan of the composer will love it, and with new-found prominence thanks to the Intrada release (which despite the one howler mentioned earlier is very strong overall) perhaps more people will discover what deserves to be a much more highly-regarded score. ****