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  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Intrada / 2013 / 63m (score 53m)

Jerry Goldsmith worked on a number of wonderful films during his career; sadly he also scored a number of clunkers and a remarkable number of films he worked on weren’t even vaguely deserving of his talents.  There’s a curious bunch of films he did which seem to be direct – and considerably worse – responses to some enduring classics which were scored by John Williams.  Williams had Superman – Goldsmith did Supergirl.  Williams did Raiders of the Lost Ark – Goldsmith did King Solomon’s Mines.  Williams did Jurassic Park – Goldsmith did Congo.  I guess Paramount must have seen the box office returns for Jurassic Park and started rubbing their hands together at the prospect of releasing Congo, based on another novel by Michael Crichton, and the fact that it was directed by Frank Marshall – who worked as producer on many Steven Spielberg projects over the years – would have added to the anticipation even more.  It’s a shame really then that the film is so risible.

The film was first due to be made in 1981 and Goldsmith – a friend of and frequent collaborator with Crichton – was hired to score.  The production fell through but Marshall was drawn back to the project as technology evolved and allowed him to include more realistic ape moments in his film; James Newton Howard was his composer of choice but shortly after starting work (and writing one chant for the film – which is heard on this album) he had to depart due to commitments to another film, so Goldsmith was reunited with a film a decade and a half after first agreeing to score it.  Like Howard, he decided to collaborate with Lebo M, the South African composer and performer who achieved a certain prominence in the mid-1990s largely thanks to his work on The Lion King.  His contribution to Congo was arranging and performing Goldsmith’s song “Spirit of Africa”; anyone expecting anything along the lines of Mr M’s work on The Lion King is likely to be disappointed – this is pure Goldsmith and a surprisingly gentle and lovely song, which opens and closes the film (and album).

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

The score itself has a number of themes, many of which draw from elements of the song.  There’s a lovely main theme for Amy the gorilla, a sweet and lyrical tune very typical of the composer at the time; the highlight is the long-lined adventure theme, expansive and exciting, not unlike music Goldsmith would write a year later for another African-set adventure, The Ghost and the Darkness.  The composer adds a touch of real class to the film with his music which almost makes it worth watching (but only almost); he had a knack for finding perfect themes for films and this pair is absolutely spot on, suggesting majesty and might in a way that other aspects of the film tried but failed to do.

The highlight – as so often the case with 1990s Goldsmith scores – comes in the action music.  He really was second to none at writing thrilling, breathless action material and that dominates the score.  There’s a wealth of percussion here – extensive percussion was not a new idea for a musical representation of the jungle, but it was executed very effectively, particularly when combined with some of the score’s more subtle electronics and fluttering wind figures which do create a very evocative atmosphere; but it’s when the horns blast out and start adrenaline-pumping sequences that the composer really delivers.  The heroic “Meet Monroe Kelly” is very enjoyable; “Bail Out” one of those unbelievably taut, frantic action pieces that Goldsmith did so well; “The Ghost Tribe” includes some very dark material but never lets its foot off the gas; “Help Me” is a particularly intense piece, almost pummelling the listener into submission (in a good way!); “Amy’s Nightmare” is the spectacular action finale, again quite incredibly exciting.

Congo is a solid, very entertaining score which only suffers – as do a number of Goldsmith scores from this period – by comparison with some of his great scores in the past.  I remember the vitriol that was directed at the score at the time it was first heard – vitriol that is hard to believe, looking back.  (It’s slightly amusing that Jeff Bond writes the liner notes for many of these Goldsmith releases given he was one of the more vocal critics of the composer at the time the scores were released – much to Goldsmith’s own very well-publicised annoyance!)  The original album was just over half an hour long; Intrada’s expansion offers the complete score, almost twenty minutes longer, and adds various alternative versions of cues.  While most of the best music was there on the old album, the expansion just opens it up and reveals slightly more depth and is a more solid listen overall.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Chris Avis (Reply) on Thursday 7 February, 2013 at 21:33

    Nice review James. It is indeed amusing to see people clamouring for expansions of some of the allegedly terrible (based on reviews at the time) 90s Goldsmith titles. I personally find Congo to be a middle of the road Goldsmith 90s score which means it’s automatically better than most of what’s written today. Intrada’s expansion does add some breathing room, but it’s not the massive revelation that The Shadow and First Knight albums were.

    I think most of the 90s Goldsmith scores worth expanding have been done, though I am looking forward to an eventual release of Star Trek Insurrection which is his most underrated Star Trek score, in my opinion.


  2. Roman Martel (Reply) on Friday 8 February, 2013 at 05:30

    I agree with you completely on this score. It may not be essential Goldsmith, but its a lot of fun. Some of the new tracks do a good job of making the album listen feel more like a journey. The original release was pretty much wall to wall action. Now there’s some great moments of awe, beauty and playfulness (with Amy’s theme). My favorite track is still “Kathega”, where Laura Linney’s character picks up the laser cannon and starts bisecting evil grey gorillas. For that “classic” moment Goldsmith gives us the most triumphant version of the adventure theme. And as you watch guys dressed in mutant gorilla costumes fall into flaming pieces, you almost cheer. But then start laughing at the awesome ridiculousness on the screen.

    Goldsmith could only do so much. 🙂

  3. Yavar Moradi (Reply) on Monday 11 February, 2013 at 16:56

    Hi James. Glad you reviewed this underrated score, and I’m glad you champion 90s Goldsmith against the detractors. That said, if you found this expansion to be worth your money, I’m SHOCKED that you still haven’t picked up (or at least reviewed) Intrada’s amazing complete release for Masada, one of Goldsmith’s greatest scores ever!

  4. Elfenthalsmith (Reply) on Thursday 26 December, 2013 at 02:25

    The film does have one moment of pure awe : when the characters parachute over the jungle, to the full, glorious main theme (in the second half of “Bail out”). Breathtaking.

  5. Jens (Reply) on Sunday 5 January, 2014 at 20:24

    Terrific review. I’ll never understand the vitriol directed at some of Jerry’s ‘90s output. I feel it was an extremely fertile period for him creatively, and his work was above and beyond what anyone else (save John Williams) was doing at the time. Perhaps I’m be biased because scores like this were my gateway drug into film music, but IMHO Congo is a stone-cold classic.