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Executive Decision
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande CD Club / 2016 / 75m

Veteran film editor Stuart Baird made his directorial debut in 1996 with Executive Decision, an action thriller in which Steven Seagal leads a team of special forces tasked with boarding and securing a plane which has been hijacked with a bomb on board.  In the film’s big twist, Seagal dies early on while attempting to board the plane and it falls to Kurt Russell’s intelligence analyst to save the day.  I’m surprised to see how well-reviewed the film was at the time (given it’s not particularly good) – and it was a big hit with audiences, earning a comparative box office fortune for a film like this back then.

Director Baird’s many credits as an editor include one film with a classic Jerry Goldsmith score, The Omen, but I guess he was hired for Executive Decision simply because he was the undisputed master of films like this, able to bring gravitas to the daftest of action movies.  This was the first of Goldsmith’s action quartet of the time – four relatively similar scores for action movies which started with this, followed by Chain Reaction later the same year, Air Force One (the one that slightly stands apart because of its patriotic fervour) the year after and US Marshals (also a Baird film) in 1998.

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

I’ve always enjoyed this one the least of the four on album (but it works wonders in the film, as they all do).  Even on the not-quite-half-hour album released at the time it seemed a little too repetitive to really function that well outside the film and this deluxe edition is well over twice as long – but the thing with Goldsmith is that while the expanded versions of his scores don’t always make better listening experiences than the original albums, his brilliant musical and dramatic architectures mean that they do a lot more often than other composers and the presentation of the entirety of the dramatic journey he plotted for this film is indeed a more interesting package than the old album.

The score’s best feature is its gutsy, heroic main theme and the composer wastes no time in introducing it, in the opening “The Map” – the elegant brass lines punctuated by staccato punches from the strings and percussion (including that synth percussion effect that passes across the stereo spectrum that Goldsmith used a few times) – it’s a great theme and is heard frequently through the score.  The best version remains (the now correctly-spelled) “The Remora”, sweeping and grand.  Needless to say, “sweeping” is the only word that could be used to describe the finale, “Hold It”, ending the score with a great swagger as Goldsmith always did.

There’s a fanfare action motif (a device the composer used in virtually every action score he wrote from this point forward) introduced in “The Villa / Flying Lessons” and it goes on to anchor a number of the action cues.  For the terrorists, the composer uses Middle Eastern percussion, sitar and various other exotic sounds, starting in “The Abduction” (a terrific action cue, perhaps the best of the unreleased cues).  Most of the 45 minutes of previously-unreleased music is suspense material – and while generally fairly unspectacular, it’s almost always got something of interest going on, particularly the way the composer uses different textures to enforce the claustrophobia of the “Die Hard on a plane” setting.  When the action does come, it’s as good as you’d expect: “Initiating Approach” is a thriller of a cue, a particularly heroic version of the action fanfare mixing with the main theme and fresh melodic material in great style and that’s followed by “All Aboard”, a six-minute action cue familiar from the old album.  So too is “The Sleeper”, much later, a tense and dark but satisfying piece of action.

Executive Decision is admittedly only occasionally spectacular and nobody would claim it’s one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best from the period – there are sequences of cues where you’re essentially just waiting for something exciting to happen – but hearing it now it seems to have a vibrancy that the short release from 1996 didn’t really bring out.  Context is important, too – twenty years ago, you just knew that if a Jerry Goldsmith score wasn’t immediately satisfying, that was fine because another one would be along a few weeks later.  Now, nobody writes film music like this for films like this (which is only natural, given the passage of time) – thematic action music, actual nuance and subtlety – and given that it’s no surprise that it actually sounds fresher and has more life than the general wall-of-noise approach of 2016.  Robert Townson and his team deserve great credit for producing the album so well – anyone familiar with the old leaked version of the recording sessions of the score know that it was made up of literally dozens of very short cues, so to assemble something as coherent and easy to listen to as this album out of that source material is quite something.  It remains in my opinion fourth out of the Goldsmith action quartet of the time, but it’s still very enjoyable.

Rating: ***

See also: Chain Reaction Jerry Goldsmith

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  1. elfenthalsmith (Reply) on Thursday 19 July, 2012 at 12:22

    Though it is true an expanded version wouldn’t really be needed, there is at least one action cue missing that is more thrilling than the rest of the album combined, as well as another cue that contains a kick-ass iteration of the main theme.

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 1 May, 2016 at 21:18

    (Above comment was written in relation to the original album)

  3. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Monday 2 May, 2016 at 09:23

    You’ve revisited this score twice now and each time, the rating went up by half a star. My projection: in about 15-20 years, all Goldsmith scores reviewed at Movie Wave will have five-star ratings. You heard it here first, folks.