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First Knight
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • La-La Land Records / 2011 / Complete score 78:50 / Other material 67:53

First Knight is a confused film – one which attempts to paint a more “serious” picture of the King Arthur legend, without any of the wizadry etc, but which ruins it all with the casting of Richard Gere as Lancelot, who gives a completely misjudged and anachronistic performance totally at odds with the elegance on display from most of his co-stars (including Sean Connery and John Gielgud).  Gere’s involvement is such that one is never quite sure that Leslie Nielson isn’t about to appear from round the corner, and it will all turn out to be a joke, given that it’s directed by Jerry Zucker.  

One person who took the film completely seriously, and reportedly enjoyed working on it more than any other in the later years of his career, was Jerry Goldsmith.  The great composer provided what is arguably his last truly great score for the film (give or take Mulan).  Unusually for him, it is leitmotivic – each of the main characters gets his own theme, these are each given considerable development over the course of the score, combinations of them forming the basis of many of the cues.

Jerry Goldsmith

The album opens with “The Legend of Camelot”, which is a very stately arrangement of what might be termed the main theme, used throughout the score as an expression of the nobility of Camelot.  Guinevere’s Theme is the score’s most romantic and most frequently used – it’s very beautiful whether Goldsmith is presenting it as a lilting, flute-driven melody or a full-blown, old-fashioned sweeping orchestral statement.  Then there’s Arthur’s Theme, again full of nobility, which provides one stunning moment in the score (more on that, later).  Lancelot’s Theme is adventuresome, heroic – it’s got a certain golden age vibe about it.  It’s one of the most memorable character themes in any score from the 1990s and while it’s the least-used of the main themes in this score, it leaves as much of an impression as the others.

There is scarcely a dull moment in the entire 80-minute score, but some moments are worthy of particular note.  “Promise Me” (note that several cues have been retitled between the original 1995 soundtrack album and this 2011 expansion – so this isn’t the same “Promise Me” as then!) is a striking combination of the Arthur and Guinevere themes, a very beautiful cue.  The same could be said about the cue which used to be called “Promise Me”, now retitled “Camelot Lives”, and composed for the end title.  (A little word here – this cue should not be called “Camelot Lives” – and neither should the cue called “Camelot Lives” on the previous album – in fact what is now, as then, called “Arthur’s Farewell” should be “Camelot Lives” and what was then “Camelot Lives” but is now “Never Surrender” should be called “Arthur’s Farewell” – everyone clear?)

The action music is incredible.  The ability to write great, always-interesting action music is one of the things that set Goldsmith apart from everyone else and there are some first-rate examples here.  Two of them are based around Lancelot’s Theme – “The Gauntlet” is bright and heroic, “Boat Trip” darker and more serious – both are truly exhilarating.  “Night Battle” is relentlessly exciting, the composer using all his tricks to create a great musical thrill-ride.  Best of all is the mis-titled “Arthur’s Farewell”, for the climactic battle scene – Goldsmith unleashes massive choral forces here in a way which recalls The Omen, with the Latin chanting building up to fever pitch, but unlike that score there are massive orchestral forces to go with it.  It’s one of his most memorable six minutes of music.  Finally, the mis-titled “Never Surrender” is another stunner, starting with low-key variations on the Arthur and Camelot themes, gradually building to a gigantic statement of the Camelot Theme as King Arthur’s body drifts off, alight, for his funeral procession.

Even though the film is silly, this gloriously sincere piece from Goldsmith lends an incredible emotional weight to this scene.  It’s a great pity the film isn’t better – this is A-grade, world class film music which deserves a great film to go with it.  Even Zucker admits in the liner notes that the music is the best thing about the film and probably would have got much more praise had it been in a more successful one.  This new release from La-La Land is an essential purchase for fans of Goldsmith and the score – while the original 40-minute album was good for what it was, a huge amount of terrific music was missing from it, including (incredibly) every single appearance of the fantastic Lancelot Theme.  The expanded release is beautifully-produced, the shorter unreleased cues intelligently combined together to provide a terrific listening experience.  Now everyone can marvel at one of the great scores of the 1990s in its full glory.  *****

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  1. Sami (Reply) on Sunday 8 May, 2011 at 12:08

    The old album was one of Goldsmith’s all-time lows as a producer. Favoring only the heavy and sometimes overly clumsy melodramatic cues over the wealth of dynamic and sprawling material misrepresents the whole score.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 8 May, 2011 at 14:09

      I’ve always assumed that the old album was as it was because they could only afford to release 40 minutes, and he thought it was better to concentrate on one aspect of the score rather than try to be representative of the whole thing and the album just end up being bitty. I always liked it as an album, but this new one blows it out of the water.

  2. Sami (Reply) on Thursday 12 May, 2011 at 11:44

    I think it was Jeff Bond who once reported that Epix offered Goldsmith a longer album, but Goldsmith assumed they would faint over the final bill from the AFM and left it at standard length (so the legend goes;).

    I always wondered how James Horner got a whopping 70-minutes from MCA for his CASPER album the very same year. Or any of those albums like CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER or ROCKETEER at a time when Goldsmith rarely got over 30 minutes for not altogether dissimlar film projects.