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  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Retrograde Records / 2011 / Complete score + bonus 76:01 / Original album 31:25

Joe Dante’s brilliant Gremlins was a real cornerstone of 1980s movie fun for the younger me, a favourite from the first moment I saw it.  Dante’s wonderfully black humour, the subversiveness, even the nods to classic films which I was probably too young to fully appreciate, I loved all of it.  It’s still very funny today – maybe not quite as much as its darker, even more subversive sequel – but it holds up well.  Dante had just finished making his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie when he moved on to this project – he supervised the scoring of all of that film, which was of course his introduction to Jerry Goldsmith, who went on to score eight more movies for the director, in the most prolific relationship he had with any filmmaker over the last couple of decades of his career.

Goldsmith’s own wickedly dark sense of humour was simply a perfect match to Dante and – allied with the creativity on display here, Gremlins is almost certainly his finest comedy score and finest Dante score.  This came in the middle of the composer’s most electronic-heavy period and there are keyboards everywhere in the score – the glorious main theme, which might just be the composer’s catchiest, is an all-electronic rag – and I can’t imagine there’s ever been another hour’s worth of music which contains quite so many synthesised cat meows – but it’s done with such enthusiasm, such an obvious smile on the face, that even the slightly dated sound proves no problem whatsoever for me.

Jerry Goldsmith's brief appearance in Gremlins

The score has so many great themes.  It’s not just the Gremlins Rag – but that is truly a great theme – there’s the hilarious dirge for Mrs Deagle, the incredibly sweet Gizmo’s Theme, an heroic secondary theme for the character’s moments of action later on in the film and, my favourite of all, the blustery, brilliant “Late for Work”, for pizzicato strings and muted trombones, a delightfully rambunctuous portrait of innocent suburbia (and a template followed later by the composer for one of the themes in Dante’s The Burbs).

Some of the wilder action sequences are greeted with surprisingly complex music.  The brilliant “Kitchen Fight”  contains some violent music to accompany increasingly violent departures for gremlins, including one who reaches a rather sticky end in a food processor.  “Too Many Gremlins” demonstrates in two minutes the magnificently silly creativity on offer – Goldsmith moves from a Stravinsky-esque macabre solo violin through the synthesised cats to a dynamic version of the main theme to some vintage orchestral action music.  That vintage action music style is in full flow during the score’s later sections, “The Fountain / Stripe’s Death” being a particular highlight.

This is a score which is completely endearing from start to finish.  It is rare that a film composer manages to inject such a range of humour – ranging from genuine wit to outright silliness – into a score and also manage to sound completely sincere in the more dramatic passages.  But then – Jerry Goldsmith was a rare film composer.  This wonderful score finally gets its first proper CD release, the entire score plus bonus tracks on the first disc and the very brief original album on the second – and it works brilliantly in its complete form, revealing so much more than the old LP did.  Sound quality is first-rate and there are excellent liner notes, including a new interview with the director and a nice reminiscence from Bruce Botnick.  Go on – play it after midnight.  ****

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  1. Mikael Carlsson (Reply) on Saturday 21 January, 2012 at 21:29

    Should it not be 5 stars, really?

  2. Jamie (Reply) on Saturday 19 January, 2013 at 01:32

    @mikael carlsson – No it should NOT be 5 stars. That douche bag Lukass Kendal decided he’d put both discs out when most of us already owned the song version. Thus overpricing the disc and forcing us to pay import tax. Needless to say I didn’t buy it, but there’s always youtube to rip the whole score from.