- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- Varèse Sarabande / 1992 / 50m
John McTiernan’s unloved 1992 film Medicine Man stars Sean Connery as a scientist who believes he has found a cure for cancer deep in the South American jungle, but he has to battle first his unbelieving assistant (Lorraine Bracco) and then the onslaught of nasty white men chopping the rainforest down to build a road. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the film, which is nowhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest; in fact it’s pretty entertaining and Connery is as watchable as ever. His “ageing hippy” hairstyle in the film was inspired by none other than Jerry Goldsmith – Connery saw him after The Russia House, when Goldsmith had just grown his ponytail, and said “Jerry, I want your hair!” ”Well, you can’t have it,” replied Goldsmith. But he did have it, and Goldsmith receives an amusing “Hairstyle designer” credit in the film.
Goldsmith’s other service to the film came in writing its score, which is wonderful. It came in that period of his career (by which I mean after 1983) when if you believed the majority of film music writers, virtually everything he did was terrible. Looking back now it’s very hard to understand why so many people reached that conclusion and Medicine Man is an excellent score bolstered by a number of very strong, very memorable themes, plenty of emotion and excitement and above all, oodles of fun.
The score opens with “Rae’s Arrival”, presenting the chirpy theme for Bracco’s character, which has a vaguely Caribbean feel with what sound like synthesised steel drums. It’s a fabulous theme, one you’ll probably find yourself whistling for hours every time you hear it. The cue also introduces the score’s main action theme, a strident horn theme usually accompanied by an array of percussion both real and synthesised. For this first appearance it’s dramatic, but nowhere near as dark as it will become later in the score.
“First Morning” sees Goldsmith introduce a lovely theme representing the tribal village where the western scientists live, synth effects adding considerable flavour to the expressive orchestra. ”Campbell and the Children” briefly reprises that theme before the score’s real pride and joy is heard for the first time, a beautifully expansive theme which is used in the film to represent the two loves of Connery’s life – first the rainforest itself then, later in the film, Bracco. This theme is heard at its best in the incredible “The Trees”, which begins with the secondary part to the melody heard with various rainforest-like synth effects (water droplets and so forth) before the primary melody soars away in the strings, reaching monumental proportions at one point.
“Harvest” sees a return first for the village theme before a brief passage for guitar brings in a reprise of Rae’s Theme, this time complete with synthesised pan pipes. It sounds awful when I write those words, but really, it works brilliantly. Things go darker in “Mocara”, the action theme heard in its serious guise for the first time, then a contemplative passage filled with real sadness and an unmistakable feeling of regret. The same melody that appears in action theme is then heard in a radically different guise in “Mountain High” – this time it’s light, airy, soft, gentle, playful, delightful. ”Without a Net” by contrast is for its first half dark, tense and unsettling before the playful music returns for its second. ”Finger Painting” returns to the glorious love theme for a while before the action theme is heard again, this time with a great added sense of mystery, representing dark tribal shenanigans.
A dynamic energy is added to the village theme in its appearance in “What’s Wrong?” (synth pan pipes again!) – then it gets a more ethereal feel in “The Injection”, hints of the action theme playing in counterpoint. ”The Sugar” brings in first the love theme before a more dramatic passage of material leads into a delightful little cameo for guitars and pan pipes. ”The Fire” is by far the darkest cue of all, a full-bodied and energetic arrangement of the action theme.
The lengthy, eight-minute finale “A Meal and a Bath” reprises all of the score’s major themes and is a perfect way to end the album. Medicine Man is one of those albums that it’s hard to imagine people not liking, but which perhaps people don’t think is “serious” enough to warrant a mention when they list their Goldsmith favourites. I think it’s one of the most satisfying works of the last decade or so of his career, built from a wonderful core of memorable thematic material and I suspect even the crusty curmudgeons who dismissed everything the composer did in those days would change their assessment if they heard it today. The same year, 1992, he wrote the brilliant Basic Instinct (which really was given the praise it deserved at the time); Medicine Man is of course completely different but similarly brilliant, showing that even at this point in his career, Jerry Goldsmith was actually still producing hugely varied and diverse output.