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Rambo: First Blood Part II
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Intrada / 140m (score 62m)

If First Blood was unexpectedly thoughtful for a 1980s action thriller then its sequels certainly weren’t. The first of them saw star Sylvester Stallone team up with James Cameron to write the screenplay, which took John Rambo back to Vietnam to locate and release some US prisoners of war still being held. It’s peak Reagan-era ludicrousness, but remains very popular.

Jerry Goldsmith worked on many sequels to his own prior films during his career and it’s interesting how differently he approached sequels most of the time, compared with any other film composer I can think of – almost always he would steer clear of just rehashing his previous score and make sure the sequels got distinct sounds of their own.

Jerry Goldsmith

That’s certainly the case with Rambo II (in fairness, the films themselves are not really very alike either). Whereas for the first film he wrote a gritty action/suspense effort anchored by an outstanding main theme diving deep into the character and dripping with emotion, for the second it was pretty much action all the way.

The main title highlights two new themes – first an insanely catchy vaguely “oriental” theme for synth keyboard, then the brilliant new theme for Rambo himself. The first film’s theme was perfect for the character as he was then – longing, lost, determined – and this one’s perfect for him as he is now – muscular, aggressive, heroic. It’s not subtle, but it’s brilliant.

The score is almost non-stop action and Goldsmith builds all the cues from some combination of that new main theme, the B-variant on the first score’s theme, very occasionally that theme itself, the rhythm of the opening cue’s oriental theme, the five-note action motif and eight-note heroic motif from the first score and a new rhythmic action motif.

It’s all full-bodied with big orchestration – joined in this score by much more prominent electronics, including the legendary electronic fart noise. It’s hard to pick out highlights because essentially everything is very strong, but a couple of cues do stand out – “Escape From Torture” is so relentlessly exciting you feel like you’ve done an hour at the gym when it finishes, “Village Attack / Helictoper Fight” is almost as good and the rousing “Home Flight” is nothing short of glorious, including a spectacular burst of the original First Blood theme.

Very occasionally there’s a pause for breath – “Stories” (bizarrely retitled “Stories / Percussion (overlay)” on the most recent release) is the prime example – a gorgeous, warm piece which includes some fresh thematic material. The finale, “Day By Day”, with its wistful take on the “It’s a Long Road” theme is also very impressive.

There have been three CD releases of the score – the initial one was a good representation at 45 minutes, later Silva Screen bumped that up to almost the entire score at 60 minutes, and finally Intrada came along with the definitive release. There are only a few seconds of extra music on the first disc really and then when you first look, the second disc appears to be essentially the same as the first (which reminded me of a joke film music press release I wrote a few years back, when I announced that disc two precisely replicated the contents of disc one) but apparently the score has a different mix on the second disc, so there you go (the reasons for padding these things out to multiple discs are sometimes tenuous at best).

There is something of value on that second disc though – an unused orchestral end credits piece (replaced by the amusing Frank Stallone song “Peace In Our Life” in the film) which actually includes another new theme which isn’t heard elsewhere in the score. Sadly the sound quality is very poor, but it’s great to hear it. (Intrada’s album does contain unusually impressive liner notes for a Goldsmith score.) It’s one of the ultimate 1980s action scores, hugely entertaining, and whichever version you get, you can’t go wrong – it’s Jerry Goldsmith at the peak of his action music powers.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Rory (Reply) on Monday 30 September, 2019 at 01:43

    “…including the legendary electronic fart noise…” Hey, Remote Control had to get it from somewhere.

    Honestly, though. For as curmudgeonly as Goldsmith could be I’d say few, if any, truly rivaled his musical sense of humor.