- Composed by James Horner
- Virgin Records / 1988 / 44m
According to an interview at the time Red Heat was released, director Walter Hill had long wanted to make a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger but was concerned that American audiences would struggle to take him seriously in a dramatic role as an American because of his accent. The solution to this problem was, with hindsight, quite obvious – cast him as a Russian instead and team him up with Jim Belushi in the hunt for a Soviet drug kingpin in Chicago.
Scoring his second buddy cop movie for Hill (after 48 Hrs.) was James Horner, who had firmly established himself as a serious and versatile film composer by then. In 1989 Hill told The Irish Times “I told James I wanted something like you’re in the Olympics and you’ve just won a gold medal. I wanted something heroic.” Horner evidently ignored this entirely and wrote 48 Hrs. again instead, with another installment of his very effective 80s action sound which is about as far from something like you’re in the Olympics and you’ve just won a gold medal as you can get.
The score is bookended with something else entirely. The main title is a glorious Russian choral piece, the choir singing “Philosophy” for no obvious reason until it clicks that it’s actually from Prokofiev’s “Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution”, uncredited. Right at the end Horner brings in his own little suspenseful orchestral hits. It’s a great piece of music regardless of its origins but completely incongruous when placed alongside the rest of the score.
That begins with the excellent if brief “Russian Streets”, firmly in that action style which originated in 48 Hrs. and went through Gorky Park and Commando on its way here, (in this case synthesised) steel drums and all. Then in “Cleanhead Bust” Horner firmly enters jazz fusion territory, the barking sax bringing with it real atmosphere but it gets surprisingly hardcore at times (the dissonant blasts against the rumbling low-end piano and keyboards are downright bizarre) and is a style which is very much an acquired taste and it’s a taste I can’t say I have ever acquired. How he thought of scoring a dumb action comedy like that I don’t know; it certainly works but isn’t my cup of tea.
“Victor Escapes” is a very dark piece of action/suspense, synth percussion hits giving an uncomfortable opening and the tension ratchets up further with the blasts from the shakuhachi. “Tailing Kat / The Set-Up” is a long cue of two distinct parts (so I don’t really know why they were combined), the first more of the entertaining action style and then the second an almost interminable passage of suspense in which barely anything happens. “Hospital Chase” is a very (very) 1980s action cue, with its synths, piano and shakuhachi; again Horner goes into pretty dark territory, again it’s hard to really appreciate on album. “The Hotel” is surprisingly evocative, a little synth phrase introduced late in the previous cue given a much deeper exploration, but it’s so sparse and minimalistic until the action kicks in for the second half. At almost ten minutes, “Bus Station” is the longest cue on the album but it meanders along without offering much new. Finally Horner brings things to a close with a reprise of the Prokofiev for the end credits, adding a bit more of himself to it this time.
Red Heat is a perfectly functional film score but on the album you’ve basically got a brilliant piece of Prokofiev bookending some action/suspense music that was done better by Horner in other scores of the era. It’s easy to deride this style but it was hugely effective in the films and actually one of the most creative styles the composer came up with; but what attracts me and others to his most popular music is the timeless quality there and scores like this one certainly don’t have that. It’s got big curiosity value and parts are great fun but probably not enough to justify paying the large price the rare album usually commands these days.