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  • Composed by Elmer Bernstein
  • Perseverance Records / 2011 / 49:21

A post-apocalyptic science fiction film starring Mark Hamill, Bob Peck and Bill Paxton, from the producer of Star Wars and the director of TronSlipstream was spectacularly unsuccessful on its release in 1989, not even finding its way into cinemas in most countries (including the US) and indeed being released only on poorly-mastered video (and subsequently DVD).  But, for the subsequent two decades and more, people have been crying out for the release of the film’s music, composed by the great Elmer Bernstein.  

When I think of Bernstein I don’t think “science fiction” very quickly, but during the 1980s he did work on several films in the genre, including Spacehunter and Saturn 3.  I have to say, they’re not the kind of Bernstein music I favour (though the latter in particular does feature some very strong material) – I’ve always felt that he was at his finest when writing on a much smaller scale, connecting with the listener on a very human level, often using a very modestly-sized chamber orchestra.  Happily, Slipstream is really in a different league from those two – a dynamic, vibrant score which finds plenty of time for peaceful reflection alongside the grander gestures.

Elmer Bernstein

The album’s opening is portentous, a pair of cues (“Prologue and Pursuit” and “Escape”) offering large-scale, vibrant action music made very colourful through the striking, brilliant main theme.  It’s extremely bold music, muscular and at times aggressive (also in the later “Sacrifice”).  Two other main ideas are explored by the composer.  First, the more ethereal aspects of the story, which receives what might be called “new agey” music conjuring barren images in such a nice way, it could only be the work of Elmer Bernstein; second, there’s a touch of romance, and of course Bernstein could write a mean love theme (though it isn’t heard until the penultimate track, “Android Love”).  These two aspects share one thing in common – the ondes martenot.

I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to suggest that Bernstein may have rather overused the ondes during the final twenty years or so of his career, but equally there’s no denying that at its best – and in a surprisingly wide variety of scores – it provided an extra colour to the composer’s music which was a blessing.  His integration of the instrument into his orchestral palette here is entirely successful, adding as it does a combination of that otherworldly feel with real beauty.  The composer sometimes doubles the instrument with a solo voice – something which only adds to the effect.  Combined with the forces of the London Symphony Orchestra, the music gets the kind of stirring performance it deserves.

I think this is a brilliant album, rather more successful than those aforementioned other science fiction scores from Elmer Bernstein in the 1980s.  I suspect that (with the greatest of respect to the people who produced those albums) it may have something to do with the fact that this one was actually produced by Bernstein himself – this album is (liner notes apart) exactly the one that the composer assembled in 1989 but which was ultimately shelved owing to the film’s poor performance.  Of course, it may just be that the music is better!  In any case, this album’s a treat for Bernstein fans, a dynamic and fully-packed combination of powerful action and intimate beauty.  ****

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  1. Sean Wilson (Reply) on Sunday 24 April, 2011 at 19:17

    Hi James, great review, as ever! Have you heard Bernstein’s Heavy Metal score? That’s a sci-fi effort to rival the very best of Goldsmith, Horner and Williams!

  2. Tim Burden (Reply) on Wednesday 27 April, 2011 at 07:56

    It is!

    No it’s not at all controversial stating that Bernstein overused the ondes, he did! I could never dettach its use from ‘Ghostbusters’, so when it featured in the likes of the far removed ‘My Left Foot’ and ‘Rambling Rose’ etc it distracted me completely.

    I can’t wait to hear ‘Slipstream’, it should arrive this week all being well.

  3. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Thursday 28 April, 2011 at 16:34

    What do you think about the furor over this release that’s going on at FSM?

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 28 April, 2011 at 17:38

    I don’t think all the facts have emerged yet. I do find it a bit distasteful that the dirty laundry is being aired in public – would have been nicer if the full picture was clear before that happened, and I think it is far from clear at the moment.

    I also think – even if this is a “bootleg” – then that is far, far removed from what were once thought of as “bootlegs” in the soundtrack community, ie the CDRs with photocopied inserts like the “Soundtrack Library” series that SAE used to sell for outrageous prices. Though that wouldn’t make it right.