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Small Soldiers
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande CD Club / 76m

I love Joe Dante – everyone loves Joe Dante.  I’ve always thought his best two films were Gremlins 2 and Matinée, made consecutively – but neither was a particular success and he found himself working in television for a while afterwards.  His return to bigger things came in 1998 with Small Soldiers, one of the first releases from the fledgling Dreamworks studio.  A kind of cross between Gremlins and Toy Story, the film sees two groups of toys (the soldiers and the Gorgonites) fighting each other against the usual Dante backdrop of suburbia.  I remember it being fairly entertaining, if lacking the more subversive humour of Dante’s better films, but I haven’t seen it since its release.

Dante was one of the most frequent directorial collaborators with Jerry Goldsmith over the last couple of decades of the legendary composer’s career.  His scores for the director generally combine real warmth with zany comedic touches and plenty of catchy tunes – and Small Soldiers is no exception.  It’s initial album release at the time was very entertaining, but in common with most US-recorded soundtracks of the day was rather brief and omitted some fine material; this new limited edition includes the whole 68-minute score plus various bonus tracks.

Jerry Goldsmith

There are several fine themes running through the score.  The Commando Elite (the toy soldiers) get the best one, a rousing march which Goldsmith described at the time as “the new Patton march” (the real one actually appears in the film under a parody of the famous George C. Scott speech).  It’s the second Joe Dante movie for which Goldsmith wrote a nod to his own famous theme – a more overt, direct parody of it appears in The ‘Burbs.  It appears in full in the brilliant “Assembly Line”, which opened the earlier album but is only the third track on this one – the brief opening track here, “Globotech”, plays over the studio logos and is mostly a military snare piece but there’s just the briefest burst of the familiar theme at the end.

An action motif opens the previously-unreleased “He’s Here / Chip Hazard / Just Toys”, a bright and colourful figure; the middle part features one of the score’s signature devices, an electric guitar riff (very similar to one in Chain Reaction) used to represent the tough-guy lead of the soldier toys.  The brilliant “Assembly Line” itself comes next – be prepared, after twenty years of listening to it, for a bit of a surprise after the main thematic part ends, because it doesn’t segue into what it used to – instead it goes into a lovely little “suburban bliss” piece that is really the signature sound of the Goldsmith/Dante scores.  What used to end “Assembly Line” now appears instead in “Alan’s Town” – another lovely, choppy little piece of magic (Alan’s theme) which leads up to some trademark Goldsmith horns at the end.

The synth effect at the start of “The Boxes / Off the Truck” is very similar to one in Star Trek: Insurrection (released the same year); the piece cycles through a few melodic segments, including some nice bursts of the soldiers’ theme.  The first half of “Gorgonite Scum / Almost Gold” is quite an aggressive piece of suspense, which ironically leads into the first appearance of the gorgeous love theme, which is almost impossibly warm and lovely.

“Roll Call” – from the original album – opens with a reprise of Alan’s theme and then sees the composer going through some fairly light, playful material which eventually leads to a delightful trumpet solo, suggesting a great longing.  The electric guitar returns with some strident brass music to lead us into one of the score’s main themes, which is the very familiar “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, peppered wittily throughout the score.  “Alan and Archer” opens with that “longing” theme from the previous cue given a much fuller arrangement, and it’s really beautiful; we return to a more playful style midway through the piece and finally hear the fairly comic little theme for the Gorgonites which has always reminded me a bit (superficially) of Franz Waxman.

A fairly desolate sound is heard in the previously-unreleased opening to “Destruction / Branded” before we come to the set of variations on the love theme which dominates the latter piece (familiar from the original album).  “Prepare for Assault” is a brilliant piece of action music – a very bold militaristic motif drawn from the soldiers’ theme goes through a set of variations before we reach the main action idea, a brilliantly bold trumpet line playing over the counterpoint from “Assembly Line” and the familiar 90s Goldsmith stereo-bouncing drum pads.  The action continues into “Special Design”, with an unusual percussion device (familiar to fans of the composer from Wild Rovers of all things) running through much of the opening half of the cue, which then explodes into life with a battery of drums (both real and synthetic) and then the soldiers’ theme on horns and trombones, accompanied here by a piercing synth percussion effect.

Much of the music in those opening eleven cues was included on the previous album; but from this point forward, the vast majority is previously-unreleased.  “Talk to Me / Not Found” features a busy little theme that occurs later on, too (not quite sure what it represents), a horn version of “When Johnny…” and even the Last Post.  “Team Gorgonite” reprises that busy theme, which leads into a somewhat muted version of the Gorgonites’ theme.  Three very short cues are joined together in “Phone Wires / Gorgon / Top of the Stairs” (the highlight being a warm secondary theme for the aliens, representing their search for their home, in the middle); then comes the suspenseful “Stand Down / Negative Target”.  Something a bit different in “The New Army / Brain Chip”: jazz!  Don’t worry, it segues incongruously into a version of the soldiers’ theme with synth choir accompaniment, just as any good Joe Dante score should.

Next up on the album we have a bit of vintage monster movie music, with a new recording of a bit of Franz Waxman’s The Bride of Frankenstein (called “Bombshelley”).  I’d probably have left it for the bonus track section, but it’s nice to have it released.  The Gorgonites’ search theme is the highlight of the lovely “The Wind”, and then we’re into a brilliant quartet of action tracks.  The trademark Goldsmith low-end piano is out in full force in the darkly comic “The Gwendys / Terms of Surrender”, then the militaristic “The Trojan Box / Rocket Entry” ratchets up the tension, leading into “Gwendys Attack”, including a subtle little in-joke musical reference to First Blood before exploding into ferocious, full-bodied action at the end.  Finally, “This is Fun” more than lives up to its name, initially continuing the action from the previous cue before launching into a sweep through various thematic material (it’s one of the best of the newly-released cues).

A further trio of very short cues is combined in “Toast / Down the River / Lost Battle” (which includes the Last Post, again, “When Johnny…” again and also a nice synth choir-dominated piece of suspense, which is new).  “I’m Scared” is familiar from the original album: a mix of action/suspense with the Gorgonites’ searching theme and a boisterous version of the soldiers’ theme.  “Negotiations” goes through some interesting suspense material before the terrific “Fire in the Hole”, with some fast-paced action including a very welcome reprise of the fight motif from “Prepare for Assault” and a very unexpected new one (with a bit of a Slavic feel).

We start the final portion of the score in the fantastic “Trust Me”, which opens with the wonderfully catchy opening riff from “Assembly Line” – this builds and builds up to a frenetic action variant on the soldiers’ theme, the fight motif and finally the Gorgonites’ theme.  There’s one final newly-released treat, “No Prisoners” (by far the longest of the new tracks) – a new action motif in it, too (“Ride of the Valkyries” playing in counterpoint to the soldiers’ theme!)  It’s very entertaining, with lots of ferocious action and witty little touches (I love the way the Gorgonites’ theme is used – full-on “Ride to Dubno” style).  After the dramatic “Chip Dies / Cleaning Up” we come to the gorgeous, rousing finale “Off to Gorgon”, with sweeping versions of the searching theme and the love theme leading one into the other, vintage Hollywood style.

After the score, a few alternative versions of cues are heard and finally a couple of pieces of source music, including Goldsmith’s hilarious disco version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – can’t believe that after twenty years, we’ve got that on an album.  Small Soldiers is a really fun, entertaining score and it might surprise you just how deep its thematic base is.  While the old album was great, it did miss off some important material, and it’s great to have that available now.  As with all Goldsmith scores of the era, Bruce Botnick’s recording is spectacular and it has never sounded better than it does now.  You know you need to get it!

Rating: **** | |

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  1. ANDRE>>Cape Town (Reply) on Tuesday 3 July, 2018 at 23:29

    I’ve got a copy of the original CD release…and listened to it once. However, your review is so positive that I’ll have to dig it out and rediscover the GOLDSMITH magic again. The Tadlow Label’s James Fitzpatrick recently released two separate CDs of JERRY’S music for NBC’s ‘THRILLER’ series that aired in the early 1960s. Boris Karloff introduced tales of “terror and suspense” that were scored by two new composers on the block, viz> GOLDSMTH and JOHN WILLIAMS….both musos were given free rein to experiment with new musical stylisations. Thus the reconstructed and re-recorded music hints at the signature GOLDSMITHIAN music that we love and admire. And Hollywood honoured JERRY with his first Emmy nomination for ‘THRILLER’ way back in 1961. There’s very little that I wish to listen to repeatedly, but as a film music collector, I’m thankful for these recordings of a young GOLDSMITH unleashing his genius.

  2. ANDRE>>Cape Town (Reply) on Sunday 8 July, 2018 at 23:40

    My favourite counterpoint, James, is the start of the heroic theme vyeing with Johnny Comes Marching Home–and eventually that gorgeous, heartfelt Americana classic is given a symphonic,Goldsmithian rendering that is superb. And the audio quality on my original album is magnificent, so the remastering for this expanded release must be a dynamic sensory experience. I was so impressed with GOLDSMITH’S interpretation of Johnny Comes Marching Home that I just had to listen again to ALFRED NEWMAN’S version for How the West Was Won—viz, the Entr’acte on Disc 2, Track 1 (The Expanded, remastered Album). It’s a showpiece Symphonic & Choral (Ken Derby’s Singers) extravaganza, along with NEWMAN’S original themes and Americana adaptations.