- Composed by Joel McNeely
- Varèse Sarabande / 1994 / 33m
Undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, Deran Sarafian’s 1994 action movie Terminal Velocity starred Charlie Sheen – has there ever been a bad film starring Charlie Sheen? – and Nastassja Kinski. Sheen’s character is called Ditch Brodie. Let me repeat: Ditch Brodie. He plays a skydiving instructor who doesn’t notice that his student (who happens to be a former KGB agent, and beautiful) jumps out of the plane without him. They end up trying to stop the Russian mafia, as you do. Rarely since the heyday of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker has a motion picture crammed so many gags in per minute – it’s a joy to behold.
Along for the ride and providing sturdy (and entirely serious) musical support was Joel McNeely, not long into his career as a film composer at that time. A few years later he would provide one of the most entertaining action scores of the 1990s for another of the decade’s worst action movies (Soldier) and while this isn’t quite at that level, it’s really not far behind. The composer did have something of a reputation at the time for his very able impersonations of John Williams in some of his scores and there’s a bit of that here, but really – does anyone mind someone trying to sound a bit like John Williams?
The album’s first couple of cues present very different takes on its main theme, a muscular but surprisingly low-key melody introduced in dark fashion in “Desert Landing” before taking up its more usual guise in the stylish guitar-laden “Aerial Ballet”. A second theme, full of Copland-esque Americana and dripping with patriotism, is introduced in “Airborne”. It’s fine music, perhaps so far a little more in the wake of Jerry Goldsmith than John Williams (particularly Chain Reaction, though for McNeely to have copied that would have been truly impressive since it hadn’t even been written yet).
The score’s real attraction comes from its three spectacular action set-pieces in the middle of the album – “The Second Plane”, “Christa is Caught” and in particular “Cadillac Freefall”. It’s here that the Williams influence is felt – in particular Raiders of the Lost Ark – but this isn’t blind temp-track copying, McNeely brings an awful lot to the table himself. The music is bold, brassy and ballsy, muscular and masculine and hugely satisfying. The orchestration is so intricate, allowed to shine thanks to Shawn Murphy’s recording; and for all Williams’s well-acknowledged brilliance, actually it’s been surprisingly rare over the years to hear anyone trying to write a film score in his style, so it’s a treat to hear McNeely do it so well.
The score concludes with the attractive, rousing “Russian Gold” before a proper end credits piece which focuses on the terrific main themes and brings proper closure to the score. Terminal Velocity is a hugely entertaining action score with a very well-done album presentation that sees me frequently returning. It’s not the most original thing in the world but frankly it’s hard to care when the result is this enjoyable.