- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- La-La Land Records / 2013 / 76m (score 61m)
Jerry Goldsmith’s relationship with director John Frankenheimer was particularly sporadic; they worked together on two films in the 1960s, Seven Days in May and Seconds, but their paths would not cross again until 1982’s The Challenge. It was actually the final completed collaboration – Goldsmith was attached to two of the director’s later movies, Ronin and Reindeer Games, but left both before recording a score. The Challenge concerns two Japanese brothers in a blood feud after one abandons the traditional ways of the past, much to his brother’s disgust. Frankenheimer was clearly trying to pay homage to Kurasawa and the like (even casting Toshiro Mifune), drawing upon all the strong traditions of Japanese cinema; but in truth the film really isn’t very good.
Goldsmith went to Japan once before, in Tora! Tora! Tora!, and occasionally explores fairly similar musical territory here, but by and large this is more “standard” Goldsmith action movie fare. The main title cue is a somewhat gentle piece, introducing the main theme on various exotic woodwind – there seems to be a profound sadness to it. This is very much the calm before the storm, since following immediately are two ferociously intense pieces of action music. “The Wrong Sword” is particularly fine, with Goldsmith blending his familiar action style with eastern elements for very satisfying results. There’s a powerful array of percussion on display – a Capricorn One-style ostinato driving things along – and you even get to hear the controversial mixing bowls if you listen to the alternative (Goldsmith-preferred) take of the cue heard in the bonus track section.
Notable though is how strong the music is when the action is taking a back seat, such as in “Half an Equal”, a moving piece full of mourning and sorrow, blending emotional string writing with winds. It’s a gorgeous piece of music. A more romantic theme is introduced in “Let’s Talk”, a really lovely melody. Action actually takes a back seat during the lengthy middle section of the score, the composer (and of course film) focusing more on subtler development of suspense and drama – and occasionally romantic – material, much of which is built from various fragments of the main theme, with ethnic colour coming from the shakuhachi flute and koto. There’s some strong music there, but after a while some impatient listeners – particularly those expecting an all-out action score – may be tempted to start skipping ahead.
The action returns in “Double Cross / Bamboo Forest”, six minutes of beautifully-painted music that showcases Goldsmith at his best, the breathless excitement giving way to vivid colours drawn by the ethnic instrumentation. “The Traitor” features some ferocious action material, the brass section in particular getting a real workout. “Surprise Visitor / Forced Entry” features a more suspenseful type of action music, in that familiar Goldsmith stop-start style. “No Defence” is another very strong action piece, full of energy and excitement, and there’s another to kick off the end title cue which follows.
The Challenge came at an interesting time in the composer’s career, because this was a in a brief period when he left behind the pared-down orchestrations which would dominate much of his action music of the 1970s and then do so again in later years, particularly as he accommodated more electronics into his music – here the orchestra is big, there are so many layers of detail, everything sounds so rich and full. The album does sag in the middle, but not too badly, and it’s an entertaining listen even if it’s not quite up to the incredible standards of some of the other scores from this glorious period in the composer’s career. La-La Land’s 2013 album offers improved sound over the previous Prometheus release and a new set of liner notes, but aside from a couple of alternative versions of cues there’s no new music.
Rating: *** 1/2