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  • china_syndromeComposed by Michael Small
  • Intrada Special Collection Vol 110 / 2009 / 37:33

At the time, Michael Small must have seemed like perfect composer casting for The China Syndrome, James Bridges’s conspiracy thriller about a cover-up at a nuclear power station in California.  (Through a bizarre twist of fate, the film was released just twelve days before the real-life accident at a plant in Pennsylvania.)  Small had, along with David Shire and Jerry Goldsmith, more than proved his credentials on paranoid thrillers (classics like Klute, The Parallax View and Marathon Man were already under his belt) – his distinctive, taut music being a perfect match.  The China Syndrome is musically very famous – because it doesn’t have any music in it!  When Small’s music was being added to the film, it was decided that actually it played off as being much more tense and tight without it – and the film does indeed work very well in its current state.

Intrada has now given us the chance to hear Small’s score for the very first time.  Of course, it’s very taut and full of suspense – Small emphasising brass and percussion to create a hugely effective atmosphere.  The highlight is undoubtedly “Meltdown!”, the one cue in which the composer allows the music to simply explode – it’s a brilliant piece of action scoring, chaotic and nerve-wracking at the same time.  Nothing in the rest of the score is nearly so expansive – nor nearly so enjoyable.  Small’s way of generating tension is quite brilliant, but it doesn’t really work as a listening experience – while on the first run through the album, the listener might be so impressed by the composer’s brilliance at writing unnerving music that it doesn’t really matter, it’s hard to imagine many people coming back for more.  This is hugely effective dramatic music – so effective, it’s very hard to enjoy on the CD (apart from the aforementioned action piece).  Oh – and the synths are awful!  I’m very pleased to have heard the music – and there’s no doubt how well Small did his job – but sadly I can see this one gathering dust on quite a few shelves.  **

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