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The River Wild
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Intrada / 2015 / 79m (score 62m)

A surprisingly good “family in distress” action film, The River Wild sees action heroine Gail (Meryl Streep) go off for a nice trip along the river with husband David Strathairn and their son, only to find themselves – as often happens on family vacations – being terrorised by Kevin Bacon.  Still, the right people get shot and everyone you’d want to be is fine and happy at the end (well, everyone apart from Maurice Jarre), sadly including the irritating boy.  (By the way, perhaps the best thing to happen as a result of the movie is this website, showing Gail’s diary from the trip.)

The reason Maurice Jarre wasn’t happy at the end is that his score was dumped following a test screening and Jerry Goldsmith was brought in to save the day, the first of three times the veteran composer did so during the 1990s (the next time he would also be replacing the unfortunate Jarre, on First Knight).  Fred Karlin’s documentary about Goldsmith included a focus on the recording sessions for this movie, including Goldsmith saying “I wish I wrote it” after footage of him conducting his main theme (“Gail’s Theme” on the original album – retitled to “Practice” for this release – am I the only one who gets mildly upset at things like that?)

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

There are two ways of interpreting Goldsmith’s comment about the main theme, which is based on the folk song “The Water Is Wide”.  Fairly obviously what he meant was that it’s a good tune, he wished that he could say he had written it; but I’ll plump for the other alternative and say that I wish he could have written his own main theme rather than using that.  It’s a sweet melody and its Rudy-style arrangement is gorgeous but why hire film music’s greatest tunesmith and then not have him write his own theme for the film, specific to it?  It’s fine for the opening sequence when everything’s nice and sunny and happy but its inappropriateness for the bulk of the film meant Goldsmith wasn’t able to weave it through his action music the way he usually did in films like this.  Still – it really is a lovely tune, so I won’t moan on any more.

After the bucolic, pastoral opening sequences of the score, where Gail’s Theme dominates, gently weaving its way around the winds often with twinkly keyboard accompaniment and some Medicine Man-style “great outdoors synths”, interrupted in the middle by the action cue “Wade’s Over” in which the composer introduces his main action theme, quite a muscular, Rambo-esque figure that’s very satisfying, which is more than can be said for the awful synth percussion hits that rear their ugly head from time to time throughout the score.

Things take a turn in the ironically-titled “All Is Well”, which leads into the main body of the score, which is dominated by action and suspense, the calm is left behind.  It’s standard 1990s Goldsmith action fayre – generally fast-paced, at times aggressive, brass and percussion hits over surging strings; suspenseful punctuation coming from little wind figures, pizzicato strings.  This composer was the best there’s ever been at that kind of music, but with one or two exceptions (“Do It!” is a very impressive self-contained action piece) The River Wild is probably towards the bottom end of the range, competently and professionally getting the job done but not blessed with the kind of magic that mark out so many of Goldsmith’s scores.  The suspense material is a bit similar to but not nearly as good as The Edge, another outdoors action movie Goldsmith would do a few years later.  The best track is undoubtedly the ten-minute finale “Vacation’s Over”, in which most of the score’s main ideas other than the main theme get a run-out.  I love the heroic conclusion.  The piece is so well-structured and plays so well with the picture.  For the end titles (“Family Reunion”), we get lovely warm orchestral passage from Goldsmith which blends (as on the original album) into a vocal version of “The Water Is Wide” sung by the Cowboy Junkies which in turn blends into a last reprise of Goldsmith’s orchestral take on the tune.  I wish they had been separated so the song could be ditched and the Goldsmith parts of the cue could be stuck on the appropriate playlist; I know they were composed to be heard this way, but still.

Intrada’s album greatly expands the original album’s score offering (an extra forty minutes here, including some alternative versions of cues) – not much of the new material feels particularly essential but as ever with a Goldsmith expansion, neither does anything feel redundant.  It’s not a vintage Goldsmith score by any means but lower-tier Jerry Goldsmith is still worth hearing.  Of greatest interest on the expanded album is probably the premiere release of Maurice Jarre’s rejected score, reviewed separately.

Rating: ***

See also: The River Wild Maurice Jarre (rejected score) | |

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