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Artwork copyright (c) 1997 Beacon Communications Corp; review copyright (c) 2000 James Southall
AIR FORCE ONCE
Loud, unsubtle and exciting action score by the master
Just think about this for a moment: Jerry Goldsmith had to write and record the score for Air Force One in less than two weeks. That's incredible. It means he had to view the film, sit with the director and spot it, go away and write a major theme, and several other motifs, book an orchestra, get the rest of his team in place, and then start to record it during the day while he was still writing other parts at night, in under 14 days. That's extraordinary. Because even Goldsmith couldn't write 90 minutes of music in this time, Joel McNeely was drafted to write additional music, based on Goldsmith's; Joel Goldsmith, the composer's son, was the first choice, but was unavailable.
What is all the more incredible is that Goldsmith's score is actually good. The main theme definitely recalls Star Trek: First Contact, but is rather more bombastic, and absurdly patriotic; it occurs rather a lot in the (unfortunately brief) album. "The Hijacking", almost eight minutes long, is certainly the album's highlight - a typical Goldsmith action cue, this is even longer and more complex than most, as he states and restates his melodic material, gradually changing it each time; this confirms Goldsmith's position as the king of action music. It might induce your ears to bleed if you listen too often, but it is undeniably extraordinarily exciting music.
The reason Goldsmith had so little time to write the score was because he was a last-minute replacement for Randy Newman on the picture. Newman's rejected score has shown up on the collectors' circuit as a promo, and is certainly a more varied listening experience. Because the movie is so absurd, Newman (being Newman) wrote a score that simply mocks the visuals; unfortunately for him, the director caught him playing this dangerous game, and fired him. This is rather unfortunate for us, too, because Newman demonstrated that he's a fine composer of action music, which was ironically not a million miles from what Goldsmith would ultimately write.
Varèse, because of budgetary reasons, were unable to include a Russian choral piece that Goldsmith wrote, and chose (probably wisely) not to include any of Joel McNeely's additional music, which has itself been issued by the composer as a promo. McNeely's score is very similar to Goldsmith's - most of it is based entirely around Goldsmith's themes. Actually, McNeely's participation allows the viewer to gauge just how good Goldsmith actually is - to the hardened film music fan, it is blindingly obvious which parts of the film are scored by McNeely, because the music seems so much less part of the film, whereas Goldsmith's always blends seamlessly with the visuals. In fact, most of the McNeely-scored scenes really needed no music at all, and I am sure this was in Goldsmith's mind when the two composers decided which of them should score which scenes.
Air Force One is hardly a challenging listen, but if you fancy a headache once in a while (did I mention how damn loud it is?), give it a whirl.