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BCD 3027

Artwork copyright (c) 1978 MGM; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Textbook suspense score


An effective and unsettling medical thriller, Coma starred Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas and was released to some acclaim in 1978.  It was the second collaboration between director Michael Crichton and composer Jerry Goldsmith, after the little-known tv movie Pursuit.  It's not a collaboration spoken of very often, but produced many fine scores, not least The Great Train Robbery or, indeed, their most recent work together, The 13th Warrior.  Notable is how very different each of Goldsmith's scores for Crichton is; Coma is the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding.  Intriguingly, Goldsmith left the first half of the movie unscored, only introducing music during its second half.

The album opens rather deceptively with the pop arrangement of the "Love Theme", akin to the similar track on Logan's Run.  It's quite nice, in a kitschy kind of way, but couldn't be further from the sensibilities of the score as a whole, introduced in the tense and edgy "Study in Anatomy".  This is dissonant, eerie music of great depth but with barely a hint of melody throughout.  The cue is called "Study in Anatomy" - the score as a whole could easily be subtitled "Study in Suspense Music" and used to educate wannabe film composers.  With an orchestra dominated by violins, piano and brass, Goldsmith creates an atmosphere of pure terror, quite unremitting and as scary as anything he wrote for out-and-out horror movies, if not moreso.

A subtle melody is introduced in "Jefferson Institute", but it is a cold and menacing one, similar in some ways to Alien; and it alternates with some piercing piano runs, both thrilling and chilling.  The seedy, dark picture continues in "A Chance Encounter", with Goldsmith piling on the tension in more and more ingenious ways, this time adding pizzicato strings and echoing, clangy percussion to the mix, and introducing an action motif for the violins and pianos which is enough to make you hide behind the furniture.  "A Free Ride" introduces yet another idea to just terrify the listener, with fascinating and unexpected chord progressions unnerving the unprepared.  The cue ends in almost celebratory fashion, virtually the only warmth in the entire score.  "OR 8" brings us back to the swirling, Alien-style strings, seemingly designed to simply envelop the audience, caught in an inescapable web of fear.  "The Long View" is another piece of compelling suspense with the piano dominating once more; and even though "A Lucky Patient" is the finale, the edginess and general feeling of unease never goes away.

Unfortunately, in between this extraordinarily modern and powerful music are a couple of other pieces, modern in their own way at the time - disco!  There's a disco arrangement of Goldsmith's  "Love Theme" (though in the score itself the love theme only appears for about twenty seconds during "A Lucky Patient") and "Disco Strut", not by the composer.  Uproariously funny they may be, but they don't really fit in here!  The album itself has been released on CD twice - once by Bay Cities, then later by Chapter III, coupled with the outstanding Logan's Run.  Both albums are now out of print, but this is an essential purchase for fans of Goldsmith's more difficult writing.  Just don't expect to come out from behind the sofa within a few hours of listening.


  1. Love Theme (2:40)
  2. Study in Anatomy (3:13)
  3. Jefferson Institute (1:59)
  4. Disco Strut (2:33)
  5. A Chance Encounter (5:02)
  6. Love Theme (Disco Version) (4:30)
  7. A Free Ride (3:00)
  8. OR 8 (4:55)
  9. The Long View (3:44)
  10. A Lucky Patient (5:05)