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Supremely witty action score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1993 Warner Bros.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
In what probably ranks amongst the most hilariously-bad of all 1990s action blockbusters (and there were a fair few contenders), Demolition Man is a film of the most rank stupidity on virtually every level. Its plot is far too ludicrous for me to be bothered to type any of it here, but I'll summarise by saying it's got Sylvester Stallone in it, it's set in the future and there's a lot of fighting and gunfire. Amongst its screenwriters is Robert Reneau, who some readers of this site might better know as Scott Bettencourt, the finest compiler of web-based lists in film music history.
One of the most intelligent (or at least, intellectual) film composers is Elliot Goldenthal - but a glance through his filmography reveals that he's scored a few of the dumbest motion pictures of the past two decades - which seems a curious irony. With Demolition Man, it's clear straight away (from the track titles, let alone the music!) that he was fully aware how ridiculous the film is, and his score is exceptionally witty in the way it deals with that - yet remains absolutely perfect for it, so those not in the know would never take it to be anything other than a brilliant film score.
From the opening "Dies Irae", Goldenthal takes a mock-serious approach which sometimes treads a fine line between just reinforcing the film's self-importance, and becoming a straightforward parody of the movie (the latter would never be acceptable) but sticks just on the right side of that line. Goldenthal accentuates everything that is ridiculous about the film, with his blaring brass and beautifully colourful orchestration making it seem like an over-the-top comic strip. "Action, Guns, Fun" is a simply brilliant piece of action music, traveling all over the place in truly breathless fashion. "Defrosting" brings in some shimmering strings which make the scene seem like it's the second coming of Christ or some such monumental event (but actually it's Sly Stallone being fetched out of a big freezer). The shimmering continues in the outstanding "Meeting Cocteau", which features some of the truly irresistably gorgeous writing Goldenthal throws out from time to time.
Goldenthal deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for the cue title "Obligatory Car Chase", perhaps the wittiest I've ever seen. Someone might consider giving him an award for the music, too - pulse-poundingly, exhiliratingly exciting. Everything comes to a close in "Silver Screen Kiss", the kind of swelling conclusion that graced every Jerry Goldsmith score for stupid thrillers (yes, all ten thousand of them). It brings a wonderful action score to a close. Evidently Goldenthal thought it was wonderful too, because here you can hear the seeds of countless future scores - there are passages that would be reused almost verbatim in Sphere, Titus, Michael Collins and others. If one were to compile a list of ratios of "Intellectual quality of score" divided by "Intellectual quality of film" then I suspect Demolition Man would come out on top. Hang on - maybe Scott Bettencourt is working on such a list for FSM Daily!