Visit the Movie Wave Store | Movie Wave Home | Reviews by Title | Reviews by Composer
Impressive, romantic space music from Mancini gets deluxe treatment
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
The much-beloved Henry Mancini cut his film scoring chops scoring low-budget movies for Universal in the 1950s, including several horror projects, so when he was signed to score 1985's sci-fi/horror Lifeforce it was more a return to his roots than the completely out-of-character assignment it's usually regarded as. I'm sure Mancini was enormously proud of his success with much lighter fare, and rightly so, but at the same time he must have relished the opportunity to exercise his muscles on something on a larger scale (even if it was only this silly film).
The score's most famous feature is, of course, its main theme, a gloriously propulsive piece which moves along at a deceptive pace and has been copies numerous times since. It may be a bit of a surprise, then, that after that main theme the score is far more cerebral and eerily beautiful than would be the norm for a film of this type. The score's centrepiece follows immediately after the main title, the sixteen-minute "The Discovery", an outstanding tone poem underscoring the promising early parts of the movie, the wonder coupled with trepidation as a huge spaceship is discovered. The orchestration is romantic, but at the same time there is a distinct chill, helped by the subtle use of a small female choir.
Mancini's music is elegant and refined, maximising the impact of the most dramatic sections (the thrilling climax to "Carlson's Story", the hair-raising finale "Web of Destiny") by raising the volume only sparingly, not overusing the choir, not thinking that just because he's got a 100-piece orchestra at his disposal, he needs to use all of it, all the time - such skilled film composition, which could teach the majority of today's composers a thing or two about how to hold back in order to make a larger impact when it's really needed. It's a through-composed gem of a score, quite delightful to listen to from start to finish even in this very long form.
Disaster struck as far as Mancini's score was concerned, though, when the film's producers decided to take it away from director Tobe Hooper and chop nearly a quarter of the film out. Mancini was either unwilling or unable to rescore it, and so his carefully-constructed score just didn't fit some of the time any more, so the young Michael Kamen was brought in to rescore some sections. Kamen took a decidedly different approach, under orders to write more scary music, and his selections (which run for twenty minutes or so, and replaced Mancini's masterpiece "The Discovery" and even meant the great main theme wasn't heard at all in the film until the end titles) are more electronic in nature, and decidedly less impressive. Kamen was a wonderful composer who was never given his due, but his contributions to Lifeforce could only be considered as a footnote not only to his glorious career, but to Lifeforce itself.
The soundtrack album for the film was released by Varese Sarabande many years ago, featuring just over half an hour of Mancini's music assembled brilliantly into a lengthy suite, but that has been out of print for a long time, so this new limited edition release from BSX Records is more than welcome. It's the definitive presentation of the score, featuring everything that Mancini and Kamen wrote for the film, and even keeps the original album's presentation in a bonus section for those who prefer that arrangement. It's a wonderful release of a brilliant score.