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Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Dreamworks LLC and Universal City Studios, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Small soldiers... big score

Unfortunately, neither the deliciously subversive Gremlins 2 nor the nostalgic, frequently hilarious Matinee, were big successes financially, which meant that Joe Dante - once one of Hollywood's golden boys and possibly second only to Steven Spielberg in the industry's estimation as a director of family movies - had to spend a few years slumming it in television, directing such unlikely fare as The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy and The Second Civil War.  But when the fledgling Dreamworks studio wanted to get a family movie out there shortly after opening, its co-founder Spielberg turned to his old friend Dante to give it to them, and the result was Small Soldiers, a kind of re-working of Gremlins mixed with Toy Story in which children's toys come to life and engage each other in fierce battle.  The results were slightly disappointing - the movie is very entertaining, but is mostly a straight kids' film - you get the impression that maybe Dante was treading slightly carefully owing to the project being effectively a second chance in the big league.  

Having worked with him so many times in the past, it was only natural that Dante would turn again to Jerry Goldsmith for the music.  The project offered Goldsmith good opportunities musically, since essentially it features larger-than-life, fantastical sequences and a few neat references to past projects.  Mixing in with a disco version of "Also Spracht Zarathustra" and even a recording of Goldsmith's Patton March during a neat homage to Franklin J. Schaffner's classic movie is the composer's new, 90-minute original score.

The most instantly-striking feature is the wonderful main theme, a catchy and exciting march, a kind of overblown version of Patton (Goldsmith himself even described it as such - and it's actually the second time Goldsmith did it for Dante, having also written a parody of his own theme within the score for The Burbs).  Rambunctious and exciting, it's one of Goldsmith's best "family movie themes" and always makes for a rousing inclusion in his concerts.  Also present in the score is some massive action music ("Prepare for Assault", "Branded", "Special Design", "Trust Me"), featuring a neat little electric guitar lick, an augmented percussion section, a few synth percussion effects (including the composer's favourite stereo drumbeat one) and even a few rousing interpolations of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".  More tender moments are included too, including a touching theme for Alan, the film's main child character, and a wonderfully romantic finale that recalls Hollywood scores of the golden age, "Off to Gorgon", when the heroes depart.

It's a pity really that the album is barely half an hour long because there was enough great music in the film to warrant an album twice as long.  Still, this is a wonderfully easy album to listen to, an undemanding half hour which provides much satisfaction.  OK, so it will never go down as one of his best scores, but on a pure "fun" level, Goldsmith's rarely written anything more satisfying.

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  1. Assembly Line (3:33)
  2. Alan and Archer (2:58)
  3. Roll Call (4:49)
  4. Prepare for Assault (3:46)
  5. Branded (2:15)
  6. Special Design (2:33)
  7. I'm Scared (2:01)
  8. Trust Me (4:04)
  9. Off to Gorgon (4:41)