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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE
Four great Goldsmith scores in one!
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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The Twilight Zone theme
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1983 Warner Bros., Inc.; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
An odd tv series to choose to adapt into a movie, The Twilight Zone - with its very short episodes and lack of any characters who recur from one episode to the next - just didn't seem an easy fit. But it was very popular in the late 1970s - long after it had originally aired - and so Warner Bros. began production on Twilight Zone: The Movie, overseen by Steven Spielberg who was to direct one of the four stories making up the movie. The others were directed by John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller. All except Landis's were remakes of old Twilight Zone episodes.
Musically, the tv show had a remarkable pedigree - illustrious composers like Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman lending their talents to score various episodes - and Spielberg was in the position of being able to actually hire a film music icon who had scored many episodes of the show, Jerry Goldsmith. Whether Spielberg's usual composer was ever considered, I don't know - but hiring Goldsmith made perfect sense. His fascinating score - each "episode" being tackled individually - is of typical brilliance from this most extraordinary period of his career (he had just scored First Blood and next to come was Under Fire).
The first segment is Landis's "Kick the Can", which features an aggressive score for four pianos, percussion and a synthesiser. It's very short - only nine minutes of music, split between two tracks - but is so relentless and unforgiving, that's plenty long enough. It is closest to what Goldsmith wrote twenty years earlier for the tv show, with a sparse, but very direct approach.
Spielberg's "Kick the Can" elicited some truly lovely music. The segment's main theme is gorgeous - not a million miles from The Secret of NIMH, composed a year earlier. In "Harp and Love", the splendid theme sounds resplendant, and Goldsmith works it through plenty of variations in the 16-minute score. The lengthy 10-minute "Young Again / Take Me With You / A New Guest" is the clear highlight - and the brief interpolation of Scatman Crothers singing a lovely little tune, taken from the film, has always been a lovely moment. (On the original soundtrack LP, the episode was represented solely by this cue.)
"It's a Good Life" represented the first time Goldsmith had collaborated with Joe Dante, with whom he would go on to form a lasting and rewarding relationship (Dante supervised the scoring of the whole of this film, not just his own segment). This is a darker score, with a heavier use of electronics than the Spielberg episode (though the orchestra remains the dominant voice). But as well as being darker, it's also more playful - and clearly presaging some of his later music for the director. There's some real dramatic weight, too - especially in the segment's main theme and the intelligent way Goldsmith uses it.
The most famous segment of the film is Miller's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", with John Lithgow an aeroplane passenger who has a less-than-welcome encounter with a gremlin on the wing. While Goldsmith's music for the other three sequences is all excellent, it's here where he really goes the extra mile, with a masterpiece of a score seeing the composer going gleefully over-the-top, the composer's trademark action music of low-end piano and brass and choppy strings being employed to perfection. The main hallmark of the segment is the macabre violin solo which runs through most of its length, brilliantly capturing Lithgow's terror.
The score ends with an "Overture", which strikes me as being a bit like beginning with a "Finale", but let's not quibble over nomenclature because it's one of the composer's most wonderful creations, a combination of the main themes from "Kick the Can", "It's a Good Life" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" along with Marius Constant's timeless theme from the tv show. It's such a delightful combination of the themes - the kind of end title piece that is very rarely written these days, a great pity for lovers of film music.
Film Score Monthly's expanded edition of the score is definitive in every respect, not only presenting a lot of (very good) extra music, along with the two songs from the film (including Goldsmith's lovely "Nights Are Forever" sung by Jennifer Warnes) and alternate takes, but even providing edited versions of some of the cues to enable the listener to reprogram the CD so it replicates the wonderful original album arrangement - but with vastly superior sound. With excellent liner notes from Jeff Bond and Mike Matessino about the film and score, Bruce Botnick about the recording process and a reminiscence from Joe Dante about working with Goldsmith, and sound quality whose excellence cannot be overstated, this is a grand release, essential for any fan of this composer.