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Uncommon Valour
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Intrada Special Collection volume 142 / 2010 / 52:14

First Blood director Ted Kotcheff followed the critical and commercial success of that film with one which would attract more modest attention, but which was something of a turning point in movies about Vietnam.  Uncommon Valour does not take the full gung-ho approach of the action films of later in the 1980s, but it’s far more in that direction than the Vietnam films which had come earlier (The Deerhunter and Apocalypse Now chief amongst them).  1983 was a major year for the film’s composer James Horner, immediately following the score which propelled him into the A-list (Star Trek II, of course) and featuring two of his very finest works (Krull and the exceptional Brainstorm).  Uncommon Valour is not quite in that league, but it’s an intriguing (not to mention unusual) score which, in common with many of this period of the composer’s career, laid the groundwork for much which was to follow from him.

The score mixes four main ideas.  What many people will take from it is the first-rate action music, very much of the Star Trek / Aliens ilk, with ethnic touches reflecting the film’s Asian setting which are remarkably similar to the ethnic touches reflecting those other films’ outer-space settings.  The second idea is the more atmospheric music – again similar to that in the aforementioned other scores, with Horner’s Jerry-Goldsmith-quotation-of-the-day coming this time (perhaps unsurprisingly) from First Blood.  Third, there’s an oustanding elegaic theme – heard only fleetingly – representing the central character’s lost son.  It presages Horner scores right up to the present day and demonstrates his tremendous ability to generate (detractors will no doubt say “manipulate” instead) emotion.  Finally, perhaps the feature most likely to polarise reactions, is the surprisingly cheesy military march which crops up several times.  Its cheery nature is out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the score (it sounds more like it should come from a 1960s WWII drama) but on its own terms it’s accomplished enough.  Horner pulls together these disparate elements into an impressively coherent whole.  For fans of his earlier work, this Intrada release (which boasts excellent sound and incisive Jeff Bond liner notes) is highly recommended.  ****

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