CD Review: Islands In TheStream (5,000 edition) – Original Soundtrack

By • February 15, 2010

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Label: Film Score Monthly / Intrada Records
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Grade: B+

The once-impenetrable soundtrack mountain at Paramount has finally been mined for such great titles as BLACK SUNDAY, STAR TREK II and AIRPLANE. And one of the most acclaimed composers to work at the studio has been having a particularly good time at getting such long-awaited works as SECONDS and I.Q. out of the dust-covered vaults. Now 1977’s ISLANDS IN THE STREAM and 1979’s PLAYERS get their chance to shine, showing the maestro at his romantic best in playing two different variations on manliness.

When it comes to machismo, there’s probably no better marlin-fishing alcohol-drinking poet laureate of the art form than Ernest Hemingway, whose valiant boat captain in ISLANDS was no doubt autobiographical (one can only imagine Hemingway’s delight if he’d been around when the two-fisted actor George C. Scott took the role). STREAM also represented the most intimate departure from the brilliant, brawny scores that typified the collaborations between Goldsmith and director Franklin J. Schaffner in such scores as PLANET OF THE APES, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL and PAPILLON. It’s probably what made this Goldsmith’s personal favorite among some mighty memorable work, driving the composer to re-record the score for Intrada in 1986.

While there’s underestimating the effectiveness of that release in allowing Goldsmith to incorporate some passages he never got around to completing for the movie itself, the new ISLANDS release on Film Score Monthly has its own, original majesty to it. Goldsmith’s music is much like the emotional, and physical tides of the Caribbean waters its hero and his shipmates ply to ultimately tragic, but valiant effect. There’s a swooning, lush woodwind-resounding quality to that ebb and flow, a magical sense of big orchestral discovery and poignancy that makes ISLANDS often come across like a melding of his Goldsmith’s more intimate scores like A PATCH OF BLUE with the symphonic wonder of STAR TREK- THE MOTION PICTURE. Except here that fantastical quality revolves around the band of brotherhood, nature and doing what a man’s got to do.

Perhaps no cue better sums up ISLANDS combination of the melodic, exotic and perilous as the cue “Is Ten Too Old?” where a wistful opening goes into a tune that might be Goldsmith’s answer to “Underneath the Mango Tree,” before the shaker, guitar and string rhythm submerges it with menacing darkness, the cue then going into the kind of escalating danger you might hear in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, except here the oncoming menace is a shark. Then in the standout eleven-minute cue “The Marlin,” Goldsmith captures all of the excitement, passion and happiness of the big catch. It’s as if the composer rewrote “The Old Man and the Sea” as an evocative action scene, with his remarkably beautiful theme continually narrating the story. This original ISLANDS reveals itself again as a work of pure bromance poetry. If ISLANDS IN THE STREAM ended up being a film you wanted to tell everyone about (even it’s poster asked “How long has it been since you’ve seen a really good movie?”), then this is that unsung Goldsmith masterwork whose glory you want to shout to the rafters about.

While not in that same league, but giving mighty good service, is Goldsmith’s score for PLAYERS (3,000 edition), which Intrada has hit out of the mountain in style. Though this love-on-the-tennis court film starring Dean Martin’s son and Ali McGraw remains unreleased on video, you can practically see the most exciting game of it ever played given Goldsmith’s rousing, almost-galloping set and match. It’s the kind of trumpeting, triumphant sports music that he’d delve into later with the far more popular likes of RUDY and HOOSIERS, and is no less effective here.

Yet though PLAYERS was Goldsmith’s first “sports” score, its big on-the-court cues are mostly reserved for the opening and finale. For this is essentially about our hero’s off the court moves, which Goldsmith makes very smooth indeed with trembling strings and lovely, yearning string sustains that could at points be played in the same court as CHINATOWN. It’s sexy, and emotionally intimate borderline film noir stuff that particularly shines when Goldsmith carries the melody on guitar, piano and trumpet, while cues like “The Bedroom” and “A Final Decision” ascends with intimate passion. And since this was the 70’s, PLAYERS also hits the disco floor a la his main theme from COMA. But that bit of wonderful silliness aside, PLAYERS has a lovely, romantic suaveness to it, revealing the tenderness underneath a pro’s sexy hits, while also hitting it out of the court for the big tourney. But then, perhaps only Goldsmith could make game, set and match seem like the bounding, patriotic arrival of the troops whom Patton himself would salute.

However, Jerry Goldsmith’s most famously scored general would likely slap him silly for making a German World War One flying ace into a sweeping idol. And that’s the point of his darkly heroic score for 20th Century Fox’s thrilling 1966 epic THE BLUE MAX. By now, you’d have a wing and a prayer of finding any MAX copies outside of Ebay, as Intrada’s limited edition CD flew out of their offices as soon as it was announced. But even after two previous releases, you’d expect no less a response for what many Goldsmith fans consider to be the composer’s finest hour. Given a vainglorious pilot to root for, Goldsmith brings in a beautifully soaring theme, the orchestra smashing about his exploits like a Straussian sonic boom.

But then, THE BLUE MAX is all about Germanic pride and the seeming nobility of the battlefield, where some honor remained among dueling pilots who fought without the benefit of parachute. Yet Goldsmith’s music isn’t so much about the joy of the airborne kill as much as it is about the romantic glory of flight, which Goldsmith conveys magnificently in “First Blood / First Victory,” as a swirling, glistening orchestra is joined by a wind machine to propelling the cue ever upwards. And as with ISLANDS and PLAYERS, a strikingly memorable theme drives just about everything in the score, an infinitely pliable melody capable of dark triumph, or tender, forbidden romance.

Brass and military percussion are also resounding forces here, which brilliantly contrast in two of the greatest cues Goldsmith ever wrote with “The Attack” and “Retreat.” The score relentlessly advances down into the trenches with our hero, the first cue given a terrifying optimism, while the shit hits the fan with the downward momentum of the second. Film music has rarely used what’s essentially the same piece to capture far differing emotions, as staccato drums and increasingly anguished strings revealing a war machine and its vaunted pilot as ultimately hollow shells. And through it all is that dark, Teutonic tone, which even gets a comically playful Viennese waltz. In the ultimately tragic end, Goldsmith’s writing reflects nobility that tried to soar above the war to end all wars, and was ultimately brought crashing to earth. Wagner would no doubt approve before seeing the score’s point beyond its lofty, Germanic clouds.

Swim through ISLANDS IN THE STREAM at, then get your game on with Goldsmith and PLAYERS here

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