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LIFEFORCE – Henry Mancini


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

What do you think of when you think of the music of Henry Mancini? The gentle romance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s? The effortlessly cool jazz of Peter Gunn or The Pink Panther? The forbidden passion of The Thorn Birds? The playful “Baby Elephant Walk” from Hatari? I’d bet my bottom dollar that most people would come up with those classics long before they thought of an epic orchestral sci-fi horror score, but that’s exactly what Mancini wrote for Lifeforce, a British-American production directed by Tobe Hooper and produced by the notorious Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan for Cannon Films. The film is a loose adaptation of Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires, and stars Steve Railsback as the head of a multi-national space exploration team sent to investigate Halley’s Comet as it makes one of it’s regular 75-year passes past Earth. The team finds a space craft concealed inside the comet’s corona, and inside the space craft they find the preserved bodies of three seemingly humanoid aliens in suspended animation, including one incredibly beautiful female. However, when the space exploration team’s ship returns home, Mission Control in London finds it empty, save for the three aliens, which soon awake and begin draining ‘life force’ energies from every human they encounter. The film co-starred Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, and Mathilda May, who spends almost the entire film completely naked; despite this obvious selling point, the film was a disaster, recouping less than half of its $25 million budget, and receiving terrible reviews from most critics of the time.

James Horner was originally attached to score Lifeforce, but was replaced during production by Henry Mancini, who agreed to write the score after seeing the virtually dialogue-free 15-minute opening sequence involving the discovery and exploration of the alien spacecraft, and realizing he could write what he described as a ‘space ballet’. That Mancini even became attached to this film at all is a small miracle: he had recently won his fourth Oscar for Victor/Victoria in 1982, and enjoyed a resurgence of popularity among the general public following his work on the mini-series The Thorn Birds in 1983, and at the time was not readily associated with large-scale action scoring. However, people forget that, early in his career, Mancini wrote music for classic horror B-movies like It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and This Island Earth, and so was not entirely new to the genre. As such, Mancini pulled out all the stops on Lifeforce, writing a massive, thrilling, occasionally quite abstract and challenging, sci-fi orchestral score.

The main title theme which bookends the score is one of Mancini’s most thrilling compositions; an aggressive, militaristic march full of rampaging string runs, heroic brass fanfares, trilling flute scales, and thundering percussion, it’s the most un-Mancini composition imaginable, but in being so emphasizes just what a brilliant and under-rated dramatic composer he was. The fact that John Ottman repurposed Mancini’s unique time signature for his main theme from X-Men 2 is further testament to its enduring excellence.

The 16-minute Discovery sequence that follows is a masterpiece of moody, expressive orchestral scoring. Mancini intentionally chose not to write any additional themes for the characters or concepts in the film beyond the main title march, stating that he instead wanted to “develop a sense of rhythmic progression and propulsion” that was not constrained by Wagnerian leitmotif-style writing. As such, the “Discovery” Suite contains a mass of colorful symphonic atmospheres where all the sections of the orchestra play off each other; there is a recurring idea for woodwind – a sort of 5-note flourish that reappears infrequently – but beyond that, the piece is more concerned with textures and emotions, ranging from curiosity and wonderment, to trepidation and fear, to choral majesty, as the members of the Space Exploration Team venture deeper inside the alien craft. Some of the orchestral ideas Mancini develops here are superb, and the growing sense of unease that builds throughout the piece is masterful. Unfortunately, during post-production, the Discovery sequence was hacked to pieces by the film’s editor, meaning that great chunks of Mancini’s carefully developed and nuanced score was lost also; as such, when heard in the context of the film, the piece is essentially butchered, which makes its appearance here all the more important.

Much of the rest of the score progresses in a similar fashion, presenting colorful, unique orchestral textures for each scene as required, but with very little recurring thematic material. I’m a little torn as to whether I actually like this approach or not: normally, I’m a dyed-in the-wool themes-and-variations man, and I appreciate the intelligent interplay between leitmotifs more than anything. On Lifeforce, however, you can’t do that; there’s no mysterious theme for the aliens, no heroic theme for Steve Railsback, and under normal circumstances that lack of dramatic structure would bother me greatly. However, for reasons I can’t explain, on Lifeforce it doesn’t. Mancini’s score unfolds almost like a classical tone poem, clearly timed to fit the length and emotions required from each scene, but with the freedom to be as florid and expressive as it needs to be. Mancini’s way of shifting between ideas is so fluid and so naturalistic that the almost complete lack of recurring ideas becomes almost irrelevant.

The eerie pseudo-choral textures (created by recording female voices and distorting them through a Fairlight synthesizer) give cues like “Rescue Mission” and “Feeding Time” a chilling, ghostly aspect. The combination of grating electronic effects, brooding woodwind lines, and menacing brass crescendos in cues like “The Vampire Lives,” “Wild Woman,” and “Indian Giver,” is very impressive. The swirling string writing and stabbing, aggressive brass punches in the aforementioned “Feeding Time” and later cues such as “Are You in There?” emphasize the horrific nature of the Space Vampires and their insatiable lust for human energy.

Elsewhere, the excellent “Carlson’s Story” is shaded with touches of sadness and regret, briefly alludes to the creepy woodwind motif from the Discovery suite, works in some creative rhythmic action writing featuring muted trombones, and rises to some dark and emotional crescendos as it builds over the course of its 4 minutes. This is counterbalanced by cues such as the more calm and meditative “Carlson Sleeps,” and the tonally appealing “Evil Visitation,” which somehow manages to be alluring and erotic and terribly dangerous all at the same time.

Some of the ideas in “Evil Visitation” – chord progressions and instrumental choices and the like – return in “Let Me Go,” the massive “Anyone For Tums,” the soaring “House of Blue Lights,” and most notably during the score’s finale, the so-called “Web of Destiny” suite, which comprises three cues: “Web of Destiny,” “Son of Web,” and “Grandson of Web”. In this finale, Mancini throws off entirely the shackles of musical restraint, and contributes a 13-minute extravaganza of sensational orchestral and choral scoring. With its exciting rhythmic passages, religioso string writing, brass fanfares, and massed female voices singing to the heavens, these cues leave the listener breathless and under no illusions that the film’s finale was intended to be utterly cataclysmic, irrespective of the rather disappointing and confusing footage that eventually wound up in the film. The final rousing performance of the Lifeforce March brings everything to a perfect close.

Due to the fact that the film’s post-production woes caused much of Mancini’s score to be altered to fit the new scenes, and due to the fact that Mancini was unable to come back and rework his music as he was busy scoring Santa Claus: The Movie at the time, Michael Kamen was asked to come in and write some additional music to ‘plug the gaps’. Kamen’s music is a combination of electronic tonalities and ambient orchestral textures performed by the National Philharmonic but, honestly, it’s not that interesting. The 20 minutes of Kamen music included here marks the first time it has been released in any format before, and it is worthwhile as a curiosity, but I personally find that Kamen’s music on the CD detracts from the quality of Mancini’s writing – as it does in the film.

This 2-CD set of the music from Lifeforce was released by producers Ford A. Thaxton, Mark Banning, and James Nelson of BSX Records in 2006, and is one of the best albums that label has ever released. It expands greatly on the score’s original short programme (which has been released multiple times over the years, notably by Varese Sarabande in 1990), and really showcases the depth and scope of Mancini’s composition, although the curious can still check out the original presentation of the score at the end of the second disc if they choose to do so. Irrespective of which version you prefer, Lifeforce is an essential purchase for any serious film music collector, not only as an example of some of the best sci-fi writing of the 1980s, but also as a testament to the superb orchestral compositional talents too few people realize Henry Mancini had.

Buy the Lifeforce soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:23)
  • The Discovery, Parts 1-5 (16:00)
  • Drained (0:59)
  • Rescue Mission (4:24)
  • The Vampire Lives (6:41)
  • Nervous Time/No Longer Dangerous (1:43)
  • Feeding Time (3:01)
  • Wild Woman (1:33)
  • Prelude to Carlson’s Story (0:39)
  • Carlson’s Story (4:11)
  • Carlson Sleeps (1:01)
  • Evil Visitation (2:19)
  • Energy Crisis (3:28)
  • It’s Immense (1:42)
  • Are You In There? (1:21)
  • Let Me Go! (2:36)
  • Chain Reaction (1:04)
  • Anyone For Tums? (1:28)
  • Horny Alien/London Burns (3:43)
  • It’s Martial Law (2:07)
  • Indian Giver (2:16)
  • Call of the Wild (1:59)
  • House of Blue Lights (1:14)
  • Web of Destiny (2:54)
  • Son of Web (3:06)
  • Grandson of Web/End Credits (7:39)
  • Interior Alien Craft (written by Michael Kamen) (1:21)
  • Passage of Time/Back (written by Michael Kamen) (0:43)
  • Rescue Mission (written by Michael Kamen) (3:01)
  • Guard Enters Autopsy Room/Alien Girl-Eyes Open/Alien Girl Approaches Guard/Guards React to Alien Girl/Window Blows Out (written by Michael Kamen) (7:33)
  • Caine’s Theme/Fallada’s Office/Int-Basement Quarantine Room/Caine and Fallada Reaction & Run to the Basement (written by Michael Kamen) (3:43)
  • After Autopsy (written by Michael Kamen) (1:22)
  • Hypnosis (written by Michael Kamen) (1:12)
  • London in Chaos (written by Michael Kamen) (0:34)
  • Grandson of Web [Film Version with Choir] (4:11)
  • Lifeforce Theme [Original Album Presentation] (3:31)
  • Visitation [Original Album Presentation] (2:17)
  • The Discovery Suite, Part 1: Spacewalk [Original Album Presentation] (4:41)
  • The Discovery Suite, Part 2: Into the Alien Craft [Original Album Presentation] (3:05)
  • The Discovery Suite, Part 3: Exploration [Original Album Presentation] (2:46)
  • The Discovery Suite, Part 4: Sleeping Vampires [Original Album Presentation] (2:54)
  • Carlson’s Story [Original Album Presentation] (4:09)
  • Girl in Raincoat [Original Album Presentation] (3:25)
  • Web of Destiny Suite, Part 1 [Original Album Presentation] (2:53)
  • Web of Destiny Suite, Part 2 [Original Album Presentation] (2:52)
  • Web of Destiny Suite, Part 3 [Original Album Presentation] (4:09)

Running Time: 143 minutes 23 seconds

BSX Records BSXCD-8822 (1985/2006)

Music composed and conducted by Henry Mancini. Performed the by London Symphony Orchestra. Additional music by Michael Kamen. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Robert Hathaway. Score produced by Henry Mancini. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton, James Nelson and Mark Banning.

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