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FIRST BLOOD – Jerry Goldsmith

September 21, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

First Blood was adapted from the David Morrell in 1972 novel of the same name, although an alternative ending was shot that preserved the story’s protagonist for future tales. Sylvester Stallone plays John J. Rambo, a Vietnam War veteran who gained honor and distinction serving as a member of the elite United States Special Forces, for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Yet all is not well as he is haunted by the horrors of war and cannot find inner peace as he tries to adapt to civilian life. As Rambo hikes through Hope, Washington, to visit a friend he arouses the interests of the xenophobic local Sheriff, William Teasel (Brian Dennehy), who promptly escorts him out of town. Outraged as his treatment as he has not done anything wrong, Rambo returns to the town; Teasel takes his return as a personal affront and promptly arrests him on false charges. When Rambo is further disrespected and physically abused by Teasel’s minions he snaps and switches into his special forces combat mode with predictable and devastating consequences for his abusers. After pummeling his abusers, he escapes the jail and then flees on a motorcycle to the safety of the woods. Teasel, of course, organizes a hunting party to bring Rambo in “to face justice.” What follows is a rampage of killing and destruction as Rambo brings Teasel and his city to the brink of defeat. Thanks to the timely intervention of his commanding officer Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s release and free passage is negotiated to save the town further carnage. The movie served as a potent commentary on the alienation and estrangement felt by many of our soldiers as they returned from a deeply unpopular war and attempted to re-assimilate into society.

Director Ted Kotcheff recruited Jerry Goldsmith during a very productive and successful year, which included five other scores including Poltergeist. Goldsmith took on the assignment with his usual energy and provided some outstanding action writing as well as one of his best melodies, one that would become iconic for the franchise that First Blood would become. The opening cue, “Theme from First Blood” is the first of multiple versions of this iconic theme presented on the album. Goldsmith recorded three different endings to provide the film’s producers with choices for the End Title Credits, an orchestral pop version orchestrated by Arthur Morton who infused it with the usual steady bass beat and guitar signature, a classical version for full orchestra, and lastly a song with lyrics provided by Hal Shaper and sung by Dan Hill. Since the pop and song incarnations were afterthoughts, I will focus my energies on the orchestral version presented on cue 18. I believe that the album’s opening pop version lost the gravitas and pathos of John Rambo’s character, his unabiding sadness and alienation that cannot be assuaged. As such, I find the cue an ill-conceived imposter that fails to emote the power and magnificence that is the orchestral version.

“Home Coming” introduces the film with John walking to the main theme. Introduced with solo guitar then joined by solo trumpet that evokes a sense of sadness and loneliness to the man. Violins join to first provide a lush restatement of the theme, and then counterpoint to the solo trumpet. The cue concludes with a pastoral statement by woodwinds. In “My Town” Rambo learns of the death of his friend, which leaves him the sole remaining survivor of his outfit. For this tragic moment Goldsmith introduces the Remembrance Theme, a lament carried by distant trumpets played over snare drum that emotes Rambo’s sad memories of his fallen comrades. The cue concludes with a statement of the main theme. “Under Arrest” opens with tolling bells heard over the main theme played by a plaintive solo oboe that is countered by what I call the Military Motif, a driving rapid fire line played in the lower register by bass and pounding synth keyboards. The motif makes the tension palpable as John is falsely arrested. This simple and yet very versatile motif will be employed throughout the score to potentiate the kinetic power needed for the action sequences.

“The Razor” opens with sustained discordant quivering strings played against several distorted synthesizer effects as Rambo is abused and flashbacks are seen. A crescendo builds and explodes at the 1:00 mark as Rambo snaps and takes down one by one his abusers. What follows is action torrent carried by bass drums and cymbals, pounding piano strikes, trombone blasts and guitars. A heroic fragment of the main theme is heard as Rambo escapes on a motorcycle with the cue concluding with fading bass drum strikes. In “Head Start” we hear the Military Motif played against grating strings with rapid-fire xylophone and horn counters as Rambo flees deeper into the woods. “Hanging On” opens up with the presto paced Military Motif played propulsively against ostinato strings and horns in a repeating cycle as Rambo struggles to elude Teasel’s team. The pace slows with trombones and strings providing a sense of desperation as Rambo is trapped, exposed on a cliff edge by a helicopter. In “Over The Cliff”, which concludes the chase sequence, we hear furious strings rising in their register playing against the Military Motif and desperate horns, which serve to amplify Rambo’s urgency as the helicopter gunner attempts to take him out. The cue ends with a repeating four-note synth statement and horn blast as Rambo jumps.

“A Stitch in Time” begins as a steady drumbeat with series of repeating woodwind triplets as Rambo stitches his arm wound. Sad and heavy strings then emote as the repeating woodwind triplets play atop until the Military Motif returns at an almost crawling pace reflecting Rambo’s injured and weakened state. “Mountain Hunt” is a most interesting cue in that it is completely devoid of any melodic of thematic structure. It is instead a shifting interplay of sustained string chords, synthesizer effects, percussion, atonal woodwinds and orchestral blasts all cleverly designed by Goldsmith to raise tension and unease as Teasel and his team tighten their noose and close in.

“First Blood” is a marvelous suspense action cue that features a wonderful interplay between the main theme, Remembrance theme and the Military Motif. We feel unease as the cue opens with a sustained bass chord that is soon joined by a building drum roll. Synthetic textures, electronic celeste and woodwinds are introduced to heighten the tension. This sequence leads to a statement of the Remembrance Theme as Rambo thinks of his past and fallen comrades and then to a very heavy and weary reprise of the Main Theme as Rambo prepares for the final battle. A crescendo trumpet line builds to an orchestral blast with heavy drums at the 2:40 mark that leads into an accelerando by the Military Motif with synth interludes. Eventually full orchestral joins the fray lead by horns playing the Main Theme against strings playing the Military Motif in counterpoint. The cue ends abruptly, as it began, with a sustained bass chord.

“The Tunnel” is a tension action cue that opens with a truncated reprise of the Main Theme carried by muted trumpets. This opening statement transitions to a slowed, purposeful and steady rendering of the Military Motif. Goldsmith then slowly integrates brief interludes carried by strings and woodwinds that serve to build unease and suspense. At the 2:27 mark the cue explodes into with a frenzy of discordant strings, accelerated woodwind glissandi, horns and percussion as Rambo seeks a desperate escape. The cue concludes with unease and uncertainty as a series of repeating woodwind triplets fade into a sustained string chord with a determined Military Motif playing underneath. “Escape Route” offers an amazing series of variations of the Military Motif as Rambo again outwits his pursuers to gain an escape. The cue opens with a very determined and syncopated rendering of the Military Motif carried by synth and low register horns. Woodwinds and percussion soon join to add unease as Goldsmith shifts the Motif’s expression between synth and woodwinds. Next strings take over expressing the Motif with horn counters until an abrupt transition to a sustained bass chord concludes the cue.

“The Truck” opens with militaristic horns which transitions to furious strings with horn counters carrying the Military Motif. As Rambo commandeers the military truck we hear a victorious reprise of the Main Theme lead by trumpets with full orchestra. We then return and conclude the cue with the synth carried Military Motif. “No Power/Night Attack” is a seamless suspense action cue that again demonstrates Goldsmith genius. The cue opens portentously with snare drum and bass that are joined by a series of woodwind triplet counters that again sow unease and tension as Rambo uses stealth and his military training to sabotage the town. The tension continues to build as horns replace the woodwinds to counter the now driving Motif. The cue concludes eerily with a sustained discordant chord by strings and woodwinds. The album concludes with sequential renderings of “It’s A Long Road”, the Main Theme, with the first being orchestral and the second a song. Interestingly enough it was Goldsmith who came up with this title for the song. Written in a minor key, the theme perfectly emotes the inner sadness, alienation and estrangement embodied in the John Rambo character. The melody is transcendent in that it provides a poignant allegory to the travails of war and the unspoken torment borne by soldiers attempting to regain a sense of normality as they struggle to reassimilate back into society.

The orchestral version of “It’s A Long Road” is in my judgment a masterpiece, the premier cue of the album and an iconic melody that will echo for ages in film score lore. The cue opens with the lament of sad trumpets carrying the Remembrance Theme. This then segues into the Main Theme, which Goldsmith ingeniously reprises among the orchestra in a manner that takes us along the emotional continuum from sadness to triumph. We hear first a plaintive solo oboe with guitar accompaniment, then woodwinds and guitar, violins and guitar and finally horns with violins playing stirring counterpoint. At the 2:00 minute mark we build to a crescendo by dramatic horns with strong percussion counters as Goldsmith unleashes a most powerful and at last unbridled emotional statement of the theme whose unfoldment is breath taking. As we progress the theme inexorably takes on greater and greater potency, ultimately culminating with a proud and triumphant flourish. Unlike the orchestral cue that plays with dramatic power, the song version displays a more accessible and intimate rendering of the theme with Dan Hill providing a genuine country coloring.

The second CD features a reprise of the original score release with minor variations of the cues I reviewed above. As such I will not revisit them but will instead proceed to the fourth rendering of the Main Theme, a piano and vocal demo sung by Dan Hill. One notices a background hiss in this cue, which is not up to the pristine quality of the rest of the album, but given that it is a restored demo, we can forgive this. What I cannot forgive however is this version in which Dan Hill must have been either very tense or nervous as his voice is often off pitch and lacking in both projection and conviction. He does however redeem himself and perform quite well in the final song version. The Rambo Special Summer 1984 Trailer was written by Goldsmith in anticipation of a sequel. It features pronounced synth work with sharp pounding percussion counters. We also hear fragments of the Main Theme, but given the short length of the cue, there is insufficient time for development. But this is the nature of movie trailers and so I believe the cue works well within this context.

I must thank Intrada, Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson for a most welcome and satisfying two CD reissue of First Blood. The discovery of the original 1/2″ three-track stereo session elements in pristine condition served to support a wonderful restoration of the complete score that surpasses all predecessors in both quality and content. It goes without saying that First Blood is a notable achievement by Jerry Goldsmith and a progenitor of the two sequel scores, which built upon its two primary themes and action motif. As described above, the Main Theme gains Goldsmith immortality as one of the greatest and most recognizable themes in film score history. The action writing in this score is creative in that it is not thematic, but instead relies rather on a simple and yet amazingly versatile synth motif. Throughout the score we hear Goldsmith manipulating the motif by playing it at various tempi, as well as altering its expression with a wide array of instruments. In summation, I highly recommend this expanded score release as a worthy addition to any film score devotee’s collection.

Buy the First Blood soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Theme from First Blood (Pop Orchestra Version) (4:07)
  • Home Coming (2:21)
  • My Town (0:59)
  • Under Arrest (0:45)
  • The Razor (2:37)
  • A Head Start (1:03)
  • Hanging On (2:02)
  • Over the Cliff (1:26)
  • A Stitch in Time (0:57)
  • Mountain Hunt (4:52)
  • No Truce (0:39)
  • First Blood (4:45)
  • The Tunnel (3:25)
  • Escape Route (2:36)
  • The Truck (1:00)
  • No Power/Night Attack (2:50)
  • Hide and Seek (0:57)
  • It’s a Long Road (Instrumental Version) (3:22)
  • It’s a Long Road (Theme from First Blood) (written by Jerry Goldsmith and Hal Shaper, performed by Dan Hill) (3:19)
  • It’s a Long Road (Theme from First Blood) (written by Jerry Goldsmith and Hal Shaper, performed by Dan Hill) (3:19) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • Escape Route (2:36) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • First Blood (4:35) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • The Tunnel (4:00) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • Hanging On (3:26) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • Home Coming (2:20) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • Mountain Hunt (6:01) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • My Town (1:55) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • The Razor (3:05) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • Over the Cliff (2:05) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • It’s a Long Road (Instrumental Version) (2:51) – Original 1982 Soundtrack version
  • It’s a Long Road (Recording Session Piano/Vocal Demo) (3:18) – BONUS
  • Carolco Logo (0:19) – BONUS
  • Rambo (Special Summer 1984 Trailer) (1:15) – BONUS

Running Time: 85 minutes 07 seconds

Intrada MAF-7111 (1982/2010)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

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  1. July 23, 2021 at 2:34 am

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