KING SOLOMON’S MINES – Jerry Goldsmith
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
With the massive box office success of the two Indiana Jones films, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom, several film producers sought to bring to the silver screen a ‘rugged historical adventurer’ of their own. Cannon Films had acquired the rights to H. Rider Haggard’s classic novel King Solomon’s Mines and its main character Allan Quatermain, and put into production a light, family-friendly version of the tale, with J. Lee Thompson directing, and Richard Chamberlain in the lead role. The film is set in the early 1900s and follows Quatermain, who is hired by the beautiful Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) to find her father, who has disappeared in central Africa while searching for the fabled mines of the title. The expedition brings Quatermain in contact with numerous dangers and enemies, not least of which is a rival expedition led by the ruthless Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom), who will stop at nothing to find the mines himself.
Although it made a profit at the box office the film was, sadly, not a critical success, having been roundly panned for its overly-jokey tone, shockingly poor special effects, unconvincing romantic sub-plot, and borderline racist portrayal of African tribespeople. My one vague memory of seeing the film during my childhood is of Chamberlain and Stone being thrown into an enormous cooking pot with assorted oversized fake vegetables by cannibals, before it somehow rolls down a hill and smashes open, allowing them to escape with cabbage leaves in their hair and carrots down their pants. That probably tells you something. Somewhat surprisingly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score was also singled out for criticism, and was nominated for a Razzie Award, but this to me is a case of the score getting dragged down by the poor quality of the film itself; in truth, Goldsmith’s score is an enjoyably adventurous romp, with a rousing and infectious main theme and some interesting and unusual orchestral ideas, which build on earlier works like The Swarm, Night Crossing and Supergirl, and predate later scores like Lionheart, Leviathan, The Shadow, The Mummy and The Thirteenth Warrior.
Goldsmith had worked with director Thompson several times before, on The Chairman in 1969, on The Reincarnation of Peter Proud in 1975, and on Cabo Blanco in 1980, and so was a natural choice to score this film. Performed by the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, the score is rooted entirely around its main theme, which is an absolute blast. An adventurous, bold theme for Quatermain himself, the theme is basically Goldsmith’s Raiders March, with a similar tonal structure, similar instrumental choices with heroic brass leading the charge, and similar application in the way it underscores every moment of gallant derring-do. It features prominently in many cues, initially in the “Main Title,” but receives especially bravura performances later in “No Sale,” “Have a Cigar,” “Dancing Shots,” “Pain,” “The Crocodiles,” and the stirring finale “No Diamonds.” It’s also malleable enough to be a shorter leitmotif, taking just the first four notes of the theme and manipulating them to suit different circumstances – listen to “Pot Luck” for a perfect example of this technique.
A genuinely lovely romance theme – again with subtle allusions to Raiders, this time in the shape of Marion’s Theme – is introduced in the mischievous “Good Morning,” and grows to become the primary musical identity for the relationship between Quatermain and Jessie. A sweeping, old fashioned piece for vibrato-rich strings and flighty, effervescent woodwinds, which has an unexpectedly poignant, yearning quality, it receives further statements in cues like “Forced Flight,” “Pot Luck,” and the playful “Upside Down People,” and almost makes you believe that Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone could have actually been a romantic item. Almost.
The theme for Colonel Bockner is actually an excerpt from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, (the Colonel carries an antique gramophone around with him, and blasts Die Walküre whenever the opportunity arises), and it appears with oddly humorous results in cues like “No Sale,” “Pain,” and “Forced Flight”. While I understand the reason for using touches of Wagner as a leitmotif in the context of the film, as a listener it is somewhat incongruous to suddenly hear such a familiar melody in the wrong setting, and as such it may end up distracting listeners from the overall experience, especially those who don’t know its coming.
The action music, of which there is a great deal, is rich and complicated, with numerous rhythmic ideas, instrumental combinations, and percussive textures, all of it accompanied with bold, florid strokes from the full orchestra. This is truly quintessential 1980s Goldsmith action scoring, featuring many of the touches that typified his writing during the period, from the prominent use of tambourines and rampaging xylophones in the percussion section, to the tight snare drum rhythms, the blatting trombones, the sinewy woodwind writing, and the wonderfully meaty interplay between different sections of the orchestra, bouncing thematic fragments off each other. Cues like “No Sale,” “Under the Train,” “Dancing Shots,” “Forced Flight,” “Pot Luck,” the epic 9-minute “The Ritual/Low Bridge,” and “Falling Rocks” are wonderfully exciting, with “Under the Train” and “Dancing Shots” especially coming across as real showstoppers. Meanwhile, cues like “The Chieftain” and “The Crocodiles” throb to some deep and menacing African-style percussion, although Goldsmith would revisit this style with much greater success in scores like Congo and The Ghost and the Darkness.
The score for King Solomon’s Mines has been released several times over the years. Initially released as an LP and cassette on Restless Records at the time of the film’s release, it was first released on CD by Milan Records in 1987 as a 2-for-1 album paired with Alan Silvestri’s The Delta Force, 34 minutes of which comprised Goldsmith’s work. A 60-minute expanded edition from Intrada Records came out in 1991, and it was re-released as an even more expanded 70-minute edition by Prometheus in 2006. Most recently it was released as a 2-CD set from Quartet Records with a running time of more than an hour and 40 minutes, including various bonus tracks and alternates.
My personal preference – and the release I have reviewed here – is the 1991 hour long Intrada release, which presents all the score’s major thematic elements and set pieces in a package which does not overstay its welcome, which for me makes it a perfect representation of everything the score has to offer. Whichever set you prefer to purchase, I can’t recommend it highly enough. King Solomon’s Mines is a perfect example of a Jerry Goldsmith score having fun, with bold and memorable themes which deserve to be better known and more widely respected.
Buy the King Solomon’s Mines soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (3:26)
- Welcoming Committee (0:48)
- No Sale (3:22)
- The Mummy (1:10)
- Have A Cigar (3:24)
- Good Morning (2:23)
- Under The Train (2:57)
- Dancing Shots (3:25)
- Pain (2:54)
- Forced Flight (5:05)
- The Chieftain (0:58)
- Pot Luck (3:30)
- Upside Down People (4:44)
- The Crocodiles (2:56)
- The Mines (1:20)
- The Ritual/Low Bridge (9:02)
- Falling Rocks (4:05)
- No Diamonds (4:07)
Running Time: 60 minutes 07 seconds
Intrada MAF-7075 (1985/1991)
Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross. Edited by Ken Hall. Album produced by Jerry Goldsmith and Douglass Fake.