CROCODILE DUNDEE – Peter Best
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Up north in the Never-Never, where the land is harsh and bare, lives a mighty hunter named Mick Dundee, who can dance like Fred Astaire.
In the late summer of 1986 the world went crazy for an Australian comedian and actor named Paul Hogan and his cinematic creation, Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee. A fish-out-of-water comedy with a healthy dose of unconventional romance, Crocodile Dundee made a bonafide star out of its rough-and-tumble leading man, with his salty catchphrases and easy charm. The film’s plot is a fairly straightforward one: New York magazine reporter Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) travels to the remote Northern Territory in Australia to interview bushman Mick Dundee, the subject of many tall tales regarding his adventures in the outback. After experiencing first hand Mick’s prowess and survival skills, Sue invites Mick to travel back with her to New York to “continue the story”. Upon his arrival in the Big Apple, Dundee finds himself bemused by the local customs, but quickly wins over everyone he meets – the lone exception being Sue’s sarcastic and arrogant fiancé Richard (Mark Blum), who belittles and patronizes Mick at every opportunity. Of course, as is always the way of things in movies like this, Sue and Mick begin to fall for each other…
The film, which co-starred John Meillon, Aborigine actor David Gulpilil, Michael Lombard, and Reginald Veljohnson, and was directed by Peter Faiman, was an enormous smash hit across the world, ending the year as the second most successful film at the US Box Office behind Top Gun, and earning several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. The score for Crocodile Dundee was by Peter Best, who at that time was one of Australia’s premier film composers; his most important scores prior to Crocodile Dundee included The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), The Picture Show Man (1977), We of the Never-Never (1982), Bliss (1985), and Rebel (1985), and he was the winner of two Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Original Music Score. With the possible exception of Muriel’s Wedding, which he scored in 1994, Crocodile Dundee is by far Best’s most well-known score internationally, and is likely to remain so, as Best is now 74 years old and hasn’t scored a film since 2004.
To capture the duality of the film’s two settings, Best works in two idioms, blending together musical pastiches for both the outback and the potentially more dangerous urban jungle that was New York City in the 1980s. The “Opening Titles” contains the film’s iconic main theme, a sunny, open, expansive piece for guitar and orchestra, augmented by ‘traditional’ Australian instruments such as the didgeridoo, claves, and possibly even a wobble-board. Sadly, the theme disappears for virtually the entire rest of the score, leaving Best alone to capture the spirit of the film through a series of standalone set pieces.
The early scenes in Australia, as Mick guides Sue around his home territory, showcase both sides to life there. “The Walkabout Bounce,” named after Mick’s home town of Walkabout Creek, is a light, upbeat rock piece with guitars, a drum kit, and a saxophone solo, capturing the ‘bogan‘ or ‘ocker‘ vibe of the place – something akin to ‘rednecks’ in American culture. Similarly, “In the Truck” has a laid back country vibe, with a lazy bass guitar theme, and a carefree attitude that mirrors Mick’s outlook on life. However, the more dangerous side of life in the outback is addressed too; “Nice One Skippy” is an action cue with comic undertones, filled with urgent synth chords, tapped cymbal rings, plucked bass guitars, and a bright brass-heavy finish, written for a scene where Mick tricks and scares off a gang of drunken kangaroo hunters. “Crocodile” is a brief, vivid action sequence filled with frantic overlapping brass, woodwind calls, and percussion stingers, intensifying the very serious moment where Sue is attacked in a billabong by a saltie, and Mick saves her life. The warm, romantic finale for slow strings hints at their first moments of mutual attraction.
Once the action moves from Australia to the mean streets of Manhattan, Best’s music alters to match it. “Mick Meets New York” opens with a very brief restatement of the main theme which is quickly overtaken by a 1980s rock instrumental with a heavy jazz and funk vibe. This general musical approach continues throughout the rest of the score; “G’Day” blends the rock beats with an amusing, slightly confused-sounding 5-note flute theme that accompanies Mick as he walks down the street, greeting indifferent strangers with a cheery salutation, which they all completely ignore. “The Pimp” brings a sultry saxophone and other assorted jazzy brass sounds into the mix, while “Oh Richard” begins with vibrato-heavy strings and sweet flutes; before segueing into a slow, moody piece for guitars, synths, and drums. These pieces all scream “the 1980s” from every musical pore, and may have dated badly to the ears of anyone who didn’t grow up in that decade, but this music is part of my childhood, and I have retained an affinity for it to this day.
The “Theme from Crocodile Dundee” actually underscores the film’s romantic finale, in which Mick and Sue pass messages of love and reconciliation to each other across a crowded subway platform, with the help of a Chinese whispers chain of other passengers. It is in this cue that Best finally blends the two disparate worlds together, with didgeridoos, guitars, shaken percussion, and claves joining the jazzy New York trumpets, flutes, synths, and deconstructed hints of the G’Day theme in a highly rhythmic, almost hypnotic cue that gradually builds to a more intense finale. The conclusive “Overture from Crocodile Dundee” is a three-minute suite featuring a variation on the G’Day theme, a light pop arrangement of Mick and Sue’s love theme, and a lovely performance of the main theme to finish.
The score for Crocodile Dundee has been in print and readily available since it was released in 1986. Varese Sarabande’s original LP vinyl playlist runs for just over half an hour and hits all the score’s main high points; it was released with identical content on CD in 1993 as part of the early VCL series by producers Richard Kraft and Tom Null. There is also a UK/European release of the score on the Silva Screen label which expands the score to 45 minutes, and includes quite a bit of additional score from the film’s early Australian sequences, including the famous scene where Mick sedates a water buffalo with the power of his mind.
If you’re not a fan of Crocodile Dundee, or if the film was never part of your adolescent consciousness, then Peter Best’s score might not mean much to you. Beyond its iconic and excellent main theme, most of the rest of the score is basically a bunch of rock and jazz instrumentals, and if you have no positive personal history with them, they aren’t going to leave any kind of a lasting impression. However, I do have a long-standing affinity for the film, and Best’s score brings back excellent memories of the fun I had in the company of this most iconic of Australian cinematic exports. What do mean that’s not a knife? Crack open a Fosters and slip an extra shrimp on the barbie!
Buy the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Opening Titles (2:02)
- The Walkabout Bounce (3:20)
- In the Truck (2:26)
- Nice One Skippy (3:03)
- Crocodile (1:08)
- Mick Meets New York (2:50)
- G’day (1:54)
- Mad Bad and Dangerous (performed by Lindsay Field and Lisa Edwards) (2:38)
- The Pimp (1:22)
- Oh Richard (3:07)
- Theme from Crocodile Dundee (5:08)
- Overture from Crocodile Dundee (3:21)
Running Time: 32 minutes 22 seconds
Varese Sarabande VCD-47283 (1986/1993)
Music composed and conducted by Peter Best. Orchestrations by Peter Best. Recorded and mixed by Doug Brady. Album produced by Peter Best, Richard Kraft and Tom Null.