Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Despite being generally regarded as one of the most brilliant and groundbreaking composers in the history of cinema, Jerry Goldsmith scored some absolute stinkers when it came to the quality of the actual movies themselves. The 1980s was particularly fertile ground for terrible films; the decade saw him working on such ignominious titles as The Challenge, Baby: The Secret of Lost Legend, King Solomon’s Mines, Rent-a-Cop, and Warlock, but perhaps no film sums up this rather unfortunate aspect to his legacy as Link, a movie about a monkey that embarks on a killing spree. The film was directed by Richard Franklin, for whom Goldsmith scored Psycho II in 1983, and starred Elizabeth Shue as Jane, a young American anthropology student, who travels to England to work with a brilliant but reclusive professor (Terence Stamp) at his remote Victorian mansion/research facility. However, once Jane gets to know the mansion’s simian inhabitants, she begins to notice unusual events occurring, and suspects that an aged orangutan named Link, who is basically the facility’s butler, may be responsible…
As always, despite the utter ludicrousness of the plot, Jerry Goldsmith took his scoring duties absolutely seriously. In much the same way as contemporaries such as Maurice Jarre and James Horner were at this point in their careers, Goldsmith was very much in the middle of his own “experimental synth” period, trying to find new and interesting ways to incorporate an extended electronic palette into his usual symphonic sound. Goldsmith had been messing around with synths since the mid 1970s with scores like Logan’s Run, but early 80s works like Gremlins and Legend saw him develop a deeply personal electronic musical style that carried forward on several subsequent projects, with Link being one of them. The score is a combination of the straightforward sound of London’s National Philharmonic Orchestra, and a vast array of synthetic textures and samples, including the iconic hexagonal Simmons SDS-V electronic drums which dominated the rhythm sections of hundreds of pop bands during the decade.
Thematically, the score is built around a single main theme, a calliope-like piece for Link himself, which is heard in almost every cue in some form or another. Conceptually, the theme sprang from Goldsmith’s interpretation of the character’s past as a former ‘trained monkey’ in a circus, and is intended to be a representation of the increasingly twisted music that Link hears in his head as his psychotic anger builds. To further enhance the concept of the music springing from the animal’s own point of view, Goldsmith visited the ape enclosures at several zoos to listen to the sounds they made, and subsequently converted those sounds into some of the unusual electronic moaning tones which punctuate the main Link melody. Hey, if we can have meowing cats in Gremlins, why not groaning orangutans here?
Link’s theme is introduced in the opening cue, “Main Link,” and is virtually omnipresent thereafter. Goldsmith’s instrumental palette – synths, drum pads, the zany sound effects, strings – remains constant throughout much of the score, but he does find ways to mix things up, adding a new level of emotional content or a varied instrumental texture, as dictated by the increasingly threatening antics of the angry ape. In “Bravo Link,” for example, Link’s theme is varied into two new versions, one a slightly more mischievous version featuring jazzy horns, xylophone runs, and tick-tock wooden percussion, and one a lyrical, orchestral variation for strings with a melancholy woodwind countermelody. Later, in “Swinging Link,” the theme is bathed in much more suspenseful ideas. In “Missing Link” the theme is accompanied by stabbing, urgent string figures that clearly illustrate Link’s pervasive threat to the human protagonists, while in “Peeping Link” the theme is presented in a slow, mysterious, almost ambient way, with a definite sense of creepy unease.
Cleverly, Goldsmith allows two secondary thematic ideas to develop out of the main theme, both of which are still associated with Link and the other monkeys, but which contrast and allow the music to represent different aspects of their personalities. There is a prancing, comedic idea clearly influenced by Goldsmith’s score for Gremlins which appears prominently in several cues, notably “Bravo Link,” “Swinging Link,” and the rampaging “Angry Link”. Then, in the second half of “Swinging Link,” Goldsmith introduces some wonderful material that is rooted in his immediately recognizable orchestral hybrid action-comedy writing from that era, and which can be heard in scores like Gremlins, its sequel Gremlins II, Explorers, and Lionheart, as well as his other scores for the films for Joe Dante. The blatting horns, more lyrical string textures, and dance-like rambunctious rhythmic ideas return later in “Mighty Link” and “Angry Link” and stand as, for me, the musical highlights of the score. There is some more intense action writing too, including some much more traditionally dramatic stuff towards the end of “Helpful Link,” a variant on the deliberately-paced and unusually-metered action material that Goldsmith did so well during this period, all stabbing strings and overlapping textures.
A brief, sweet theme for Elizabeth Shue’s character first appears in “Welcome Link,” a beautiful string piece with playful synth accents reminiscent of Goldsmith’s score for Legend. Jane’s theme does not return with any great frequency, but the moments which do feature it more prominently – most notably “Missing Link” and “ Mighty Link” – place her as the more grounded, understanding core of the film, even when she is surrounded by all manner of homicidal monkey-based mayhem. Once or twice Goldsmith even engages in a bit of playful classical pastiche, arranging Link’s theme in the manner of Saint-Saëns’s ‘Dance Macabre’ towards the end of “Bravo Link,” and cleverly referencing Julius Fučík’s famous ‘Entrance of the Gladiators’ circus music in the conclusive “Flaming Link” as the orangutan’s reign of terror is brought to a final, fiery end.
However, as much as one can analyze the music, recognize its influences, understand Goldsmith’s conceptual thought process, and praise its musical and technical prowess, one problem remains: many people will find Link to be painfully, almost irretrievably, goofy and stupid. The humor in Goldsmith’s score stands at odds with some of the more serious and threatening parts of the film, resulting in a score which, for some, will feel completely wrong in terms of tone and approach. Furthermore, Goldsmith’s synth ideas, as they did in scores like Gremlins, Legend, Hoosiers, and to a lesser extent Supergirl, could turn people off immediately. No-one wrote for synths the way Goldsmith did, and if his style never connected with you, or if 80s synths in general sound hopelessly dated to your contemporary ears, then Link will drive you batty as one of the most egregiously grating examples of that side of his musical personality.
Personally, however, I find Link to be a superbly enjoyable hoot. The main theme is ridiculously catchy (although the simian vocalization samples are an acquired taste); the Gremlins-esque secondary theme is brilliant, especially when it enters into action mode; and the whole thing has a sense of irreverent fun and wacky subversiveness that I can’t help but admire. Even the dated 80s synth pads and drum loops appeal to the kid inside me who grew up in that decade, although I can already see millennials rolling their eyes into the backs of their heads as I type this.
A note about the releases: this is the third time Link has been released as a soundtrack album – first in 1986 by Varese Sarabande, then by Intrada in 2011, and now by La-La Land in this 2016 release. Both the original Varese release and the subsequent Intrada releases are now rare collectables, but all three versions have identical content, so it doesn’t matter which one you pick up.
Buy the Link soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Link (1:34)
- Welcome Link (3:03)
- Helpful Link (4:55)
- Bravo Link (4:37)
- Swinging Link (6:19)
- Missing Link (4:43)
- Peeping Link (3:01)
- Mighty Link (2:39)
- Angry Link (2:05)
- Flaming Link (3:19)
- End Link (3:00)
Running Time: 39 minutes 01 seconds
La-La-Land Records LLLCD-1384 (1986/2016)
Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Neil S. Bulk, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.