Home > Reviews > EXTREME PREJUDICE – Jerry Goldsmith



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Extreme Prejudice is a western-flavored action thriller directed by Walter Hill, starring Nick Nolte as Jack Benteen, a grizzled Texas Ranger who teams up with a platoon of elite US Army commandos led by Major Hackett (Michael Ironside). Their mission is to take down a major trafficker running shipments of narcotics across the border from northern Mexico into El Paso; the only stumbling block, for Benteen at least, is the fact that the trafficker is Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), Benteen’s childhood best friend. As the soldiers close in on Bailey’s compound, Benteen finds his loyalties tested, especially when a beautiful woman named Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) – both men’s ex-girlfriend – enters the fray. The film is a gritty, sweat-soaked, uncompromising thriller, and an homage to the great western The Wild Bunch, which received decent reviews when it opened in cinemas in May 1987.

The score for Extreme Prejudice is by the great Jerry Goldsmith, whose music is an homage to the western scores of composers like Jerry Fielding and Alex North, filtered through the lens of his own contemporary 1980s action style. What this means, unfortunately for some, is that the most prominent aspect of the score is not the orchestra, but the banks of electronics that drive the music forward with endless looping beats. I have always had a love-hate relationship with Jerry Goldsmith’s 1980s electronic music; when it works, it works brilliantly, as it did in scores like Under Fire, Legend, and Hoosiers, but when it doesn’t we’re left with scores like Rent-a-Cop and Criminal Law, which can usually be found lurking near the bottom of even the most passionate Goldsmith fan’s list of favorites. Whether Extreme Prejudice joins them there is a matter of personal opinion.

After a couple of bonus cues that open the album – Goldsmith’s un-used original score for the trailer, and the 16-second Carolco Pictures logo music – the score begins with “Arrivals/Main Title,” a militaristic piece for a string orchestra overlaid with all manner of electronic percussion items – ticks, rattles, and shakers – which picks up a fairly decent clip during its second half, when it becomes anchored by a recurring but brief horn motif. This is prototypical Goldsmith action music from the period; echoes of it can be found in everything from the Rambo scores to Gremlins and Supergirl, and it informs the action writing heard in many of his 1990s works too, from Total Recall to Basic Instinct to Malice, The Shadow, and even his Star Trek scores.

Further echoes of the Rambo scores can be heard in the score’s second cue, “Cash,” where the lonely-sounding trumpet motif from the opening cue is joined by a more wistful-sounding orchestral accompaniment, and a bed of synth textures, including what sounds like a sampled pan pipe. Where Extreme Prejudice differs from these other scores, however, is in the fact that the electronic element is much more of a major player here than it is in the others I mentioned. In several subsequent cues, notably “The Set-Up,” “Dust,” and all four parts of “The Bank,” Goldsmith places his synthesizers front and center, clearly the lead instrument, and uses the orchestra for just color, and this is where the score will succeed or fail for many listeners. Goldsmith’s synths never masqueraded as an orchestra, and he never hid their origins, and so your appreciation for this music depends entirely on your capacity to deal with that. I personally found some of the rhythmic ideas Goldsmith develops through these cues to be interesting and complicated, while some of the layering of the different electronic textures is undeniably impressive.

Unusually for a Goldsmith score, the thematic content is rather minimal. A brief love theme for Benteen and Sarita is heard in both “Cash” and in the second half of “Dust,” the latter featuring some rather lovely woodwind work. A theme for Major Hackett and the soldiers is hinted at during several cues in the score’s first half, but it only really comes into its own during the set-piece “The Plan,” which is presented both as a 2-minute abridged version, and as a 9-minute extended sequence which was Goldsmith’s original vision for the film. This cue is clearly the score’s standout, a robust and energetic action sequence which gradually grows more intense and elaborate as it develop, and which showcases some fiendish brass writing along with the dominant electronic rhythms.

After a clear homage to the echoplex trumpets from scores like Patton and Twilight’s Last Gleaming in “Identities” and “To Mexico,” a completely new theme emerges in “No Friendlies,” and it is this theme that dominates much of the score’s final third. It’s basically a theme for Mexico itself, and Goldsmith arranges it in a way that has a definite south-of-the-border flourish to the orchestrations, including castanets, guitars, and the sampled pan pipes from earlier in the score. Goldsmith liberally adds this idea to his pre-existing palette to underscore the film’s ruthless and violent action finale, through cues like “Positions,” “They Don’t Care,” and the quite surreal “Fighting and Dying,” with its tortured-sounding synth drones. ” “The Funeral” offers a final, solemn statement of Benteen and Sarita’s love theme, while the conclusive “A Deal/End Credits” presents the Mexico theme at its most rousing, although some may find it incongruously upbeat.

The score for Extreme Prejudice has been released a couple of times down the years; initially it was released by both Intrada (in the USA) and Silva Screen (in Europe) in 1987 with a shorter 50-minute running time, before La-La Land Records and producer Ford A. Thaxton released this version in 2005 with a properly re-mastered sound mix and around 15 minutes of additional music. This is the recommended version, although it has been out of print for some time at the time of writing.

As much as I appreciate what Goldsmith was trying to do with Extreme Prejudice, and as much as I can acknowledge the creativity of the electronic textures and the muscular intensity of some of the orchestral writing, for me the score is nevertheless one of those “lurkers” I mentioned earlier. It has it’s moments of ingenuity, but far too much of it is made up of rather middle-of-the-road electronic suspense music that doesn’t have the thematic identity or the orchestral punch to stand with the best of his efforts in the genre. It has its moments – especially the original version of “The Plan” and the “End Credits” – but if you’re a Goldsmith purist who never developed any kind of affinity for these hybrid scores, this is not the score for you.

Buy the Extreme Prejudice soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Extreme Prejudice – Un-Used Trailer Score (2:12)
  • Carolco Logo (0:16)
  • Arrivals/Main Title (5:19)
  • Cash (7:27)
  • Next Time (0:21)
  • The Set Up (3:20)
  • Dust (4:16)
  • A Nice Fellow (1:29)
  • The Plan (2:02)
  • The Bank, Parts 1-3 (4:58)
  • The Bank, Part 4 (1:31)
  • The Plan – Original Version (9:21)
  • Identities (1:47)
  • To Mexico (3:05)
  • No Friendlies (2:40)
  • Positions (0:51)
  • They Don’t Care (3:28)
  • Fighting and Dying (2:12)
  • The Funeral (2:10)
  • A Deal/End Credits (4:40)

Running Time: 64 minutes 04 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1184 (1987/2005)

Music composed conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Performed by The Hungarian State Opera Orchestra. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton and Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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