Home > Reviews > HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS – Bruce Broughton



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Harry and the Hendersons – released as Bigfoot and the Hendersons in the UK – is a warm-hearted family comedy about the most famous mythological creature of North American folklore, the sasquatch, or bigfoot. The film stars John Lithgow as George Henderson, an average family man who, while traveling home with his wife and children after a camping vacation, accidentally hits and apparently kills a large animal with his car on a remote forest road. Upon investigation, George realizes that the animal is a real bigfoot, and decides to take the carcass home; unfortunately, once they arrive back in suburban Seattle, it quickly becomes clear that the animal is far from dead. Despite their initial shock, the Hendersons soon discover that the bigfoot – whom they name Harry – is kind, peaceful, and intelligent, and they resolve to take him back to the wilderness, but find opposition in the form of ruthless hunter LaFleur, who has been tracking Harry and his kind for years. The film, which was directed by William Dear and co-stars Don Ameche, David Suchet, and Melinda Dillon, was a modest commercial and popular hit in the early summer of 1987, but went on to win an Academy Award for Best Makeup for the astonishing bigfoot effects applied to 7’2″ actor Kevin Peter Hall.

The score for Harry and the Hendersons is by composer Bruce Broughton, who in 1987 was firmly ensconced on the Hollywood A-List off the back of his Oscar nominated score for Silverado, as well as subsequent popular works like Young Sherlock Holmes and The Boy Who Could Fly. As one would expect, the score is a bright, fully-orchestral affair which deftly balances heart and elegant comedic whimsy with some unexpectedly aggressive action music, and sequences of vivid dissonance that recalls his best writing from the period. The “Main Title” is a fun, breezy classical pastiche for flouncing, elegant strings and dancing woodwinds, clearly inspired by the “Allegro” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterpiece Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik. This is also the cue which introduces the score’s recurring main theme – the warm, wholesome Henderson Family theme – at the 0:39 mark, arranged like Mozart at his most flamboyant. The theme accompanies the family as it winds its way through the beautiful tree-lined Cascade Mountains in the trusty station wagon, but ends with a moment of brazen dissonance as the crash occurs – and the story begins.

The subsequent “Some Dumb Thing” is moody and slightly sinister, with eerie synth tones and stark string chords that illustrate the uncertainty and trepidation the family feels at approaching the hairy carcass lying prone in the road. The cue develops to make use of oddly-timbred brass phrases, woodwind figures, harp glissandi, and even a distorted version of the Family theme, which introduces one of the score’s main strengths – the malleability of the main theme. Within the first two cues alone, the theme has been arranged as both a pretty classical dance and a tense suspense motif, and it’s testament to Broughton’s skill that he allows his theme to adapt and change several more times as the score progresses, ranging from soft reflection to broad, expansive action.

“Irene!” and “Harry in the House” are showcases for Broughton’s supreme use of the orchestra; the creativity that he and his orchestrators, Chris Boardman and Mark McKenzie, bring to these cues is deeply impressive, using the full range of the instruments in the orchestra. “Irene!” is a pseudo-comic caper for rambunctious woodwinds and darting string figures, as the Hendersons try to keep Harry from being spotted by Lainie Kazan’s character, their inquisitive nosy neighbor. “Harry in the House,” meanwhile, engages in all manner of dissonant orchestral chaos, rampaging through the orchestra as Harry inadvertently decimates the Henderson home with his clumsiness and sheer size. The strings run rampant, the brasses throb, and the music occasionally enters near-horror music territory, with brutal clusters of sound that accompany all the bashed in doors, collapsing shelves, overturned fridges, and up-ended furniture.

“Harry Takes Off” is yet another different setting of the Henderson family theme that shifts between piano and woodwinds, and is slightly wistful-sounding. Similarly, “Drawing Harry” features some especially lovely writing for strings, piano and harp, as well as statements of the Family theme augmented with 1980s synths, as the music successfully captures the humanity George Henderson sees in his hirsute new friend, but which others do not.

“Taking Harry Home” is the first of the score’s two major action and suspense sequences, underscoring the pivotal scene where George makes the dramatic decision to return Harry to his remote forest home, with the ruthless big game hunter LaFleur in hot pursuit. Action settings of the Family theme with more insistent, strident strings are at the forefront of the cue, featuring a rhythmic core and notably strong brass writing. The tribal-esque statement of the Family theme at 0:45, during which the main melody is performed on ethnic woodwinds accompanied by light jungle percussion, is notable, as are the dramatic crescendos and minor-key statements of the Family theme towards the end, each of which reinforce the heightened sense of emotion and urgency in the sequence.

This leads into the second action cue, “Foot Prints,” which again puts the Family theme through its paces, including one especially notable refrain on uncertain-sounding woodwinds. In this cue Broughton introduces a bed of descending synth textures into the mix which greatly adds to the overall feeling of mystery and danger, while the wonderfully frantic action finale encroaches into James Horner territory, with crashing pianos, bombastic percussion, and all manner of orchestral mayhem. Some of the staccato rhythmic ideas in this cue echo parts of Silverado and Young Sherlock Holmes while foreshadowing some of the action music from Tombstone and Lost in Space, and the heroic brass fanfare out of nowhere at 2:32 is superb!

The score’s big finale is “Goodbyes,” as George and his family say a sad farewell to Harry, but receive a wonderful surprise of their own. This is an emotional cue, filled with tender orchestral lines and especially beautiful writing for strings, woodwinds, and harp, and which gradually builds up to a large and sweeping final statement of the Family theme led by noble brass. The conclusive “Harry and the Hendersons” is Broughton’s unused end credits sequence, and provides a broad summary of the score’s main thematic ideas, including a welcome return to the Mozart pastiche of the opening cue. In the final cut of the film this cue was replaced by an original song, “Love Lives On,” written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Will Jennings, and performed by the king of gravel-voiced blue-eyed soul, Sheffield’s own Joe Cocker. The Mann/Weil/Jennings trio wrote dozens and dozens of original movie songs in the 1980s and 1990s – Jennings won an Oscar for “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic with James Horner – but this one would have been a fairly typical soft rock ballad were it not for Cocker’s brilliantly idiosyncratic delivery and non-ironic earnestness.

The score for Harry and the Hendersons was released on vinyl LP and cassette by MCA Records in 1987 at the time of the film’s release, but a standard CD never followed suit, ultimately making this one of Broughton’s rarest and most sought-after scores for almost 20 years. Finally, Intrada Records released an expanded CD of the score, featuring 40 more minutes of music, in early 2007, marking the music’s premiere CD release. The Intrada release is, for better or worse, more of the same, and includes two rousing action sequences not included on the original album, including the lengthy 9-minute “Night Pursuit,” and the 7-minute “Traffic Jam,” which accompanies one of the films’s iconic sequences, in which George barrels down a crowded Seattle freeway with Harry in the back seat of his car, howling like a police siren out of the window!

This review is of the shorter LP album presentation, which I have always enjoyed, but the longer and more comprehensive Intrada release comes strongly recommended for fans of the film, or of Broughton’s more comically adventurous works. Although the film was popular at the time, even spawning a short-lived TV series, the passage of time and the lack of a comprehensive album release resulted in Harry and the Hendersons being one of Bruce Broughton’s most overlooked works, even amongst his admirers. This is undoubtedly an oversight, and anyone who has ever admired Bruce Broughton’s thematic strength, his mastery of the orchestra, and his emotional straightforwardness, will find this score very much to their liking.

Buy the Harry and the Hendersons soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Love Lives On (written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Will Jennings, performed by Joe Cocker) (3:49)
  • Main Title (3:05)
  • Some Dumb Thing (2:28)
  • Irene! (1:26)
  • Harry In The House (4:20)
  • Harry Takes Off (3:20)
  • Your Feet’s Too Big (written by Jimmy Walker, arranged by Chris Boardman) (3:15)
  • Drawing Harry (1:49)
  • Taking Harry Home (2:57)
  • Foot Prints (4:19)
  • Goodbyes (4:07)
  • Harry and the Hendersons (3:28)
  • Love Lives On (written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Will Jennings, performed by Joe Cocker) (3:51)
  • Main Title (5:41)
  • Taking Harry Home (4:33)
  • Harry in the House (6:22)
  • Night Prowler (1:01)
  • Some Dumb Thing (3:16)
  • Irene! (1:26)
  • Eye To Eye (0:54)
  • Our Little Pet (1:36)
  • Tracking Harry (1:37)
  • Harry Takes Off (3:19)
  • Big Freeway (1:39)
  • Sasquatch (1:01)
  • The Great Outdoors (1:55)
  • Bigfoot Museum (0:59)
  • Planning the Hunt (2:03)
  • Drawing Harry (1:48)
  • Night Pursuit (9:52)
  • First Things First (1:41)
  • Wrightwood Meets Harry (1:29)
  • Bed Pals (0:43)
  • Traffic Jam! (7:14)
  • Footprints (4:19)
  • Goodbyes (4:06)
  • Harry and the Hendersons (3:27)

Running Time: 38 minutes 24 seconds (MCA)
Running Time: 77 minutes 05 seconds (Intrada)

MCA Records MCA-6208 (1987)
Intrada Records ISC-52 (1987/2007)

Music composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton. Orchestrations by Chris Boardman and Mark McKenzie. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Edited by Curt Sobel. Score produced by Bruce Broughton. 2007 Intrada album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

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