Home > Reviews > UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! – Gerald Fried

UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! – Gerald Fried

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The only reason I’m writing a review of the score for Unbelievable!!!!! is because it is likely to be the only chance I ever get to review a new score by Gerald Fried. For those who don’t know his name, New York-born Fried is a legend in classic TV music circles. He wrote the famous ‘Spock vs. Kirk’ fight music for the Amok Time episode of Star Trek in 1967, and he wrote episodic scores for some of the most iconic shows in television history, including Mission: Impossible, The Man from UNCLE, Lost in Space, M Squad, Gilligan’s Island, and Wagon Train, among many others. But Fried also has outstanding big screen credentials too; he was the first choice composer for a young director named Stanley Kubrick, and scored his debut efforts Fear and Desire in 1953, Killer’s Kiss in 1955, The Killing in 1956, and Paths of Glory in 1957. He received an Oscar nomination for his score for the documentary feature Birds Do It Bees Do It in 1974, and then won an Emmy for co-scoring the groundbreaking miniseries Roots with Quincy Jones in 1977. Fried is 92 years old now, and prior to this film hadn’t scored a full-length narrative feature since 1988, 33 years ago, but somehow director Steven Fawcette lured him out of retirement to write music for this project.

Unbelievable!!!!! is a sci-fi comedy spoof whose plot is summarized online thusly: Martians have arrived on Earth, and four off-beat astronauts (one of whom is a Thunderbirds-style marionette) must now fight to save the last remnants of humanity by traveling to the Moon to rescue two missing Space Agency comrades. However, the plot of the film is not as important as the cast, because somehow director Fawcette has managed to bring together virtually every living member of every incarnation of Star Trek, plus a number of other pop culture legends, and put them in his film. The film features – and this is not a joke – Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and Gary Lockwood from the original Trek; Scotty’s actual son Christopher Doohan; Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn from The Next Generation; Nana Visitor, Armin Shimerman, Jeffrey Combs, Chase Masterson, and Max Grodenchik from Deep Space Nine; Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, and Garrett Wang from Voyager; and Connor Trinneer, John Billingsley, Dominic Keating, and Linda Park from Enterprise; plus Michael Madsen, Gilbert Gottfried, Robert Davi, Dina Meyer, Olivia d’Abo, Julie Warner, and even frickin’ Snoop Dogg.

The score for Unbelievable!!!!! was recorded with a full orchestra in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was conducted by Fried himself. Somewhat astonishingly Fried was also able to call on two old colleagues – Oscar winning composer Dave Grusin and harmonica virtuoso Tommy Morgan – to come in and play on the score, lending the whole thing a sheen of Old Hollywood class that I’m sure the producers didn’t anticipate. The score is basically a Gerald Fried greatest hits compilation; it spoofs Amok Time and all the other classic Star Trek scores he wrote, while also riffing on the funky, jazzy, down-and-dirty scores he wrote for action cop shows like Mission: Impossible and The Man from UNCLE. Not only that, but there are additional flavors of his swing and tropicana solo albums, plus some clear references to other classic 1970s sci-fi space scores, which makes this entire thing a feast for anyone who has enjoyed Fried’s work over the years. It may seem somewhat old fashioned and dated to contemporary ears, but for me that’s one of it’s most appealing qualities.

The whole thing is based around a single recurring main theme, which Fried calls the ‘Adventure Theme,’ and which is introduced in the eponymous third cue. It’s built around a recurring six-note central motif, and in that first appearance it initially has a fun, upbeat, militaristic tone similar to things such as John Williams’s 1941 and Robert Folk’s Police Academy; however, in the second half of the cue it becomes darker and more serious, with muted tones, heavier percussion, and minor key combinations for strings and low woodwinds. This theme then re-occurs multiple times throughout the score, but rather than just repeat it verbatim Fried cleverly arranges it in a myriad of different styles to reflect different moods. For example, in “Adventure Theme (Reprise),” the darker arrangement is enhanced by the first appearance of Tommy Morgan’s harmonica, the pacing and tempo of which gives it an unexpected 1960s John Barry flavor. In “Big World Fragment” the darker version again is most prominent, this time featuring electronic tonalities from Dave Grusin’s keyboards, while the opening few moments of “Stupid Earthlings” arranges the theme with a regal touch, like something one might hear at a ball or cocktail soiree.

Later, “Orgasm” performs the Adventure Theme with an upbeat, whimsical tone, playful and full of florid triplets. “Stillwood Intro” is calm and pastoral, with more prominent acoustic guitars and a lovely oboe refrain. “Connie’s Turn” has a light rock/country vibe. “Charlie’s Story” is an off-kilter arrangement for an odd combo featuring woodwinds, strings, and woodblocks. “Bob’s Story” uses watery-sounding light jazz percussion and pan flutes to create a unique atmosphere. “Crew Arrives at Lunar Base” reprises the traditional Sousa-esque militaristic version heard in the opening cue. Towards the end of the score the “Unity Theme” sees the Adventure Theme arranged with a positive and patriotic edge, has a tiny jazz influence through use of tapped hi-hat cymbals, and features a lovely mid-cue sequence offering variations and riffs on the central melody that take it to some interesting new places. The final main statement of the theme comes in “Charlie and Bob Run,” in which Fried arranges the theme like a groovy 1960s action Mission Impossible sequence, featuring heavy drums, electric guitars, horns, bongos, and Dave Grusin on the Hammond organ.

Returning to the John Barry influences I mentioned in an earlier paragraph, this is actually something that has a strong presence elsewhere too. In some of the more low-key sequences of suspense and tension Fried appears to be intentionally channeling Barry’s late 1970s sci-fi style, especially scores like The Black Hole and Moonraker. Cues like “Big Blue Marble,” “Stamen and Luzair,” and the first part of “Moesha, Larrisha, Curlisha” appear to be especially influenced like this, and contain many of the ominous muted horns and woodwinds, precise pacing, and whirling string patterns that Barry’s scores were famous for. Interestingly, part two of “Moesha, Larrisha, Curlisha” takes the same arrangements and gives them a tropical dance-like groove, building to a superb light rock finale featuring Dave Grusin keyboards, electric guitars, and trumpet solos. “Hastings Whipping Durwood” takes the same stylistics in a different direction, building to a large scale finish with brass flourishes and cymbal crashes, while “Astronauts Searching” is unnerving in the way it brings electric guitars and jazzy muted horns into the atmospheric Barryesque textures.

An idea that is seemingly specific to Snoop Dogg’s character Major LeGrande Bushe appears in the cues “Kirk Meets Bushe” and “Kirk Runs into Bushe,” and is a heavy march for xylophones, strings, snare drum riffs, and a peculiar Dave Grusin keyboard texture; the way it is performed, with oddly unsettling rhythmic combinations, allows it to come off as both funny and portentous at the same time. Perhaps the apex of this idea comes in “Hastings and Durwood Transform,” which blends Bushe’s march with prominent harmonicas and the darkest version yet of the Adventure Theme, and is very effective.

Several one-off cues also leave a positive impression. “Astronaut Right Stuff Walk” is an undisguised spoof of Bill Conti’s Oscar-winning score. “Space Sick” riffs on Fried’s own music for the Lost in Space TV series, and is a little jazzy, with an off-kilter rhythmic center and orchestrations that highlight horns and woodblocks. “Shuttle Launch” is urgent and busy, with prominent rattling xylophones. “Gerbil” is an action cue filled with almost cowboy-style see-sawing rhythmic textures, and which builds to a frantic, dissonant finale full of screaming brass. “Shuttle Chase” is full of John Williams-style heroic space textures, action material for flashing brass phrases that dart across the orchestra, rapped percussion ideas, and darkly-hued instrumental clusters. “Boxing Match” is a wonderful parody of Fried’s ‘Amok Time’ Star Trek music with added harmonicas, and is full of aggressive, spiky rhythms. “Alien Dance” is a superb piece of Middle Eastern exotica, awash in rattling tambourines, bongos, woodwinds, and brasses playing a sultry seductive motif.

The finale of the score, which begins with “Flaming Aftermath,” is more lyrical and emotional than anything else in the score, and introduces a new idea – a tragically toned, lyrical new melody for acoustic guitars and cascading strings. “I’m Still Here” re-orchestrates the main Adventure Theme for gentle, peaceful oboes. “Kirk Meets Anne Droid” is pretty and romantic, with an especially lovely flute part, while the conclusive “Mars Flower Bed” is warm and homely, and again features harmonicas and guitars offset by soothing oboes. The final element of the score is an original song, “After Today,” written and performed by singer-songwriter and actress Emily L. Stanton. The two vocal versions which bookend the score are nice enough, and have an optimistic off-Broadway sound, and there is also an orchestra-only arrangement of Stanton’s melody, which is pleasant and has a light jazz feel.

As I write this final paragraph in summary of Unbelievable!!!!!, I am struck by a little sense of melancholy over the fact that, unless something quite extraordinary happens, this is likely to be Gerald Fried’s last ever contribution to film music in any meaningful way. At the age of 92, Fried is living out a relaxing retirement in New Mexico, content that his film music legacy is intact, so in many ways Unbelievable!!!!! is nothing more than a bonus, an encore to leave for his many admirers. Taken on these terms it’s certainly easy to recommend this as a final hurrah from one of the last remaining composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. More than anything, I hope that people find something in this score that reminds them of what a great composer Gerald Fried was – and is – and encourages people to investigate his filmography from when he was in his composing prime from the mid-1950s through the late 1970s.

Buy the Unbelievable!!!!! soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • After Today (written and performed by Emily L. Stanton) (3:05)
  • After Today – Orchestral (written by Emily L. Stanton) (2:44)
  • Adventure Theme (1:33)
  • Adventure Theme (Reprise) (0:48)
  • Big World Fragment (0:34)
  • Cheryl Opens Door (1:13)
  • Kirk Meets Bushe (1:26)
  • Stupid Earthlings (0:43)
  • Orgasm (0:48)
  • Astronaut Right Stuff Walk (0:53)
  • Seat Belt Caper (0:36)
  • Space Sick (0:31)
  • Amber Attacked (0:48)
  • Big Blue Marble (0:24)
  • Stamen and Luzair (1:03)
  • Moesha, Larrisha, Curlisha, Pt. 1 (1:03)
  • Moesha, Larrisha, Curlisha, Pt. 2 (1:18)
  • Toilet Time (1:21)
  • Stillwood Intro (0:35)
  • Connies Turn (0:27)
  • Charlie’s Story (0:31)
  • Bob’s Story (0:43)
  • Hastings Whipping Durwood (0:48)
  • Crew Arrives at Lunar Base (0:46)
  • Trail of Dust (0:31)
  • 5 Security Systems (2:17)
  • Hastings and Durwood Transform (2:18)
  • Shuttle Launch (0:20)
  • Unity Theme (2:27)
  • Gerbil (2:10)
  • Shuttle Chase (1:46)
  • Astronauts Searching (1:01)
  • Kirk Runs into Bushe (0:36)
  • Boxing Match (0:57)
  • Tumbleweed Chase (0:13)
  • Bathroom Break (0:11)
  • Alien Dance (1:08)
  • Charlie and Bob Run (0:49)
  • Mars the Bringer of War Op.32 (written by Gustav Holst) (2:09)
  • Flaming Aftermath (0:52)
  • I’m Still Here (0:34)
  • Kirk Meets Anne Droid (1:07)
  • Mars Flower Bed (1:45)
  • After Today – End Credit Remix (written and performed by Emily L. Stanton) (5:02)

Running Time: 53 minutes 17 seconds

Lolaskyy Music (2020)

Music composed and conducted by Gerald Fried. Orchestrations by Chase Morrison and Ron Strauss. Featured musical soloists Dave Grusin and Tommy Morgan. Recorded and mixed by Baird Banner. Edited by Brad Hamilton. Album produced by Gerald Fried.

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