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MEDICINE MAN – Jerry Goldsmith

January 27, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Medicine Man is a drama with an ecological theme, written by Tom Schulman and Sally Robinson, and directed by John McTiernan, who at that time was one of Hollywood’s premier directors, hot on the heels of Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. The film stars Sean Connery as Dr. Robert Campbell, a medical researcher working deep in the Amazonian rainforest, who has gone missing after his wife and research partner abandon him. The pharmaceutical company funding Campbell’s work sends Dr. Rae Crane (Lorraine Bracco) – a brash, tough talking New Yorker – to find him; eventually, she locates him working in a remote tribal village, but they clash immediately, with Campbell’s latent sexism and bad-temperedness preventing him from taking her seriously, and with Rae being desperately unsuited to life in the jungle. However, the two bury their differences when a new threat emerges: a Brazilian logging company is building a road nearby, which threatens to displace the local native population, and potentially destroy the plant that Campbell believes may provide a cure for cancer.

The score for Medicine Man is by Jerry Goldsmith; he was the fifth composer that McTiernan used on his five films to that point, having worked with Bill Conti on his debut movie Nomads, Alan Silvestri on Predator, Michael Kamen on Die Hard, and Basil Poledouris on The Hunt for Red October. Despite them having never worked together before, Goldsmith was inspired to write an outstanding electro-acoustic hybrid score which blends the warm sound of the National Philharmonic Orchestra with a surprisingly large amount of sampled electronics, as well as some live and sampled solo instruments including guitars and pan pipes, the latter of which are intended to bring a touch of South American flair to the score. It also inspired Goldsmith to write one of his all-time greatest themes, notably in the cue “The Trees,” but more on that later.

The first cue, “Rae’s Arrival/Opening Titles,” is actually a theme for Lorraine Bracco’s character Rae, and is built around an irresistible, spirited melody for strummed guitars and light percussion, which comes across as a brighter and more playful cousin to the main theme from Under Fire. However, around 90 seconds or so into the cue the tone changes, and Goldsmith introduces his more serious motif for the Brazilian loggers, a forceful horn theme bolstered by a bank of frenetic percussion ideas, both real and synthesized, as well as wet electronic textures. Rae’s “First Morning” waking up in the Amazon is underscored with Goldsmith’s recurring theme for the tribal village where the research is being conducted, a beautifully serene piece for harps and abstract synth effects that seems to capture the glitter and warmth of the morning sun; some of the electronic tonalities here hark back to scores like Legend, in the way the depict they natural beauty of a lush, verdant landscape.

“Campbell and the Children” introduces the score’s love theme, which as the score develops comes to express the two loves of Campbell’s life – the forest and, by the end of the film, Rae. This theme reaches its peak during the subsequent “The Trees,” which as I mentioned earlier is, for me, one of the greatest and most beautiful pieces of music Goldsmith ever wrote. It accompanies a scene in which Campbell and Rae are moving around in the canopy layer of the jungle on a series of ropes, swings, and ladders, as he teaches her about the jungle’s ecology; it begins softly, hesitantly, mostly arranged for soft strings, pretty woodwinds, cascading pianos, and glittery electronics, but it gradually, almost imperceptibly, builds and builds. Then, at 3:35, just as Rae emerges through the canopy and is presented with an impossibly breathtaking view of the forested valley beneath her, Goldsmith unleashes his theme in the most soaring, richly symphonic arrangement imaginable; the cymbal ring at the moment the theme begins its refrain, and the waterfall of contrapuntal string textures that follow it, just add to the scope and the majesty. It’s staggeringly beautiful, emotionally overwhelming, just wonderful – one of my favorite single moments of Goldsmith’s entire career.

The rest of the score is, naturally, mostly downhill after this outrageous high, but there are still plenty of moments of excellence, drama, and emotion, as well as numerous reprises of Rae’s playful guitar theme, the warm and intimate Village theme, and especially the Brazilian Loggers theme, which becomes more dominant in the second half of the score, and gets arranged into some quite dramatic action material. For example, “The Harvest” reprises both the Village theme and Rae’s theme, with the latter offering one of the score’s prominent uses of synthesized pan pipes. “Mocara” is the first significant exploration of the Brazilian Loggers theme, and is an intense and occasionally quite violent set of electronic pulses and metallic percussion ideas that intentionally sound “alien” – as if the evil developers are encroaching into the unspoiled wilderness with their aggressive keyboards. The synth pan pipes and the guitar textures are then very prominent in “Mountain High,” a fun travelling montage that accompanies Rae and Campbell as they set off on a journey to meet with a witch doctor.

The sequence from “Without a Net” through to the end of “The Sugar” is based mostly around variations on the love theme, as the relationship between Campbell and Rae thaws, and they both begin to see each other for the good, caring people they truly are. “Without a Net” begins with some synth and pan-pipe rhythms, but segues into the love theme towards the end of the cue when Campbell rescues Rae from danger during the trek. “Finger Painting” moves backwards and forwards between the love theme and brutal statements of the Brazilian Loggers theme, creating a sense of impending danger, while in “What’s Wrong?” the love theme plays in counterpoint to the Village theme, with a sense of urgency in the synth textures and the percussion patterns. The conclusion of “The Sugar” has an excellent passage for guitars, pan pipes, and pizzicato strings that is very evocative.

Everything comes to a head in “The Fire,” which underscores the scene where Campbell and Rae – who are very close to making a breakthrough on their research – are forced into a violent confrontation with the Brazilian loggers, which results in a bulldozer catching fire and destroying the indigenous village, including Campbell’s research station, and a great deal of pristine rainforest. Here, Goldsmith takes the Brazilian Loggers theme to its most intense levels, electronic pulses pounding against a ruthless but still melodic counterpoint for brass and strings. It’s a dark conclusion to the conflict, which unfortunately mirrors what usually happens in real life: these enormous corporations, hungry only for profit, sweep in and destroy the lives of indigenous communities with impunity.

The final cue, “A Meal and a Bath,” is an 8–minute summary of the score, and offers a glimmer of hope as Campbell and Rae vow to continue their work together, despite the devastating loss of the village and the research station. Goldsmith runs through statements of the Village theme and the Love theme, including a lovely variant for an acoustic guitar and pan flutes backed by optimistic strings, that eventually swells into a gorgeous, warm reprise for the full orchestra. A powerful final statement of the Brazilian Loggers theme, electronic percussion combined with sweeping orchestra, ends the piece, acting as a reminder that the ecological threat posed by these ruthless companies remains a significant problem in the Amazon, even today.

Medicine Man is a terrific score, but I also acknowledge that it won’t be for everyone. Jerry Goldsmith’s use of electronics was problematic for many listeners in 1992, especially ones more attuned to the composer’s rich symphonic work, and contemporary film music aficionados may find them somewhat dated thirty years down the line. Personally, I think that Goldsmith’s electronic writing on Medicine Man is some of his strongest; it successfully illustrates the encroachment of unabashed commerce into the wilderness, synths taking over the orchestra, making it a good dramatic device. However, even if you do find the electronics unpalatable, at least you still have a theme as good as the Love Theme , and a cue as sensational as “The Trees,” to meet all your fully orchestral, sweeping, emotional needs.

I’ll end the review with a trivia note that most film score fans know: the pulled-back silver ponytail hairstyle that Connery sports in Medicine Man was inspired by the same hairstyle that Jerry Goldsmith wore for much of the 1990s! The pair met at a cocktail party just before Medicine Man started shooting; Connery reportedly started a conversation with Goldsmith by saying “I want your hair.” Goldsmith replied, laughing, “You can’t have it, it’s mine” – but he emulated it anyway, and Goldsmith eventually received a “hair consultant” credit in the film’s end titles!

Buy the Medicine Man soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Rae’s Arrival/Opening Titles (5:06)
  • First Morning (3:46)
  • Campbell and the Children (1:57)
  • The Trees (6:01)
  • The Harvest (3:11)
  • Mocara (3:36)
  • Mountain High (2:41)
  • Without a Net (4:19)
  • Finger Painting (2:30)
  • What’s Wrong? (1:52)
  • The Injection (2:09)
  • The Sugar (2:08)
  • The Fire (2:10)
  • A Meal and a Bath (8:03)

Running Time: 49 minutes 29 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5350 (1992)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross. Edited by Ken Hall. Album produced by Jerry Goldsmith.

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