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JENNIFER 8 – Christopher Young

November 3, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Jennifer 8 was one of a series of very good serial killer thrillers released in cinemas in the aftermath of The Silence of the Lambs. Written and directed by Englishman Bruce Robinson – a world away from Withnail & I – it stars Andy Garcia as cop John Berlin, who takes a job with a rural police force in northern California after becoming burnt out on the job in Los Angeles. Before long Berlin finds himself embroiled in a new mystery when he finds evidence of a serial killer apparently targeting blind women; this brings him into contact with visually impaired music teacher Helena Robertson (Uma Thurman), who is a likely candidate to be the killer’s next victim. The film co-starred Lance Henriksen, Kathy Baker, Graham Beckel, and John Malkovich, and was a reasonable critical success, but it flopped badly at the box office; director Robinson’s Hollywood career nose-dived as a result, and his only film since then was The Rum Diary in 2011.

Director Robinson always wanted composer Christopher Young to write the score for the film; he was hot off the success of two big horror movies, Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and had also enjoyed a modicum of success with several smaller studio films. However, the executives at Paramount Pictures felt that Young did not have the experience necessary due to his lack of ‘major credits’, and instead hired Maurice Jarre against the director’s wishes. Jarre and Robinson did not gel, and Robinson felt that the atmospheric and synth-heavy music Jarre wrote for the film did not give him what he was looking for. After the first recording session the studio agreed, Jarre was let go, and Young came in to replace him.

Jennifer 8 turned out to be a seminal work in Christopher Young’s career. Not only was it his first assignment for one of the traditional ‘big studios,’ it also proved to be one of his most popular works within the industry, and a temp track favorite – on the strength of this score he was hired to score subsequent films like Dream Lover, Judicial Consent, Copycat, and several others, films which Young would later jokingly describe as ‘Jennifer 9,’ ‘Jennifer 10,’ and Jennifer 11’.

All joking aside, Jennifer 8 is a wonderfully atmospheric thriller score, filled with darkly romantic themes, brooding orchestral textures, and some terrific Herrmannesque action and suspense that has a real sense of class and panache. Everything builds out of the wonderful “Jennifer 8 Main Title,” a delicious combination of elegant pianos, ghostly vocals, glittering chimes, and high wavering woodwinds, all set on a bed of luxurious, velvety strings supported by soft horns . It creates a delightfully sophisticated atmosphere of beautiful foreboding, which we know to be quintessential Christopher Young – that sensational combination of textural darkness and enchanting melodic content. Jennifer 8 is one of his best examples of that style.

The main theme is prominent throughout the score, but Young frequently deconstructs it, sometimes playing just the tinkling piano motif, sometimes just playing the string chords, sometimes transposing the melodic line from violins to horns or flutes. Especially lovely statements of the theme appear in “Retrograde,” and in the more intense and frantic “Eight to Nine,” a wonderful piece of dark action and suspense that owes a debt to Bernard Herrmann that becomes quite exciting during its second half.

A haunting secondary theme for Uma Thurman’s character is introduced, appropriately, in “Cello for Helena,” and is carried mostly by the titular instrument, although it is often backed by the piano chord structure of the main theme to link the two ideas together. There’s a sense of melancholy running through this theme that really captures the essence of the character; not only does she have to contend with her own blindness, but she is mourning her roommate, who was the serial killer’s previous victim, and also dealing with the fact that she is likely next on the killer’s hit list. Further performances of Helena’s theme appear in the lovely pair “What You See” and “Palmist,” where the melody is transposed to piano, and then later it forms the basis of the love theme for the relationship that develops between her and Berlin, which gets an especially lovely rendition at the beginning of “Malice Aforethought”.

The action music introduced in the second half of “Eight to Nine” continues in the second half of “Brain Vanish” and then in climactic cues like “Black Winter” and towards the end of “Outfoxed”. Some of this recalls his earlier action writing on things like Bat*21 and Def-Con 4, even going all the way back to his second ever score, Highpoint, from 1982. I love the rhythmic parts of these cues, where Young passes percussive patterns between lots of different tapped and struck instruments, some metallic, some wooden, while the brass and the strings pulsate underneath them. I also love how so many different elements of the main theme weave in and out of them; a fragment of the melody here, the snippet of the piano motif there – which is essential in giving the score a sense of itself.

Elsewhere, large chunks of the score are made up of eerie suspense music: elongated string textures, little metallic tinkles, dark piano clusters, suffocating electronic tones, and an overall atmosphere of encroaching dread. Cues like “Eye to Eye,” “Still Life,” most of “Brain Vanish,” and “Talking Elevator” are very effective in context, but perhaps may tax the patience of some listeners who are less attuned to that sort of understated, vaguely dissonant, generally gloomy scoring.

The conclusive cue, “I Remember Red,” offers a superb final statement of the main thematic idea, but rather than dwelling in overwhelming despondency like most of the rest of the score, the version of the theme here has a glimmer of light and hope that comes via the more prominent use of brass, and a more sweeping sound in the strings, which is really quite satisfying. It’s my favorite arrangement of one of my favorite Young themes, and is sure to appeal to anyone who appreciates his style and approach.

The score for Jennifer 8 was originally released by Milan Records in 1992 on a fine album that combined just over 35 minutes of Young’s score with two classical pieces: the “Humming Chorus” from Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly performed by The Sofia National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, and the original German-language version of the Christmas carol “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” performed by Thomanerchor Leipzig. In 2012, to celebrate the it’s twentieth anniversary, La-La Land Records released an expanded edition of the score, coupled with 45 minutes of Maurice Jarre’s very different rejected score, in a 2-CD set. Young was heavily involved in the production of the expansion, and it presents a ‘revisited’ program that offers a listening experience that is different from, but as good as, the original.

Fans of classic Christopher Young specifically, or of sophisticated thriller scores in general, will absolutely want to add Jennifer 8 to their collection. The main theme is one of his best, a seminal work that informed a significant part of his ‘1990s thriller’ oeuvre, and the rest of the score is no slouch either, offering a compelling, evocative, enticingly melancholy look a life, love, murder, and death, filtered through the dark shroud of blindness.

Buy the Jennifer 8 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Jennifer 8, Main Title (2:06)
  • Retrograde (1:27)
  • Eight to Nine (2:58)
  • Cello for Helena (2:29)
  • What You See (1:19)
  • Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly (written by Giacomo Puccini, performed by The Sofia National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Ruslan Raichev) (3:06)
  • Eye to Eye (2:18)
  • Still Life (2:56)
  • Brain Vanish (5:16)
  • Black Winter (2:24)
  • Palmist (1:24)
  • Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (written by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr, performed by Thomanerchor Leipzig) (2:44)
  • Malice Aforethought (3:14)
  • Talking Elevator (2:37)
  • Outfoxed (2:15)
  • I Remember Red (4:00)
  • Jennifer 8 (2:06)
  • What You See (1:50)
  • Eight to Nine (2:02)
  • Still Life (5:15)
  • Black Winter (2:27)
  • Eyes of a Child (1:36)
  • Cello for Helena (2:40)
  • See No Evil (6:44)
  • Retrograde (1:27)
  • Blind Faith (2:42)
  • Talking Elevator (2:13)
  • Outfoxed (2:17)
  • Malice Aforethought (3:15)
  • Brain Vanish (5:18)
  • See How They Run (1:27)
  • I Remember Red (1:55)
  • Upon a Star (2:15)
  • Main Title (2:14) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • To the Dump/One Hand (1:39) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Frozen Hand/Dig Jennifer (1:36) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Braille Reader/Tea Time/Elevator Man/Hello Helena (1:45) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • 22 Bullet (1:29) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • On Your Own/Cello Solo/Breathless/Cafe Chat (2:59) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • VW Van/Van Search/Picking Lock (3:36) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • No Braille (2:34) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Xmas Threat/Not Wrong/Up the Ladder/Flashlight (Part I) (2:48) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Flashlight (Part II) (2:02) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Flashlight (Part III)/Ross Shot/Deviate Calls (3:37) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • First Degree/Taxi Ride/Needed Friend (1:46) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • No Lies/Ashtray (3:17) [Maurice Jarre Rejected Score]
  • Main Title (Alternate Version) (2:12) BONUS
  • Hello Helena (Pad Stem) (0:43) BONUS
  • Van Search (Alternate Version) (1:20) BONUS
  • Ross Shot/Deviate Calls (Alternate Mix) (2:49 BONUS)
  • Taxi Ride (Alternate Version) (0:50) BONUS

Running Time: 42 minutes 33 seconds – Original
Running Time: 86 minutes 48 seconds – Expanded

Milan Records 7432112667-2 (1992) – Original
La-La Land Records LLLCD 1198 (1992/2012) – Expanded

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by William Ross. Performed by The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Christopher Young and Pete Anthony. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle and Rick Winquest. Edited by Daniel Carlin. Album produced by Christopher Young. Expanded release produced by MV Gerhard, Matt Verboys and Dan Goldwasser.

  1. Ray
    January 29, 2023 at 11:37 am

    Thank you! Excellent review. But I never got an answer why the film does not have vocals in the ‘Main Title’, while in the re-release of LA-LAND RECORDS it is …
    This is my favorite Young score.

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