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Until now, The Challenge has been one of the great missing links in the '80s filmography of Jerry Goldsmith.  Collectors everywhere yearned for the score's pounding action music and clever pastiche of Eastern elements bound together by a noble main theme.  The film, like dozens of others scored by Goldsmith, is virtually forgotten now, buried with the thousands of derivative Asian action movies.  Finally, Prometheus released the score in a deluxe collector's edition containing every note of music written for the film, which unfortunately contains long stretches of lifeless underscore, the main negative factor of the work.  The composer attempts to breathe life into these passages with hints of the main themes, but only sometimes succeeds.  These motivs, however, each have something different to offer, examples being the mystical main theme, a chromatic string religious theme, and a dissonant minor 9th-interval ostinato.  The action material, on the other hand, is some of the composer's most unrelenting, possessing several remnants of Goldsmith's gritty '70s style.  Prometheus' release contains a lengthy essay on the film and score, as well as a brief note on the sound quality, which maintains an elegant clarity.  Goldsmith collectors will need no urging to order this (available at Soundtrack! Magazine) while others may want to sample it first.

Track by Track Analysis:

1. Main Title (4:55)

The Challenge's main title consists of several Goldsmith trademarks blended with a few new Eastern devices.  It opens with the surreal meanderings of a sakuhatchi flute, promptly setting the Asian tone, expanded by pinging instruments and high fifths in the strings.  The main theme, when finally developed beyond the sakuhatchi, blends these ethnic elements with a lush orchestral setting indicative of the composer's '80s style.  In the final minutes, the ethnic instruments cascade into a larger theme with an almost religious sound, characterized by its relationship with Poltergeist or The Final Conflict, including water-drop bars.  The track ends with a percussive burst, which serves as a prelude to his next two action cues.

2. The Wrong Sword (3:50)

Goldsmith's 2nd cue promptly delves into the composer's no-holds-barred approach to action scenes.  This piece consists of two contrasting elements: savage, uncompromising brass and string sections, and several periods of the ethnic instruments, which continue the ferocious pace of the ostinato while providing a solace from the orchestral assault.  It should be noted that the minor ninth-interval bass ostinato actually derives from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, but it sounds fresh and new in Goldsmith's music.  Also, he revives the unique technique of using mixing bowls as percussion instruments, a technique made popular in Planet of the Apes.  Finally, the cue contains many subtle references to the main title's thematic material.

3. Over the Top/Fish Market (5:20)

These cues continue some of the ostinatos and motivs from the previous track, and, while it contains a somewhat lengthy central underscore section, the action material becomes even more exciting than the previous track, giving the theme a full workout against the mixing bowls, string runs, brass fanfares, and the Stravinskian bass ostinato (expanded upon throughout the track.)

4. Half an Equal (2:54)

This ethereal track expands upon the major sections of the main title, surrounding the exotic harmonic minor key turns of the woodwinds in a bed of lush string material, expanding upon the mysterious chromatic religious theme.

5. Lonely Road (1:57)

Again, the exotic 5-note main theme and its derivatives set the foundation for another minute of ethereal string writing, reintroducing the sakuhatchi.  In the final minute, the score plays like an Easternized version of Legend, combining mystical string motivs with the koto and other ethnic instruments.

6. "Let's Talk" (2:16)

Although it continues ideas started in the previous two tracks, this cue's main attraction is its continuous alternation between major and minor keys, accomplished by the changing of a single note in the string chords, a device frequently employed by Mahler, especially in the fourth movement of his sixth symphony.

7. Interlude (1:02)

A mystical, exotic ode for ethnic instruments and high strings is the centerpiece of "Interlude."  Goldsmith subtly interweaves both the secondary theme from the main titles, as well as some of the jubilant woodland material.

8. "Can't We Do It?" (5:12)

This multi-faceted piece begins with a section of dissonant underscore assisted by Alien-like fluttering strings and waterdrop bars.  After a short outburst of action material with the main theme, the track quiets into more quiet underscore.  The strings begin in their typical lush tone, meld into screeching dissonance, and complete the track with the secondary theme, sometimes accompanied by ethnic instruments.

9. The Pit (4:48)

Characterized by its dark orchestral colors, "The Pit" serves as a prime example of Goldsmith's approach to underscore, incorporating the main themes at various intervals.  Its main highlight is the ending, comprised of fortissimo explosions of the secondary theme, buried in a colossal bed of dissonance.

10. Double Cross (5:50)

Another exciting Goldsmith action extravaganza, this takes a fresh approach tot he motivic material from earlier in the album.  Soon, however, it descends into typical underscore, sometimes hinting at the themes.  A highlight is the concluding brass chorale rendition of the religious motiv.

11. Bamboo Forest (:30)

Goldsmith uses this to demonstrate his mastery of the Eastern pastiche, blending an upbeat melody on koto with the strings.

12. The Traitor (3:22)

After a period of boring underscore, the composer lets loose with an apocalyptic action section that, while incorporating the minor ninth ostinato and main themes, introduces a totally different approach, relying heavily on dissonance and malevolence.  A mystical rendition of the religious motiv ends the track.

13. "Stay With Me" (4:25)

This is one of the highlights of the score - the composer seamlessly transforms the main motif into a sweeping love theme.

14. "I Will Go" (1:20)

This consists of an epic reprise of the religious motivs, coupled with the main theme.

15. Surprise Visitor/Forced Entry (6:17)

These two cues masterfully combine some of the score's most exciting action material with more lackadaisical underscore, both making use of the Stravinskian ostinato, the main themes, and ethnic instruments.  The action material is more savage than ever before, has more dissonance, and contains supremely difficult orchestral writing.

16. "As You Wish"/End Title (5:49)

Goldsmith caps off the score proper with a timpani-driven action masterpiece based around the main theme with huge string and woodwind runs.  The end title bids farewell to the composer's thematic material in several interesting variations.

In summation, The Challenge is a double-edged sword: it contains some of Goldsmiths' most appealing action music, themes, and ethnic writing, as well as some of his most lifeless underscore.  The benefits outweigh the detractions, and serious Goldsmithians will definitely want to own it.

The Challenge: The Final Score
Music Rating 8/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 8/10
Sound Quality 8/10
Length 6/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10


The Challenge is Copyright 2000 by Prometheus.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.