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Before he did The Mummy, before he did Total Recall, and before he did Star Trek V, Jerry Goldsmith composed Rambo: First Blood Part II, which many fans consider his best action score.  Although I don't hold it in quite as high esteem, it is still one of his better works, and possibly one of the best action scores he's ever composed.  Before I go any further, let me say that I haven't actually heard his score for the original First Blood, so some of my discussions on the themes may be somewhat, um, WRONG.  There are about 3 principal themes present.  The first is a new Rambo fanfare, which is quite exciting and perfect for the movie.  After that is the "Long Road" theme from First Blood, which is now quite subdued, usually played on strings or woodwinds.  Finally, and this doesn't appear very often, there is a fun quasi-Oriental theme played on weird synths to convey the setting.  Although there's a heavy dose of orchestral action in this score, Goldsmith also frequently uses quiet, wistful cues based on the Long Road theme, as well as less interesting, orchestrally dissonant tracks to raise tension.  One of the only things that I don't like about this score is the composer's obsession with annoying synthesizers.  Frankly, they are usually distracting and the score would have been a lot better with some kind of orchestral accompaniment in their place.  The release I'm listening to is a new 1999 reissue of the original soundtrack by Silva Screen, complete with about 15 minutes of new music.  Now, there wasn't really anything wrong with the original 45 minute Varese Sarabande CD, except it was virtually impossible to find.  However, I'm still quite happy to be able to hear the new music, and the album contains virtually the entire score.  The only thing that seems to be missing are the end credits that Goldsmith composed, which were replaced in the film by a horrid rock song (present on this disc).  The official story I heard is that the credits were not on the original session masters, and no one could find them.  Silva's new release contains some astounding liner notes, with sections on the movie and score as a whole, a track-by-track breakdown, as well as a short note on sound quality, which states basically that some small imperfections are present, none of which I can hear.  In fact, the sound here is even better than some modern recordings, with stereo seperation so good that I sometimes have to check one of my speakers to see if it's still working during the quieter moments with instruments only on one side playing.

Track by Track
1. Main Title (2:12)
Goldsmith's rousing main title introduces his new Rambo II brass fanfare.  After a short, building string introduction, Goldsmith throws at us the most horrid, distracting synth effect I've ever heard.  It's almost like some kind of mutated electric guitar.  Anyway, the trusty Long Road theme is introduced under this, and the music finally segues into the introduction of his Chinese theme, which doesn't appear very often in the score.  One of the subtleties that I love is the fact that he waits until the very end of the cue to play the fanfare theme by itself, unlike most composers would do.  Instead, he interpolates tiny snippets of it between the synth Oriental theme, with each segment becoming louder and more pronounced, finally climaxing in a giant military march in which the whole theme is given to us.
2. The Map (1:07)
This short cue is a tension-building suspense cue utilizing mostly electronics (including the fake guitar sound that I hate so much.)  About halfway through, he starts to interpolate the First Blood theme.
3. Preparations (1:16)
More grating synths open this transitory track, which later becomes founded upon a racing low string ostinato as well as the First Blood theme.  In the last 20 seconds, the new Rambo fanfare becomes the main attraction.
4. The Jump (3:18)
Both the Chinese theme and the Rambo fanfare form the basis for this track, with the First Blood motif thrown in at various intervals.  I've begun to decide that this new fanfare is one of the best action motives Goldsmith has ever conceived.  This pulse-pounding cue picks up momentum throughout its entire running time, and it's one of the better cues on the album.  Thankfully, the synths are left behind until the very end.
5. The Snake (1:48)
After an awesome opening action march based around the fanfare exclusively, the music becomes more like the tension-building cue heard in track 2, with a hissing synthesizer used to represent the snake onscreen.  After the opening action cue, the First Blood theme becomes the main attraction, although it's not used very much.
6. The Pirates (1:27)
Atmospheric synthesizer effects form the bulk of this cue.  One of the building synth motives heard earlier, as well as hints of the First Blood theme, make themselves known periodically.
7. Stories (3:26)
In the first seconds of this cue, the Oriental synth motif becomes the centerpiece, only to later be taken over by the new Rambo fanfare in the strings.  The remainder of the cue is a romantic piece based on a moving solo oboe presentation of the First Blood theme, which has now become the love theme of the score.  Strings form the bulk of the accompaniment, and various short sections of both the Oriental motif and the Rambo fanfare eventually enter the soundscape.
8. The Camp/Forced Entry (2:23)
One of the better previously unreleased tracks, this action cue takes all three principal themes, as well as some of the synth rhythms heard earlier, and forms an exciting, sometimes ambient listening experience.
9. The Cage (3:55)
Innovatively, Goldsmith mixes 2 of the score's main styles in the beginning of this cue - the First Blood theme played on the Oriental synths.  The track eventually becomes a tension-building "snooping around" piece, always utilizing all three themes, including the more tender First Blood love theme (heard earlier in "Stories")  Also returning is the bass synth ostinato, heard in almost every cue thus far.
10. River Crash/The Gunboat (3:30)
One of the better tracks present, this combines all three themes much like the previous track, but here they're molded into an exciting action cue.  Although it has more synths, this score, and particularly this track, reminds me of some of the action music in Star Trek V.  In fact, one of the fast descending woodwind action motives, which is buried far in the background here, becomes one of the principal action motives in Trek V.  His use of the themes here is also a lot like Trek.
11. Betrayed (4:22)
 Another awesome action cue, based heavily on the First Blood theme along with ethnic instrumentation.  Even moreso than the previous track, some of the string accompaniment would be found in Goldsmith's later Star Trek V score.  The composer breathes new life into that wearing creeping synth ostinato by upping its tempo and dynamics.  Although it's not featured that much, the Rambo fanfare is present as well.
12. Bring Him Up/The Eyes (2:04)
The first part of this tension cue is based on the Chinese theme and Rambo fanfare, played in both strings and brass.  However, as the hero is thrown into a pit of leeches, Goldsmith employs grating, harsh synthesizers to represent the carnivorous organisms.
13. Escape from Torture (3:39)
As the liner notes say, this is definitely one of the main action highlights of the score, heavily featuring the 2 Rambo heroic themes, as well as our favorite synth ostinato, now played on the annoying fake guitar instrument.  Also spotlighted is the snare drum, which lends an appropriate military-esque march quality to the action.  The strings are usually used only as descants or ostinati, with the melody exclusively for brass chorale, which especially exciting during full presentations of the Rambo fanfare.
14. Ambush (2:45)
As Rambo's love interest perishes by a squadron of bullets, Goldsmith personifies her death with a return of the solo-oboe rendition of the First Blood theme, along with strings.  However, with the return of that annoying building synth ostinato, the music regains its masculine characteristics with a martial horn solo.  In the last 30 seconds is an ominous ethnically flavored version of both the First Blood theme and Rambo fanfare.
15. Revenge (6:14)
The action centerpiece of the album, this intercuts tension-building dissonant strings and ethnic instruments with martial orchestral cadences based around the various themes.  Unfortunately, Goldsmith also uses all of his favorite annoying synthesizers, including the creeping ostinato and fake guitar.  However, they're not enough to ruin the cue, which is one of the very best of the score.
16. Bowed Down (1:04)
This is a short action cue with a synth ostinato in the bass, and various brassy incarnations of the First Blood theme in the melody.
17. Pilot Over (1:52)
Another one of the best cues on the album, this has some extremely complex brass writing outlining the First Blood theme.  Also noteworthy is the way that Goldsmith has finally almost let go of the synths, although they do appear once or twice.  Finally, at the climax of the piece, we get an ecstatic action oriented playing of the full Rambo fanfare.
18. Village Raid/Helicopter Fight (4:53)
Yet another virtuoso action cue, this is centered around long percussion cadences and brass fanfares based on the First Blood theme.  This is definitely the best rendition of that theme I've ever heard, especially toward the second half.  Even the usually annoying creeping synth ostinato becomes an exciting motif here.  In the last section, Goldsmith brings the Rambo fanfare to the forefront and interpolates it with the First Blood theme.  Even those who already have the older Varese release of this album may want to look into this expanded edition, mostly for this cue.  I couldn't imagine hearing the album without it.
19. Home Flight (3:01)
For the resolution of the film and score, Goldsmith gives us one last exciting action set-piece based on the synth ostinato, Rambo fanfare, and First Blood theme.
20. Day by Day (2:06)
Remarkably, Jerry Goldsmith doesn't end his giant action score with a loud fanfare.  Instead, we get this charming, tender tone poem on the First Blood theme, which, surprisingly, is a great ending to the score.  Finally, in the last 10 seconds, the Rambo fanfare is presented in the horns.
21. Peace in Our Life (3:18)
Do yourself a favor and turn the CD player off before you get to this.  Trust me.  Although it's a song based somewhat on the Rambo theme, I don't know any Goldsmith fan who would want to have to sit through this to hear the short interpolation of it.

This is one of the quintessential Jerry Goldsmith action scores that everyone needs to own.  Frankly, I hadn't really heard much about it until I got this release, and I now can't imagine my collection without it.  If you've heard some of Jerry's other big action scores, particularly Star Trek V, you will almost definitely love this one.  Although some of the long stretches of tension music, as well as the synths, can become a little wearing, fans of the composer and action scores in general will definitely go for this.  The reason the orchestral performance rating is only a 6 is because of the annoying synthesizers.



 
Rambo: The Final Score
Music Rating 9/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Orchestral Performance 6/10
Sound Quality 8/10
Length 10/10




Rambo is Copyright 1999 by Silva Screen.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All rights reserved.
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