Composer: Basil Poledouris
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
When it came to the music of heroic masculine boldness in the 1980’s (and well beyond that), perhaps no composer other than Jerry Goldsmith nailed the kind of muscular, brassy orchestrations and memorable, near-patriotic themes like the late Basil Poledouris. First making a Hollywood impression with the surf epic grandeur of 1978’s BIG WEDNESDAY, Poledouris’ unabashedly lush sound came in very handy wielding the sword of Crom in 1982’s CONAN and its sequel CONAN THE DESTROYER. There was no mistaking Poledouris’ love for Sergei Prokofiev in his operatic action music, Russkie rhythms that he subsequently gunned down with the Americana bombast of 1984’s RED DAWN. The next year, Poledouris would go medieval for Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s first English-language foray in FLESH + BLOOD. Like this melodically manly composer, Verhoeven was equally unabashed when it came to letting music play big over stylized mayhem. And it was a meeting of visceral poets that would yield its most legendary collaboration for their next collaboration on a movie that would gloriously twisting a silly comic book idea into perhaps the most brilliantly seditious action picture of all time.
Sure we’d watched cyborgs walking the beat on television and in the cinemas before, let alone complete automatons with a badge. But audiences had never seen the character’s look evolved to a new level of Rob Bottin-suited coolness, let alone dispensing the law with the jaw-dropping violent gratuity or hilarious social satire of 1987’s ROBOCOP. But even with Verhoeven’s visual panache, it’s doubtful the film would have had its iconic impact without Poledouris’ thundering score, one that mixed mock seriousness with a real emotional heart, a strum und metal sound complete with a three-note theme that practically sang “RO-BO-COP!” (and would literally do so when Leonard Rosenman scored the guilty pleasure sequel). But whether you were astounded or sniggered at the material, Poledouris’ score was a lightning bolt of instantly memorable energy- the orchestral equivalent of an AC/DC song in blasting out the power of metal- let alone the humanity within Robo’s OCP shell.
While issued twice before, ROBOCOP’s score has never been heard fully until now. And with Intrada’s sonic spit-shine, a score I thought I’d knew backwards and forwards to after a zillion listens becomes a new revelation of Poledouris’ accomplishment, complete with the commercial break music where the composer got to have his most, unabashed fun, from his gas-guzzling 6000 SUX take on KING KONG to the swooning orchestra for the Jarvic artificial heart. But with Robo’s terrifically refurbished sound (and excellent liner notes by Jeff Bond), one gets the full extent of how meticulously Poledouris constructed his themes here, varying them from gut-wrenching poignancy to militaristic aggression. Synth percussion at first bubbles under the human strings for officer Frank Murphy, his “Van Chase” of a bunch of thugs dance-like in its action rhythms. Smartly leaving the shock of Murphy’s gunshot annihilation to the sound effects, Poledouris’ music returns for “Murphy Dies in O.R.,” his surging brass and synths descending into the ultimate black hole. It’s a sequence, and music that might be film’s most stunning realization of a character’s life flashing before his eyes, with the hospital realism adding a whole other level of emotional horror and loss to Poledouris’ near-screaming brass lines as Murphy’s theme struggles against the inevitable.
But ROBOCOP would be pretty short, not to mention a bummer, if it ended there. And Poledouris keys us into Murphy’s resurrection with the futuristic, razor-synth shimmers of “Robo Lives.” It’s an encapsulation of all things metal that continues to fuel the score, from the humorous clanking percussion of “Murphy Drives” to embodying his unstoppable, heroic force with “Helpless Woman.” Yet Murphy’s mind hasn’t been completely wiped by his corporate saviors, as “Murphy’s Dream” and “Murphy Goes Home” movingly convey the family that he’s lost, with melancholy strings struggling against electronics, the melody becoming progressively angrier as the full realization of his lost life floods into his soul. It’s this juxtaposition of real, heartfelt emotion with the crowd-pleasing musical aggression that truly makes ROBOCOP’s music continue to stand out.
If 80’s action films rocked like no other decade, it was for their requisite scenes of good guys gleefully slaughtering warehouses full of scum. And “Rock Shop” is one of those great musical kill zones, with Poledouris’ brass smacking on a crack den’s door before letting Murphy’s hero theme rip, the big country orchestral sound making him as much a western sheriff as the pattering of synths hammer show Murphy off as the future of law enforcement, the trumpeting theme reaching the height of it wordless RO-BO-COP ism. Poledouris’ physical approximation of the Verhoeven’s action is also at its height here, tossing the villainous Clarence about before sharp synths nearly strangle him. After the electronics and grinding brass cause the overload of “Directive 4,” Poledouris launches into its best action cue (and my favorite scene of the film) with “Robo & Ed 209 Fight,” a metal-on-metal duel where Poledouris conveys the lumbering movement of the notoriously malfunctioning (not to mention clumsy) robot with the surging strings of Murphy, music that’s all about inhuman weight versus human desperation. The anguish continues with “Force Shoots Robot,” as Murphy’s theme cries with the anguish of the cops who are forced to blast him- all before a hilarious interruption of monster movie music- followed up by even more incongruously funny elevator stylings with “Big Is Better” (composed along with Steven Scott Smalley).
Electronics are at first out of the picture as Murphy’s partner Lewis tenderly helps him unmask in “Care Package.” As his sad, bolted face is revealed for the first time, synth voices and child-like bells again bring out the character’s loss. But it’s quickly back to action as Poledouris rousingly brings all of his themes together with full western-style force in “Looking For Me” as musical justice is passionately dispensed, along with the death-plummet motif as Verhoeven engages in his delight for ripping apart characters to the point of near-obliteration, all before their vengefully satisfying comebacks. “Across the Board” has a delightful payback build as Murphy aids in Hollywood’s most memorable firing scene, with Poledouris then unleashing Murphy’s theme with the full, orchestral acceptance of his condition. It’s glorious, red-blooded hero music, full of militaristic pomp and circumstance. It would be vibe that Poledouris triumphantly return to ten years later for Verhoeven with his even more jingoistic score to STARSHIP TROOPERS.
With Basil Poledouris’ tragic passing in 2006, a voice that proved musical aggression could be melodically fulfilling was silenced- if not even before that as the composer essentially walked in the face of Hollywood’s heave-ho’ing of his classical, orchestral sensibility for their increasingly “hip” sound of their youth-driven action films. But in a memorable career that gave macho class to the likes of UNDER SEIGE 2, ON DEADLY GROUND, IRON EAGLE, FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER and ROBOCOP III, Poledouris’ score for the OCP avenger remains a highpoint in grafting symphonic humanity onto pulsing electronic music, all driven by a symphonic sensibility that reached back to the days when heroes first grabbed a metal sword- if not a metal suit. If you think you’ve heard ROBOCOP, you ain’t heard nothing yet.
I’d buy ROBOCOP for a couple of dollars here
Composer: Basil Poledouris