Outland is Jerry Goldsmith’s last great sci-fi score from a heavily orchestral stance, because by the early eighties the master of action writing (there is no other peer) began to incorporate more synths, significantly changing his instrumental palette, and for a lengthy period, his writing style.
Perhaps taking a cue from Sean Connery’s overt masculinity, Outland is a massive, muscular score that’s designed to intimidate and unsettle. Writer / director Peter Hyams had already mined one of the greatest chase scores ever written when he engaged Goldsmith to score Capricorn One (1977), and the two easily knew what kind of score would work best for a film about a man trapped in an isolated community who must fight for his life when he’s bucked the order and alienated virtually every soul.
As Hyams describes in the Blu-ray commentary track, Goldsmith’s music just keeps building towards a disturbing end point, but leaving no closure until the finale where harmony and melody (tied to the sheriff’s wife and son) finally end the story. Cues rumble to life, circular and wavering figures gradually increase in density, and many cues close in massive sonic convergences.
There’s just one theme in the film, but each of Goldsmith’s redesigns are amazing, whether elongated into shiny gliding tones (“Blood Test”), or the robust opening sequence (“The Mine”) which expands on the orchestral and electronic sounds of Logan’s Run (1976) to capture the loneliness of the insular mining town.
There’s also what’s arguably the score’s highlight – the chase music for “Hot Water,” where during a 6 minute time span the theme, in a spiraling version, progresses and readjusts itself to increasingly tense versions. It’s a perfect example of how to score a chase, and specifically address each aspect as cat and mouse eventually converge, scurry and hide, collide and battle, and break apart for another lengthy streak to a new location with new dangers. The main theme is reiterated by various instrumental groupings, and there’s the sharp contrast between brass, the furiously moving strings, and the massive percussion & low brass that give the chase sequence an epic scope. (A real treat in FSM’s CD is an expanded version of the cue, which features music not on the LP, nor in the film.)
Also note is the portent of “Hot Water” – an early cue called “Spiders” where audiences are treated to seeing an outside miner thinking he’s covered in spiders, and tearing open his suit, causing him to explode. The music is menacing yet compact, and ends with a snarling amalgam of brass and strings, and Goldsmith uses the same concepts for “The Airlock” where another delusional miner walks into an elevator without his pressurized suit, and explodes into a wet red mess. Like “Hot Water,” the cue’s about building tension, and Goldsmith keeps repeating his simple theme on muted brass, adding strings, and then organizing everything into a mordant ballet where light sounds, swirling, strained and heavy sounds thunder with ferocious animosity.
Hyams notes a parallel to Khachaturian’s writing which is quite appropriate, but it’s the grinding menace that dominates Outland and is such a treat for action fans; the otherwordly elements are there in the form of synths and orchestral scope, but the desperation of the characters is up front in those action cues.
The small motifs Goldsmith uses are also designed to unnerve, and their repetition ensures audiences are never sure how things will turn out for the hero (ideally speaking), or what lies around the corner. There’s a 3-note figure which recurs like a creaking door left ajar, or tympani hits that evoke someone running outside of a house rapping on windows and doors; both are simple concepts brilliantly developed, and illustrate the details which can add to a film’s illusion of time, place, and permanent state of fear.
There are a few significant stylist parallels to prior scores – notably Logan’s Run (in terms of the electronic tones), and Alien (1979), with the main title sequence in score and title design being quite blatant – but the music of Outland could easily be transposed to an Earth-bound locale, be it a grungy city corner the where police never venture, or a small desert town in a classic western (Hyams’ chief inspiration for writing the script).
There’s a slight saccharine quality to “Final Message” which signifies the reunion of father and family and their decision to leave a ‘shithole’ in space for Earth, but musically it’s appropriate because the two styles of writing represent a stark contrast (social & environmental normalcy) to the sheriff’s role as peacemaker among toasty personalities locked up in horrible isolation.
FSM’s CD features both the original soundtrack album and a full score edition, with expanded and unused cues, as well as “The Last Battle (Broken Hose)” where orchestrator Morton Stevens adapted Goldsmith’s original version into something more violent, albeit with a smaller group of instruments, and a coarseness reminiscent of the first story segment in Goldsmith’s Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
Also included: the two source cues by Michael Boddicker featured in the film when Goldsmith’s own versions (released on the LP) weren’t sufficiently sleazy and futuristic; and an alternate “Main Title” version. (Strangely, in his BR commentary, Hyams claims authorship of the title music, for which he recorded a reverse-processed cymbal and wailing superball.)
FSM’s massive booklet is filled with excellent liner notes and an interview with Michael Boddicker. The mastering is very clean, and comes close to the warm analogue sound of the original LP (which was released both on black and dark green vinyl). The score was also released in 2000 via GNP Crescendo, pairing Outland with Goldsmith’s re-recorded soundtrack album for Capricorn One.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan