Tuesday, May 16, 2017

RAMBLING RANT: James Horner's COMMANDO score is good for your health

Commando was one of the great guilty pleasures of the eighties. A combination of wooden/hammy acting, a brilliantly moronic script and a healthy disdain for anything resembling reality, it's a great time.

Just to catch up anyone who hasn't watched it, the plot is simple. Ah-nuld plays John Matrix, a former black ops soldier living a blissful retirement with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). When a former foe kidnaps his daughter, Matrix kills a kajillion bajillion people wearing fake moustaches and gets her back.

Now back to the music.


When broken into its constituent parts, Commando is a bizarre movie. And one of the funkiest parts of the movie is its score, by future Academy Award winner James Horner. I've tried to come up with a way of describing what this music sounds like, and I'm still stuck. It sounds like three different musicians trying to drown each other out in the same recording studio -- one has a bunch of synth keyboards, another has an array of steel drums and the third is just an asshole with a saxophone.

Let's go through this masterpiece, track by track.


Okay, now 'Prologue - Main Title' probably bares the closest resemblance to an actual song you can listen to. Heavy synths, steel drums and saxophone. It kinda works. The second half, which plays under scenes of Arnie playing with his daughter, eating ice cream and feeding a deer, it also kinda works. Turning into a mawkish melody played on an extremely cheesy-sounding electronic piano, it sounds like the opening to an eighties sitcom.


'Ambush and Kidnapping' introduces another trope of this score -- repetitive themes that go on for three minutes with little-to-no variation. Thank Christ for the sax.


'Captured' starts slow, with a low, repetitive synth rumble. Partway through the track it explodes into a completely different synth action theme. Once again, it goes on forever, but it sounds cool. It should be noted that this music plays during Arnie's escape from the airplane taking him to South America. Let's just say that the music is way more exciting than the action onscreen.


'Surprise' is where the score just starts aping whatever is going onscreen. In Hollywood terms this is known as 'Mickey Mousing.' In Commando terms it's known as 'Matrix running'. That joke sucks, but so does this music. Moving on! 


'Sully Runs' is where our three musos are gate-crashed by the music for a Caribbean cruise line. Seriously.


'Moving Jenny' sounds like something made by a human being. A mawkish, slowed-down version of the movie's main theme, it highlights the hopelessness of Jenny's plight. But not really.


Back to the action! 'Matrix Breaks In' follows the same sophisticated pattern as 'Captured'. Slow and steady for a minute or so, and then BAM! Action theme! This one is actually pretty good at getting the juices flowing. You can definitely add it to your workout mix while you're doing your reps and getting totally jacked.


'Infiltration, Showdown and Finale' is a 14 minute monster that plays under Arnie's final assault on the bad guys' compound. Right from the beginning, it sounds like Horner ran out of ideas and just decided to play every previous track again at the same time. The one piece that gels is the aural bliss of 0:57 through 1:17, as Horner accompanies Arnie's 'getting ready' montage with a lot of extremely satisfying 'clangs'. It is awesome -- especially if you edit it out in GarageBand -- then you can play it over and over again.
The soundtrack to Commando is a glorious multi-vehicle car wreck. It doesn't work as well without the movie, but if you are in the mood to build your own set of Arnie-sized guns, it might do the trick.

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