Say what you like about Michael Crichton, but his career is still a remarkable achievement; a qualified doctor, film director (this, Westworld and Coma, amongst others) novelist (mainly famous as films - Jurassic Park - say no more) and co-creator of the superb medical series ER which puts almost all other TV drama in the shade, even after a dozen or so seasons. His fictionalised version of the Great Train Robbery (or First Great Train Robbery as it is sometimes referred) turns a rather unglamorous crime into one of gentlemen thieves and daring escapes. After their successful collaboration for Coma, Crichton turned again to the talents of Jerry Goldsmith to pen the score which, in any other year, would be a fine achievement, but when the composer also wrote the likes Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture the same year, it probably isn't as well known as it should.
For such a great Main Title, it appears on surprisingly few compilations and only due to Silva Screen's double disc of Goldsmith's music have most had the chance to hear it at all. The tune barrels along with a reckless abandon and a vibrant energy that almost seems a bit much. If you think too hard, it's rather an unlikely theme for such a film as it neither conjures up the period (Victorian) nor the place (England), one rather expects something a little more mannered and elegant. More Ron Goodwin or Richard Rodney Bennett. Still, as an accompaniment to a steam train speeding through England's green and pleasant land, it's ideal. The pace and tone then shift down a gear as the heist is planned and various train company employees are followed and their lives infiltrated. Goldsmith keeps some elements of the main theme present almost constantly, notably the pulsing bass line, but turns the ebullience of the full rendition into something a little more sinister.
The robbery itself takes up a surprisingly short time on disc, although evidently one cue - the strangely titled Dead Willy - was absent from the set of masters and would have contributed a little more action. However, those that do appear present the heist as more high adventure than crime; we're clearly meant to the rooting for the robbers than those who might catch them. The End Title reprises the energy of the opening track and neatly bookends a fine score. Although essentially monothematic, it's a good enough theme to work throughout, but I suspect some might be surprised at the amount of more modestly proportioned material. It certainly isn't rollocking adventure from start to finish, but Goldsmith's quieter music is no less engaging and the album is a fine addition to 1979's vintage year of scoring.
This release from Varese is pretty much the entire score, taken from 24 bit masters and mixed as a hybrid SACD. However, even on a regular CD player it sounds terrific, as though it had been recorded yesterday. It is a mystery how a modestly budgeted flick such as this could have such a superbly recorded score and get such an audibly impressive release, yet in the same month, the original Star Wars scores, from the same era, are re-re-re-released, but still sonically something of a disappointment in places. Even more odd when the original recording engineer, Eric Tomlinson, was the same. Being a Deluxe Edition, the notes are extensive and informative, full of nuggets of information about the film's production and a description of the film by cue. A fine release of another largely undiscovered Goldsmith gem.