The Hunt for Red October
: (Basil Poledouris) Among
the four major big-screen adaptations of Tom Clancy's novels about
American intelligence agent Jack Ryan, The Hunt for Red October
is almost unanimously considered the best. With both critical and
massive popular acclaim as a summer blockbuster in 1990, the finely
crafted John McTiernan film would stir Paramount's interest in creating
a film franchise around the Ryan character, though by The Sum of All
over a decade later, the idea had worn out its welcome. There
were a plethora of reasons why Red October
succeeded so well,
both on campy pop levels and highly skilled technical ones. Its story's
intrigue speaks to the novel's bestseller status; in the waning days of
the Cold War, the Soviets' top submarine commander violates orders and
sails his revolutionary new and 'silent' nuclear submarine on a direct
course for America, with the Americans not knowing whether he intends to
launch his nuclear arsenal or defect for the cause of peace. The cast of
the film begs questions, especially with Sean Connery and Tim Curry in
primary Soviet roles, but if you look past their sometime waning control
over their accents, the supporting cast puts the sequel ensembles to
shame. A thrilling story and outstanding art direction are joined by an
undeniably masterful job of sound production for film. Winning the Oscar
for "Sound Effects Editing" and nominated for "Best Sound" and "Film
Editing," the aural soundscape of the film was well beyond its time for
a 1990 production, and part of the success in Red October
appeal to the ears is owed to composer Basil Poledouris (who won a BMI
Film Music Award for his score). The assignment was a dream come true
for Poledouris, whose capability in scoring raw action films was only
eclipsed by his love of the sea. It's no coincidence that many of
Poledouris' most cherished scores exist for films that involve the
ocean. His knowledge of sailing and desire to be oceanside have figured
into some of his most creative film scores, and Red October
rivals the lesser-known Wind
as the pinnacle of these
Several unique challenges were posed to Poledouris in
tackling The Hunt for Red October
, ranging from the prestige of
the Russian military to the techno-thriller elements begging for
synthetic treatment. His score would ultimately balance an ethnically
appropriate chorus (to provide the Russian hymns) with a full orchestra
and Poledouris' expected range of electronics. Among these elements, the
orchestra seems to simply be along for the ride, with the chorus and,
primarily, the synthetic elements navigating the score's sound. The most
remarkable aspect of Poledouris' efforts for Red October
fact that he intentionally blurs the lines so effectively between a
standalone melodramatic score and the kind of source music that a film
like this requires. Not only does hymnal material receive a source-like
performance in the context of the film's story, but Poledouris' array of
synthetic sounds, developed over the course of the 1980's, merges with
the sound effects so well that it's difficult to distinguish between the
music and the effects in the film. The most memorable music from Red
for a majority of listeners will be the choral sequences,
and the title hymn in particular. While speculation has raged for years
that Poledouris used a Russian national anthem or a traditional Red Army
hymn as the basis for the "Hymn to Red October," the fact is that
Poledouris' material is his own. Despite some typical references to
classic Russian composers, such comparisons are expected given the
constructs of the music, and Poledouris should be commended for both his
music and lyrics for the hymn. The falling "Oktyabreh" segment of the
theme is used during the heroic moments of the Russian crew during the
film, both with and without the choir, providing both an effective and
lyrical title theme for the film to revisit for grand occasions. The
remaining thematic material in Red October
exists in mostly
simple motifs of harmoniously elegant chord progressions. One of the
better developed motifs exists in the form of a graceful choral movement
for the title submarine itself, used repeatedly during underwater shots
of the ship's movements. The crescendo heard in "Course Two-Five-Zero"
is a teaser for the ballet-like sways of "Red Route I," during which the
ease with which the massive sub navigates treacherous depths is given an
almost effortless poise and flow.
While the choral majesty of "Course Two-Five-Zero" and
"Red Route I," as well as the curious variant of the hymn for a more
balanced choir in "Ancestral Aid," have the most dramatic impact on the
film's visual beauty, Poledouris' action material has a far more
technologically cold side to its precision. As in many of the composer's
works, rhythm is key to Red October
, launching cues like "Nuclear
Scam" and "Kaboom!!!" with unabashed vigor and attitude. Many of the
same sound effects that Poledouris would use in Free Willy
his other intelligent synthetic/orchestral combo scores would be
utilized in full for Red October
. The early cue "Putin's Demise"
would offer the methodical rhythmic incorporation of the upper ranges of
these keyboarded effects, while the evacuation sequence in "Nuclear
Scam" would use a lengthy, nearly solo portion of the lower ranges of
the same effect. Many of Poledouris' other effects would use sounds
manipulated for underwater imitation or pressurized release. For
instance, the primary sound effect used by Poledouris in Red
is an echoing synth orchestra hit that bounces between the
left and right front speakers, dissipating like an underwater signal
bouncing through the ship and mirroring the ping-like variant used as a
sound effect in the film. An interesting, but barely noticeable sound
effect in the score is the use of a "release of air" sound heard at the
end of "Putin's Demise," though it's not very audible in other parts.
Some of the action sequences in Red October
feature a more
traditional set of synthetic aides, including the use of drum pads in
"Chopper" and "Kaboom!!!." The latter track is a strange study; for the
final battle involving the Red October and two other submarines,
Poledouris approaches the cue from an almost completely synthetic
approach. Even the choral usage in this cue is synthetic, begging
questions about whether this cue was a last minute replacement or the
result of dwindling recording funds. The emergency surfacing of the
American submarine in this scene is given the best majesty that
Poledouris can muster given the tools at hand, but the cue (despite some
good low-range rhythmic pulsing later in the recording) is cheapened by
the embellished drum pads and fake orchestra hits.
The curiosities involving the score for Red
don't stop there, either. Much of the score was removed from
the film and several other cues were mixed repeatedly where Poledouris
probably didn't intend them. As many as ten major cues were either cut
completely, such as the opening moments of the film that featured
silence instead, or cut short, including some of the score's major
action pieces. Even the end credits music consisted of a highly
rearranged version of "Nuclear Scam." And if you're looking for answers
to your questions about the Red October
score on its woefully
short commercial album, don't expect any answers. The 30-minute album is
nothing short of a disgrace, partly because of the music not included in
its length, but mostly because of a truly terrible quality of sound that
fluctuates wildly from track to track. For a film with such glorious
surround mixes, including a superior presentation of the score's
recording in the movie, Red October
teases you with musical
creativity on screen that you'll never hear on album. On that MCA
product, Poledouris' recording is muffled and dry, with poor balance
between synthetic and orchestral, orchestral and choral. That disservice
is exactly what this finely tuned score does not
need, and if you
read criticisms of Red October
's score from other reviewers who
don't understand all the hoopla about this score, then rest assured that
those writers probably haven't done the necessary research into this
massive difference in quality on the various media. Having a muted mix
of this score completely defeats the purpose of the synthesizers'
intentional movements across the spectrum. That leaves us with hearing
the leftovers on the better presented Free Willy
album from 1993.
For several years, fans have taken the end credits rearrangement of the
title hymn and "Nuclear Scam" from the DVD and burned it onto CDr, and
when you compare this straight stereo sound with that of the MCA album,
you'll be astonished. A bootleg with over an hour of music from the film
began to surface a decade after the MCA product's debut, though be aware
that this bootleg doesn't solve many of the quality issues. Overall,
stands alongside Ice Station Zebra
as a thoroughly enjoyable score of immense popular
appeal to its generation. But until some entity takes the sources for
Poledouris' recording and given them justice on a well-mixed, expanded
album, there will be nothing but frustration for fans of the film. Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
Music as Written for Film: *****
Music as Heard on MCA Album: **
Music as Heard on Bootleg: ***
|Bias Check:||For Basil Poledouris reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating
is 3.47 (in 33 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.22
(in 33,219 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
None of the albums contains any additional information about the score or film.
Unofficial Lyrics for the "Hymn to Red October:"
HYMN TO RED OCTOBER
Lyrics and Music by Basil Poledouris
Russian Translation by Herman Sinitzen
Holodna hmoora. -- Cold, hard, empty.
Eemruchnoh v'doosheh --Light that has left me,
Kak mohg znat ya shtoh tee oomriosh? --How could I
know that you would die?
Do svidonia, byehreg rodnoy --Farewell again, our dear land.
Kak nam troodnag pridstahvit shtoh eto nyeh sohn. --So hard for us to imagine that it's real, and not a dream.
Rodina, dom radnoy, --Motherland, native home,
Do svidonia Rodina. --Farewell, our Motherland.
Ay. Avepakhod, avepakhod, nass val nahmarskaya zhdyot nyehdazh dyotsyah.
--Let's go; the sea is waiting for us.
Nass zah vootmarskaya dah, ee preeboy! --The
vastness of the sea is calling to us, and the tides!
Salute otsam ee nashem dedum --Hail to our fathers and forefathers.
Zahvietum eekh fsigdah vierney. --We are faithful
to the covenant made with the past.
Tepierre nichtoh, nee astanoivit, --Now nothing can stop
Pabiedney shark, radnoy straney. --Our Motherland's victorious march.
Tiy pliyvee, pliyvee bestrashna, --Sail on fearlessly,
Gordest say viernykh marieye. --Pride of the Northern Seas.
Revoluytziye nadezhdah sgoostk vierif sekh luydeye. --Hope of the Revolution, you are the burst of faith of the people.
The last two stanzas repeat a couple of times, then:
V'oktyabreh, v'oktyabreh,--In October, in October,
Rahpar tu ium miy nashe pabiediy. --We report our victories to you, our Revolution.
V'oktyabreh, v'oktyabreh, Novie meeir fahli numnashy dehidiy. --And to the heritage left by you for us.