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Section Header
Under Fire
1992/2000 Warner Albums

2008 FSM Album

Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
Jerry Goldsmith

Orchestrated by:
Arthur Morton

Guitar Solos by:
Pat Metheny

Labels and Dates:
Pioneer (Japanese)
(August 25th, 1992)

Warner Brothers (European)
(October 23rd, 2000)

Film Score Monthly

Also See:
Medicine Man
Extreme Prejudice

Audio Clips:
1. Bajo Fuego (0:31):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (249K)
Real Audio (155K)

5. 19 de Julio (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (233K)
Real Audio (145K)

11. Rafael's Theme (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

12. Nicaragua (0:33):
WMA (215K)  MP3 (266K)
Real Audio (165K)

The 1992 Japanese import album sold on the American market for as much as $100 in the 1990's, but is now difficult to find. The 2000 German import sold in America for $20 to $25 and was readily available at online stores. The 2008 Film Score Monthly album did not have a specific, limited number of pressings, and it sold for a little above commercial retail pricing at soundtrack specialty outlets.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Under Fire

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Sales Rank: 98175

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Buy it... if you seek one of Jerry Goldsmith's top five career scores, a beautiful and engaging combination of seemingly incongruous ethnic sounds handled with both care and crafty intelligence.

Avoid it... only if you're among the few deranged individuals on the planet who continue to protest the use of pan pipes (or customized PVC pipes from a local store, in this case) to incorrectly represent the culture of Nicaragua.

Under Fire: (Jerry Goldsmith) While United Artists studio executives had high hopes of using 1983's Under Fire as both a political and popular tool, it suffered a more exaggerated version of audiences' responses to The Right Stuff from the same year. The production received critical praise, however, with a hot, contemporary plot detailing the real-life struggles of American journalists attempting to report on the 1979 governmental revolution in Nicaragua. Most of the film deals with the human element as seen in the most horrific of war zones, ranging from Chad, in Africa, to the turmoil in Central America. The year of 1983 was an excellent one for film scores, with a slate of Academy Award nominees that was well beyond most other years in quality. One of the nominated scores that year was Under Fire, which marked an achievement in instrumental integration that would lead to several successful years of orchestral and synthetic mastery in Jerry Goldsmith's works. Director Roger Spottiswoode had been enchanted by Goldsmith's score to Patton, specifically because the score captured the human emotions of war while also addressing the larger, grand stage of the conflict. When Goldsmith accepted the assignment of Under Fire, he was beginning his movement towards the heavy use of synthesized instruments (and mostly keyboarding) as an equal companion to a traditional orchestral ensemble. Historically, Under Fire was arguably his first major, widely recognized success in these endeavors, leading to other masterful combinations of electronic and orchestral sounds for Legend and Hoosiers (among others) in the following years, with the latter also nominated for an Academy Award. It was suggested that Goldsmith utilize a handful of solo instruments to provide the appropriate local accent for the Central American setting, and while the ultimate choices for the score weren't entirely specific to that particular region, they were appropriately Latin in a larger sense.

A solo guitar was employed to accompany cues both large and small, and pan flutes from the Andes region were meant to supplement the less intense, more intimate concepts. Goldsmith had correctly warned the studio that the pan pipe-laden temp track that it had used in the film (and wanted imitated in the final score) was not appropriate to the region, but his instructions were clear, and Under Fire was one of the few scores for which the veteran composer did extensive research into regional sounds that could help balance both the pipes and his intended use of synthesizers. The pipes, interestingly, were nothing more than commercial PVC piping cut to needed lengths, a frightfully effective display of creativity that should make any listener re-examine his garage. Regardless of the unconventional approach, the resulting combination of players and styles would turn out to be magnificent. Against the odds, Goldsmith manages to capture the essence of Central America very well, building upon popular rhythms and motifs with his solo instruments while maintaining the orchestral and synthetic elements that make the music accessible to non-Latin ears. To this end, he is even more successful than in either Extreme Prejudice or Medicine Man, which both took generally the same stance. His use of electronic keyboarding (placed directly within the orchestra) as a distinct rhythm-setter keeps the score moving at the necessary pace of the drama, and the solo instruments, rather than restraining their use to thematic performances, are utilized to produce the rhythms themselves in parts. The tone of the synthetic sounds are fascinating in their ability to invite an alien atmosphere in an otherwise battered, second-world environment, proving that their application can be very well handled in the most seemingly incongruous situations. Despite Spottiswoode's claim that the pan flutes are the heart of the score, that distinction really falls upon the acoustic guitar.

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny was a performer of rising popularity at the time, and he fell ill during the days scheduled for recording. And yet, after recording his solo performances several days later, the guitar is a perfect fit with the attitude and emotional touch of the score, mixed brilliantly with the other elements of the package. Contrary to assertions that Under Fire is a score of rolling orchestral action, it is better classified as a tightly woven, less ambitious drama, filled with several lengthy and memorable cues of taut ethnically-diverse underscore. Goldsmith uses four themes in Under Fire, and several of them share structures that allowed the composer to apply them for divergent purposes. The most lyrical of these ideas is "Rafael's Theme," serving a dual purpose as a romance theme and rearranged by Goldsmith into the lovely album-specific performance in "A New Love." The latter cue, more pronounced than any version of the theme actually heard in the film, is nothing less than stunning, with in a very memorable and deliberate high string rendition. The synthesizers are given their turn with the pipes on this theme in "Rafael." Some true Caribbean spirit is exhibited in "Rafael's Theme," with localized percussion and drums providing spirited performances equal in style to modern resort entertainment. Metheny's own subdued performances vary just enough in their repeated variations of this theme to keep the score fresh. These remarkably personal moments of introversion are countered by the expected explosions of revolution, tackled by Goldsmith with gusto and march-paced enthusiasm in at least two victorious cues. Despite being a war film as well, Under Fire needed a score with a few bursts of horrific dissonance on blaring brass or synthesizer. Even when the score does address these moments, there is a certain romanticism in these thematic cues that brilliantly expresses the feelings rooted in the excitement of revolt.

One of the more ambitious action cues, "Bajo Fuego," is actually a summary of both the "Alex's Death" cue (not appearing on the album releases) and the main theme of the film, the rebel march. In this performance, Goldsmith replaced the pan pipes that usually set the pace for the march with impressive accompaniment by the guitar. The most prevalent pipe usage on this theme arguably appears in "Sandino." A victorious theme for the rebels is heard midway through "19 de Julio," and is a less recognized (but equally impressive) part of the score. A downright pleasant variant of this idea is explored further in beautiful harmony in "Fall of Managua." The least engaging theme in Under Fire is "Alex's Theme," with arguably the film's two most important uses of that idea combined into that suite-like track. This understated piano and string theme is appropriately supplanted by the rebel's march. Overall, the nearly constant employment of the four themes for Under Fire maintain its listenability on album, though fans should also thank an extensive, coordinated effort by Goldsmith to spend a couple of weeks editing and recording additional material for the album (after finishing with the recording of the actual score). Regardless of the music's strength in the film, it is a work that is better suited for appreciation on its vastly superior album arrangement. The recording quality was noted at the time as being among the best of Goldsmith's career. The mix of the guitar, orchestra, flutes, and synthesizers, which had been recorded separately in many cases, blended very well in the final edits. An argument could be made that the only moments when the mixes were less than perfect exist during the opening and closing tracks of percussive and brass-dominated bombast from the orchestra, which overwhelms the sensitivity of the remaining elements. The sound quality of the flutes, strings, synthesizers, and guitar (with "A New Love" serving as the most beautiful example), however, is one of lush intimacy. Sequences when Metheny is allowed some liberty on the thematic progressions, such as the start and end of "Rafael's Theme," are spectacular despite their minimal volume.

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The overall edit of the performances sounds as though it is occurring right in front of you in large concert hall, producing a close and intense, but also reverberating sound. The LP album was reviewed at the time as having stunning audio quality, and was advertised in publications with that feature in mind. On CD, the album has never experienced a complete treatment due to the loss of the original master tapes. Nor, for many years, was it available in America on any CD at all. For eight years, from 1992 to 2000, a CD of the score was only available from Japan, where it was printed by the Pioneer branch of the Warner Brothers label. It featured 45 minutes of material, had liner notes mostly in Japanese, and sold on the American market for as much as $100 a piece. In the year 2000, however, the Warner division in Germany digitally remastered the album and released it (with the same contents) across Europe. This album was a much more manageable $20 to $25 for Americans as an import, and the Japanese version no longer sold for outrageous prices. In 2008, the imports became moot when Film Score Monthly, celebrating the 10th anniversary of its extensive Silver Age Classics series, re-pressed Under Fire in a surprisingly non-limited form (no set number of copies was listed for its pressing). The label thankfully decided not to alter the listening experience, though with the masters missing their best attempts would have likely yielded disappointing results anyway. But the label does offer its usual high standard of superior notation and production quality, with yet another mastering of the album's contents solidifying an already impressive soundscape. It's initial price was also closer to typical retail levels. For Goldsmith fans or general film score collectors, Under Fire is, like Hoosiers, an absolute necessity. It represents a remarkable achievement in instrumental integration and presents several stunning themes and performances that can give you goosebumps, the true sign of any classic score. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Jerry Goldsmith reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.26 (in 113 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.26 (in 138,506 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 4.12 Stars
Smart Average: 3.86 Stars*
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   Boiling Teapot sound in track Nr.4
  kharol -- 9/14/08 (12:35 a.m.)
   Under Fire
  Robert Ebert -- 8/15/07 (6:18 p.m.)
   Simply unique!
  Reinhard Ende -- 4/11/07 (9:01 a.m.)
  Wolf Anistase -- 2/26/04 (1:51 p.m.)
   "Bajo Fuego" not written for film...
  Paul MacLean -- 2/18/04 (4:38 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (All Albums): Total Time: 44:48

• 1. Bajo Fuego* (5:36)
• 2. Sniper (3:27)
• 3. House of Hammocks (3:14)
• 4. Betrayal (4:19)
• 5. 19 De Julio (3:29)
• 6. Rafael (2:37)
• 7. A New Love* (3:46)
• 8. Sandino (3:39)
• 9. Alex's Theme (3:41)
• 10. Fall of Managua (2:29)
• 11. Rafael's Theme (4:11)
• 12. Nicaragua (4:14)

* concert arrangement specifically for album

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts for both the 1992 and 2000 albums include extra information about the score and film, sometimes in various foreign languages. A note from the director is included in English. The 2008 album contains the usual excellent quality of textual information established in other albums of FSM's series, with extremely detailed notes about the film and score. It does not, curiously, feature any actual photography from the film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Under Fire are Copyright © 1992, 2000, 2008, Pioneer (Japanese), Warner Brothers (European), Film Score Monthly. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/10/97 and last updated 9/10/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.