Ghostbusters – music by Elmer Bernstein

GhostbustersThough Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score for Ghostbusters was represented by a pair of tracks on the original soundtrack that arrived in record stores as the movie itself arrived in theaters back in 1984, the full score wasn’t made available until Varese Sarabande issued it on CD in 2006, two years after composer Elmer Bernstein’s death. Listening to the complete score is a fascinating experience, because you quickly realize how much of what Bernstein wrote and recorded didn’t wind up in the movie. And that’s not because it’s lacking in any way, but because the studio (Columbia Pictures in this case) had a surefire hit in Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song, as well as a “various artists” album featuring other songs prominently placed in the movie (Mick Smiley’s “Magic” bring the only song to get nearly as much screen time as Parker’s). And the thing is, Parker’s single brought the movie so much free publicity (adding as much as $20,000,000 to the movie’s gross, according to at least one estimate), yeah, you want to drop the song into the movie where you can. Most of this happens in the first two-thirds of the film: after Venkman talks himself and his fellow Ghostbusters out of prison, there’s no place for the Parker song after the police escort scene until the end credits.

With that in mind, be prepared to hear plenty of Bernstein-crafted “pop music” scoring that you’ve simply never heard in the movie before. Much of it is along the lines of the scene where Ray and Winston turn on the car radio after discussing Biblical prophecy, though many of the dropped cues riff on Bernstein’s jazzy, almost-klezmer-inspired theme for the Ghostbusters, a tune which is capable of being driven through a surprising number of major and minor key changes and rhythm changes… most of which was covered up by the movie’s signature single. Some good stuff was left on the cutting room floor, but this is case where, somewhat reluctantly, I have to agree with the decision to track parts of the movie with Ray Parker Jr.’s song (particularly in the movie’s montages).

And the stuff you do remember hearing in the movie? It’s great listening minus the dialogue: Bernstein really seems to get his teeth into the darker, more supernatural scenes. Early in the movie, the ghost sightings are played for laughs, complete with the theramin-esque sounds of the Ondes Martenot, but as the story progresses and the depth of the ghost-sighting crisis is revealed, Bernstein nails it to the wall with some real dramatic scoring. Much like the script for Ghostbusters, Bernstein’s music for the movie manages to dance effortlessly on the knife’s edge between comedy scoring and dramatic scoring. (it’s worth pointing out that Bernstein was a master of his medium – he scored The Ten Commandments as easily as he scored Airplane!, with no detectable drop in quality to hint at any feelings that comedy might somehow be “beneath” him. For those too young to remember much of Bernstein’s work, if you need a gauge of the composer’s cool factor, consider this: he also personally mentored Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica fame.)

The music for the final third of the movie, with Zuul’s multiple attempts to stop the Ghostbusters before they can show the supernatural big bad to the door, is breathtaking and memorable stuff. And yet, to really get the full effect of the movie’s music as you remember it, you’re probably going to need both this album and the original 1984 “various artists” album combined. I don’t often say this of movies where perfectly serviceable score 4 out of 4was jettisoned to make way for pop songs, but the tunes featured in Ghostbusters, from the overplayed-by-radio-before-the-movie-even-opened theme tune to such songs as “Cleaning Up The Town” and “Magic”, are extraordinarily well-judged, and in their own way become an indelible part of the movie’s sound.

Listen to both, set up a custom playlist, and travel back in time to the corner penthouse of Spook Central. It’s some of Bernstein’s best, and fit the movie like a glove.

Order this CD

  1. Ghostbusters Theme (3:00)
  2. Library and Title (3:02)
  3. Venkman (0:31)
  4. Walk (0:30)
  5. Hello (1:36)
  6. Get Her! (2:01)
  7. Plan (1:25)
  8. Taken (1:08)
  9. Fridge (1:01)
  10. Sign (0:54)
  11. Client (0:35)
  12. The Apartment (2:45)
  13. Dana’s Theme (3:31)
  14. We Got One! (2:02)
  15. Halls (2:01)
  16. Trap (1:56)
  17. Meeting (0:38)
  18. I Respect You (0:54)
  19. Cross Rip (1:07)
  20. Attack (1:30)
  21. Dogs (0:57)
  22. Date (0:45)
  23. Zool (4:12)
  24. Dana’s Room (1:40)
  25. Judgment Day (1:19)
  26. The Protection Grid (0:42)
  27. Ghosts! (2:15)
  28. The Gatekeeper (1:12)
  29. Earthquake (0:33)
  30. Ghostbusters! (1:13)
  31. Stairwell (1:14)
  32. Gozer (2:48)
  33. Marshmallow Terror (1:25)
  34. Final Battle (1:30)
  35. Finish (2:13)
  36. End Credits (5:04)
  37. Magic (1:37)
  38. Zool (3:12)
  39. We Got One! (Alternate) (2:04)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 68:55

Saturn 3 – music by Elmer Bernstein

Saturn 3Ah, the ’80s. Hollywood – and indeed all points beyond – tried relentlessly to cash in on the post-Star Wars hunger for all things science fiction, and often failed. Case in point: Saturn 3, whose star power was invested primarily in the wildly unlikely combination of co-stars Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett, both of whom stripped down for love scenes that were about as plausible as any of the movie’s sci-fi conceits. Left with the unenviable task of scoring Saturn 3 – which had already suffered a change of director mere weeks into production – was Elmer Bernstein, whose later forays in the genre (Heavy Metal, Ghostbusters, etc.) were usually accompanied by more palatable movies. With British financiers – recently stung by the sinking ticket sales of Raise The Titanic! – bankrolling the movie, by the time Saturn 3 came out, Bernstein’s score was just about guaranteed to be the best thing about it.

And yet, if you actually watched Saturn 3, you didn’t hear much of that music, since it was sliced, diced and edited to match the whims of the director. This 2006 CD release of the full, unedited score from Intrada contains much that didn’t make it into the movie itself. One of the first casualties was a surprising detour into disco (it was 1980…) in the whopping nine-minute opening theme; this concession to the popular musical flavors of tha time was left on the cutting room floor, echoed in only one other track (“Blue Dreamers”). Much of the score has a slow-boiling foreboding feel to it, punctuated by some boisterous action scenes; as the liner notes by Jeff Bond point out, a lot of the music wound up being used in parts of the movie other than the scenes for which it was composed.

Bond’s notes also seem to paint Saturn 3 as little more than a warm-up for Heavy Metal and Ghostbusters, but the only time I found myself instantly reminded of Bernstein’s later work was “The Run”, which does sound like a lost scene from Ghostbusters. This soundtrack employs some fairly unusual music by Bernstein standards – nothing really revolutionary, but not a sound we’re accustomed to from him.

3 out of 4In the end, Saturn 3 is up there with a contemporary, the Roger Corman wanna-be epic Battle Beyond The Stars: the score was far better than the movie, and you’re probably doing yourself a mercy (and getting a lot more enjoyment out of the deal) listening to the music alone. That Bernstein’s carefully constructed (if occasionally too prone to 1980 novelty) soundtrack was chopped up and treated like glorified library music was the final indignity that Saturn 3 had to suffer before bombing in theaters.

Order this CD

  1. Space Murder (9:18)
  2. The Lab (2:05)
  3. Meet Hector (4:44)
  4. The Brain (2:08)
  5. Blue Dreamers (2:42)
  6. Hector Mimics Benson (1:25)
  7. Peeping Toms (7:15)
  8. Adam’s Target (2:00)
  9. Benson Is Off (2:16)
  10. Training Hector (3:13)
  11. Adam Rescues Alex (2:39)
  12. Hector Loses It (6:52)
  13. The Run (1:48)
  14. A Head For Hector (3:31)
  15. Alex Alone (2:06)
  16. The Big Dive (4:37)
  17. End Credits (3:22)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 62:48

Slipstream – music by Elmer Bernstein

SlipstreamLong coveted by soundtrack collectors, Elmer Bernstein’s Slipstream accompanies a movie that flew under nearly everyone’s radar in 1989. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that a movie starring Mark Hamiill and Bill Paxton, and directed by Steven “creator of Tron” Lisberger, could’ve escaped the collective geek consciousness, especially when it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi western (more Mad Max than Firefly), but admit it: you don’t remember hearing about this movie either, much less seeing it.

Obviously, however, someone recalls hearing it: the Slipstream soundtrack has been one of the most-requested (and therefore, perversely, elusive) Elmer Bernstein scores from the late composer’s catalog. Bernstein himself had even gone through the trouble of selecting and sequencing tracks for a soundtrack album, but the movie’s failure to fly at the box office nixed those plans. After the composer’s death in 2004, the Slipstream master tapes, like the rest of his work, became part of a collection donated to the University of Southern California. When Perseverance Records set out to meet the demand for a Slipstream CD, they discovered that Bernstein had done much of the work for them.

Musically, Slipstream sounds like a spiritual cousin to Bernstein’s music from Ghostbusters. Both movies’ scores lean heavily on the theremin-like sound of the Ondes Martenot, an instrument whose unusual sound Bernstein championed as something of a personal crusade. Two of the best tracks highlighting this unique sound are “Dreams” and “Lost Android”. The movie’s 3 out of 4
post-apocalyptic world shows humans rediscovering flight, and these scenes get big, soaring musical accompaniment.

I’d heard enough rave reviews of this music over the years that picking it up without having seen the movie itself was a no-brainer; fans of Bernstein’s contributions to Ghostbusters and Heavy Metal will like this one.

  1. Prologue and Pursuit (3:13)
  2. Escape (3:01)
  3. Dreams (4:07)
  4. Lost Android (3:02)
  5. Slipstream People (2:49)
  6. Avatar (4:53)
  7. Travel To Dance (5:56)
  8. Sacrifice (3:11)
  9. Museum Society (3:54)
  10. Android Love (2:54)
  11. Revenge and Resolution (12:21)

Released by: Perseverance Records
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 49:20

Airplane! – music by Elmer Bernstein

Airplane!In 1980, the majority of the movie-viewing public that had missed Kentucky Fried Movie got to know the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker production team by way of their big-budget, big-screen debut, Airplane!. Like ZAZ’s later (criminally short-lived) TV spoof Police Squad!, Airplane! had the virtue of starring Leslie Nielsen, whose businesslike demeanor and unshakeable poker-faced deadpan sells the whole endeavour.

And then there’s an absolutely brilliant score by the late, great Elmer Bernstein, which alternates between being just as straight-faced dramatic as Nielsen, and delivering musical punchlines unashamedly. It’s hard to overemphasize how important Bernstein’s music is to Airplane! – it straddles the fine line between truly dramatic music and schmaltzy cheese, and more to the point, Bernstein seemed to have an unerring instinct for which extreme was needed in a given scene. Many cues on the long-overdue soundtrack release could come from just about any big-screen drama, but occasionally, the music gets away with the kind of clowning that the directors told the cast to carefully avoid.

A prime example of this is the love theme – it’s a nice enough piece of music, but it’s arranged almost like elevator music; any true passion inherent in the tune itself gets wrapped up in a gooey layer of cheese. Later in the movie, as the tension picks up, the music does things that would be unthinkable in a straightforward dramatic context, building up the melodrama and then coming to a dead stop to let the cast get a punchline in. But the beauty of it is that it’s all so deadly serious-sounding until those moments arrive.

How this translates to a listening experience sans dialogue is largely down to how much of an Airplane! fan you are. I’ve loved this movie since I was about 10 years old, so yeah, I love the soundtrack. I only have one real complaint with the score. What is it? (It’s the music in a movie that the audience can hear but the characters can’t, but that’s not important right now.*) My only beef is that I had to wait this long to get it (between this score’s overdue release and the recent complete-score release of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, there’s clearly been a sea change at 4 out of 4Paramount’s music department regarding exploitation of the back catalogue). I’d never before given serious thought to the possibility of an Airplane! score album…but I’m glad that someone at La-La Land did. It’s a great listening experience altogether.

* Strictly speaking, this CD also contains source cues as well – i.e. music that the characters do hear, including folk songs that are worth having your IV tube yanked out.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (contains theme from Jaws) (1:53)
  2. Kiss Off (0:48)
  3. Ambulance Arrives (0:32)
  4. Hari Krishna / Ticket / Nervous (2:44)
  5. Lisa / Farewell / Take Off / Another Meeting (3:17)
  6. Fighting Girls (0:47)
  7. Love Theme From Airplane! (1:07)
  8. From Here To There (2:08)
  9. Head / Memory (1:13)
  10. Shimmer / Molumbo (1:02)
  11. Zip / Eggs / Roger, Take Over (2:34)
  12. Wild Violins / Sickness / Idea (2:25)
  13. Thar She Blows / Flash / Panel (2:23)
  14. “Where The Hell Is Rex Kramer?” / Trouble (1:02)
  15. Mayday (0:56)
  16. Punch-Up / Kramer (1:14)
  17. Clumsy (0:55)
  18. Dog Fight / Failure / Pep Talk / Victory March (3:45)
  19. News (0:56)
  20. “Runway Is Niner” / “The Gear Is Down And We’re Ready To Land” (1:03)
  21. Crasher (4:02)
  22. Resolution / Tag (1:52)
  23. Notre Dame Victory March (2:01)
  24. Tavern (0:35)
  25. Everything’s Coming Up Roses (0:20)
  26. Instruments (0:13)
  27. Disco (0:30)
  28. Kiss Off (Alternate) (0:47)
  29. Fighting Girls (Alternate) (0:44)
  30. From Here To There (Instrumental) (2:08)
  31. Molumbo (Alternate) (0:52)
  32. Zip (Original Version) (0:31)
  33. News (Alternates) (1:48)
  34. Dog Fight (Alternate) (0:37)
  35. “Runway Is Niner” (Alternate) (0:30)
  36. “The Gear Is Down And We’re Ready To Land” (Alternate) (0:30)
  37. Tag (Instrumental) (1:44)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 52:28