Intrada corner

Soundtrack review: The ghost and the darkness (Jerry Goldsmith – 1995, 2015)

“The ghost and the darkness” is one of the 90s movies I remember very fondly. I always watch it with pleasure. I remember being in college and actually ditching class one afternoon to catch this movie on HBO. It carries a nice doze of nostalgia for me; nothing heavy, just the same nostalgia you would have for a pleasant unnamed spring afternoon when you just felt something different and special in the air. Or the memory of running to catch the bus home so you would not miss a movie on HBO… You keep that memory like an old clipping of a newspaper in your wallet. This is the story of a military engineer (played by Val Kilmer) who is sent to Africa to finish up the building of a railroad. There things get ugly when two man eating lions start devouring the workers. The engineer employs the help of a well-known hunter played by Michael Douglas. The story is based on some real facts. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the score and this expanded release from Intrada is yet another opportunity for me to connect with his music. I’ve been known to have trouble doing that but usually his 90s action scores suit me.

Right from the beginning maestro Jerry seems to know what mood to set. “Train to catch” is the musical equivalent of that nice and harmless memory: a short, breezy and beautiful piece of music that makes me feel the warm spring wind through my hair. The cue depicts the farewell from his pregnant wife and his hope in succeeding in his task in time to be home for his son’s birth. The first contact with the setting of the story is done through “First time”, a cue that brings traditional African percussion instruments front and center. All Jerry Goldsmith has to do is add a celebratory melody and we’ve got ourselves a triumphant welcoming. My problem with his music sometimes is that it’s abrasive and I can’t connect with it but there’s no trace of that difficulty in the beginning of “The ghost and the darkness”. The mood is celebratory, warm and I know it will all change when the lions start eating people but I am enjoying it while it lasts. Jerry Goldsmith can put the sunset into music and this is no easy feat. “The claws” just enchants me and I don’t want this feeling to end. This is one spectacular and joyful cue complete with chants and shadows.

I love the way the traditional African sounds blend with the fabric of this score. Nothing seems forced or just put there to let us know where the story takes place. The music flows naturally and sounds authentic and honest. I believe everything Jerry Goldsmith is telling me and I feel as if I am in the middle of Kenya sleeping in tents and hiding in the tall grass. A cue like “The wall” is a magnificent example of just how good and natural this score is. The tense moments seem just a smidge darker than the celebratory ones and there is a constant feeling of running and being chased in the music.

I am struggling to find a cue not worthy of 5 stars in this release. The music seems to speak directly to me and I feel involved in the story. The music is alive, it moves, it hides, it stalks, it preys on me and it’s more worthy of both the names ghost and darkness. The action moments are decisive and powerful and some of them leave me with my jaw dropped. Just try “Preparations – revised (Alternate)” with its powerful male vocal inserts and the inspiring melodic line that gets closer and closer to me…

I have heard a lot of scores with African influences. Even Hans Zimmer wrote a few brilliant ones. But none of them seem to come close to “The ghost and the darkness” in terms of blending that ethnic sound with the orchestral goodness. The sounds don’t’ seem separated and unrelated. They’ve been fused together since the beginning of time. Just as those two lions blend with the nature and are barely distinguishable until they attack, so the music feels like a wonderful whole. A cue like “Lions attack” should be part of every anthology of film music. And it’s not even the best piece of the score. A cue like “Final attack – revised”, the climax of the action, with its haunting vocals and insane pace sounds as if all the instruments are turned into weapons to fight against the mighty lions. There’s wailing, there are sharp stabbing sounds and the threat is no longer hidden. The wonderful release at the end tells a tale of triumph and brings light over this tragic story. The sound gets more and more triumphant with each different version of “Welcome to Tsavo”.

The Intrada release also contains a bunch of alternate cues which are just as wonderful, and the original score release. If you listen to that one you will realize how much you would be missing if you hadn’t gotten this complete release. I listen to every minute of this special edition and I will do so every time I will return to this score. This is the first time I found a counterpoint to Jerry Goldsmith’s music inside me and I think “The ghost and the darkness” will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This has to me one of the best scores ever written.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 118 / 139

Album excellence: 85%

Highlights:

Train To Catch

First Time**

Over There*

One Shot*

The Claws – Revised [Alternate]*

Mahina’s Death [Alternate]*

The Funeral*

The Wall**

Starling’s Death [Alternate]*

Near Miss*

Prepare For Battle**

Preparations – Revised [Alternate]*

Lions Attack*

The Cave*+

After You*

John’s Nightmare*

Remington’s Death

Final Attack – Revised*

Welcome to Tsavo #2 – Revised**

EXTRAS (UNUSED MIXES & ALTERNATES): Tall Grass [Original]*+

The Claws – Revised*+

Mahina’s Death [Original]*+

The Box Car [Unused Insert]*+

The Box Car [Original]*+

Near Miss [Alternate]*+

Stand Off [Original]*+

EXTRAS (UNUSED MIXES & ALTERNATES, CONT.): Starling’s Death [Original]*+

Preparations [Original]*+

The Baboon [Original]*+

First Kill [Original]*+

Welcome To Tsavo #2 [Original]+

ORIGINAL 1996 ALBUM: Theme From The Ghost And The Darkness

The Bridge

Catch A Train

Lions Attack

First Time

Starling’s Death

Lions Reign

Preparations

Remington’s Death

Prepare For Battle

Final Attack

Welcome To Tsavo

 

 

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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