Film scores

Soundtrack review: Executive decision (deluxe edition) (Jerry Goldsmith – 1996)

“Executive decision” is one of my favorite 90s action movies. I remember 20 years ago when I went to the cinema to see it I was shocked when (spoiler alert) Steven Seagal died at the beginning of the movie; this was something unimaginable for me. But good and charming Kurt Russell, one of my three favorite actors in the world, remained to save the plain together with the SWAT team and give us the happy ending. I re watch the movie like once a year. As I was doing so again a few weeks back suddenly I noticed the opening credits theme:  bold, military, with the horns and the percussion it made an impact. This surprised me because, as I’ve said before, 90s action Jerry Goldsmith is a sound I very rarely could connect to. I found it too cold, too serious and lacking emotion. But now this theme was knocking at my door and making me pay attention from the first seconds.

I paid attention to the music throughout the film and I found myself enjoying it a lot.  I was trying to figure out why considering that I had a hard time sitting through a sort of similar score Jerry wrote for a similar movie, “Air Force One”. Yet there’s something different about the way this military action sound works in “Executive decision”. The pace seems fresh and the music feels warmer than what I was used to. It’s not just my connection with the movie because I like “Total recall” more and I had trouble with that score as well.

Luckily just this year for the 20s anniversary of the movie Varese released the deluxe edition of the score which I had conveniently skipped earlier in the year because I was busy with other scores. I came back to it and the standalone listening experience proved just as enjoyable and rewarding as hearing the music in context. The action pieces are sharp and the tension moments are thick and suffocating. I imagine the Jerry Goldsmith action music scale like an equalizer and for this one the maestro simply toned down some of the edges and didn’t rush the music like he does in other military themed scores. The music isn’t marching at the same rapid pace this time; it has time to develop and let some emotion in.

There’s a secondary main motif that appears very clearly in “One drop / the passenger” together with the main theme. It’s a more melodic insert that punctuates moments in the movie where the situation seems to be dire. I like the spectacular rendition of that main theme in “The remora”. It’s one of many variations throughout this release and this makes the score so easy and fun to listen to for me, since this time is what attracted to me in the first place.

The score is dark and suspenseful; just like the movie. I marvel at how Jerry Goldsmith manages to sustain this atmosphere even without the support of the images for the entire duration of the album. I find myself back in that chamber beneath the plane where all the plotting and stealth actions are going on before the climax.

I consider “Executive decision” my point of contact / entry to Jerry’s 90s action sound. I couldn’t find a way in until now but with this score and with the way the music turned from robotic to human I might go back and revisit his other composition from the era. Who knows, I might have finally connected with an important period in the career of one of the most important composers ever.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 36 / 75

Album excellence: 48%

Highlights:

The Map

The Villa / Flying Lessons

Waiting / The Take Over

One Drop / The Passenger

The Remora

The Toy / No Choice

Initiating Approach

Drill Team

The Cable / Not Here

Do It

Stop Them / Come Home

Executive Decision

Open Your Eyes / Inside The Bomb

Don’t Do It / 5 Minutes

Happy Landing

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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