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Soundtrack review: Small soldiers (Jerry Goldsmith – 1998)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Small soldiers (Jerry Goldsmith – 1998)

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“Small Soldiers” is a 1998 American science fiction/fantasy action fiction film directed by Joe Dante. When teenager Alan (Gregory Smith) buys a set of Commando Elite action figures, he’s unaware that they have been programmed with military technology. The toys, including leader Chip (Tommy Lee Jones), spring to life and start taking their directives seriously, beginning by “killing” their enemies, the toy Gorgonites. But Archer (Frank Langella) and the Gorgonites won’t go down without a fight. Alan gets caught in the middle of the war, as does his neighbor and crush, Christy (Kirsten Dunst). Jerry Goldsmith wrote the score.

A 90s military inspired Jerry Goldsmith score…for almost every film music fan this is a sure winner and reason for excitement. For me, it’s a question mark and another attempt to connect and make some sort of peace with one of my biggest issues: the Goldsmith 90s military sound. Yes, as you know if you’ve read my articles, I am not the biggest fan of that sound. It feels cold to me, too bombastic and too emotionally detached and I’ve had trouble enjoying scores like “Air Force One” and even “Total recall”. Luckily there’s no shortage of opportunities for me to try again.

The score opens with a short insert, “Globotech”, which isn’t much help to me since it’s just that cold matching fanfare I was used to. The next cue “He’s Here / Chip Hazard / Just Toys” just deepens that impression as it almost brings a touch of horror to the music which naturally makes it sound even colder to me. There is hope in “The assembly line” as it turns into a very nice and enjoyable Western like piece and this I can work with. Having recently listened to one of the other Varese Club pack release, John Williams’ “The cowboys”, I am still in the melodic Western mood. As the music warms up I am also warming up to the score. The story involves toys after all so the composer tones down his dark sound often throughout the score.

Pieces like “Roll call” and “Alan and Archer” really go a long way in helping me enjoy this score; they are beautiful, emotional cues and I know people will get this score mostly for the fanfare and march but these are the moments that really matter to me. This is the Jerry Goldsmith I love. I find pieces like these throughout “Small soldiers” so the listening experience is not frustrating for me.

Still, “Small soldiers” is a score that will be enjoyed by the fans of Goldsmith’s 90s sound; it is a normal addition to that collection, another piece of the puzzle, but me, I want more emotion and more warmth. I can appreciate the quality of the music, but the emotional connection isn’t there for me.

Cue rating: 67 / 100

Highlights:
Alan And Archer
Chip Dies / Cleaning Up

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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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