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Extreme Prejudice – Jerry Goldsmith – Soundtrack Review

As my first review for this year, I decided to start again with my favourite composer Jerry Goldsmith. Jerry would have been 90 years old on February 10 this year, and as you can read all over the internet, he is greatly missed. I chose a soundtrack which is perhaps not so well-known but unique in the typical usage of orchestra and electronics. Even though “Extreme Prejudice” is not one of my favourite soundtracks, I have two tracks that are my all-time favourite tracks by Jerry Goldsmith.

The movie

“Extreme Prejudice” is a 1987 American neo-western action film starring Nick Nolte, with a supporting cast including Michael Ironside, María Conchita Alonso, Rip Torn, William Forsythe, and Clancy Brown. Walter Hill directed the movie based on a screenplay by Harry Kleiner and Deric Washburn (he collaborated with Michael Cimino on “Silent Running” and “The Deer Hunter”) from a story by John Milius and Fred Rexer and was considered as an homage to “The Wild Bunch”, the famous 1969 epic western directed by Sam Peckinpah, with whom Hill worked on “The Getaway” (1972). “Extreme Prejudice” and “The Wild Bunch” are both ending with a massive gunfight in a Mexican border town. The title originates from "terminate with extreme prejudice," a phrase popularized by “Apocalypse Now”, also written by Milius. Here is the trailer. Goldsmith composed music for it but it was not used when Tri-Star executives cut their own trailer and did not use the original music anymore:

Nick Nolte’s character is loosely based on the Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson. The movie was first to be directed by Milius in 1976 but when the director moved on, the project landed in the hands of Hill in 1982. Even Jonathan Demme was considered before Hill Carolco Pictures finally signed Hill to direct with Harry Kleiner to re-write the script. Kleiner wrote also “Bullitt” (1968), directed by Peter Yates, starring Steve McQueen. Hill and Nolte worked together on “48 hours” (1982) with Eddie Murphy giving his film debut.

I saw the movie once in my life, as a teenager and just because Jerry Goldsmith composed the music. Overall, I did not like it. I could not get into the characters, the violence was over the top sometimes, and you could feel that the long production history and the complex cutting process did not result in a convincing movie in the end. Compare to the showdown of “The Wild Bunch”, the big shooting scene in “Extreme Prejudice” is not very well directed, and the continuity mistakes are a result of the constant cutting process in the end.

The music

I bought the Silva Screen Original CD when it came out and did not like the music because of the too heavily used electronics. What I even though immediately loved was the last track “A Deal”, this track is one of the best tracks Goldsmith ever composed, and the combination of electronics with the orchestra is just marvellous. This CD already offered “The Funeral”, a track Goldsmith composed for a scene that was deleted after the first two screenings.

2005 La-La Land Records released an expanded CD with 20 tracks and very informative liner notes. Even though this soundtrack is still not one of my favourites, I really began to like it, and “The Plan”, the original nearly 10 minutes track which was also on the first CD, became one of my all-time favourites.

Walter Hills long-time collaborator Ry Cooder was not available during the post-production. Therefore, the director went to Goldsmith and when Cooder became available Hill asked him to contribute the source songs heard in the background.

When Goldsmith composed this score, it was in a period when he used the electronics in a very experimental way. He composed with “Runaway” (1984, directed by Michael Crichton) his first only electronic score, with “Hoosiers – Best Shot” (1986, the basketball sports movie) one of his best orchestra-electronic scores, one of my favourite scores, and with “Warlock” (1989) a score which he orchestrated by himself in a unique way. “Extreme Prejudice” is a kind of combination of elements from famous earlier scores, for example, the solo trumpet from “First Blood” or the pan flutes from “Under Fire”. Here is the opening scene with the music.

In the liner notes, Hill explained that Goldsmith wanted to do a “big orchestral session, but I told him that I wasn’t used to big orchestras on films I direct.” I do not understand this comment: If Hill was not used to a big orchestra, so why not just trust such a gifted composer and let him do this work? Remember Goldsmith just composed the music to “First Blood”, and this powerful score demonstrated how much the orchestra could support an action movie!

Hill continued: “Jerry understood and reassured me that he wanted to do a lot of different stuff with the synthesisers and mix it with the orchestra – but not be too big.” It seems that “being not too big” was a constant fear of Hill for both the music and the movie. Perhaps someone who reads this could explain this to me.

The score was recorded in Hungary, and rumours said that the orchestra was not up to Goldsmith’s standards like later the Munich Orchestra for “Total Recall”. The composer preferred to record his scores in London, and the National Philharmonic Orchestra became his standard such as the London Symphony Orchestra became the favourite one of John Williams.

The score is composed of tracks with the orchestra in front, and synthesizer tracks with the electronics as the main instrument and the orchestra just adding some color into it. Track 6 “The Set Up” is one of these mixture tracks, and with “Dust” and “To Mexico” we have two fine musical interpretations of the feeling of loneliness.

What I really like in “Extreme Prejudice” is the typical examples of building suspense. The main title called “Arrivals/Main Title” is a very good example. Most of the more orchestral tracks (e.g. track 13 “Identities”, track 14 “To Mexico”, track 15 “No Friendlies” and track 17 “They Don’t Care) are composed in this typical suspense style. With the expanded release, you can now listen to all the heavy electronic tracks which I am still not a big fan of. In the liner notes, Walter Hill explained that after listening to the original version of “The Plan”, he thought that this track was “too big” for the scene and asked Goldsmith to composer a smaller one. With tracks 9 to 11 - the new music for The Plan, The Bank (Part 1 -4) -, you can now listen to these electronic tracks that underscore the Bank Robbery.

The synthesizer track “Fighting and Dying” underscores the music for the big showdown. I do not understand why Goldsmith composed such a piece of weak music for it. Maybe Hill ask him again to slow down because he thought that orchestral music might be too big? In the scene, the music is barely heard, so why not just skip the music in general? Compare this showdown with the famous shooting scene in “The Wild Bunch”, and you realized how bad “Extreme Prejudice” is and what a great director Sam Peckinpah was. Even after listening over and over to the pure electronic music of “Extreme Prejudices”, I still cannot get into them. Here is the shooting:

What makes this score unique in another way is the very less thematic material. In track 4 “Cash” (one of the best tracks), we have something like a love theme, played as “First Blood” homage on a trumpet, but for a score of 64 minutes, this lack of theme music is astonishing. When I listen to this CD, I normally choose a few tracks, for example, the original version of “The Plan” and “A Deal/End Credits”. When I as a teenager put a nixed tape together with my favourite Goldsmith tracks, I had a sequence with “Hoosiers”, the main theme, the last track from “Leviathan”, then “A Deal” and the end titles of “Rent A Cop”.

So, why do I consider “A Deal” as one of the best tracks Goldsmith composed? First, it is the very complex musical structure with orchestra and synthesisers, second the dramaturgical structure which reminds me of the last track of “Under Fire”, and third, it brings the thematic material which was spread out through the entire score in different tracks to a powerful ending. Here is the music:

It is a funny observation in the end that Walter Hill asked Goldsmith to compose new music for the plan scene because he was afraid that the original music was too big. Perhaps he was afraid that the music is far better than his picture? Overall, it is interesting to observe that a lot of people still speaking about the music but not so many are talking about the movie which flopped. So, the music is now more famous than the film, and I am pretty sure that this was not the intention of the director.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2019, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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