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  • Writer's pictureStefan

Lionheart - John Scott - Soundtrack Review

Nearly Pre-Christmas Time! This year – year 2 in Covid – was another more annoying year. We are finally allowed to meet in person again and can go to the movies, but I am disappointed with what we can see. My first idea was to talk about Daniel Craig’s last James Bond “No Time To Die”, but to be honest: The best parts of the music are the John Barry pieces from “On Her Majesty's Secret Service”, so no review of this score on my blog. Bring David Arnold back to the franchise, please!

Therefore, let’s talk about another John Scott soundtrack: “Lionheart” (1990). Here is the trailer:

The movie

“Lionheart”, released internationally under several names including “Absent Without Leave”, “Wrong Bet”, and “Leon” is a 1990 American action film directed by Sheldon Lettich, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brian Thompson, Harrison Page and Deborah Rennard. Rennard has some hilarious scenes, especially during the last fight when she is breathing heavily after seeing Van Damme fighting and winning. This scene always reminds me of Famke Janssens orgasm-like behavior after the killed a lot of soldiers with a machine gun…

Van Damme plays a French Foreign Legionnaire. When his brother is seriously injured, he returns to Los Angeles to enter the underground fighting circuit to raise money for his brother's family. The Belgian actor plays again the typical underdog and, of course, wins in the end.

I was not a big fan of The Muscles from Brussels and also not a big fan of this kind of action movies, but a friend of mine recommended me to watch this movie, and because John Scott as the composer, I was curious about it. Scott’s music is the best part of the movie, and you cannot underestimate the effect his music has!

Director Sheldon Lettich had co-written “Bloodsport” (1988), the film that turned Van Damme into a star. They had become friends, and Van Damme agreed for Lettich to direct “Lionheart”. Lettich remembered the shooting, with a good sense of humor: Lionheart was a “defining film for Van Damme because I did not shy away from giving him considerable amounts of dialogue and character development. I trusted him to pull this off, whereas before nobody else believed he could do much more than just deliver some fancy kicks and simple one-liners. Lionheart was the first movie to demonstrate that Van Damme was more than just a flash-in-the-pan "Karate Guy" who would never rise above simplistic low-budget karate movies. In the film, Van Damme's rear is exposed in one scene. While we were filming the scene where he takes a shower in Cynthia's apartment, he asked me if he might casually "drop his towel" and show off his butt for a brief moment. My reply was "Sure, if you're willing, why not?” So, we did one take where he casually lets the towel drop away, and then we decided to put that shot in the movie. Well, that became a very memorable moment for the ladies in the audience, and for the gay guys as well. Showing off his butt (clothed or unclothed) almost became a signature trademark of his after that.”

The music

I already wrote about John Scott on my blog and in my book and mentioned his famous soundtrack for the Kirk Douglas movie “The Final Countdown” (1980). For “Lionheart”, Scott created another powerful orchestral music and used mostly two themes: a heroic one for Lyon, Van Damme’s character, and another, more lyrical theme for his family which is played to underscore the relationship of Lyon with his niece Nicole.

John Scott’s liner notes for the Intrada CD are very interesting, and I want to mention some aspects here. The composer said that he was appealed by the variety the story seems to offer: The film opened in Los Angeles, travelled to North Africa, moved then to street fighting in New York, showed us with Cynthia a very ruthless woman wo runs a private fight circuit, and also has the emotional story with Lyon and his brother’s family, in Scott’s words: “To me the story was far more than a kickboxing movie and I felt that my most valuable contribution would be strengthen the relationships as well as build on Lyon’s inner rather than outer strength.”

The action scenes are fabulous underscored with some very nice action music for the brass section and a good emphasis on the percussion section during the whole score. I read in one review that Scott used some wonderfully old-fashioned quality in composing this score, and this perfectly summarized the quality of this soundtrack. After watching the movie, I never went back to it, but Scott’s end credits music is one of my all-time favourites.

Scott wrote in his liner notes than he wanted to “compose a theme which would contain two distinct parts and various motifs which could become sub themes. Subsequently I was able to build on LIONHEARTS’s theme throughout the course of the film.”

When Lyon arrived in the US, Scott added some nice Jazz tunes into his score. The composer has a lot of experience with Jazz. He arranged for Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine and played for Henry Mancini and John Barry. Scott mentioned that he “chose a jazz group of trumpet, alto sax, keyboard, bass and drums for the relations between Joshua” (Lyon’s manager), and “Lyon which I was able to juxtapose with the symphony orchestra to give a distinct and powerful color to the atmosphere of the film.” For Cynthia, Scott used a a muted jazz trumpet as an essential color.

The best parts of the soundtrack are the music for the fighting scenes, and the composer created each scene in a different way: The music for the street fight is more like source music, “Fighting The Scott” has a Scottish-flavoured riff in the horns when we see Van Damme’s opponent, “Fighting the Brazilian” features a fun samba beat-style, but the highlight of the score is definitely the music for the last fight. “The Wrong Bet”, a 9-minute action piece, starts slowly with suspense music and transforms the dramaturgical Over The Top-structure of the fight into fabulous music, with a powerful victory for Lyon in the end. I highly admire the constant changing of the tempi and the focus on the various percussion instruments. This is a marvelous action piece!

If found a clip on YouTube with the fight, my favorite scene is Deborah Rennard at 9’20…

In his liner notes, Scott realized the problem of the soundtrack which is a result of his composing approach: “It is not until Lyon reveals his full inner strength in the last fight that the LIONHEART theme is stated in it’s entirety. One thing that troubled me about the sequencing of this album was the fact that one has to wait until very near to the end to hear what I was getting at. On the other hand another director could have required me to use only the one theme throughout the film and in such a way that nobody would have a chance of missing it. Of course there is no denying that this approach as its advantages.”

“Lionheart” is a great example of powerful and timeless action music. Intrada produced a fine CD with 63 minutes of the score, performed by The Munich Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer himself. One of the best reasons to buy this soundtrack is the beautiful end credits music called “Lionheart”. This track alone is worth buying the CD. I love the start of this piece with the string section playing the majestic theme in a wonderfully orchestrated track!

I could not find this track on YouTube but found a nice suite of the score, starting with the end credits...

Lionheart performed well at the box office, debuting in 3rd position in the US with sales of about $7 million. The film dropped to 7th in its second week, and earned $24.3 million worldwide on a budget of $6 million.


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