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Categories: Features

John Higgins looks back on one of film music’s most successful artists.


In a recent poll to define the top 100 film scores of all time, Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) was rated as the best of all time. This is staggering to a lot of people who certainly feel that there are any number of scores by other composers who are more worthy of the accolade, but what was more surprising was the fact that, upon closer scrutiny, there was not one single Jerry Goldsmith score listed in this particular poll.

In the course of a 75-year old life, Goldsmith was regarded by many, including his own peers and many filmmakers who worked with him, as the greatest and most influential composer of all time. He was nominated for forty-two awards in various ceremonies, but what was more surprising is that out of a total of eighteen Academy Award nominations, he only won one: for the 1976 horror thriller The Omen.

Goldsmith began his career in 1950 as a clerk typist in the music department of the CBS Network, and found his way into composing scores for television initially for the likes of programmes like The Twilight Zone (1959) and Dr. Kildare (1961). However, it was in the world of film scores that Goldsmith would finally make his mark. In 1963, he composed the score for A Gathering of Eagles, whose main theme would later become sampled for the Cinema International Corporation logo that appeared before Paramount, Universal and MGM releases in the UK during the 1970s.


As the decade progressed, Goldsmith’s music could be heard on the likes of Our Man Flint, The Sand Pebbles and Planet of the Apes, the original adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel Monkey Planet which was adapted by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, which Goldsmith also worked on.

It was during the 1970s that some of Goldsmith’s greatest works would be shown, with the likes of Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), Chinatown (1974), The Omen (1976), Capricorn One (1978), Alien (1979) and Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979). His score for Star Trek, in particular the theme, was used on Star Trek – The Next Generation and remains one of the redeeming features of a film that on its initial release was dismissed by Trek fans as not being true to the TV show. However, as time has gone on, the film has been responsible for creating the updated look of the films and subsequently paved the way for the other franchise entries in the series up to and including the JJ Abrams reboot in 2009.

In the 1980s, Goldsmith’s work would remain in demand with scores for the likes of Omen III – The Final Conflict (1981), Outland (1981), First Blood (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Psycho II (1983), Under Fire (1984), Gremlins (1984), Supergirl (1984) and The ‘Burbs (1989). His score for The Final Conflict is the most assured and varied score of the Omen films and at times surpasses the Oscar-winning 1976 effort. All three scores for the Omen films, including Damien: Omen II (1978), are available on expanded CD versions through the excellent Varese Sarabande label, which also distributes many of the Goldsmith scores mentioned.


In the 1990s, Goldsmith would compose three cracking scores, Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992) and Air Force One (1997). In 1996, he would compose the music for Star Trek – First Contact with his son, Joel.

His last score, in 2003, was for the Joe Dante film Looney Tunes – Back in Action, which was completed amidst poor health.

On this basis, there is much to appreciate and love about Jerry Goldsmith’s work. Spielberg said on the liner notes of Poltergeist on its original release on LP, “don’t trust his melodies. Something will happen the minute you let your guard drop.” That certainly was true of some of the wonderful work Goldsmith did. He did complain at one point that he never got the smaller films, only the blockbusters, but one can only suspect that the blockbusters and hits he did work on would be all the more poorer without his contribution. I am sure that he would have elevated the smaller films to a greater height anyway.

Selected Discography: Planet of the Apes (1968), Chinatown (1974), The Omen (1976), Capricorn One (1978), Alien (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Omen III – The Final Conflict (1981), Outland (1981), Poltergeist (1982), First Blood (1982), Psycho II (1983), Under Fire (1984), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Air Force One (1997) 

John Higgins

John Higgins is an ongoing Contributing Writer for Film and TV Now, an online Film website, writing reviews and articles. He is also a qualified scriptwriter, having graduated from Euroscript in 2012, and is a member of the BKSTS. In April 2016, he completed an Intensive course in Cinematography with the London Film Academy and is now looking to collaborate on future projects. He also has his own Facebook page: John Higgins - Film Review, which he launched in 2015 - 16.

Posted on Jun 6, 2016

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