Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Vanishing by Jerry Goldsmith (1993)

A review of the soundtrack album by Travis Elder
Posted December 2, 2017

The year 1993 was a renaissance of sorts for my youth. I worked at a movie theater, watched lots of movies, consumed popcorn in bulk, drank gallons of soda, and did my homework in between movie showings. What more could a geeky teenager ask for? It was during this time that I discovered Jerry Goldsmith's alluring score for The Vanishing. The score quickly grew on me as I caught segments of it during my theater checks, so much so that when Varese Sarabande finally issued a limited edition album in 2007, I quickly snatched it up.

The Vanishing is an obscure, psychological thriller that was poorly received by audiences and critics alike. The film follows Jeff Harriman's (Kiefer Sutherland) obsessive search for his girlfriend Diane Shaver (Sandra Bullock) after she mysteriously disappeared at a gas station while they vacationed. So clinically obsessed is he that when Diane's abductor, Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges), shows up on his doorstep, he is all too eager to follow a path that few would take. Cousins promises to reveal Diane's fate if Jeff gets into his car and comes with him right then.  So begins Jeff's unlikely and unsurprisingly chilling journey to discover what befell his girlfriend including a return to the gas station where Cousins abducted Diane.  Fortunately for Jeff, his new girlfriend, Rita (Nancy Travis), intervenes to attempt saving him from his own blind stupidity.

The film's main theme opens the score in The Practice, which plays as Cousins, a chemistry teacher and ironically family man, sadistically practices and plans his abduction.  He even times how long a chemically infused handkerchief held over his own nose takes to knock him out.  Goldsmith's theme for Cousins' villainous planning is a fiendish two-note motif, a smooth and flowing, waltz-style theme accompanied by precisely calculated rhythmic backing.  The theme's harmonic slinkiness belies so well Cousins cruel intentions as it leads you along with its attractive, flowing grace.  It becomes all the more frightening when Goldsmith morphs the theme into dissonance as if to say, "Gotcha!"  Of course, Goldsmith does these kinds of themes so well.  He did so in the previous year's Basic Instinct and he would do so again in the next year's even more superior effort in The Shadow.

For the relationship between Jeff and his girlfriends, Goldsmith crafts a love theme that he most often arranges in plaintive form because it represents the loss Jeff feels for Diane.  As such, it often comes across mournful and regretful such as it does when it first appears in Apologies.  It never reaches the glitzy heights of Forever Young, or the elegance of The Russia House, though these themes share commonalities.  The theme does get a few tender performances such as with woodwinds in Forever and with both strings and woodwinds in A Night's Sleep.  Perhaps the most effective, technical use of the theme occurs in Drink where Goldsmith intertwines it in counterpoint to unsettling effect with the nefarious two-note motif.  The highlight performance though occurs in End Titles where we are treated to a sultry performance pared with jazzy percussion and piano much like Goldsmith did with even better results in The Russia House's concluding cue with that score's love theme.  This closing rendition saves The Vanishing's love theme from footnote status.  Even so, it pales in comparison to another romantic theme in another thriller that same year composed by James Horner for Darby in The Pelican Brief.

Mention must also be made of the pivotal role synth elements play in the score.  Throughout, Goldsmith incorporates his trademark electronics of the time (think Total Recall, Star Trek Insurrection, and even Rambo).  Included are synth rhythms, pulses, pops, claps, tings, and growls. For example, in New Message (at 2:19) and Abduction (at :02) we hear an elongated synth growl that Hans Zimmer would later replicate with great effect in Crimson Tide two years later. The electronic elements add to the suspenseful ambiance and enhance both the intrigue textures and the action set pieces. What could otherwise function as mundane underscore becomes much more interesting as Goldsmith morphs, arranges, contracts, and expands his synthetic elements in a variety of ways.

No doubt this score remains obscure because of the film's box office failure and its limited release by Varese in 2007, long after its debut. If not for my job at a movie theater, I could easily have missed it. Much of the score, its themes and synth elements, are very typical of Goldsmith, which is both a strength and a weakness.  However, too often thriller scores become tiresome because the quieter sections tend toward boring, monotonous droning.  Not so here as Goldsmith's keeps things interesting with his intelligent and snappy integration of synth permutations.  Goldsmith's effective use of counterpoint is also appreciated.  In the end, the score remains a nostalgic favorite that I return to for its slyly seductive main theme, the end credits performance of the love theme, and Goldsmith's trademark combination of orchestra and synth in both in its suspenseful sections and its action music.  Sadly, the Varese Sarabande limited release is now out of print, but copies remain on the secondary market including

1. Practice (4:50)*+#
2. The Stars (1:05)
3. Statistics (1:52)+
4. Steps (1:07)
5. Apologies (2:13)~
6. Forever (1:37)~
7. Diane’s Missing (2:34)*^
8. That’s It (:55)~
9. Passing Time (:37)~^
10. A Night’s Sleep (1:40)~
11. Weekend Duty (2:12)
12. The Password (4:40)#
13. The Vision (3:44)~#+
14. New Message (2:29)
15. Hello, Jeff (:39)
16. Let Me Tell You (3:18)+#
17. A Variation (2:18)
18. The Lure (1:00)+
19. Abduction (2:40)*+#^
20. Don’t Tell (:52)
21. Drink (4:01)+#~
22. Surprise (2:07)#
23. Where’s Jeff? (3:46)^
24. Let’s Talk (9:00)*+#~
25. End Titles (3:17)*~

Total album time: 65:02
Album release year: 2007

+Contains main theme
#Contains two-note villain motif
~Contains love theme
^Action cue
*1993 Favorites Pick
Recommended, shortened album program

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