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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 28
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Lifeforce - Expanded Motion Picture Soundtrack, Henry Mancini and Michael Kamen
by Roger Gordon

 

How many times have you seen the 'Director's Cut' of a movie on DVD and found it to be substantially better than the original film you saw in the theater? I can think of quite a few, as I am sure you can also. Studio executives, in an attempt to make a film 'more marketable' will take the director's cut, and edit it down to a 'more saleable' product. Many times, not only does a decent film end up laying on the cutting room floor, but most times the film score also lies dead alongside it. Lifeforce is one of those movies were the studio editing process took an offbeat, but interesting film and pretty much destroyed it, as well as destroying a very good film score.

Lifeforce started life as The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. Director Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist) had the screenwriters make a number of changes from the original story, the biggest being the tying of the plot to Halley's Comet which would reappear in the skies of Earth shortly after the film was released. If you have not seen the movie, a brief plot synopsis might be in order. The movie is actually three movies in one. In the first part, Earth sends a manned spaceship to explore Halley's Comet. In the head of the comet, the exploration team finds an alien spacecraft. Inside the spacecraft are the dried-out bodies of large bat-like creatures. They also find in suspended animation a lovely, naked, human female, and two human males. Earth loses contact with the exploration team. The earth spaceship returns to the earth a few months later. On board the spaceship is one of the original astronauts suffering from amnesia, and the three naked humans, still in suspended animation. Thus ends part one, the standard science fiction space exploration movie. In part two, the vampire-horror movie starts when the naked female awakes. She really is not human, though she sure looks it. She is in fact the head vampiress who feeds off of the life force of every human she touches. Of course, the people she touches also become vampires, and the vampires need to feed once an hour to stay alive. As quickly as you can say 'powers of two' the world is being overrun by vampires. Thus, starts part three, The End of the World as the scientists try to defeat the vampires and save the world. Not your ordinary movie and I am sure you can see why the studio executives were running scared. Still, with the full frontal nudity and graphic violence, there had to be a saleable movie in there somewhere.

The original director's cut of Lifeforce was 128 minutes in length. As initially released in Europe, the film was edited by the studio down to 112 minutes. The most of the cuts were made in the scenes dealing with the exploration of the alien spacecraft. For the USA market, however, more drastic changes were needed. An offbeat science fiction movie was not felt to be saleable. So, let's make it an out-and-out horror film. Hence, the movie was drastically reedited. Only six more minutes were chopped from the film but the reedited movie now emphasized the horror elements and down played the science fiction angle. With the new horror thrust, the original film score was not suitable. The original film score composer, Henty Mancini, was contacted. Could he drop what he was working on and rearrange his original film score to match the reedited movie? Oh, could also he write some scarier music to match the new horror theme? Henry Mancini. He of the light, fluffy film score with such credits as Charade, Peter Gunn, Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffanys, and Baby Elephant Walk from Hatari. How did he get involved with Lifeforce?

Though not widely known, Henry Mancini wrote the film scores to such classic sci-fi/horror movies as Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, This Island Earth, and The Monolith Creatures. As a young film composer just starting out in the business, Mr. Mancini spent six years at Universal Studio where he composed numerous scores for Universal's B grade sci-fi and horror movies. Initially, Tobe Hooper wanted James Horner, hot off of his successes with the first two Star Trek movies, to do the Lifeforce film score. However, Horner was not available. Thus, Mr. Hooper asked Mr. Mancini if he would like to get back to his sci-fi roots. Mr. Mancini said yes, and produced what is one of his greatest film scores. When asked to rescore the movie, Mr. Mancini said no.

The studio executives then contacted Michael Kamen (The Dead Zone and Brazil), a talented, though not as well known film score composer, and asked him to rework Mancini's score and add additional, scary music. Mr.Kamen did as asked. The original score was cut and pasted. Electronic elements were added to the original orchestral and choral score. Music stressing the horror elements of the movie was added. The cut-down, revised movie was foisted on the American movie-going public. The movie-going public reacted with indifference and the movie slipped into oblivion.

Mr. Mancini's film score would also have slipped into oblivion except for Varese Sarabande. Varese Sarabande is a company that specializes in releasing film music. They obtained the rights to the 140 minutes of Lifeforce music that Mr. Mancini had made conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Mr. Mancini selected 36 minutes of music (all that would comfortably fit on a single LP) from the 140 minutes. This LP was issued in 1985 as STV-81249 and later reissued in 1991 on CD as VSD-5320. While something is better than nothing, filmscore lovers have always wanted to hear more of the original 140 minutes. Sometimes wishes are answered, particularly if they are commercially viable.

SBX Records (www.buysoundtrax.com), which specializes in selling soundtrack recordings, has started to release their own CDs. Just released by SBX is a 2 CD set of the original music from Lifeforce. Included on the 2 CDs is 81:31 minutes of Mancini's original 140 minute recording played in the order that the music appears in the film, 19:29 minutes of the additional music that Michael Kamen wrote for the film, one bonus track from the original film version of the Grandson of the Web cut, plus the entire 36:42 minutes from the original Varese Sarabande release. That is a lot of music on 2 CDs.

So, was waiting 21 years for this SBX release worth it? Yes. I am not too keen about the Michael Kamen music because it sounds disjointed and really does not have any flow. Since these were bits tacked onto Mancini's music, the lack of cohesiveness is not surprising. Still, they are interesting to listen to. The 81 minutes of the original Mancini recording are pure delight. This is one of Mancini's greatest film scores. Bold, dramatic, moody, mysterious. Totally unlike the fluffy film scores that made him rich and famous. This is a film score with teeth. The 36 minutes of the original Varese Sarabande release is also worth listening to. The music has been organized as two suites, with two additional tracks. This gives you a different variation of the same music. Both the 81 and the 36 minutes versions are worth listening to. There is not that much repetition between the two. You can hear music from eight of the tracks on the CDs at http://buysoundtrax.stores.yahoo.net/lif2cdorsoun.html.

Besides containing great music, the CDs also sound very good. The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest orchestras in the world. Here they are splendidly recorded. The music arises out of a wide, but not excessively deep soundstage, with a little hall decay to make things natural. The digital mastering is very well done. I am primarily an analog kind of guy, but I had no trouble listening to this CD. Great digital sound. I don't own the original Varese Sarabande LP and after hearing this CD, I have no desire to seek it out.

A highly recommended 2 CD set. Only 3000 sets were produced. Film score lovers are not too numerous, but they can be fanatical. Don't be surprised if this CD set sells out.

www.buysoundtrax.com

$29.95 plus shipping

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