November 27th, 2012

NCC-1701 Regula

The man, the myth, the Basil: what would Poledouris have done?

In a Basil Poledouris frame of mind. Tonight I pulled out his score to 1987's RoboCop; and recently I was reminded of the guy because there's now a damn comprehensive 3-CD collection of his seminal, huge-sounding, career-boosting and kick-ass score to 1982's Conan the Barbarian.

This also got me thinking of his connection to Star Trek. I knew he'd worked as an extra on the original series, when he was in college -- on this page are images from two of his episodes, "Obsession" (he's a red shirt*) and "Errand of Mercy" (he's a Klingon!) -- and, if I remember correctly, years later he hoped to write a score to the sixth Star Trek film, The Undiscovered Country. As I'd heard, he'd been keen to do it (and he'd done a major and good job scoring The Hunt For Red October, also for Paramount, the year before), but his composing fee at the time would've been too high for the relatively low-budgeted Star Trek VI. Cliff Eidelman wound up scoring it -- beating out Leonard "Voyage Home" Rosenman, who Leonard Nimoy wanted to bring back, and who also may have been too expensive at the time -- and did a fantastic job, but I still wonder what sort of score Poledouris would've come up with.

(Another might-have-been: Dances With Wolves. Poledouris turned it down because the scoring schedule would've conflicted with Jonh Milius's film version of Flight of the Intruder, and he was greatly loyal to Milius -- they'd worked together on Conan and had been friends for decades, after all. Though later the schedules changed and Poledouris could have done both films, but he'd moved on by then.)

Basil Poledouris passed away too young, from cancer (dammit) in 2006 -- and, sadly, before that, his career fizzled out, as well. I've compared him to Dmitri Tiomkin: by the mid-1960s in Tiomkin's case and the late 1990s in Poledouris's case, the kinds of films they were good at scoring simply weren't getting made. Basil got one late-in-career "hell yeah!" assignment that I'm extremely fond of, Starship Troopers, and his music for that film is properly -- should I use the word? -- crazed. One track, "Tango Urilla" (for when soldier Johnny Rico rides on top of the 20-foot alien bug he's trying to kill), has made me laugh out loud because it's that over-the-top. I like some of Hans Zimmer's stuff, but it's almost never made me laugh out loud. I want to feel that from film music more often.

I'll take what I can get, Poledouris music-wise. And I'll wish I met the guy. Never did. The only film composer I've had a conversation with** was the also late, also great Michael Kamen, when I interviewed Kamen for my Honors College thesis. That's still a highlight of my geek life; it was a great talk. Something tells me Basil Poledouris would've been a great person to talk to, too.

* One who actually survives, though two others bite it. 67% red shirt attrition rate on that mission.

** Edited To Add: Oops, that was not true. I later also did a phone interview with Paul Buckmaster about working with Terry Gilliam on Twelve Monkeys. That interview was a little more procedural, though Buckmaster was congenial. Not as memorable, basically.