The Delta Force - Original Score Soundtrack Review
1A long-awaited CD release, Alan Silvestri's all electronic score for the Golan/Globus actioner The Delta Force (1986) finally arrives in its complete form courtesy of Intrada, in a limited Signature Edition. The moment I popped the disc in and heard that theme begin, I was transported back into the halcyon days of video-shops, Reaganite no-nonsense sabre-rattling, pure black-and-white, boo-hiss villainy and the cinematic bitch-slapping that global terrorism received at the hands and feet of one Mr. Chuck Norris, the demigod of direct-to-video dust-ups. America hadn't yet suffered the horror of terrorism, but if its movies were anything to go by, it was telling the world that it was ready, willing and more than able to deal with it if it came knocking on the White House door. The film, loosely inspired by the actual hijacking of a TWA airliner only a year before - footage of Bo Svenson's American captain leaning out of the cockpit to speak to the press with a gun pressed to his head was a perfect recreation of the real event - detailed the horrific capture of a western plane by Middle Eastern gunmen led by a darkened Robert (Alligator) Forster, the segregation of the passengers into various bolt-holes in Tehran and the explosive Delta Force rescue mission led by Chuck Norris's Maj. Scott McCoy and Lee Marvin's Col. Nick Alexander. In reality, this elite fighting force had not yet proved themselves on the world canvas, their one major exploit having ended in abject failure and carnage-heavy disaster when a wildly over-complicated and ambitious airborne mission to snatch-and-grab hostages from the captured US Embassy in Tehran resulted in death and humiliation for the US military. But with Chuck Norris riding high as a dependable hero-for-hire who had already righted the wrongs of the Vietnam War, a la Johnny Rambo, with his Missing In Action outings, now seemed the time to inform those harbouring a grudge against America that Uncle Sam was not open to intimidation ... or even any half-assed negotiation, for that matter.
The film ran afoul of critics who just saw racial stereotypes and unjustifiably gung-ho rapid reaction, but action-lovers adored its hokey idealism and high-calibre lunacy. And, despite an amazingly strong cast that also included Martin Balsam, Hanna Schygulla, Shelley Winters, Susan Strasbourg, Robert Vaughn and B-movie icon Steve (The Exterminator) James, and some wacky motorbike and dune-buggy stuntage, it is surely down to Silvestri's relentlessly addictive music that the film became such a screwball cult favourite. The less said about the sequels, the better, though.
Eschewing a conventional orchestra in favour of synthesiser and mixing desk, Silvestri wasn't exactly breaking with tradition as a slew of other genre movies had already begun the practice from the start of the 80's. Even symphonic heavyweights such as Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein had experimented with electronica by this stage, Goldsmith particularly, with many of his scores during this decade - such as Extreme Prejudice and Runaway heavily laden with it. But the Synclavier system was a popular platform of lush and varied sounds, both harmonic and incessant, its energetic and warmly propulsive effect the perfect accompaniment to macho man heroics, blending catchy pop backbeats with pulverising salvos of syncopated staccato. Its enveloping sound lifted high notes to the stratosphere, dropped bass through the floor and delivered everything in-between in a crystal clear swirl of all-around immersion. Craig Safan utilised the system heavily in his score for Remo Williams: Unarmed And Dangerous, which came out the year before, although he also wove its textures into a full orchestra as well. Its uniquely vibrant sound can also be heard in the likes of James Horner's Commando and Arthur Rubinstein's Wargames and Blue Thunder and, of course, Harold Faltermeyer's Beverly Hills Cop was a pure-blood beneficiary of the pop synthetic vibe, too.
Broadly speaking, Silvestri's score is monumentally simplistic. The main theme reverberates through five tracks out of 14. The secondary theme beefs up the plight of the hostages with a Semitic flavour, whilst a third gives drive and venom to the terrorists. Quite honestly, there is not much room for anything else. But the surprising crunch is that with this giddily infectious score it just doesn't matter. The entire album could be composed of just the main Delta Force theme and that would be just fine. Round about the same time as this, I used to get the 12-inch mega-mix extended versions of singles from the likes of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Dead Or Alive etc - and what were they comprised of, then? The same song as the normal version but with huge electro-funky interludes in the middle that ladled pre-Dance euphoria into the mix purely for the sake of extending the experience. Silvestri does much the same thing with this. Even the tracks that were on the original LP for The Delta Force have been expanded on this release, with that glorious main theme now playing out in interpretations ranging from five minutes to an ecstatically-indulgent eleven. And yet, the crazy thing is that you just don't tire of it. Jeez, this album runs for just shy of a whopping seventy-six minutes and it is, basically, the same three tunes cycling over and over again.
But this repetition is not so blandly produced as you might think. I mean Silvestri and his audio programmer David Bifano haven't simply punched the “ON” button on the keyboard and then gone out for a beer or two whilst it just ticked away to itself. Subtle tone changes, tempo lifts and mood swings add to the wall of sound, enhancing the atmosphere and upping the ante as the album moves along. The thick, continuous nature of the sound and its resulting canopy of mood over the film in question was something that John Carpenter had understood and embraced long before, with Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween and Escape From New York solidifying the style with immensely popular results. But what many consider purely to be down to budgetary constraints - which Carpenter, incidentally, freely admits to it being - was not the case with Silvestri at all. Having worked extensively already in film and TV with full orchestras, he chose to compose electronically for The Delta Force virtually for the sheer experience and creativity of it, the challenge of establishing driving themes and an overall umbrella of moody excitement and intrigue.
The Main Title actually plays over the opening prologue of the film, establishing Chuck's and Marvin's characters at ground zero of the real Tehran disaster years before the events of the fictional story to come. Immediately, Silvestri hits the ground running. The massive “D'oh!” of that failure, amid a field of fire, wreckage and screaming produces a relentless beat that gets that cheesy grin forming once the full heroic signature theme begins, despite the carnage onscreen. It features a truly upbeat and thoroughly delightful chorus. The drum-machine is light and toe-tapping behind it all and the initial heavy 4-note set-up for the ecstatic chorus is brimming with machismo. The lengthy chorus-line of two ebullient and eminently catchy bars is truly synth-ditty-perfection, bright, energetic and ultra-addictive. For some, this piece may be too upbeat and jocular, but considering the heinous acts committed in the movie, this over-the-top signature for the tough guys in black is a necessary antidote, both exhilarating and thoroughly reassuring whenever we hear it.
For Track 2, Silvestri incorporates suspense effects and a tonal frieze that bleeds out on an unstoppable “whup-whupping” rotor-blade underscore very similar to Horner's Commando and, more presciently, Roy Budd's thematically identical score for the Lewis Collins SAS drama Who Dares Wins. But Track 3 begins the tragic motif for the hostages that will reappear throughout the album. Icy, glistening organ-like chords and a forlorn melody of dread encapsulates the dangerous and helpless predicament of the passengers on board the hijacked plane. But the piece runs out with the beautifully buzzing undercurrent of the Delta Force theme's backbeat - that “whup-whupping” again - but this time featuring a really cute and plaintiff pseudo- horn-call playing out above it. Track 4, First Class, offers a surprise, though. The cue is source music for a synth-pop instrumental heard over a radio when Marvin's character gets the mission-call in a phone-call from Robert Vaughn's Top Brass, but played out in full. This is a real 80's big hair, soft TV-ish ballad that is heard here for the first time.
Things rocket up the pace with Track 5 which delivers a gorgeous frenzied intro with jazzed-up piano-like notes and splintered electronica after the fashion of Goldsmith's 80's dissonance. Then we get another full treatment of the Main Theme in out and out rip-roaring style. Glacial-cum-industrial effects slide in and out of the piece, some of them of a pitch that will have dogs barking all over the neighbourhood. That Boom-Boom-Boom-Clap! Boom-Boom-Boom-Clap! - and repeat - is awesome. This track also features the first of two weird “fold-back” drumbeat flurries at the very end.
Track 6 brings in a severe Middle Eastern motif that also combines an almost Nazi Iron-fisted doom with frighteningly symbolic tension. The next track, Round Up And Collection, has pure military drums banging out an introductory cadence whilst a sonorous, swelling tone, evocative of a solo trumpet in the distance, then heralds the icy wailing long notes of Silvestri's eerily atmospheric suspense cue. Sliding synth-work reminds of Carpenter before what now becomes clear is the Semitic theme returns with more gut-chilling alienation and menace.
That sizzling raw undercurrent (think Commando/Who Dares Wins again) thrums back once more, this time becoming a permanent reminder, amid the piercing shrieks and groans of various discordant effects, that the good guys are coming. And then Track 9, Delta Force Theme, lets rip. Wow - here we go again! The main theme circles around us with intoxicating vigour and passion - love that little snake-like triple-rattle that Silvestri incorporates - and then the drums kick in with a wonderfully “soft”, sinuous and irresistible beat. Silvestri then recaps the Goldsmith-esque intro from Track 5 and then - yep - the Main Title surges back at us, over us and all around us. You gotta love this stuff! If you listen, there is a definite snatch of Faltermeyer's Axel-F bubbling around in there somewhere, as well.
The tone changes again with Track 10, The Selections, in which the anti-Semitic terrorists roughly separate the Jews from the other passengers and Silvestri brings back the claustrophobic fear and foreboding from earlier. What he is doing throughout the score, with violent but fantastic see-sawing, is whipping between rousing action and soul-snatching poignancy. In fact, he does extremely well with this more downbeat element of persecution and the music he creates is sad, powerful, tragic and spellbinding all at once. He supplies deep, ominous chords with gleaming triangle-like notes of crystalline beauty to denote the overarching pathos and horror of the situation, its fateful cycle of hatred. And then, just when you think that it is going to bow out, the track then gains even more vigour, becoming searingly intense and tremendously moving for a final, fatalistic serenade.
Track 11 is dominated by the terrorist theme in full, ritualistic swagger. An execution-style drum-roll, an echoing piano-chord and a fantastic Tangerine Dream-reminiscent melody that cuts through it all brings the cue a poisonous vitality of bitter resentment and dignified humility in the face of unfeeling, unreasoning hostility. But listen out for the midway bridge of deep-set, portentous drums and piano that Trevor Jones would later riff so memorably and spectacularly on with his score (alongside Randy Edelman) for Michael Mann's The Last Of The Mohicans. Later, Silvestri's hauntingly relentless beat reaches an almost hypnotic level, before Track 12, The Funeral, branches out into the Semitic theme and then segues marvellously into the tense discord of an edgy metallic violin sound and other off-kilter effects.
Track 13. Oh yes - here it comes again. This time Silvestri goes for broke, treating us to every incarnation of the Delta Force Theme imaginable during the course of an epic eleven-minute cavalcade. Drums, synth-fanfare, chopper-rotor undercurrent, militaristic bass booms elongated to thick reverberant echoes - the boys in black are definitely coming, the first few minutes of the track emphatically state. Just hang on, the good guys are on their way. At the midway point you can virtually hear Chuck and Co. lock 'n' load, buggies and bikes coursing through enemy territory, Delta Force stopping for nothing. That Trevor Jones “Mohicans” beat comes in, the propulsive nature of the track now evolving into a combination of Delta Force and terrorist themes - the two motifs finally colliding. A simply resplendent slow rendition of the chorus makes its presence felt - deep and heraldic, weaving powerfully into the beat. Silvestri also injects a sort of electronic chant with a one-beat gap between each hefty stab that adds immense weight to the track.
Then, almost as long as the previous broadside, comes Track 14's mega-mix version of all the themes that have gone into the score. As a valiant Delta operative's coffin is loaded onto their plane and Chuck and his team-mates count the cost of their exploits and the rescued hostages return to a rapturous welcome, the Semitic theme plays out with a slightly softened and yet more orchestral-sounding dynamic. The mood is reflective now, the terror abated and only the aftershock of the ordeal remaining. And then, just before the lament has subsided, Silvestri - itching to give it to us one more time - ram-raids the Main Title theme back into our faces. And who can blame him? Even more funked-up than before, this cue has great fun with the effervescent Faltermeyer motif, thundering through the euphoric chorus once more before folding in on the second of those crazy, jazzed-up, warp-factor 9 final note flurries.Awesome.
All along, Silvestri's trick has been this jockeying for position between these simple, but dominating themes. But it is how he introduces them and sets them up, and how he fools us into thinking that they're over before hitting you over the head with them again ... and again. But the impact is never bludgeoning, as the Syclavier's soft, absorbing marshmallow of sound cushions any and all rough edges.
Incredibly, this score sold out completely from Intrada and various other online sites well within 24 hours of going on sale. The furore that was subsequently whipped-up among soundtrack collectors and voiced on many message boards and forums regarding the limited pressing of only 1000 copies worldwide was enough to have even cocked a surprised eyebrow on the usually unflappable Chuck Norris. Frustrated fans too late to have made their purchase even condemned Intrada for such a meagre pressing but, whatever their reasons - licensing and other background details that the likes of us aren't privy to - Intrada have played a blinder in releasing this oft-requested classic in such fantastic quality and finally in its complete form. The disc is obviously now in the realm of unscrupulous Ebayers and already inflated prices are being asked for it. But the fact that so many people are determined to get their hands on a copy of an old 80's action score certainly proves that Alan Silvestri's stylistic choice of employing the Synclavier was, undoubtedly, a popular one. Whether you like this mode of musical narrative or not, it is extremely evident that many score-lovers actually cherish the themes that he came up with for Chuck's rocket-launching, wheelie-pulling, bone-breaking extravaganza and the quality of this recording is immaculate.
A small, illustrated booklet accompanies the disc, but this only contains a brief resume of the film's plot and impact and a cursory mention of Silvestri and his score. Considering the pinnacle that this score has been placed upon, this seems a little perplexing in its lack of content. But - it's the music that counts.
1. Main Title 5:16
2. Terrorists Board Jet 3:19
3. Three American Marines 4:09
4. First Class 3.59
5. Rescue 5.59
6. Hebrew Ring 3:48
7. Round Up and Collection 4.57
8. More Terrorists 3:00
9. Delta Force Theme 4:24
10. The Selections 5:26
11. The Takeover 5:34
12. Funeral 4:35
13. Algiers 10:57
14. Hostages Arrive Home and End Credits 9:56
Total Album Time: 75:55
VerdictHugely recommended for 80's action-junkies everywhere, Silvestri's score for The Delta Force remains a wildly grin-inducing slice of Synclavier-heaven. Hardly a diverse album, I know, but this is adrenal stuff that packs a prime-time belter of a main theme, enough jangly-jingoism and rousing payback-fanfares to keep a terrorist-filled jumbo on the ground and, essentially, the musical persona of Chuck Norris in full-on, sonic ass-kicking mode. Fuelled by the John Carpenter ethic of pounding and insistent cues smoothed across a synthesised landscape, Delta Force proves that the complete lack of an orchestra doesn't have to be a limitation. Pulsating, heroic and downright exciting, this is sabre-rattling soundtrack extremism that not only captures the sound of an era, but retains a nigh-on implacable foothold upon the righteous, zero-tolerance genre of terrorist-bashing. Tracking down a copy may be a mission worthy of the Delta Force themselves, but this is still a release that is definitely worth the effort.
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