1990 was an interesting year for film scores due to both the incredible Total Recall soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith as well as Basil Poledouris’ The Hunt for Red October score. These works also share another common trait: that of using synthesizers alongside the instrumentation. However The Hunt for Red October is more of an operatic and flamboyant piece of work, whereas Goldsmith’s score was much darker in tone and concept. Here, Poledouris manages to do something fresh with the old “cold-war-theme” music that would usually emerge from movies with such a setting - he opts for sustained notes in which every instrument seems to play its own key role, as well as a calculated amount of breathing space between each instrumental section. On the other hand, the percussive elements are very prosaic - that’s not really a bad thing though because they support the musical scenery very well.
The film opens with “Hymn to Red October”, an operatic explosion of classical instrumentation and chanting, in which a Russian male chorus recites a commanding military hymn: a very vigorous start for Poledouris’ soundtrack. "Nuclear Scam" sounds like a blend between some hi-octane fantasy score and the omnipresent cold-war-theme; once again, this track expresses Poledouris' keenness for celestial choir voices, synthesized melodies, and vast string sections. These dramatic moments appear many times throughout the entire soundtrack, such as in tracks "Red Route 1" and most notably “Ancestral Aid”. Tracks “Putin’s Demise” and “Plane Crash” are calmer pieces, with gentle percussion sweeping the background, combined with synthesizers and soft wind instrumentation.
Although the “Chopper” track works on a cinematographic level, it remains rather bland on a musical one, with its overused synthesized beat patterns splattering a repetitive thud alongside a lone violin. However, this is The Hunt for Red October’s one and only setback, and it simply cannot compare with tracks such as “Nuclear Scam” or the bold “Ancestral Aid”. The soundtrack ends with “Kaboom”, a traditional finale-type progression which pits synthesizer against instrument, and ends in an exploding harmonic suite. This 10th track justifies the hype surrounding Poledouris’ approach to The Hunt for Red October, because it exemplifies his mysterious heroic-fantasy-take on ordinary cold-war-theme music at its very best.
This soundtrack is a must-have for admirers of Basil Poledouris’ style; one that is quite unique in the case of The Hunt for Red October. An interesting piece of work that serves to illustrate Poledouris’ versatility as a composer, as well as celebrate an important time in the artist’s musical career. It can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.