An excellent, yet sadly overlooked, wilderness adventure from 1997, The Edge sees a group of professional filmmakers at the peak of their game working together to craft a riveting tale of man against the elements. Reserved, articulate millionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) is accompanying trophy wife Mickey (Elle McPherson) on a photo shoot with her entourage in the wilds of Alaska. Separating from the main group with sleazy, crude photographer Bob (Alec Baldwin), a sudden plane crash puts things in sharp perspective, with both men having to put aside their personal travails in order to battle against a monstrous bear who is stalking them across the landscape.
With a typically sharp script from David Mamet, visceral direction from Lee Tamahori and spectacular backdrops lensed by Donald McAlpine, complemented by Hopkins' and Baldwin's committed lead performances, veteran Jerry Goldsmith was the best possible choice of composer. It was always apparent when Goldsmith was inspired by something, and The Edge played right to his strengths, capturing the Alaskan beauty that can turn on a dime into a savage, claustrophobic environment. Goldsmith's score spans a rich spectrum, from the sweeping main theme to blistering action interludes and quieter, more inventive sections for the intellectual battle between Charles and Bob.
Although clearly drawing influence from the not dissimilar First Contact from the year before, Goldsmith's main theme "Lost in the Wild" is one of his best, most magnificent scene setters, a gigantic orchestral tribute to the staggering Alaskan backdrop. It's especially jaw dropping when married with the cinematography in the film's opening sequence and many of the panoramas thereafter.
There's then a thrilling change of pace in the next track, "The Ravine", introducing not just a chilling brass glissando for the terrifying bear (an orchestral trick familiar from The 13th Warrior and The Mummy) but also some riveting, tightly wound action music with unusual percussive effects and rumbling pianos keeping Goldsmith's frantic brassy ostinatos in check. It's Goldsmith's understanding of the alternately beautiful and savage halves of the wilderness coin that makes The Edge such a gripping listen, with the orchestral tranquillity frequently being wrenched asunder.
Likewise, "Birds" (underscoring the crash scene) continues in the more dramatic vein, an orchestral hit leading into some modal, swirling string writing not unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Things then quieten for a bit in "Mighty Hunter", re-introducing the sweeping main theme, and the unusual "Bitter Coffee", a small scale, intellectual ensemble for oboe and jumpy strings accompanying the conversational give and take between the two very different men.
"Stalking" changes the mood again, beginning with some beguiling wind effects before the tension builds and the frightening bear theme once again growls out of the speakers. Goldsmith's orchestral ingenuity comes to the fore when, after an interval of more tremendously exciting chase music, the glissando is passed from the brass onto the woodwind, creating a pervasive, creeping, ominous atmosphere, as Charles and Bob face up to the realisation they must eliminate their enemy once and for all. "Deadfall" accompanies the inevitable showdown, with the growling suspense music reaching fever pitch proportions before it's all released in typically astonishing Goldsmith fashion as the thunderous brass and percussion battle across the orchestra and Charles and Bob face the bear down. Truly, there was no-one better at writing uncompromising, relentless action music that not only captures the intensity of the scene on its own; it amplifies it tenfold in the film.
"The River" then restores the sense of pastoral calm, although anticipating the sense of poignancy that the climactic epiphany between Charles and Bob will bring. "Rescued" is where the central theme gets its most glorious workout on rapturous brass and strings, tempered with some genuinely heartbreaking wind writing appropriate for the moving turn of events that concludes the film (Hopkins' acting in which, it has to be said, is breathtaking). "The Edge" end titles suite is a leftfield choice of conclusion, seeing Goldsmith re-arrange the main theme into a jazz arrangement, unusual perhaps, unexpected certainly, but in a way, entirely appropriate in reflecting urbane Charles' return to modern society.
Either way, it earmarks Goldsmith one of our finest dramatists and innovators that he can take a straightforward adventure score in such unpredictable directions. It's in these little nuances, alongside the broader, more conventionally emotional moments, that put both Goldsmith and the score for The Edge leaps and bounds ahead of the norm: a top rate score from a composer at the peak of his game. The soundtrack album can be hard to find but there are usually a few copies on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.