Targeting the 80s Action Genre

The late, great Michael Kamen scored two iconic action films of the eighties – Lethal Weapon (1987), and Die Hard (1988) – and they were the genre’s definitive films, in fact, because they provided the template for filmmakers to imitate and composers to emulate for around a decade.

Screenwriters tended to use ‘Die Hard on a plane/train/boat/chuck wagon/wobbly tricycle’ when pitching ideas to agents, and journalists liked to use the same phrases to describe what story, treatment or script the latest overpriced scribe had managed to sell for $1.5, $2.5, and $4.0 million to a sucker studio.

Those two action films had ripple effects – mostly cinematic clones, and egotistical excess on the part of producers, directors, writers, an stars – that yielded some good and some painfully derivative material, but the genre did provide composers plenty of chances to score movies with, well, anything they wanted.

Big was in, and much like the massive orchestral scores that followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977), using top Hollywood musicians was the norm for major studio productions. It’s no surprise that the aforementioned two were produced by Joel Silver – himself an icon of the genre, and a man whose career was built on Thinking Big. He is (or was) the only private individual who owns two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, bought from the profits of his cinematic blockbusters. (Heck, even the Silver Pictures logo is derived from a Lloyd Wright design.)

As composer Bear McCreary describes in our interview for the music of Human Target: Season 1, the series’ showrunner, Jonathan Steinberg, wanted to recreate the sense of fun that was native to eighties/early nineties action films, where people were treated to explosions and dry, self-effacing humour.

Crafting big sounds isn’t a lost art, but finding that balance between thrills and tongue-in-cheek humour without bludgeoning viewers with the Laugh Now! sledgehammer is, and McCreary found it tough early into the project while sketching out the series’ main theme.

So, uploaded is an interview [M] with the composer (who discusses both the music of Human Target and The Walking Dead), a review of the limited 3-CD [M] set from La-La Land Records (which is addictive for fans of the action genre), and a review of the series [M] which looks just lovely on Blu-ray (Warner Home Video).

Want highly subjective recollections of the eighties action genre? Well, check out the prior blog on the recent screening of Die Hard at the Bloor Cinema. Now if only they could find decent 35mm copy of Lethal Weapon

I’ve also been doing some site tweaks, and I’ve organized the interview index on the main site to parallel the setup on the mobile site, so there’s now proper groupings for Composers, DVD labels & producers, Filmmakers, and Music Producers. The main interview intro page will no longer take 6 years load 900 interview headers and pictures, and has been condensed to load just the latest five Q&As, with the index link to the upper right.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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