“The Challenge (1982)”
Music By Jerry Goldsmith
La-La Land Records
19 Tracks/Disc Time: 76:06
“The Challenge” was one of those films that got in the shuffle of the Summer 1982 release schedule and was also part of the misfortune of future classic films such as “John Carpenter’s The Thing”, “Blade Runner” and “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” that were literally obilaterated at the box office by “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial”. The film has become a cult classic despite the fact that the film has yet to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD, which is a travesty to be sure. “The Challenge” is an intense and engaging film that revolves around the central themes of both modernism and traditional Japanese values. Originally titled “Equals”, the film’s central MacGuffin (plot device that brings the story to be) revolves around a pair of sacred swords the belong to the Yoshida clan that are in the possession of two brothers, Hideo, a ruthless modern Japanese businessman and Toru (the late Toshiro Mufune), a traditional master warrior who lives his life in the traditional Japanese values. Hideo, enlists his closest henchman Ando (Calvin Jung) to retrieve the sacred second sword being transported by Toru’s wheelchair bound son (Sab Shimono) and his daughter Aikiko (Donna Kai Benz) with the help of a down and out New York City boxer Rick (Scott Glenn). Soon Rick is recruited by Ando on orders from Hideo to join Toru’s school and train with him while trying to find a way to steal the sacred sword. Rick soon starts to take in Toru’s teachings of respect and honor and turns on Hideo and Ando siding with Toru. Once Aikiko is kidnapped by Hideo, the stage is set for one final deadly confrontation with between the two brothers.
The film was skillfully directed on location by the late John Frankenheimer, whose last couple of films prior to his untimely passing around 2001 where the action-thrillers “Ronin” and “Reindeer Games” pulls out all the stops and starts here with exceptionally coordinated action sequences by a young pre-stardom Steven Seagal. The action was as frenetic in this film as in his later films and a very important constant to Frakenheimer’s films was the music. Frankeheimer’s films, have always been blessed with solid music and “The Challenge” undoubtly features the best of all of his films as side from “Grand Prix” and “Ronin”. Academy Award winner Jerry Goldsmith was in one of the greatest periods a composer could ever have and enjoy after winning the Oscar for “The Omen” with rock solid scores to “Damnation Alley”, “Alien”, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, “The Boys From Brazil”, “Masada”, “Capricorn One”, “The Final Conflict”, “Coma”, “The Salamander” and “Outland”. It would continue even further throughout 1982 with “Poltergiest” (which he would earn another Oscar nomination), “First Blood”, “Night Crossing”, and “Inchon” cementing a great year culminating with “The Challenge”. The score is easily one his more muscular and action oriented along the lines of “Outland”, “Capricorn One”, “Night Crossing” and is a preview what he would go on to do to introduce Rambo to the world in “First Blood” months after this film.
Goldsmith’s score also infuses the traditional Japanese sound which is very striking and symbolizes the way of honor established immediately during the opening credits (“Main Title”) featuring woodwinds, and strings backed with a Gamelan and Shakuhachi flute and it is one of the two signature themes that this score features with the muscular signature action theme that Goldsmith goes all robust on throughout the films’ exciting action sequences. The honor theme is somewhat of a spinoff of the Nazarine theme from “The Final Conflict” and it works exceptionally well here as it did in that film as evidenced in “Half An Equal”, and “”I Will Go””. He also takes that theme and spins it off into a beautiful, tender love theme “Stay With Me”, that is amongst Goldsmith’s best and gets a lush reading in “”Let’s Talk””. For the majority of the score, the action is the dominate tracks of this terrific album starting with the propulsive opening tracks “The Wrong Sword” and “Over The Top/Fish Market”, Goldsmith’s exciting rhythms and energy are in full tilt. “The Traitor”, continues the action which builds up slowly and then Goldsmith’s musical fury takes over just as it does in the film’s brilliant finale (“Surprise Visitor / Forced Entry”, “No Defense” and “As You Wish”/End Credits”), which are really dynamic in everyway possible and it shows why Goldsmith’s music for this film has been highly sought after for decades since the film’s release.
After a brief mastering snafu, “The Challenge” how now been given its’ proper and perfect reissue and not to mention that sound on this is alittle more lively than the original Prometheus Records limited edition released in 2000 and great artwork. Leave it to La-La Land Records to produce another special Goldsmith reissue and this one of my favorite out of all of them. The score is a fantastic listen and it shows what a master craftsman and musician Goldsmith was and shows how severely lacking music is today to be honest. “The Challenge” is memorable in so many ways and Goldsmith returns to the Asian sound that he mastered early on in his career with his Oscar nominated music for “The Sand Pebbles” as well as mixing in his electric and exciting action music. If you were to have one great action Goldsmith score other than Rambo, this would definitely would be the one. Very enthusiastic thumbs up!