Forever Young

Score Analysis by Dirk Wickenden
Originally published in Legend: Issue 18, Summer 1995
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author, Dirk Wickenden
Revised and expanded expressly for runmovies ©2014

Forever Young

There are many stories involving a central character who awakes after a long sleep. Let’s see… we have Rip Van Winkle and Sleeping Beauty. Moving into the film medium, there are Gene Roddenberry’s pilots GENESIS II and PLANET EARTH, featuring the science of cryogenics and similarly, the Chuck Heston PLANET OF THE APES. STAR TREK did it in the episode ‘Space Seed and we mustn’t forget Woody Allen’s Sleeper.

Released in 1992, FOREVER YOUNG (the working title was ‘THE REST OF DANIEL’) was directed by Steve (WARLOCK) Miner from a Jeffrey Abrams script. What could have been a typical popcorn movie is turned into a rather special film, due to the strong production values and acting.

Screenwriter Jeffrey Abrams became billed on later productions as J J Abrams and he has gone onto helm and produce numerous (sometimes inexplicably successful) television and movie properties, including LOST, the STAR TREK reboot movies, SUPER 8 and the forthcoming STAR WARS continuation movies. But for this writer anyway, in the course of raising his profile in the industry, Abrams has become too big for his boots and the lemmings aka today’s cinema-going public think he and his scripters can do no wrong, whilst turning out poorly-realised material.

In FOREVER YOUNG, Mel Gibson stars as Daniel McCormick, with Jamie Lee Curtis as Claire, young Elijah Wood (latterly, DEEP IMPACT, LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) as Nat, and Isabel Glasser as Daniel’s girlfriend Helen. The role of Harry Finlay features George Wendt (CHEERS) in a sympathetic performance. Also featured is Joe (BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, TERMINATOR 2) Morton as Dr. Cameron.


In 1939, B25 test pilot Daniel McCormick is heartbroken when his girlfriend Helen is involved in a car accident. He can’t bear to live without her so he asks his scientist friend Harry to use him as a guinea pig in a cryogenics experiment. As the project was top secret, Daniel is forgotten for fifty-three years. Then two boys find and open his cryo suspension chamber, he awakens and his fish-out-of-water adventures begin.

The Music – Background

‘People pictures’: After scoring TOTAL RECALL, Jerry Goldsmith was looking for a change of pace, which turned out to be THE RUSSIA HOUSE (one of my all time favourite films and scores, by the way). FOREVER YOUNG, like some of the composer’s other assignments of the same period (SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, BASIC INSTINCT and so on) featured a fair amount of repetition, although it holds its own as the score is very lyrical, exciting and powerful, which complements the film perfectly (just what good movie music should do). Mr. Goldsmith had earlier scored director Steve Miner’s WARLOCK, which was nothing out of the ordinary in the annals of film music.

The Score – Themes

There are a number of motifs present in the score. Best of all is another of the composer’s love themes, which is featured on the album prominently as a soprano saxophone solo (but not in the film itself). Just as moving as THE RUSSIA HOUSE, Joel Peskin’s solo is professional and inspired.

The ‘flying’ motif is heard at various points during the movie, most notably over the Main Titles and when Daniel is teaching Nat to fly his tree house (‘Eh?’ you say). Also central to the score is the experiment motif.

There is also a ‘lullaby’-like cell which tends to be linked to the beginning and end of some of the cues.


The Score – Source Music

There is one source cue heard five times during the course of the film (including over the end title crawl). It is Ray Noble’s song The Very Thought of You, as performed fay Billie Holiday. It is surprising as usually the only time a film’s producers ‘hit you over the head’ with a song, is if it is specially penned for the film and sung by an artist or group currently a ‘big thing’. It is interesting to note that The Very Thought of You was also featured heavily in the Goldsmith-scored film CABLOBLANCO. However, in the case of that film, Mr. Goldsmith incorporated the melody into his dramatic underscore and expansive end credits.

The Score within the Context of the Film

The first cue commences over the Main Titles with a brass hard hit. There is a fade-in to a view of a blue sky and the music continues, with a synthesiser providing the rhythm, layered with strings and brass which alternately play the flying theme. As the titles end a plane flies past the camera, which tracks it towards the ground. The plane attempts to pull up, trombones enter with a short cell which is repeated by the strings. The music is barely audible through the sound effects; as the plane crash-lands; Goldsmith scores a hard out (Test Flight). The following Howard Hawksian overlapping dialogue is not scored.

The next scene features the camera passing over a radio, introducing the first source cue, playing through the dialogue between Daniel and Helen. There is then a cut to the two driving in a car, again accompanied to the sourced (car radio) The Very Thought of You. Cut to a picnic as the source cue carries on. As Daniel and Helen look at each other. Goldsmith underscores the shot with a brief rendition of the love theme on synth, which tails out on a short cell (the lullaby motif) from piano over a soft string pad.

The film cuts to a diner with the couple inside – in the ‘phone booth’ scene (no, Mel doesn’t change into Superman!), a flute plays the love theme (Will You Marry Me?/Never Leave Me). As Helen leaves the booth, the flute is joined by strings and piano. The strings and flute take on an ominous feeling as Daniel runs outside to the scene of the accident and cellos join the orchestration, then Daniel sees Helen in the road. Accompanied by synth and strings, Daniel sits at the comatose Helen’s bedside, which follows through to the next scene as he walks home in the rain (Hit and Run). Fade to morning as piano ends the cue. As the film shows Daniel again with Helen, oboe and strings are scored. The cue continues as Daniel goes to Harry’s house and volunteers for the cryogenics experiment. Strings and piano play through the scene.


Cut to the preparation of the cryo-chamber, accompanied by brass, flute and woodwind with strings, which stop as there are flashbacks of the couple as children and then as adults, shot through gauze. The flute plays the love theme as they kiss and strings replace the flute, with a French horn counterpoint as a biplane flies behind the two stars – the camera dollies up with soaring strings and they then tail out to the lullaby motif as the camera dollies down onto a modem (i.e. 1992) scene (The Experiment).

The two young boys, one of which is Nat Cooper, who plays an integral part in the plot, sneak into an Air Force base warehouse; A short cue featuring brass and synth with a cello pad is scored, which tails out (The Warehouse). The two boys discover the cryo-chamber and they play atop it as music returns with strings and brass, hinting at what is about to happen. There is a hard hit as the chamber opens and they reveal Daniel’s frozen body, with another hit as his hand grabs at Nat’s coat, orchestrated for strings and brass as the two run away in flight. Daniel awakens and climbs out of the chamber with the brass and strings and cellos join the accompaniment (I suppose the sight of a naked Mel Gibson sent the women swooning!). After Daniel has ‘borrowed’ clothes from a clothes line and tries to call Harry on a payphone, he sees a helicopter and a banner which reveals the year as 1992 and the music reaches a crescendo (Thawed Out). As he goes to the base C.O., Goldsmith repeats the experiment motif. Later, Daniel has found Nat and is staying in his tree house – a brief cue for synth plays as he sees a man enter the house. An argument ensues between the man and Claire, Nat’s mother. Super-Gibson leaps into action and engages in fisticuffs with the man, named Fred, and sees him off. There is no musical accompaniment to the scene.

Further on into the narrative, Daniel journeys to the house of a Harry Finlay to the sound of a piano (The Wrong Man). It’s not his Harry and he leaves. As he passes the airshow site, a synth is heard when he vaults a fence, being unable to pay the entrance fee. He sees an old B25 plane. A flute and the brass section lead into a noble trumpet statement as he sits in the cockpit, followed by a lonely and introspective oboe motif as he sees Claire (The Airshow). At night, Daniel’s hand begins to shake while he is on the phone (he’d better gerroff, or he’ll break it!) and an eerie string and synth cell is scored. The next day, the base officer sees the cryo-chamber being thrown out and he is shocked as he didn’t believe Daniel. The-brass-scored cue signifies revelation and features the experiment motif. Daniel walks back from a hardware store and sees the diner at which he was last with Helen, fifty-three years ago. Soft strings support a synth in a simplified version of the love theme as he enters the diner and sits at the same table. Flute replaces synth with the full love theme while he sits reminiscing. The camera then shows an exterior shot, looking through the window at Daniel, then the film cuts to Daniel and Nat on the roof of his house, fixing tiles as the music tails out (The Diner).

After Daniel shakes again and nearly falls off the roof, the film cuts to him twirling a CD on his finger. Guess what? Yes, that’s right! It’s a Billie Holiday album and Claire puts it on (she’d look pretty silly with a CD on!) and the strains of The Very Thought of You are heard. Later in the film, ‘men in suits’ enter a cryogenics lab as there is a flute motif. The film cuts to a Dr. Cameron answering his phone and is told the cryo-chamber has been found. A flute, synth, pizzicato strings and a snare drum are featured.

Nat has bought a flying jacket for Daniel and they go into the tree house and construct a makeshift cockpit, to teach Nat to fly a plane. The cue starts in the strings, then harp and trombones. A trumpet fanfare and propeller sound effects give the impression of takeoff. With the use of camera movement and strings and trombones, it really looks as if they are flying (Treehouse).

Forever Young CD2Daniel falls out of the tree house after the ‘flight’ and the string cell sounds very much like the eerie violins from BASIC INSTINCT. Nat gets our hero to the hospital and Claire is told all but Daniel by her son she is initially sceptical. The FBI (what – no Fox Mulder and Dana Scully? This would make a great X File!) are now hunting for Daniel, and Claire helps him escape from the hospital to a short cue. She takes him to a woman who replied to Daniel’s enquiries, that she knows a Harry Finlay, accompanied by agitato strings, which halt as they arrive by car. The woman turns out to be Harry’s daughter and she digs out all of his notes on the experiment. It transpires that Daniel is aging rapidly as a result of the test and there is no cure. Cut to the FBI and Cameron on the trail to brass and strings. The film cuts again to Daniel looking at a photo of Helen with a young girl, scored with the love theme on flute, strings and piano. Daniel looks older before our eyes and Goldsmith conducts tremolo strings and an oboe. The revelation is made that Helen is still alive (she emerged from her coma) and the race is on to find her. The next cue commences as the FBI turn up and Claire, Nat and Daniel tear off in their car, underscored with, alternately, brass and strings, a flute lullaby and brass and percussion. Driving synths and trombones accompany the arrival at the airshow and Daniel’s takeoff in a B25, which become triumphant as he takes off with the string section following. The film cuts to the ground as Cameron arrives and Claire hands over the notes (She’s Alive). Claire cannot find Nat and rightly assumes that he has stowed away on the plane – he reveals his presence to Daniel. They fly over the coastline and Daniel starts to get worse – Nat has to land the plane. The composer incorporates an oboe and bassoon as they exit the craft.

Daniel knocks on the door of the house (this is the location we saw Daniel remembering as he was being frozen) to piano, strings and oboe. There is no answer and then he senses someone walking towards the house – he sees Helen and goes to her. Goldsmith supplies the love theme with high register strings. They embrace to the tear-in-eye music and cellos and violins continue as Daniel asks ‘So you gonna marry me, or what?’. The strings soar as high as the seagulls overhead as Nat joins the couple, and the camera pulls up and back and the picture fades to black and the music ends in a crescendo (Reunited). The end titles roll to another performance of The Very Thought of You by Billie Holiday.

Overall, the score showed Mr. Goldsmith at his heart-on-sleeve, lyrical, emotive best. The high point of the score is of course that thickly orchestrated, string based love theme and it suits the film to perfection. Goldsmith’s scores from THE RUSSIA HOUSE onward, even though he would return to action movies a few years after, became less ‘envelope-pushing’, with less ‘risk taking’, such as he did back in the days of PLANET OF THE APES and ALIEN.

Update – A Look Back from 2014

Forever Young CDJerry Goldsmith’s simplification of his style reflected how cinema was evolving as it approached the turn of the century. However, during the first decade of the 2000s, sound mixes became denser and louder and film has, in my opinion, devolved as technology has improved. Thus film music has for the most part followed the trend and has become even more entrenched in technology. Also today there is a lack of melody and true architecture to a score, where the score can become a roadmap for the film; music for one scene might pre-empt a later scene or music later on may draw one’s mind back to an earlier connected scene. That is one of the strengths of the FOREVER YOUNG score and the scores that came before it and is a strength missing from current Hollywood vernacular.

Since the above analysis was published in 1995, La La Land Records released a complete edition of the FOREVER YOUNG (some cue titles not mentioned in my 1995 article have been incorporated, based on the track listing of the La La Land) but the original album on Big Screen is and always has been an excellent distillation of the score.



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