Medicine Man

Score Analysis by Dirk Wickenden
Originally published in Legend: Issue 15, 1994
The Official Jerry Goldsmith Film Music Society Journal
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author, Dirk Wickenden
Revised expressly for runmovies © 2014



MEDICINE MAN is based on what was to be one of many ‘million-dollar screenplays’ of the time; it was directed by the acclaimed action director John McTiernan, who had previously helmed such solid thrillers as Predator and Die Hard. Sean Connery was executive producer as well as star, portraying Dr. Robert Campbell. Lorraine Bracco plays the role of Dr. Rae Crane. Throughout the movie, the two actors recall the teams of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as in THE AFRICAN QUEEN or Spencer Tracy and the aforementioned Hepburn. Perhaps more demonstrably for younger film fans, I would also compare the onscreen relationship to Tom Selleck & Bess Armstrong and possibly Bruce Willis & Cybil Shepherd in the popular Moonlighting television series.

Bracco’s voice overs at the start and end of the picture appear stilted, as do her early
scenes, but this isn’t too detrimental to the production as a whole.

Synopsis (spoiler alert)

Botanist Robert Campbell has been out of touch with the foundation that sponsors his research for three years. Doctor Rae Crane has been dispatched to the Brazilian rain forest to see how his world is progressing and if not satisfactory, will close the project down. She finds that Campbell has discovered a cure for cancer but is unable to duplicate an important part of the serum produced, Campbell thinks, from a plant life growing high up in the canopy. With Crane’s help, he continues to search for the missing element, ‘Blend 37’ (sorry, I mean ‘Peak 37’ – Blend 37 is a brand of coffee!). They eventually stumble on the missing part, which is a variety of ant that lives within the boundaries of the natives’ village. Tragically, the developers arrive and begin tearing down the surrounding trees and all of Campbell’s equipment and notes are destroyed in a fire. Crane decides to stay with Campbell and sets off with the tribe to find a new place to live and search for more of the same breed of ants, vital for recreating the cure.


The Music – Background

When it was announced, in the same manner that film music fans were looking forward to Jerry Goldsmith working on Paul Verhoeven’s TOTAL RECALL, they also were eagerly awaiting his working with John McTiernan on THE LAST DAYS OF EDEN (the film’s working title). McTiernan’s action films PREDATOR and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER contained good scores and aficionados could only hope that Goldsmith would produce an excellent score. He did just that and Varese Sarabande presented approximately fifty minutes of the music on disc, for our enjoyment. On a personal note, when I first heard the music back in the day, I was not that enamoured of it but it grew on me and a few years later, resulted in this analysis.

The score itself is highly original and a delight to hear, whether as part of the film or on its own. There is a great deal of synth input and also gorgeous string based melodies, most prominent in the cue The Trees. The music is dubbed in at a sensible level and in one scene, all sound effects and dialogue are eschewed and just the music is heard.

The closest Goldsmith score I can compare in feel to MEDICINE MAN is ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (especially the Is Ten Too Old? cue). Perhaps a further comparison is the Gift from the Sea from PAPILLON. The use of guitar and pan pipes recall UNDER FIRE.

Jerry Goldsmith, Composer – and Hairstylist?!

Before we get into the analysis proper, upon spying the composer’s then-new ponytail post-RUSSIA HOUSE, Sean Connery said ‘I want your hair!’ and lo and behold, there is Connery sporting Jerry Goldsmith’s hairstyle in MEDICINE MAN!

The Music – The Score

jerry-goldsmithA plane’s engines are heard shutting down as the credits start. We see Rae Crane leaving the craft as the first cue commences (Rae’s Arrival). It is fairly ‘fun’ in feel, with pan pipes, synthesisers and percussion forming a multi-layered whole. Steel drums are also heard but I presume these are their synthesised counterparts. Pizzicato strings and flute enter the proceedings as Crane is taken into the rain forest. Brass enters as we see smoke in the distance.

After tramping through the undergrowth. Crane meets an obviously drunk Campbell, who is engaged in a native ritual, with ‘authentic ritual music’ (as the end credits tell us).

The following morning (First Morning) we hear further synths, ethnic percussion and flute. As in the opening cue, the electronic input is clearly in evidence and the strings soar, although one can still hear the natural sounds of the forest. A solitary guitar also joins the rendition, whilst we witness scenes of village life. Interestingly, the flute part sounds similar to moments of Goldsmith’s FIRST BLOOD Part II jungle scenes.

Crane visits Campbell’s hut/laboratory and after much bickering, he shows her an analytical program. Strings and harp comment quietly in the background. Crane storms out into the rain (yes, it rains a lot – why do you think it’s called a rain forest?) and the ‘jolly’ music from the opening titles reappears; joined by the rain, they drown out speech.

Later, whilst Crane is conducting tests, she looks at Campbell playing with the children of the village and practising his golf swing to flute, prominent harp and guitar (Campbell and the Children). The strings present the first teaser of the motif later to be heard in the ascent of the trees. The synth steel drums and percussion continue whilst Crane works, in a variation of the first cue, complete with maracas and pizzicato strings.

That evening, Campbell reveals that he had given Alka Seltzer to a boy and the villagers named him ‘Depswa, or ‘Medicine Man’. The real Depswa had left the village. Strings and harp sound softly underneath this dialogue and the picture merges into a view of Campbell and the natives drinking, to further ethnic music. Crane later finds that Campbell has discovered a cancer cure and there is a brief suspense cue with flute and strings. As Campbell says he is unable to reproduce the serum, the flute and strings are joined by harp and synthesisers.

Campbell takes Crane into the forest to climb up into the canopy. We are treated to a slow, expressive string melody and harp beneath. As their journey upwards progresses, the instruments swell in volume with accompanying electronics (The Trees). The strings reach new heights (pun intended) as the researchers break through the tree tops and the music soars in a very moving manner, which then turns ominous as Crane sees smoke in the distance. Playful synthesised pan pipes follow our leading performers, as Campbell leads the descent from the tree tops.

In the evening, an analysis of all the later samples of serum show that Blend – I mean Peak 37 is absent. Underneath the speech, Goldsmith does his usual impeccable job of underscoring dialogue and scores light percussion, pianissimo strings and harp.

Next morning, Campbell brings a group of villagers to help Crane In the harvesting of the flowers (The Harvest). The camera displays a line of native’s bare bottoms for us to view, as they break up the flowers and a light rendition of ‘Rae’s Arrival’ is heard, containing guitar and string accompaniment with synthetic embellishments. The cue becomes even more spirited with pan pipes, flutes and pizzicato strings. Synth steel drums make their presence known in yet another multi-layered musical description of the scene.

Medicine-Man1The film later depicts Crane bathing in the water, to which Goldsmith presents his flute and pan pipes as she and Campbell talk. It is at this point that Campbell reveals that it was he who caused an outbreak of ‘swine fever’ that wiped out a tribe at a place called ‘Mocara’. The composer declines to score this revelation with any musical ‘hits’. As Crane later looks at the botanists journals and sketches of Mocara, prominent synthesisers and the ubiquitous flute and strings reach a crescendo.

Later, a young boy in the village is discovered to have malignant nodes on his neck and Goldsmith’s musical voice is expressed with mournful flute and strings. In the morning, the two doctors set off in search of the real medicine man, carrying low strings when they depart. These are then joined by the guitar, synth textures and pan pipes. Further along their route. Crane complains of a headache and Campbell makes her drink an extract of yoke tree, which contains pure caffeine. It cures her headache, but makes her high in the process (Mountain High). This is Illustrated with a comical sounding cue (mickey-mousing?), playing a three note motif that has been heard through out the score so far in small snatches. The orchestration contains, yes, pan pipes, guitar and flutes (as in the commencement of their journey), along with pizzicato strings and percussion. The synth patch Goldsmith uses here and in many moments of the score, is a sort of water droplet sound. This music stops when Crane falls down a bank and Campbell finds her perched precariously on a tree overhanging the water far below. We hear an echoing synth pad performing an ominous cell, joined by native drums and the flute leans slightly towards the non-melodic (Without A Net). The strings then utter the trees theme with flutes injecting a ‘jolly’ feel to the proceedings Guitar plays beneath the prominent parts.

Later that night, after Campbell has rescued Crane from the danger, he puts her to bed, because she is drunk after consuming a concoction the botanist favours – a brew that the natives spit in to aid the fermentation process! She later awakens to the tribe’s medicine man standing over her and as he draws a blue line on her forehead, there is a synth suspense motif (Finger Painting), similar in texture to the Mocara cue, with soft strings performing variations on the Trees theme. In the morning, Campbell is standing over her when she wakes up from what she thinks was a dream. She sees her blue marked forehead reflected in the river and Goldsmith uses the three note motif on flute, also utilising the water droplet synth pad.

The composer refrains from scoring the subsequent stave fight between Campbell and the medicine man. Then it’s music, maestro, please as quiet ethnic drums are played and a mournful flute with electronic effects accompanies the medicine man’s revelation that there is ‘No juju in sky flower – only house for bug’” and a major clue to the missing peak is given to the audience (What’s Wrong). The researchers return to the village with the sick boy and father who had earlier gone off in search of the medicine man.

During Campbell’s and Crane’s discussion about the epidemic at Mocara, strings drift in and out of one’s awareness underneath the dialogue, without interfering with it. The tribe holds a prayer meeting for the sick boy and we hear the three note motif which repeats and Crane decides to give the last of the good serum to him. The three note flute and a string counterpoint beneath slowly gives way to a tentative rendering of the trees theme by strings and harp, as Crane administers the injection and Campbell touches her arm in thanks (The Injection).

The next day, the boy has recovered and they work harder on reproducing the serum as time is running out and the developers are on their way There is a low electronic drone as Peak 37 reappears in a new sample – Crane had used a glucose base with sugar from the hut’s supply Campbell turns out the tin and Inside are the ants – they are the cause of Peak 37! Goldsmith responds with guitar and pizzicato strings, with pan pipes and synth ‘plinks’ underneath (The Sugar). Jerry Goldsmith fans are in for a treat next, as the developers arrive and Campbell attempts to stop them and is beaten up (The Fire). Chaos ensues as a bulldozer’s engine explodes in a fire and all sound effects are drowned out by the suspense music from ‘Mocara’ featuring heavy synths and percussion, along with a brass version of the now-familiar three note motif, answered by the whole orchestra in a crescendo.

In the aftermath the following morning, Crane walks through what was once the laboratory. The three note motif reappears yet again as the camera pans around the burnt out village. Crane prepares to leave the forest and takes her leave of Robert Campbell. Goldsmith leads the orchestra in the Trees theme. Crane meets the medicine man and he gives her Campbell’s golf club. She returns it to the botanist and then agrees to stay with Campbell and the tribe as they search for a new home and hunt for more of the ants, destroyed along with their sky flower homes in the fire. The flute leads the strings and is slowly joined by all the previous elements used by the composer; pan pipes, guitar and electronics as a voice over by Rae Crane is heard. The whole orchestra reaches a crescendo as the film nears its conclusion and is replaced by the suspense music featured in the fire (A Meal and a Bath). I personally would have preferred a largo statement of the Trees theme over the End Titles. To give some idea of where I’m headed, I would compare the effect this would have had, as similar to the end credits of John Barry’s HIGH ROAD TO CHINA.

Personally, I think that Medicine Man has very Michael Crichton-like feel to its story. Jerry Goldsmith’s score features a lot of (suitable) repetition, as did his superb score for THE RUSSIA HOUSE but the best part of this score has to be the beautiful Trees theme. In another context, this would have been the Love Theme, but as the two stars do not really ‘fall in love’, the composer makes do with representing the beauty of the rainforest and its environs.



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