A Revitalized Lifeforce

Intrada returns to the space-vampire film Lifeforce (1985) now greatly expanding upon an earlier BSX release. First is a new two-disc remastering of Henry Mancini's score as well as a greatly-expanded disc devoted to work Michael Kamen was called in to do. Previously, just under 20 minutes of Kamen's music was available, but now Intrada has expanded that into a disc that plays for nearly 75 minutes! There is also some additional material from Mancini’s work exploring his experimental sounds created for different effects. Both releases have been remastered from new transfers of Eric Tomlinson’s original ¼” mixes. The program for the Mancini also retains some of the composer’s own preferred assemblies.


Mancini’s contribution has always been one of those special scores. It represents one of the composer’s finer late orchestral works that stands in line with other symphonic science fiction music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The film was intended to move the Golan and Globus Film Production studio up a notch from their normal B-picture movie fare, but the film ended up being re-edited by the studio which lopped off some 30 minutes from the finished product.


With Lifeforce, Mancini stepped back into his earlier Universal creature-feature roots (he wrote some music for 1954’s The Creature From the Black Lagoon) with moments that recall his rejected score to Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972). It is a close cousin to his work on the 1979 horror film Nightwing. If listeners only know Mancini from his bachelor lounge scores of the 1960s (The Pink Panther; Bachelor In Paradise), this will be a welcome discovery.


The London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices were contracted for the recording of the score. The latter were enhanced electronically to lend them a heftier size. The score was recorded at Abbey Road in December, 1984, working with engineer Eric Tomlinson, no stranger to these big-budget sci-fi scores. When the studio recut the film, Mancini was unable to return for rewrites due to another film commitment and so Michael Kamen was brought in to provide more music especially for the changed opening sequence.


It was in that opening that Mancini had actually crafted a 15+-minute underscoring that plays almost like a miniature tone poem setting the stage for the film after a propulsive main title. For this new release, Intrada has split that moment (“The Discovery”) into two larger tracks. Disc one contains most of the score now in film order with disc two picking up another seven minutes taking us to the “End Title”.


The textural writing in “The Discovery” are quite fascinating and among the finest things Mancini ever wrote. Here is an accomplished orchestral style that provides the big science fiction orchestral sound in ways not taken by Williams or Goldsmith. There is so much more subtlety here in the way Mancini uses his thematic material through the orchestra. Listen for how he combines low string rumbling with harp arpeggios creating a sound both beautiful and eerie. Later there are some rhythmic punctuations that seem to have different scoring with each harmonic punctuation until these are strung together with brass building moving up the scale and the whole orchestra enters with female voices for a gothic horror music moment. The amazing detail in the recording captured here by Tomlinson is also different from that of the “Star Wars” recordings with the same orchestra—apparent especially in the wind writing. Equally fascinating is hearing Mancini take his musical material and slowly unravel and rework it throughout the score’s playing time. There are so few Mancini scores available in his dramatic style that most forget just how good he was at providing this sort of non-pop music.


After the amazing music of the opening twenty minutes, Mancini’s underscore exists in smaller segments of a minute or so with occasionally longer sequences. These all provide windows into his creative orchestral style and motivic development. It is worth listening to that main title track a couple of times so that you can get its rhythms and sound in your ear. These ideas reappear in subtle ways throughout the score folding in and out of the texture sometimes as long weaving lines, sometimes as piled up harmonies, sometimes as strange orchestral atmospheres. Listen to “The Vampire Lives” to appreciate the full power of a large orchestra. Mancini uses that power by finding ways to explore the variety of sound in a quiet eerie way. Here there is power in the way the music is reined in only to grow into long angular melodic lines growing to a brief full orchestral climax before folding back into itself again. The darkest regions of the orchestra are explored to their fullest in this score and we can thank Tomlinson for letting us hear that detail. In “Carlson’s Story” it is fascinating to hear how that driving rhythm of the main theme is combined with rhythmic punctuations and segments of the theme to create this exciting action cue. This is followed by the gentle opening of “Carlson Sleeps” which opens with a breathy flute sound and then works down into bassoon and bass clarinet before all three are combined to create a most fascinating texture in this briefer cue.


Disc two then also gives listeners a chance to hear the original soundtrack release, originally on Varese Sarabande. Ten minutes of alternate takes precede a host of brief sound-effect like ideas crafted with mostly altered acoustic instruments. The effects are interesting to hear as they provide a window into Mancini’s craft as a composer of more than just tunes. They probably will not be something listeners return to, but it makes for an interesting bonus of 17-18 minutes. With this release, Intrada has created the Lifeforce score to essentially replace the previous issues hands down.


Kamen provided nearly twenty minutes of music that stands in stark contrast to what Mancini had provided. It illustrates the new direction that was decided upon in the couple of months before Kamen appeared for sessions with the National Philharmonic in March of 1985 to record his music. It is important to appreciate his contribution in this light rather than to try and judge against Mancini’s score. For this release, Intrada has pulled together the 14-minute orchestral cues that make up the first portion of the disc. Then we head into the synth material that was used to add a somewhat contemporary feel. We get a sense of Kamen’s early command of blending synth and orchestra here and over the 51-minute electronic presentation we can hear his multi-layered textural electronics that were also then intermingled throughout with Mancini’s score. Kamen explores an eerier, atmospheric and ambient quality while incorporating some of the rhythmic motives from Mancini’s work. His contributions are intended to punch up the horror elements of the film in alignment with 80’s horror genre writing. It demonstrates that he was already a master in this line of genre writing that can stand alongside other scores of the era. Intrada has released this material improving the sound and expanding way beyond the 20 minutes that appeared as an extra on the BSX release. This now also supersedes that earlier presentation and is a must for Kamen fans at the very least.


Of course now one will need both releases to do more comparison between the two styles and approaches (like the cue “Rescue Mission” which is part of a longer electronic cue on the Kamen release). But releasing Kamen’s score material allows it to be heard without the other shadow so one can consider his contribution on its own merits.

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