Big Wednesday (Basil Poledouris)

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Friends and fans of the late, great Basil Poledouris know how much of a watersports fan the composer was; it’s therefore fitting that his first major Hollywood score would be for a surfing movie, albeit one that tries to examine the sport with more gravitas than one would expect. Director John Milius was an old college friend of Poledouris’, and Big Wednesday would become the first of many collaborations for the pair. It was also the first major pairing of Poledouris and orchestrator Grieg McRitchie, who until his death in 1997 would contribute to virtually all of Poledouris’ subsequent scores.

The score is impressively varied, with many of Poledouris’ stylistic hallmarks well in evidence. The majority of the music is surprisingly lush and romantic, at times Barry-esque in its approach, at other times almost elegiac. Poignant cues like “Jack Surfs Alone” abound, and none of the clichés that are or have been associated with surfing or beach movies are in evidence.

In fact, there are several robust action tracks for balance, most notably the muscular “Big Wednesday Montage” and “Matt’s Rite of Passage,” which strongly predict Poledouris’ later style. It’s not difficult to find the seeds of Conan, Robocop, or Starship Troopers in these tracks, though this is if anything a strength. It’s impressive to see so many strong ideas together in a debut score, and indicative of the composer’s raw talent and thorough personal engagement with the material.

Additionaly, Poledouris did pen original songs for Big Wednesday; something rather unusual in his discography. “Crumple Car” is perhaps the most stereotypical element of the album, with a light, breezy singer and ukelele accompaniment, but it’s still lightweight fun. “Song of the Three Friends” is much more in keeping with the overall spirit of the score, and is in fact attached to an instrumental cue.

Film Score Monthly released Big Wednesday as a part of its “Silver Age Classics” series, limited to 3000 copies available through a variety of online retailers; copies were still available at the original $20 issue price for years, in stark contrast to other Poledouris limited editions like Flesh + Blood or Intrada’s complete Robocop. The liner notes are up to FSM’s usual standard of excellence, featuring detailed background information and a track-by-track analysis. The album is highly recommended to Poledouris fans in particular, though film score aficionados in general are urged to seek it out as well. If you’re a Basil Poledouris fan and would like to hear his impressive debut score for a major film, nothing should stop you.

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