Review: Spacehunter (1983)

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Label: Varese Sarabande Records

Catalogue Nr.: VCL 0805 1038


There have been a lot of oddities in cinema history. Films in 3-D were one of these oddities during the late 70's and early 80's. The technology was mainly used for sequels and resulted in rather silly visuals, for example in the embarrassing jaws-sequel Jaws 3-D (also from 1983). Spacehunter was one of the few 3-D films that stands on it's own and offered a decent quality but it never had a chance to be successful because it was released only five days prior to Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi while other summer blockbusters like Superman 3 and Octopussy were waiting for the audience. In the end, a film like Spacehunter, no matter how good or bad it is, can not compete with a Star Wars sequel which resulted in a box office failure and added another grave nail to the 3-D technology which is revived successfully only recently with Hollywood films such as The Polar Express (2004) being released on IMAX.

The score:

Due to the lack of success, there was no considerable interest at the time in releasing Elmer Bernstein's score which was one of the better aspects of this Ivan Reitman produced film. Again it is Varese Sarabande which made the impossible happen yet again and released Spacehunter as a part of their Club CD series.

The score offers typical Elmer Bernstein fare with an adventurous main theme for the hero Wolff. The bridge of the theme will slightly remind the Bernstein fan of The Great Escape march. Flashbacks to Wolff's past at the military feature variations on that main theme accompanied by heavy militaristic percussion as heard in "History and Landing". The orchestration is typical Bernstein as well, featuring his favorite instrument from later decades, the otherworldly sounding Ondes Martendot, few synthetic sounds typical for the period and a full orchestra. The Ondes has some beautiful passages in this score mostly during the tender emotional moments in "Hot Dog", "Cavern" and "Tunnel" without being overused. A few moments will even remind the listener of Bernstein's Ghostbusters score. The composer threatened Spacehunter as a "western in space". You can find evidence for that throughout the score most notably in the more playful variations of the main theme, for example in the track "Nikki" with it's upbeat rhythms and playful synth melody or in "Wash Up" with it's fun Saxophone accompaniment. Xylophones, piano and percussion represent the dreary and hostile alien landscape of the planet. The rest is typical bouncy-Bernstein action music reminiscent of his score for Airplane (1980). These moments are the weak parts of the score because the action music is certainly not his strength anyways and Spacehunter is only a decent presentation for it. Tracks like "Capture", "Into The Mace" and "Maze" are thus hard to sit through at times and only saved by the sparse integration of the main theme. A better example for Bernstein action music would be his score for Heavy Metal (1981). Nevertheless, Spacehunter offers few but nice melodic ideas and solid adventure music which will be enough to make fans of the composer jump in excitement over this release. All others should better postpone the purchase of this score and wait for a release of the far superior Heavy Metal score instead to get a better imagination of Elmer Bernstein's sci-fi adventure music.


Score as heard in the film: 68%

Score as heard on CD: 65%

TOTAL: 67%


The presentation:

Varese Sarabande released Spacehunter as a part of their Club CD series and thus the release is limited to 3000 copies. This amount should stay in stock for a while as Spacehunter is not a classic as The Great Escape which was also limited to 3000 copies but sold out in record time. Spacehunter is annother title from the Columbia pictures catalogue and it seems like the Elmer Bernstein estate made this release possible, resulting in the first limited edition release from the Columbia catalogue. The sound of the disc is stellar, crystal clear and vibrant without sounding as compressed as Stripes. At least it is good to know that Columbia is obviously taking a good care of the original score tapes for their films (a fact that is not as natural as one might expect). The booklet consists of only 6 pages which is rather slim for a deluxe edition release but it still contains some informative liner notes about the 3-D technology of the film and Elmer Bernstein's score. A bootleg of the score was floating around with more than 70 minutes of music but the new official release contains only about 50 minutes. Maybe the hardcore-collectors should not throw away the archival pressing of the score too quickly.

Presentation by the Label: 71%



Another must-have score for Elmer Bernstein fans. It offers solid Elmer Bernstein adventure fare with the typical Bernstein orchestration and a great adventurous main theme. The problems of the CD are the bouncy action parts which may be hard to enjoy for listeners with a focus on modern action music. If you are looking for a overall presentation of Elmer Bernstein's action music you should wait for an official release of his superior Heavy Metal score. This release is limited to 3000 copies and should stay in stock for a while, so you are certainly not in a hurry on this one.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg




01. Main Title (4:18)
02. Girls And Scavs (:56)
03. Wolff (:45)
04. History and Landing (4:23)
05. Vultures (:54)
06. The Planet (3:29)
07. Niki (2:35)
08. Hot Dog (1:26)
09. Wash Up (1:38)
10. Partner (:49)
11. Day’s End (1:24)
12. Cavern (3:05)
13. Bats (1:11)
14. Tunnel (:58)
15. Women (1:50)
16. Desert (2:14)
17. Moving Out (1:01)
18. Graveyard (1:51)
19. Capture (2:03)
20. Into The Maze (1:02)
21. Maze (3:42)
22. Getting There (1:13)
23. Claw (1:17)
24. Rescue (1:21)
25. Niki Goes (1:02)
26. Going Home (:30)
27. End Credits (3:51)