Review: The Good Son (1993)

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Label: Fox Records

Catalogue Nr.: 07822 11013 2

The Good Son is a mediocre thriller from 1993 starring child-actor Elijah Wood as innocent Mark who suffers from depression after he lost his mother. Mark's father has to make an important trip and leaves him with his aunt and uncle (what a great father). Their son Henry, played by Macaulay Culkin, turns out to be an evil psycho-kid who is threatening Mark by doing evil things (shooting dogs, smoking cigarettes, drowning his little sister, etc). Unfortunately, the plot does not offer any good reasons why Henry is acting so crazy while Mark appears as a terribly clichéd hero-boy. Aside from these problems, showing a child's evil side can still be effective especially due to the mad lines of Culkin ("Don't fuck with me, Mark!") who was obviously the perfect cast for the mini psycho role. On the other hand, it can lead to big problems when the film collides with reality: After two young boys killed a toddler in Britain, the film's theatre release in that country was cancelled and it became a straight-to-video release with an 18 certification. The film also suffered from various problems during its production which already began in 1988. It was delayed several times due to a lack of funds, which lead to many re-castings for the children roles and the replacement of the original director Michael Lehmann, before it finally came out in 1993. 

The score:

Hollywood legend Elmer Bernstein responded to the mediocre film with a rather mediocre thriller score. The main theme for piano and lush strings which opens the score in the track "The Good Son" is quite lovely and sounds like a cross between Bernstein's themes for To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) and the documentary Hollywood and the Stars (1963) with a slightly depressive tone, though it can not reach the same level of brilliance of either one of the themes. The tune is used to describe the character of Mark in the film with considerable success and gets several notable variations throughout the score. It delivers mostly in the more uplifting and playful moments featured in "Mark Arrives", "Rocks and Rails" and "End Credits".

The Ondes Martendot has some appearances in the score but seems to be rather out of place here. Ghostly sounding solos for the Ondes were certainly appropriate in the scores for Ghostbusters (1984) or Heavy Metal (1981) which dealt with otherworldly topics but the usage in this score is highly questionable because the sound of the instrument is too innocent and weak when it comes to building tension. Due to that lack of tension and the rather simplistic suspense music, the score is loosing a lot of impact during the suspense moments in "Evil", "Killing the Dog", "Mr. Highway", "Dark" and "Threat". The Ondes is certainly used to describe the schizophrenic character of Henry which works to a certain degree in the film although even there you sometimes don't know what to think of the sound. This is even getting worse on CD when the appearance of the Ondes just leaves you scratching your head at times. Furthermore, the absence of a real theme for the evil Henry is notable because the score would have desired a counterpoint to the lovely theme for Mark to make certain scenes more effective and the score more colourful, especially during the music for the finale in "The Cliff". There is a playful variation of the main theme that you can hear in "Rocks and Rails" and "End Credits" but it can not compensate the lack of a character theme for Henry. In short, the positive and lovely moments are represented by solid material while the suspense and action parts are left alone with rather simplistic and pointless ideas which fail to excite the listener while being effective to a certain degree in the film. One has to consider that the composer followed the development of the story very closely. Elmer Bernstein fans will certainly still love the score for its focus on the playful and lovely side but those who are looking for a thrilling suspense score should better pass on this one.

Another problem is once again the sound quality. Well, I am not going to pretend that I am an expert when it comes to sound mixing but you can clearly hear errors in this mix: How can it be that a score which was recorded in the digital age has such an unbalanced volume at times? The higher frequencies are mixed strangely high and whenever there are full orchestra performances of the main theme, the sound is becoming terribly scratchy and a slight wow-effect with the usual distortion sets in. On the other hand, the heavier action moments appear to be mixed too low and thus they sound pretty weak.



Score as heard in the film: 60%

Score as heard on CD: 53%

TOTAL: 57%


The presentation:

Despite the obvious problems in the sound mix, the presentation by Fox Records is nothing exceptional. No liner notes, additional info or other goodies are included in the slim 2-page booklet. Only three pictures from the film and short album credits can be found there. The tracks are not presented in film order which is a minus if you have a score that follows the storyline as closely as this one. Well, at least there is a release. The running time of 45 minutes is very good and covers all important moments from the score, so there is no need for more music.

Presentation by the Label: 40%



The Good Son offers neither any outstanding moments nor any new original ideas from Elmer Bernstein. Fans of the composer will enjoy his knack for lovely themes which is still present in this score but all others will simply be turned off by the weak overall appearance especially during the weak action/suspense material.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01.  The Good Son (02:28)
02.  Hospital (00:52)
03.  Mark Arrives (02:50)
04.  Evil (02:21)
05.  Goodbye (01:42)
06.  Treehouse (02:01)
07.  Rocks & Rails (01:35)
08.  Dog Chase (02:44)
09.  Mom (01:48)
10.  Killing The Dog (01:57)
11.  Mr. Highway (02:15)
12.  Dark (02:57)
13.  Skating & Drowning (03:27)
14.  Funeral (01:49)
15.  Susan (02:29)
16.  Richard's Duck (01:20)
17.  Threat (01:19)
18.  The Cliff (04:27)
19.  End Credits (04:34)