Before voices were ever heard on the silver screen, cinematic stories were told through music. Think about some of the most memorable moments in film history and it’s difficult to find one that didn’t have music driving the emotion.
Even terrible films can be redeemed by a well-constructed soundtrack (see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Amidst all the awful pop music running teenagers’ lives these days, original orchestrated music does still exist. Even as the entertainment industry slips deeper into the hands of pop culture, one aspect has remained constant: movie music.
Today, we are blessed with endless possibilities in a digital age where a single cello can represent the most revolting villain. Original scores are becoming more powerful every year, especially with the onslaught of new composers like Clint Mansell (Requiem For A Dream) and Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man). Yet, we are constantly graced with the near-perfect sounds of John Williams (Star Wars) and Hans Zimmer (Gladiator). The addition of a legitimate composer to a film can be just as enticing as any actor or director.
Music can bring us onto the dance floor at a ritualistic Italian wedding, celebrate a fallen gladiator, communicate with extraterrestrials, or even genuinely fear an attacking shark. Just think about the fact that we don’t even see the shark in Jaws until the 3rd act. Up until then it is all suspense, in part created by music.
I won’t deny that great performances, well-written scripts, or genuinely unique stories are what stand out and earn recognition. These are all essential to a complete and memorable cinematic experience. But it’s what the musical collaborators create from absolutely nothing that allows audiences to connect on a scale they can’t even imagine. Some people will never claim to “hear” the music, but so rarely is a film without it. They fill the voids between scenes and moments where you might otherwise nitpick and notice the intricate flaws of every interaction. Sometimes it takes subtlety to stir emotion, while other times require the music to be loud and in your face.
Just this year, Michael Giacchino won the Oscar for Best Original Score for Up. On its own, the film is heart-breaking and funny from start to end. However, it is the seriousness with which Giacchino (who also scores ABC’s Lost) takes in telling the story through music, rather than words, which transforms an animated feature into more than just colorful images. Given, Up was brilliantly written, but the music is what gave us the personal permission to cry for the loss of a cartoon character.
2010 Best Score Nominees (James Horner, Buck Sanders, Michael Giacchino, Marco Beltrami, Hans Zimmer)
Imagine what the Star Wars saga would be without John Williams’ brilliant touch. Of course, the first thought in your mind was likely the iconic title sequence, and it’s not so crazy to think that track is more recognizable than the films, or even the late Darth Vader. The music of the saga has had a profound effect on me as a film lover. It is likely the original source of my passion for composed scores and I find myself going back to it whenever I’m in need of some tunes. Whether it is the romantically-charged Princess Leia’s Theme, the intensely awesome Duel of the Fates, or the moving Binary Sunset, only one track in all six films has faced the delete button on my iTunes: Jedi Rocks. I dare anybody to last the entire 2:50 of that joke.
It’s rare that poorly composed music will make a film unwatchable. I can’t actually think of a score that was so out of place it actually hurt the overall movie. Yet, a poorly made film can be infinitely more enjoyable with the magic touch of good music. Of course, going back to Star Wars, the most recent trilogy was made a little more bearable thanks to John Williams. Or take Mission: Impossible 2: most of the general public disliked it, however, it still possessed a brilliant score from Hans Zimmer.
Movie music doesn’t just effect finished feature-length film – it has just as much of an impact in a 60-second trailer. Take, for instance, the teaser trailer for Inception. The gripping sensation you get from the teaser does come from Christopher Nolan’s genius, yes, but that is an unfinished product. What delivers Nolan’s intended emotion is the addition of a simple, yet thunderously intense score. Nobody knows where these sounds came from, but there is an eerie similarity to some tracks from The Dark Knight. Watch the 60-second teaser below and prove to me how it would be just as powerful without the music.
On the other hand, what about trailers that implement popular music to evoke a certain sense of awesomeness, like Iron Man 2. We were given a taste of Ozzy Osbourne’s song “Iron Man” remixed in the Iron Man trailers. But now, with the sequel, it would seem that the remixing has reached a whole new level. Just check out the 1:44 mark of the Iron Man 2 trailer, when Iron Man and War Machine are surrounded, the synchronization of landings and musical cues (“The Razor’s Edge” by AC/DC) are out of this world.
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You’ve just got to watch out for those awful trailers with “new metal” slashing through the footage and turning what could seem like a classic epic into a teen romp of testosterone like Clash Of The Titans.
So, how does music in film make you feel? Or do you not actually notice it? Does the addition of a well-known composer peak your interest in an upcoming film? Any favorites? Unleash on the comments board below…