As a life-long musician, I am fascinated by music scores. Music has always played heavily in the theater arts, and some plays—musicals and opera—heavily rely on music to convey the story.
Consider that at the start of the movie industry, back when movies were still silent, a music was an integral part of the experience. Typically an organ, but sometimes a full orchestra (in the larger movie theaters which were often opera houses), would accompany the movie and help give context to the silent pictures.
Music has been an important part of movies ever since. And I for one believe a movie soundtracks can make (or potentially break) a movie.
Think of the classic Jaws theme by John Williams. Just three notes—the bass starts on a single note that slowly builds an oscillation between the the first and a second note. As the oscillation condenses, it bounces back-and-forth between these two notes until a new note is introduced into the fabric of the oscillation.
The initial oscillation illustrates a swimming great white shark on the prowl, and then the third note aurally represents the attack of the shark.
You hear these 3 notes and you instantly know what’s coming.
And then John Williams did it again in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with “The Imperial March” (otherwise known as Darth Vader’s theme). A minor key and bass-heavy composition, it connotes a larger-than-life, menacing villain. You hear that music and you just know nothing good is going to walk through the door.
In addition to John Williams, some of my other fave movie score composers include Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther (1963)), Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Untouchables), Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, The Dark Knight), Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Dick Tracy, The Nightmare Before Christmas), James Horner (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Willow), Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Avengers), Thomas Newton (Finding Nemo, Wall-e, Meet Joe Black), James Newton Howard (Peter Pan (2003), The Hunger Games).
But out of all the composers and great scores, my favorite has to be The Last of the Mohicans by composers Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman.
Although it did not make AFI’s 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time list, this score speaks to me. And yes, it helps that the movie was fantastic and included the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis (who doesn’t love Daniel Day-Lewis?).
In particular, there’s scene near the end (SPOILER alert! So stop reading now if you don’t want to know. But really, this movie is 25 years-old, so if you haven’t seen it, then I’m really not sorry for potentially revealing big plot points.)
Anyway, there’s a scene near the end when Alice, a relatively bland character through the beginning parts of the movie, chooses to step off the cliff. There is almost no dialogue at this point. Alice had just seen Uncas be killed by Magua, the Huron warrior, and fall over the cliff. Her expression along with the soaring music convey much more than any dialogue could. Such a powerful scene!
I bought this soundtrack soon after seeing the movie in the early 1990s, and over twenty years later, I still listen to this soundtrack all.the.time. In fact, I’m listening to it now. And every.single.time I hear the opening title, I am moved.
Is there a movie score you love to listen to? Tell me your favorites in the comments below.