“Like A Walk Through The Sahara Desert”

September 1, 2011

That was the comment of Ned Tanen, production head at Universal, when we showed him the first cut of Somewhere in Time. A few weeks later, we showed him the film again, this time shortened but also including John Barry’s brilliant score. Ned’s new (and very positive) response to the film reminded me of Mark Twain’s quote about his father: “When I was 16, I thought my father was a complete idiot. By the time I turned 21, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in those 5 years.”

Movie music is as essential to a film as breath is to the human body.

When you take a look at the Academy Award nominations for film scores over the years, it’s amazing how many films you can identify that would have been completely different if not for their scores. To cite just a few examples:

The score for Jaws has terrified generations of filmgoers from ever going near the ocean. You can still hear it, can’t you?

The scores for both Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia thrilled us and then Raiders of The Lost Ark and Star Wars redefined film score adventures forever.

With all due respect for the fabulous score for Chariots of Fire, the score of the original Rocky may still be the most stirring sports movie score ever written. Would that statue of Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum even be there today without the music that we still remember as Rocky triumphantly ascended those steps?

Can anyone imagine The Godfather, great as the film itself most assuredly was, without its signature score?

In comedy, the score of The Pink Panther immediately comes to mind as perfectly reflecting the ultra cool, animated Pink Panther of the opening and closing credits.

On the other side of the coin, what do you do when a score just doesn’t work? I had that experience as well with Ennio Morricone’s score for What Dreams May Come. As brilliant a composer as Mr. Morricone was, his music for What Dreams May Come just didn’t work for any of us so, at almost the last possible moment, we asked Michael Kamen to write a completely new score for us. Which he did. And brilliantly.

Most of us also have favorite scores from films that maybe aren’t as famous as others. For me, that includes Phillip Glass’ moody, dazzling, and haunting score for The Hours.

What are your favorite movie scores?


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Shepard September 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

So many to choose from, but I love Victor Young’s Shane, Nino Rota’s The Godfather, Bernard Hermann’s Psycho and Vertigo, Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien and Poltergeist, Ennio Morricone’s The Untouchables, Max Steiner’s Gone With The Wind, Jürgen Knieper’s River’s Edge, and any number of John Williams scores, like Star Wars and Superman. I’m a big fan of Harry Nilsson’s music for Popeye, but I guess that’s a collection of songs rather than a score. My favorite of all is John Barry’s Somewhere in Time, but I also love many of his other scores, the famous (e.g. James Bond themes) and the more obscure, like Raise the Titanic and High Road to China.

It strikes me that most of today’s soundtracks aren’t as melodic as the they used to be. Composers like James Newton Howard, Alan Silvestri, and Hans Zimmer write very effective scores to support the atmosphere and dramatic impact of their films, but I don’t find myself humming their music as I exit the theater.


Asha Hawkesworth September 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Lawrence of Arabia is certainly one of my favorites. James Bond–good call. I thought David Lean in general had the knack (A Passage to India, Dr. Zhivago), as did Kubrick (2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and that eerie soundtrack for The Shining).

I was so taken with Philip Glass’s haunting score for The Secret Agent that I bought the CD. He also did a “new” score for Lugosi’s Dracula that was included on at least one version of the DVD. Interesting thing, the only music in the original is that little bit of Tchaikovsky, and everything else is silent. I found that the silence was more effective in that film than any score, even one as good as Glass’s.


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