What has happened to film soundtracks in recent years? Increasingly, musical scores are becoming generic and lazy. This can be demonstrated easily enough by looking at some older film scores and comparing them to today’s blockbusters.
Jurassic Park. It’s in your head, like a musical ear worm right now isn’t it. Tah da dum dum dum, tah dah dum dee dee. Now, compare John Williams’ composition with the score for Avatar. Can you even remember the musical score for the most profitable film ever? No, neither can I.
Back To The Future. Alan Silvestri’s score is instantly hummable and one cannot imagine the movie without this powerful accompaniment. BTTF is a kind of unique film, but I guess Looper is a good match, as it also deals with time travel paradoxes. Looper is also an excellent film, but I cant remember the musical score at all.
Superman. John Williams score is remarkable, and again on hearing it, it just stays with you. It epitomizes everything about Supes, the music literally soars. OK, now take the music for the otherwise excellent film ‘The Avengers‘. Regrettably, the musical score for The Avengers soundtrack is the most generic of all the film scores that we are going to look at in this post.
Star Wars. The Star Wars franchise is chock full of epic win thanks to the genius of John Williams. Think of Darth Vader, picture him in your mind and I defy you not to have the imperial march accompanying your recollection. As before, we now take a comparable film – John Carter. Once again, there is no comparison musically speaking. Not a single cue springs to mind.
Batman. Compare and contrast Danny Elfmans excellent score for Tim Burtons Batman with Hans Zimmers score to the Dark Night Rises. Elfmans score is instantly recognisable, its memorable and infections in a way that Hans Zimmers fails to be.
A Fistful of Dollars. Ennio Morricone forsakes a conventional orchestral track for mariachi-style sounds and solos. He uses gunshots, cracking whips, choral voices, Sicilian folk instruments and a Fender electric guitar to accentuate the onscreen action. The iconic whistling that accompanies Clint’s stranger is haunting. It’s leagues ahead of the admittedly competent score for the Coen brothers remake of True Grit, which mainly uses piano.
Musical scores of the 80’s and 90’s were terrific. One cant fail to listen to Celine Dion sing “My Heart Will Go On” and not think of Titanic. Try listening to Whitney Houston’s re-imagining of the Dolly Parton classic “I Will Always Love You” and not think of The Bodyguard. I defy anyone to think of a film from the last five years that had a track comparable to Top Gun, The Godfather, The Exorcist or even The Terminator.
Even Disney has quit making cool soundtracks. Look at their past catalog and you’ll see awesome tracks for films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Film music has become a kind of decorative wallpaper for movies. Why?