They Shoot, They Score

Welcome to Retro Time. In this blog, I’ll be covering topics related to film and television from past decades. These won’t be reviews, but rather a selection of memories, thoughts, and ideas designed to spark a little nostalgia and maybe inspire a conversation or two.  Spoilers will likely come up, so please keep that in mind. Thanks for stopping by, and if you have any thoughts or ideas, feel free to chime in. I’d love to get your feedback. Now, let’s get ready to take a look back…

Great Tracks from Classic Movie Scores

In today’s post, I’d like to talk about a particular element of film that is near and dear to my heart: the musical score. First, I’d like to start by saying that I have absolutely no musical background what-so-ever. I don’t play an instrument nor do I have the slightest clue how someone can figure out how to make sixty other people who DO play instruments sound so good together. That might be part of the appeal for me, the mystery of it, the magic that happens outside of my ability to comprehend it all. Either way, I have always looked to a score to give me the movie’s true voice.

It’s hard to write about something like music. No combination of words can adequately describe a particular piece of music with any real clarity or depth. You just have to listen to it and experience it for yourself. So for the purposes of this post, I thought I’d pick a few tracks from several different films and talk about how these notes help to elevate a particular scene. 

This list is not in any kind of order and is by no means comprehensive. There are so many to choose from that I couldn’t possibly make a favorites list. These are just a few that come to mind. In order to enhance the experience, I have embedded a YouTube link into each of the film’s titles so that you can go there and hear the track for yourself. I encourage you to do so.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Superman: The Movie (1978) by John Williams   Track – Leaving Home

John Williams is a Titian in the film score game and is quite possibly the best there ever is or ever will be. There are so many films of his I could choose from: Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones. But today, I decided to go with a scene from Superman. This score comes with a ton of nostalgia for me.  One of my earliest memories is running around the house with a pillowcase for a cape pretending I was the Man of Steel. And every time I did, I would shout out Williams’ Superman theme “Da Ta Da DA!” That theme meant Superman to me every bit as much as his costume or his ability to fly and shoot lasers from his eyes.

The “Leaving Home” track particularly stands out in my mind. This is the moment in the film when a young Clark Kent is standing out in the middle of a field with a vast open sky above him, a sky he has yet to take to. He’s just lost his father and now he’s contemplating leaving home and going on his journey to become Superman. This track builds slowly, giving us a sort of somber sadness to let us know how Clark is feeling. Finally, when it’s clear that he must move on, it builds to an epic moment where we finally see that the whole world is about to open up to him. Without the genius of William’s music, this scene would not have the emotional depth it needs to drive the film forward. Luckily for us, we have it. And when we see that particular scene, we feel it.

Batman (1989) by Danny Elfman   Track – Decent into Mystery

Okay, I like superheroes. But more than that, it seems to me that the musical scores from this early era of modern superhero films helped to elevate them to something bigger than mere comic book movies. They gave these characters a voice that they never could have had on the pages of a comic. No more is this evident than in Danny Elfman’s monumental score for Batman. I can remember sitting in the theater and being completely captivated the second the opening credits began, largely due to this epic theme that set the mood and the tone for the coming movie so perfectly.

The “Decent into Mystery” track is just so stinking cool. This is the part of the movie where the Batmoblie is racing through a dark forest on its way back to the Batcave. Batman has Vicki Vale in the passenger seat and she has no clue what she’s in for.  The build-up and intensity of this track pumps us full of adrenaline as it races into the hidden entrance to the Batcave and thrusts us deeper into his strange and mysterious world. If you listen to this track and don’t feel anything, check your pulse because you may be dead.

Planet of the Apes (1968) by Jerry Goldsmith   Track – The Hunt

The late great Jerry Goldsmith was another giant in the annals of film music. He’s had more great film scores under his belt than I can count. But Planet of the Apes stands out for its ability to create a unique and unsettling mood, which is central to making that story work.

The track titled “The Hunt” is a particularly memorable one.  This is the scene were Taylor and his two astronaut buddies find the human village and then are subsequently attacked by a hunting party made up entirely of sentient apes. In essence, this is a chase scene, and Goldsmith’s pulse pounding beats have us feeling like we’re being chased ourselves.  I particularly like the use of horns (At least I think they’re horns. Like I said, I don’t know jack about instruments), which sound like something an old-timey military general would use to signal an attack.  A-Ooo-Ga!  A-Ooo-Ga! Again, writing about music is hard.  Just hit the link on the title and listen for yourself.

Braveheart (1995) by James Horner   Track – Freedom/The Execution Bannockburn

Braveheart is the best movie ever made. There, I said it. Boom. And don’t talk to me about the historical inaccuracies or any of that stuff. I’m talking about the pure cinematic experience of it. Simply taken on its merits as a film, it’s a haunting, beautiful, visceral, emotional, inspiring masterpiece.

And so is James Horner’s score.

This soundtrack has been a staple of my life for over twenty years and will continue to be as long as I’m on the vertical side of the mortal coil. It’s pretty easy to see why I picked the “Freedom” track. William Wallace’s defiant “Freeedooommmm!” shout at end of the film is a watershed moment and Horner’s uplifting crescendo (Hey, look! I used a musical-type word) made the moment that much more impactful. And for a bonus, the track ends with the charge at Bannockburn. This music coupled with the fade out on Wallace’s swaying sword is one of the greatest moments ever put to film.

Star Trek (2009) by Michael Giacchino   Track – Main Title

My final choice might seem like an odd one.  The 2009 Star Trek reboot is too new to be considered retro or a classic. But hear me out. The Star Trek franchise boasts a long history of great scores. Both Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner – who I’ve talked about already – have provided iconic Trek soundtracks that will surely live on in infamy. So why pick a track from the reboot to represent the trek? Here’s why.

At the time of the reboot, Stark Trek had every indication that it was dying on the vine. The TNG era was long over and there hadn’t been a new show on the air for years. When it was announced that they were making a new film and recasting the TOS crew, I was concerned. Would it work? Would it feel like the Stark Trek I know and love? And who is this Giacchino dude doing the score? Is he even going to be able to hold a candle to the greatness that is Goldsmith and Horner?

Then I saw the movie. The first ten minutes start off with a literal bang. The Kelvin is attacked, Kirk is born, and his dad disables the bag guys long enough for the wayward crew to get away. Thrilling. But it’s the next few seconds that really sold me.  As the escape pods limp away, we hear the new main theme begin.  Again, it starts off low, building with intensity, until BAM, we’re hit with the Starfleet logo as the music crashes and booms into us.

Yes! I’m pumped! This is awesome! In that moment, I knew. Star Trek is back, baby! And it’s going to be just fine.  Thank you Michael Giacchino!  Thank you!

So there you have it, just some of the many film scores and tracks that make me happy to be modern day movie buff. The next time you’re watching one of your favorite films, I urge to you take an extra second or two to appreciate the music. Chances are you’ll like what you hear.

 

George Ebey is the author of the recently released sci-fi novella DEBBI as well as a contributor to the anthology Brave New Girls. He is currently working on a full-length series of adventure tales set on Mars. You can connect with him on Facebook at George Ebey-Author and on Twitter @Ebeybooks. Or visit his website at www.gerogeebey.com.