I was helping a friend move a few weeks back and, to add some levity, we whistled while we worked. Like, literally. As we lugged boxes, we played a simple, movie-theme version of Name That Tune. It said a lot that, even though most of were tone deaf and could barely carry a tune, we could guess almost every title within only a few notes. These themes were memorable enough to be recognized even through such mangled presentation.
The experience reminded me that my favorite movies are always the ones where I’m seriously into the score; ones where I want to own the soundtrack. I’m talking about Conan the Barbarian, Terminator 2, Gattaca, Star Wars, Robocop, Superman, Back to the Future, Batman… just off the top of my head.
Another revelation: the "catalog of the memorable" peters off years ago.This is something I've noticed for a while. That 80s movie mega-mix I posted a while back was yet another reminder of what I feel is lacking. The thinking these days, unfortunately, seems to be that a score shouldn't draw attention to itself... not even a teensy bit. Thus, you largely get generic ambient beds instead of lush compositions. The difference is especially noticeable whenever a franchise is revived and the new personnel neglect the music that's as much a character of the series as the leads--and I think you know exactly what I'm talking about.
It's not my imagination, either. I have friends who’re professional composers or music school students - - people who know a lot more about the subject and have spent a lot more time observing it than I have - - and they’re similarly baffled by this new preference for vague minimalism. A lot of them think that talents like John Williams, Basil Poledouris and Alan Silvestri come from an old school of musicians who actually studied music theory and learned how to read and write sheet music, whereas their successors are a generation of “button pushers.” I'd hate to think that what I'm talking about, here - - what I enjoy so much - - is old-fashioned; because the score can often make or break a movie for me. I think fondly of the little-seen (and otherwise, not especially remarkable) ’99 horror movie Ravenous, for instance, largely because of its provocative blue grass score.
Hopefully, the metronome's swinging the other way. I'm sure a lot of you will agree with me that 300 and Inception made such big splashes because their music-driven trailers made strong impressions on viewers. Hopefully, the people making decisions will notice that, too.