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Fun Friday–Favorite Movie Scores

Friday, August 8, 2008


“When words leave off, music begins.”
~Heinrich Heine

Even in the days before movies “talked,” they had music—usually provided by someone sitting at a pump organ or player piano. As soon as movies came with their own sound, part of the track was music that enhanced the emotional experience of the film.

As the film industry matured and developed, so did movie music. For many of us, the names of modern-day movie-music composers, along with their work, are as familiar to us as Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach—composers like John Williams, James Newton Howard, Howard Shore, and Patrick Doyle. Not only do these composers enhance the emotional content of a story—whether it’s to bring us to tears, laughter, or the edge of our seats—they also give us iconic themes that immediately bring to mind images from the movie even years or decades later, immortalizing the movies in popular culture. I don’t have room for all of my favorites (such as most of John Williams’s work—Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, E.T., Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Hook, 1941, The Patriot, etc.), so this was a difficult list to come up with. But I did finally narrow it down to my top five favorite movie scores.

5. North & South (2004, BBC Miniseries)
Composer: Martin Phipps
As is typical for a romantic story, the music is very orchestral with lots of strings. It wasn’t until the end of the film, however, that I really noticed Phipps’s work, and that was in the piece that underscores the tension and growth of the romantic storyline:

4. Superman (1978, Warner Bros.)
Composer: John Williams
Here’s what I was talking about with the iconic theme becoming indelibly linked with a character/movie. John Williams is by far my favorite composer of all time, whether it’s written for the movies or the Olympics or whatever. I own more John Williams CDs than any other single artist/composer.

3. Henry V (1989, BBC)
Composer: Patrick Doyle
This is one of the CDs I currently have in my CD changer at home (along with the “sister” CD of the music from Much Ado About Nothing, also by Patrick Doyle). The piece I chose is my favorite of the film. It begins as a lamentation for the dead and wounded after the battle of St. Crispin’s Day and gradually brings the mood back to victorious. It also features the composer, Patrick Doyle, as the soloist at the beginning:

2. Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003, NewLine Cinemas)
Composer: Howard Shore
This film series wouldn’t have been the same without the music by Canadian composer Howard Shore, who worked hand-in-hand with Peter Jackson on the themes and instrumentation for the pieces in the film. In the featurettes on the extended DVDs, he also talks about his process of composing the music for the different cultures represented in Middle Earth. I’ve chosen my favorite, which is the theme for Rohan/Edoras, played by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Howard Shore himself:

1. Star Wars (1977, Lucasflims/Fox)
Composer: John Williams
All of his movie themes are iconic, but this, for me, is the most beloved theme of anything he ever wrote:

Bonus Track: “Summon the Heroes” (1996, Atlanta Olympics)
Composer: John Williams
And because I’m an Olympics nut, I couldn’t have a post up today without paying tribute to one of the greatest things that happens in our world today. So here is John Williams conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra playing the Centennial Olympic Theme, better known as “Summon the Heroes”:

  1. Friday, August 8, 2008 6:02 am

    I remember as a kid going to the old Seville theater where my grandma lived. We could go for 50 cents. Only one movie was shown on a huge screen, like the drive-in size screens, a couple of cartoons, a newsreel. There was an organ and the organist would play during intermission. Words to old tunes would be projected on the screen and you could follow the bouncing ball and sing along. We spent more time lobbing popcorn at the poor organist. If you timed it right, you could sneak up into the balcony and hide out while the usher cleaned the theater. If you didn’t get caught and tossed out, you could see the whole show again for free.


  2. Friday, August 8, 2008 9:00 am

    I love the movie score from the western Silverado. And I can’t wait to park my tookis in front of the tv and watch the Olympics.


  3. Friday, August 8, 2008 11:24 am

    I ADORE Summon the Heroes. Of course there’s not much of John Williams I don’t like. But especially love Summon the Heroes. I have the most awesome CD with that and other fanfare songs on it. One of my favorites!


  4. Friday, August 8, 2008 7:54 pm

    I feel like the mini-series are totally crowding this list from being completely dominated by John Williams, as it should be. 😛

    He is hands down the greatest composer of all time. That’s not to say others aren’t great, I just can’t imagine trying to make my own version of this list without filling every single spot with one of his scores up even if I did a top fifteen.

    I’m sad Allen Silvestri didn’t get an honorable mention when you have North and South of all things taking up a spot on a list of the best MOVIE scores. Have you not seen Forrest Gump?

    And my blog is back in action, btw. Just so you know.

    And also FYI, I do plan to continue commenting on this blog regularly despite the ending of your contest. My vacation just came at a coincidental time that may have made me seem like I was being a sore loser. That’s not the case. I love to hear (read) myself talk regardless of the circumstances.


  5. Friday, August 8, 2008 9:23 pm

    Awesome list. I agree with Caleb about John Williams, too!

    And thanks for including Summon the Heroes – I cry every time I hear it!


  6. Friday, August 8, 2008 9:32 pm

    GGAAAHHHH….I need my North & South DVDs back from Lori, NOW. 😛


  7. Saturday, August 9, 2008 12:14 pm

    Haha, I just realized the North and South on this list isn’t from the American mini-series with Patrick Swayze.

    Having actually watched the clip now, it’s inclusion still confuses me. I still stand by my statement that it shouldn’t be on a “Movies Scores” list to begin with since it’s from a mini-series, but after listening to it, I’m confused how it cracked the top five at all – even if the rules of the list title were thrown out the window.

    It doesn’t even sound like an original just-for-the-miniseries composition to me. It just sounds like generic historical drama stock music. I mean, I’m sure it works well within the series and doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the rest of it, but the notion of that single whiny violin beating out the orchestral power of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, E.T., Jaws, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean or Gladiator, just to name a few, is damn near depressing to me.


  8. Saturday, August 9, 2008 3:14 pm

    It’s called subtlety, dear. Plus it might be a matter where you’d have to know the music in context of the movie—it goes back to the idea that the themes that the composers develop bring to mind the images, ideas, and emotions from the movie just by hearing the music.


  9. Saturday, August 9, 2008 3:41 pm

    Well said, Kaye, well said.


  10. Saturday, August 9, 2008 7:24 pm

    I appreciate subtlety, but in this case it’s just an excuse. Like I said, it sounds like stock music. There’s probably a good reason Martin Phipps hasn’t scored anything but TV in his professional career.

    I’m just saying, listening to this music, it seems like you should be praising the show, not the score. Maybe you love the show and the music might help in that context, but the score by itself isn’t remotely impressive, at least based on this snippet. Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, James Horner, Hans Zimmer or James Newton Howard could’ve written this in their sleep, but they’re all getting completely ignored.

    My biggest complaint is that a no-name composer seems to be beating out far more talented composers because of your personal attachment to the show rather than the quality of the score itself. If this guy had anything on his resume that was remotely recognizable, I’d let this go as an obscure preference, but the guy seems to be redefining “under the radar” and it feels like you’re picking him in one of your weird fits of never-ending, unexplainable support for British programming. He just seems horribly misplaced and given far, far too much credit. It’s not even a movie.


  11. Saturday, August 9, 2008 7:31 pm

    This is because I said I hated The Other Boelyn Girl over on your blog, isn’t it? 🙂


  12. Saturday, August 9, 2008 7:54 pm

    No, not at all, because I’m not like a die-hard fan of that movie either, though I thought it was passable. I don’t care that you hated it, I was mainly just explaining why I didn’t hate it. I just don’t love it either, though I do love Natalie Portman. Basically: It’s not a movie I would buy, but I didn’t mind watching it the first time, if that sums things up better.

    I’m teasing partially because I think you’re a BBC fangirl, and it’s tainting your “Favorites” lists a terrible Union Jack color. 😉 But mainly it’s because North & South IS NOT A MOVIE.


  13. Saturday, August 9, 2008 11:00 pm

    So Kaye, I guess to settle this it means that you need to do a Fun Friday post on favorite MINISERIES scores. 😛

    I really think the fact that Martin Phipps has only scored TV work isn’t something that needs to be counted against him. The system he’s operating in is different from Hollywood IMO…it seems that a composer has more opportunities in BBC-land to develop a solid small screen resume.


  14. Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:42 am

    Searching around for about ten seconds, I found that Debbie Wisemen, who scored Jeckyll and several other miniseries, has also done several movies, so that excuse isn’t going to work. Opportunity exists. He’s just not impressing anyone enough to get the jobs.


  15. Saturday, August 16, 2008 7:44 pm

    The only soundtracks I own are all three Pirates. LOVE THEM!!!!!!!! I want Wall-E too but haven’t bought it yet.


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