Spectacular! Spectacular! - My Favourite Film Scores & Soundtracks

Ensign Lestat's Music Log, 21/11/14

At work, I'm one of the rare people who gets lost in music. This usually leads to my colleagues hovering around me in an attempt to get my attention, because hollering my name for 30 minutes doesn't work.
Image courtesy: quotesvalley.com
Yesterday, I was surprised that my music was overshadowed by someone else's. Turns out my colleague was so floored by the score for 'Gone Girl', that he had to listen to it nice and loud on his laptop (that ended quickly, as our GM is a grump). 

My taste in film music usually veers towards scores, rather than soundtracks. Having said that, a couple of years ago I was floored by 'De-Lovely' because I found I actually quite like some of Cole Porter's songs.
And then, of course, there's the everlasting charm of Baz Luhrman's 2001 extravaganza 'Moulin Rouge!'. When last I chanced upon it, I was all set to cringe behind the sofa when the film began, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and the great zest with which I began hunting for the soundtrack. Though not original, the medleys of songs are exciting, fun and romantic, all rolled into one. He tried and failed at capturing the same musical magic with 'The Great Gatsby'. My feelings about that film aside, I wished it had been as musically inspiring as 'Moulin Rouge!' continues to be.
What I enjoy most about a musical score or soundtrack of a film is the ability to immerse myself in the film completely during a viewing, and then, on listening to the album, relive the film to the fullest. At the same time, there are those occasional works that transport me far beyond the story of the film, taking me to a brand new world of my own imagination. Credit to any composer who can do both.

Mostly, for me, dramas do not evoke the need to listen out for the score, but action films always do. Maybe it has to do with the films I watch, but then again, dramas rarely have those epic moments replete with drum rolls and exploding trombones. That tells you the kind of music I like.

What's important when I look for a score or soundtrack album is that it has all the music from the film. Apparently that's not always possible - the 'Moulin Rouge!' albums (there are two volumes) has three glaring misses! 

It's been a really long time since I hit the theatres, and have been out of touch with the film music scene. But, that's not to say I'm not lost in some spectacular scores off late.

Rejoice, relive and rejig your day with these stunning musical accompaniments:

10) Tron: Legacy (Music by Daft Punk)

French duo Daft Punk have always been on the periphery of my music playlist, but they made a huge impact with their contemporary, synth and electronica-laden score to the Tron sequel in 2010. This score is true to its material; the music felt like it came from another, digital world. It also has this video game quality to it, which lends itself well to the film because the story is essentially based in a world where gladiatorial encounters prevail. The score intersperses the fast-paced synthesizers and drums beats of 'Arena' and 'Derezzed' with slower, melancholic tunes, such as 'Nocturne' and 'Adagio for TRON'. A selection of pieces from this score would fit nicely in anyone's party playlist, which probably already has some Daft Punk numbers in it. The score was a surprising omission from the Academy Awards in 2011.The music is fun and funky and different from the usual fare.

On the whole, the score is reminiscent of the film, which, had it been more memorable, may have actually added another dimension to its music.

9) The Chronicle of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Music by Harry Gregson-Williams, Soundtrack by Various Artists)

That one came out of the blue, didn't it? While the Narnia books catered to a much younger audience, as did the film adaptation of the first book, 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', with Caspian, made in 2008, three years after the first film, the makers decided to change their target audience to young adults. While the change made the film eminently watchable for me, it alienated its true fans. 

But enough of that. How about the music? Harry Gregson-Williams may not be oft talked about, but the man is everywhere - well, everywhere fantastical, anyway. The album begins with 'Prince Caspian Flees' and it gets your heart pumping for nearly an hour's worth of equally wondrous music. Because I love the film, the music lets me relive every scene whenever I want. Compared to the previous entry, Gregson-Williams' music is almost classical - pianos, flutes, orchestral instruments, but he makes them epic. When 'Return of the Lion' plays on my iPod I feel almost as glorious and triumphant as Aslan. He also harks back to the music of the first film (also composed by him), which ties the two stories together even more.

Aside from the score, the last scene and end credits include original songs by Regina Spektor, Oren Lavie, Switchfoot and Hanne Hukkelberg. All four songs are evocative of the film's story, but also stand alone as beautiful songs on their own as well. Definitely a must-keep for anyone who loves the film (are we that uncommon?).

8) The Dark Knight Rises (Music by Hans Zimmer)

This film was a fitting and epic end to Christopher Nolan's genre-defining trilogy. And Hans Zimmer upped his game with the score. Rousing and robust, each tune is threaded together with that eerie chant of 'Rise'. At once menacing when played in conjunction with Bane, and triumphant when thought of as Bruce Wayne's solace, the music is brilliant and as epic as the story. 

There's a grounded realism to the music that fits with the vision of the film. Hans Zimmer always makes his scores count, and his relationship with Nolan has certainly created some of the best film music out there.

Most of the score is pulsating and orchestral. It's overwhelmingly dramatic, but then that goes with the Batman territory. At the same time, there's the melancholic tune inserted to add some much-needed heart to the music - (tissues maybe needed when 'The End' starts playing). The majority of the titles are dialogues from the films, which is another spectacular reminder of when and where each piece was heard. The unmissable piece from this score is 'Bombers Over Ibiza' - try and stop yourself from bobbing for your head during that tune. This is not an album to go to sleep by.

7) Batman Forever (Soundtrack by Various Artists)

This one harks back to my childhood. I was ten when this film was released. I didn't finally see the film till I was much older, but the soundtrack was a mainstay in our family cassette player (yup, it was that long ago). 

This one is an odd choice for me, simply because it's a bunch of songs by artists, that, at the time, I'd never even heard of. There's little correlation between the songs and the film's storyline, but you can read into it what you like. But, the songs are catchy and memorable. Be it the impressive U2 number 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me', the romantic melancholy of Seal's 'Kiss from a Rose', or the heady synth tones of 'The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game' (Massive Attack and Tracey Thom), a particular favourite of mine. Nothing however, comes close to the immensely catchy 'Smash It Up' by the Offsprings. That song wore out my cassette player when I was a kid, because my afternoon entertainment consisted of dancing to it ad nauseum with my sister.

Considering the fact that some of the songs still pop up on the radio and on TV, I'm going to say this one's a keeper. It's memorable, fun, evergreen and nostalgic. It's equal parts camp and serious. Time to press rewind.

6) The Covenant (Music by Tomandandy, Soundtrack by Various Artists)
This one is admittedly a crazy inclusion. A grand total of two people have probably seen this film. It is memorable for all the wrong reasons, and was created for the sole purpose of getting five young lads on the big scene. 
And for this.
The film follows four young witch covenants and is unspectacular in storyline and acting. Everyone gives it their best shot, but really, it's not good. It's my not-so-secret guilty pleasure (thank you Taylor Kitsch), mostly because of that mind-blowing soundtrack. There's Rob Zombie and White Zombie and a couple of remixes by Collide, and a synth, electric guitar and electro-beats score to go with it. This movie introduced me to Collide's work, which is a bonus benefit, because I've ended up enjoying quite a lot of their covers ever since.

Tomandandy's music is contemporary, which is probably what attracted me to this score, in particular. My favourite is 'Savior', a heady mix of slow movements and riffing guitars. I can't resist hitting the repeat button whenever it plays on my phone.

Where do I start with this one? I had several reservations about this film, but unwittingly fell in love with it. The story, the characters, the many nudge-wink comic book Easter eggs aside, what caught my imagination was the music. The film starts with scenes of a desolate future accompanied by Patrick Stewart's dulcet tones. But it gets your heart pumping in anticipation when the new title music segues into the 'X2: X-Men United' title track. It completely immerses you into that universe - the entirety of it. 

Bringing back Ottman, who did the music for 'X2' was a brilliant move, as it combined the old trilogy with the new one as well as with the Wolverine films. The credits include acknowledgements for all the X-Men movies, and the score is no different. 

Hints of the other scores make this one special. There's a nod to Magneto's theme from 'X-Men: First Class', 'Sneaky Mystique' from 'X2', and the End Titles from 'X-Men: The Last Stand'. Add to that brilliant new compositions including 'Xavier's Theme', which is the polar opposite to Magneto's theme, but is beautiful and heart-rending, along with Mystique's own musical refrain in the score, this one winds its way into your heart for a long time. Goosebumps all around.

The vampire film to make you love vampires again, with a small star cast and featuring a stunning score.

The lilting Arabian refrains mixed with powerful electric guitar riffs make for a startling mix of the old and the new. The music is woven into the story as one of our protagonists is a musician. Several scenes are immersed in the music, where the instruments lay out the tensions or ease the pain. 

The stark mix in the music is vital as the story is set in two disparate regions - a dying town and a vibrant city. It reflects the moods of the two protagonists as well - one brooding, the other filled with a lust for life. For a film that celebrates music and the joys it brings, its score works in a similar way. 

I think what attracted me most about the score was that it mixed the sound of different regions, which you hardly come across in film scores nowadays. It's such a refreshing take, it immediately transports to a brand new world.

3) Inception (Music by Hans Zimmer)

In my books, Hans Zimmer is the new John Williams. He is prolific, exceptional, yet distinctive; something that Williams is synonymous with. So, in a way, I'm not going to let myself feel guilty about placing the 'Inception' on this list, that has, so far, not featured any of the Star Wars scores. 

This 2010 Christopher Nolan original work was sensational, intelligent, mind-boggling, and dealt with one of my favourite concepts - dreams. I enjoyed this film the first time I watched it, and needless to say the music blew me away as much as the story. As if enjoying the music wasn't enough, on learning the score was based on a slowed-down version of the key plot device, Edith Piaf's 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien', I was floored. It is true creative brilliance to me. That foghorn will never sound like just another horn to me anymore.

The score is loud and apparent in the film; it adds to the atmosphere and the tension in a lot of the scenes. Few pieces of music can trump '528491', a tune that is played in parts throughout the film, but in its entirety, of not even two and half minutes, it is suspenseful and pulsating. It helps that the visuals are one of the most suspenseful, multi-layered sequences I have ever seen. '528491' is followed by 'Mombasa' on the album and every time I hear that tune, I see the characters running through the streets - it is exciting! Again, beware the repeat button.

But not all of the music is pulse-racing stuff; 'Old Souls' is a melancholic piece that is heart-rending. In conjunction with the film, it makes it all that much sadder. 'Paradox' is a short tune that is thought-provoking, and also melancholic.

What I love most about this score is that it can stand on its own. You can smile, you can cry, you can fall in love, all while listening to these twelve beautiful works of art.

I know, I know. The prequels aren't worth mentioning to a lot of people, but they're an important part of my life. 

I was tempted to put all three scores from the prequels in this list, but that would have been boring, and frankly the other listed scores do vie for my attention as much as the Star Wars ones do.

Call it what you want and complain as much as you like, but the Star Wars prequels gave those of us who weren't a part of the hype and fanfare of the originals a chance to revel in the same excitement. Granted, the films are not perfect, but a true Star Wars fan will love them anyway, because, hey, we're geeks like that. The prequels try to embody all the spectacle of the original trilogy with the added advantage of the technically advanced world of green-screen, CGI, et al.

As if the excitement of the visuals wasn't enough, John Williams produced a score that was as gentle and furious as it was memorable. I don't know if it's just me, but I can't help but catch my breath when a tune from TPM starts playing. The Star Wars theme remains true to its origins, but then it melts into 'The Arrival at Naboo', a suspicious piece which reaches a crescendo of excitement as the listener is allowed to envision Naboo. A particularly gentle piece is 'Anakin's Theme' and it is memorable because of its sweet innocence which is relevant to the story, because the audience knows that the music is, in fact, incongruous with Anakin's future; a future we are already privy to. The underwater city of the Gunguns (I know, everyone hates Jar Jar), Otto Gunga, is brought alive through music that sounds a lot like you are underwater.

he entire score is light and at times playful and childlike, in light of the youthfulness of our protagonist. It becomes grave as the film goes along, especially the tunes dealing with Qui-Gon.

My favourite is 'Augie's Great Municipal Band' which is reminiscent of the 'Ewok Feast' tune in 'Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi'. So love it or hate it, the music of TPM is never going to go away, because there isn't a piece of music in the film that doesn't transport you to a completely different world in a galaxy far, far away.

This one caught me by surprise. I've made no secret of my initial dislike for 'Captain America: The First Avenger' film. I've grown to love it immensely since, but I don't recall the music as much.

This film, however... The characters, the actors, the story, the comic book references, the action, they are all astounding. Throw into that mix unforgettable music and you have a nigh perfect film. Which, in my opinion, TWS defnitely is. Ever since this film came out, I have re-watched it several times; and the score, it's a mainstay on everything that plays music, and it's my go-to album in times of... everything. 

The OST is a reward for a fan of the film. If you're the kind who sticks around for the credits, you'll know that the credits for this film are beautiful to watch, accompanied by the rousing 'Taking a Stand' tune. I'm not sure if the credit graphics made me fall in love with the tune, or if it was the other way around. You can really relive all the spectacular scenes again and again with this score. Add to that Marvin Gaye's 'Trouble Man', and you've got an album that you want to listen to forever. 

I'm not sure when was the last time character theme tunes affected me the way this film's themes have. It is not possible to get 'The Winter Soldier' out of your head. That grating electronic beat is an exact reflection of the character - all mystery and menace rolled into one. The polar opposite to that is 'Captain America', a theme that is sweet, beautiful and full of glorious purpose. These two are my top picks from the album, because they seep into your soul. 

There's a lot going on with the music - but it's definitely a score not to be reckoned with. If I had it my way, I'd put it up for an Academy nomination, but I doubt an April release will stay in the minds of the Academy boards. The music really is that good. You can weep buckets to 'Fallen' and 'End of the Line', and hit the treadmill to 'Fury' and 'Lemurian Star'. This is an album with a little for everyone.

Honourable Mentions:

The Best of Bond...James Bond (Soundtrack by Various Artists)
Without a doubt the Bond films have left a lasting impact on people's views on film music. Each film comes with a unique theme song. And, add to that the retro theme and has stood the test of time.

Death Note (Music by Yoshihisa Hirano and Hideki Taniuchi, Theme Songs by Nightmare)
The score for this spectacular Anime is part orchestral, part chorus and several parts rock. The theme songs may be too hardcore for some, however. Hard to get hold of, so Youtube is your new best friend.

Thor (Music by Patrick Doyle)
Ethereal and other-worldly, well befitting the film's theme and vision. The title character's introduction is accompanied by one of liveliest pieces of music I've ever heard.

Strikingly romantic along with several darker and robust pieces plotting the film's arc beautifully. Anakin and Padme's romance is followed by some of the sweetest music.

The score is an exact replica of the film's chronology, allowing you to relive it to the fullest. Thanks to a chorus, there is an eerie mix of darkness pervading the majority of the score.

An absolutely gorgeous ensemble of music reflecting each character and their predicaments. The title track is unbelievably epic.

So, that's my list. It's an eclectic mix, not at all intelligent, but definitely personal. But these are the scores and part of a soundtrack that make me think, and make me dream. What are yours?


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