Monday, December 22, 2008

Listening To Movies

I was flipping through the papers today and came across this article about movie soundtracks. I couldn't really finish reading it after the first paragraph, which really got the neuro-gears grinding overtime.

"Soundtracks in movies are a bit of a cheat, when you think about it. Like canned laughter in sitcoms, a sneaky way to tell us: right now you should be feeling scared, or happy, or sad. You would think that any story and acting that was good enough would not need that kind of help."

Well, that's not exactly accurate. If you factor in the Hollywood norm for providing scores and songs to movies, then yes, because the usual Hollywood method is very manipulative. Otherwise, the general rule is, a good score is stealthy, and you're not supposed to notice it at all. I guess it's different with songs, because those will always be in-your-face.

That's why scorers like John Williams and Howard Shore are like old relics. In contemporary times, these big, sweeping, orchestral scores by the likes of Williams and Shore are passe, more annoying than complementary to the movies to which they play, because they tend to overwhelm and drown out everything else.

An example of a good contemporary score would be The Dark Knight's, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. The music is most times understated, leaving the job more to a rhythmic pulse than an all-out orchestral swell. It is sounds and beats interlaced with only necessary notes that become a part of the visuals, not just driving them. You see the music, not just hear it. The score literally becomes the pulse that drives the movie. Thank goodness there's none of that now-cliched choral outbreak. If there were, then it's still a good job because I certainly didn't notice it.

But having said all that, Williams' score for A.I. Artificial Intelligence is surprisingly understated, low-key and wistful. But you wish he'd do more of that.

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