Following our crossover with Music in Issue 234, Impact takes a further look at some of our favourite soundtracks and scores in our latest scrapbook…
The Nightmare Before Christmas
If there is one thing that screams Christmas to me, it’s this: Henry Selick’s gorgeously animated stop-motion film, centred on Danny Elfman’s amazing soundtrack. The songs are cheerful, funny and sometimes morbid, and if you don’t sing along with at least one song then something is clearly wrong with you. ‘This is Halloween’ and ‘What’s this?’ are evocative and their universal popularity is reflected in the fact they are the two most well-known songs from the soundtrack. The score fits well in the Burton universe and, as the plot is propelled by the music, the effort that went into creating it is obvious. The best thing about it? You can sing along anytime between Halloween and Christmas!
Man of Steel
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel may have divided the critics and fans alike but there is no denying that Hans Zimmer nailed the score.
Having already composed soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Lion King the Oscar-winning composer is no stranger to representing iconic characters. There are none though quite as globally iconic as Superman.
In every action scene, as soon as the music bursts into life it takes everything to stop from cheering. These are not only some of the most visually stunning on-screen fights ever seen but also some of the most emotional. The first time Superman flies, ploughing General Zod through miles of fields and cooling towers after threatening Superman’s mother, the epic climactic fight, all could have fallen flat had it not been for this goosebump-inducing score.”
Juno is a feel-good comedy about a 16 year old girl (Ellen Page) getting unexpectedly pregnant and making the decision to give it up for adoption. This film is wonderfully quirky with Page’s hilarious sarcasm sitting alongside Michael Cera’s awkwardness to make a great comedy duo. The soundtrack only strengthens the film’s weirdness with music from artists such as The Mouldy Peaches, chosen by Ellen Page herself. The soundtrack is fun and makes light of some tough decisions Juno has to make for a girl of her age. The music’s easy to listen to, especially in the opening sequence (by Barry Louis Polisar), while there’s so many catchy acoustic tracks – such as ‘Tyre Swing’ by Kimya Dawson – and the endearing wholesome lyrics are strange and great at the same time.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is a brilliant, bittersweet film about a down-on-his-luck folk artist in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The soundtrack is an intrinsic part of its success, from the haunting opening rendition of ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, sung by star Oscar Isaac, until the sound of a more familiar voice at the end. Through desperation, missed opportunities and regrets, the soulful songs are the constant. With the upbeat ‘Green Green Rocky Road’ and the melancholy tracks ‘500 Miles’ and ‘Shoals of Herring’ being particular highlights, Inside Llewyn Davis is the best example in recent memory of how music and film are intertwined, and how each can add greatly to the impact of the other. By turns stirring, heartbreaking and beautiful, the music stands as another performer in itself, and contributes immensely to one of the best films of 2014. Llewyn fares well, very well indeed.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
The Kings of Summer is an independent coming-of-age film dedicated to encapsulating the enjoyment of living your young years alongside nature. Due to the environmental setting of the film, the score reflects the nature surroundings; earthy sounds, drums and the calls of birds fill this film to throw you straight in to the depths of the woods. The soundtrack engages with the scenes, with rhythms of pipes being crashed together to create a tribal drum beat as the youths are enveloped by nature and its sheer freedom. Due to the character’s age and it being a contemporary film, some of the tracks are from American hip hop band ‘The Skywalkers’. They bring a youthful element to the score and their high tempo tracks are used to great effect when required in the film, such as montages of stealing and slashing down forestry.
The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The story begins when Peter Quill use music to escape from his everyday life, his mother’s sickness and her upcoming death. She was the one that taught him about music and even made his ‘awesome mix’ that he always carries with him – the music slowly became his way of dealing with reality.
Starting with ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ by Blue Swede, which opens the heart, through ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc and ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, the film provided just the right music to make me fall in love with Star Lord.
Of course this is why it is so easy for me to identify with him – who among us hasn’t found rescue in music? Got comfort from it? Use it as a way to motivate himself? Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful soundtrack; it will make you feel happy, sad, loved and for sure will make you feel at home.
It is nearly impossible to imagine Danny Boyle’s cult classic Trainspotting without the music that accompanies Mark Renton’s heroin-fuelled escapades. In an age where soundtracks are increasingly influenced by commercial motivations, Trainspotting can remind audiences of the unique power that the synergy between audio and visual holds. From the hypodermic first hit of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ to its potent final monologue, Trainspotting is scored perfectly. An eclectic collection of artists including Pulp, Leftfield and Georges Bizet contribute to a soundtrack that immerses viewers in a cinematic journey, encapsulating the vertiginous highs and harrowing lows of heroin use. In particular, the inspired combination of the thumping bass of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy .NUXX’ and Renton’s “choose life” speech creates an intoxicatingly euphoric final scene, which sits among the most iconic moments in the history of British cinema.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Tarantino is quite possibly the greatest auteur of his generation and this is owed, in no small part, to the masterful way he weaves a vastly eclectic mix of musical genres into his postmodern classics. Alongside his ear for turns of phrase (note the incessant sampling of Samuel L Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue in popular culture), his iconic soundtracks could be said to perfectly supplement the powerful visuals of his movies and Pulp Fiction is arguably his greatest effort…
From Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) twisting their way through Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ to Urge Overkill’s deeply evocative rendition of Neil Diamond’s ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’, a mix of Soul, Rock, Surf and Pop might look messy on paper but Tarantino manages to seamlessly hybridise each genre to produce a masterpiece that will echo through cinematic history.
The Wackness (2008)
Summer ’94, New York City. High school graduate and small time pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck – yes, of Drake & Josh fame) enters a seedy looking drug den to pick up his supply from dealer Percy (Method Man). A Hip Hop track blasts out a speaker. ‘Who’s this?’ questions Luke. Percy responds, saying ‘This is new shit, Biggie’. Luke cracks a smile; ‘Shit is dope!’
Hip Hop plays a far greater role than just ‘soundtrack’ in Jonathan Levine’s coming-of-age drama The Wackness; it’s the soul of early-nineties NYC. When Shapiro takes Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) on a first date selling ‘ice-cream’ in the park, could there possibly be a theme more appropriate than the chill beats and lyrics of Will Smith’s ‘Summertime’? Or take the darker emotional beats, like when Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley) escapes to the beach to drown his sorrows in prescription medicine. Here the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Tearz’ (sampling Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter (Comes Tears)’) works as a perfect metaphor for Squires’ drug-addled, distressed state of mind.
Levine had major input on this soundtrack and it shows. The Wackness is a film about friendship, love and loss, and grounding this all is a killer compilation of Hip Hop tunes. It goes far beyond simple scene-setting, enhancing and enriching the characters and scenarios of the film.
Melancholia, the film by infamous Danish director Lars Von Trier, ingeniously merged the apocalyptic with the personal, as the mental deterioration of Kirsten Dunst’s character Justine is backed by the relentless approach of rogue planet Melancholia towards the Earth. The most inspired merger however was that of the score; which consists entirely of Wagner’s prelude to his 1858 opera Tristan und Isolde. The strings of Wagner’s composition dance fitfully behind the woes of a deluded woman, whose mind’s erraticism’s are equally frantic.
In one scene, evocative of Eve in Eden, they swell magnificently just as Dunst is revealed, bathing in the light of the oncoming world. Von Trier was greatly influenced by the composer, even using his techniques to structure the film; just as the prologue to the opera features leitmotifs which introduce musical phrases to be heard through the work, so too does Melancholia begin with a five minute sequence of dreamlike images, such as Justine dressed in her wedding dress trying to escape the pull of a trees roots gripping at her leg, the likes of which cannot be fully appreciated until the film unravels. An enchanting selection.
Django Unchained (2012)
Nominated for an Academy Award, BAFTA, and a Grammy, Django Unchained brought more than gun shots and whip lashes to the spaghetti-Western. The opening track, ‘Django’, involves the legendary Italian composer, Luis Bacalov, and vocals from the most famous black singer in Italy during the 1960s, Rocky Roberts. The song immediately established that Django Unchained is a reinvention of the traditional euro-centric Spaghetti Westerns.
The film is one of the first Westerns in more than thirty years to cast a black lead and the soundtrack undoubtedly reiterates this. Along with the prerequisite badass guitar compositions, Tarantino was sure to also include blues, R&B and rap – all of which have had and continue to have a prominent presence in African-Caribbean music. As a nod to the traditional and the modern, the soundtrack involves both Italian and African-American artists over the last 80 years including Rick Ross, Ennio Morricone, 2Pac, James Brown, Edda Dell’Orso and John Legend.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
The critically acclaimed score for How to Train Your Dragon, nominated for a BAFTA and an Academy Award, owes its mastery to esteemed composer John Powell. Often described by Hans Zimmer as a superior composer, Powell drew influences from Celtic, Scottish and Irish music, employing instruments such as the fiddle, the bagpipes and the pennywhistle, to create an ardent sound that enhances the magic of the animation.
Powell’s orchestral score for Dragon plays as pivotal a role in the narrative of Hiccup’s story as the animation itself. Every track matches beautifully with its accompanying scene, most notably “Forbidden Friendship” and “Test Drive”. Although arguably robbed of a much-deserved Oscar, the Dragon score has received universal acclaim from professional music critics and fans of the film. Hopefully the 2014 sequel, which Powell rightfully returned to score, will obtain the accolades that it deserves.
Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
The Lord of the Rings is a vast work in all respects, and the music is definitely not the least of these. Howard Shore’s scoring of the three films is a highly emotive and luscious orchestral work which is second to none. The use of motifs is brilliant and especially the variations in colour, for example ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’ is much sadder and heavier than ‘Concerning Hobbits’ although both are based around the same motif. On top of this the use of a philharmonic choir, which adds to most of the score, is genius; they intone in the various languages of Middle Earth and focus the music on the specific events. A beautiful and timeless masterpiece of film scoring, it brings the films to life in a way that they could not be without it and with such guests as Annie Lennox and Enya the brilliancy of the soundtrack is only increased. Perfection.