(If this is your first time here I’d like to direct you to this page first so you can see where I’m coming from.)
I’m not a music critic. I don’t know how to describe how “scouring and elegiac” a song is (I took that from a Rolling Stone review of a Springsteen album). I don’t know how to describe how sonic the fills are in a song or if a song even is sonic in its fills. I just like music and I’ll certainly never be accused of having a keen or critical ear.
I often listen to music when I’m at work but I’m easily distracted so sometimes lyrics can be a problem. It works out that one of my favorite parts of movies, TV shows and video games is the music that plays in the background, hence my love of scores and soundtracks. I hesitantly throw the term “soundtracks” in there since that can mean a couple different things. What I don’t mean is the “music from and inspired by” kind of soundtrack where a collection of seemingly random artists and songs are slapped together onto one CD along with a couple songs that play during the end credits of the piece of media it’s the soundtrack to. What I do mean is the instrumental and often orchestral pieces that score the scenes of the movie, show or game I happen to like. Feel free to play whatever videos I embed as you read. Also, I will be speaking very freely about plot points so if you see anything you don’t want spoiled, read with care.
What I like about scores is the memories and feelings those pieces evoke. I’ll give you a prime example – ever seen the movie Spider-Man (the Sam Raimi one)? There’s a part at the end of the film where after having turned away the affections of Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker walks away towards the camera and as he monologues about great power and great responsibility the music begins to swell. There are parts in the score where a choir highlights Peter’s new found Spider-Manliness and there are parts where the orchestra highlights his heroics but at this point in the score – when he finally accepts the full weight of his responsibilities – that both the full orchestra and the choir comes together during the final minute of “Farewell” to truly introduce this new hero in all his power for the final crescendo of the film. It’s a powerful moment and one that sets the tone for the series moving forward and hearing that track takes me back to all the excitement I felt when watching Spider-Man finally become that hero.
Another one of my favorite scores comes from the video game Final Fantasy IX. This game was the first real Final Fantasy game that I actually completed on my own. I’d played other games in the series with other people but this was the first game that I owned as my own experience. I was totally hooked on this story about a ragtag group of characters looking for meaning in their own existence while dealing with events that threatened the very existence of their planet (you know, ’cause the fate of the world is always in the balance). At the very end of the story, protagonist Zidane reveals himself to still be alive after what was assumed to be his death after the final confrontation with Necron, the “Eternal Darkness”. It is at this point that the now Queen Garnet, the story’s female lead, truly realizes her love for Zidane and throws aside all sense of duty and responsibility to embrace that which she believed was lost. The music swells as Garnet forces her way through to crowd and leaps into Zidane’s arms. It’s at that point that the music quiets to just soft strings with a little horn and flute and we see Garnet in Zidane’s embrace as she beats on his chest in a mixture of overwhelming joy yet anger at not knowing that he was still alive. I’m listening to the track as I write this and it still gets me emotional just thinking of that moment as it culminated a some forty hour journey through these characters’ story – one that stays with me to this day.
I love TRON:Legacy. I don’t think it’s a particular great film but it’s a fun action movie with a spectacular visual style whose writing doesn’t quite live up to the esthetics. One of the highlights of the film is the thrilling soundtrack mashup of a sweeping orchestra score along with the pounding beats of Daft Punk (reminding me of how much I enjoyed the Matrix: Reloaded soundtrack). There’s a particularly exciting scene where the film brings back the Light Cycle game from the original TRON. Up until that point in the film our hero, Sam Flynn, has been a fish out of water inside the virtual world of The Grid but when he is presented with a game of life and death that takes place on an approximation of real-world motorcycles – he’s now in his element. “The Game Has Changed” starts slow with a muffled, rhythmic pounding as Sam begins to run until he has enough speed to pull out the bar he carries which will transform into his Light Cycle. The track that plays is an electrifying combination of tense strings, pulsating percussion and buzzy electronic synth and it works perfectly. The whole soundtrack is fantastic and it may be the real star of the movie. If you like that, the remix album – TRON: Legacy Reconfigured – is also terrific.
The Mass Effect games comprise one of my absolute favorite series of the Xbox 360/PS3 generation with Mass Effect 3 wrapping what was an amazing ride that took place over five years. During one of the third games final moments (depending on how your playthrough goes), series hero Commander Shepard sits gravely injured beside a mortally wounded Admiral Anderson, a man who has served as a commanding officer, mentor and comrade to you as the protagonist. The two soldiers sit together in a brief moment of peace while the ongoing space battle rages outside the window. It’s in their final moments together and during that short calm that Anderson expresses a feeling towards Shepard that reveals how he truly viewed his relationship with you. It’s in that moment that this career military man who was married to the service shares with you his pride, indicating that he not only viewed you as a great soldier and leader but that he viewed as a father would view their child. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking moment as Anderson quietly slips away into death. The music in the background of that scene, “I’m Proud of You” is a perfect example of how the soundtrack to the Mass Effect series magnifies whatever emotion is being portrayed in a scene, whether it’s a sentimental or action moment.
Despite how some of the later seasons turned out, I still have a soft spot for LOST and that’s considering I yet to actually see the first season. I think one of the best things about that show is Michael Giacchino’s score. I’ve kept an eye on Giacchino’s work over the past few years as he’s scored not only LOST but movies like J.J. Abram’s Star Trek films as well as Pixar’s Up and The Incredibles. While I love his loud, bombastic action themes, it’s his ability to subtly fill quiet moments that has really impressed me and there’s no better place for examples of that than the LOST soundtrack. The two samples embedded here – “The Constant” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are two wonderful examples of that gentle touch at work. I don’t need to say anything more – just listen. If there’s ever a compilation of just the soft piano pieces from LOST, I’ll buy two copies. No – three copies.
Finally, one of my favorite movie series of recent years is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. There’s a point at the end of the second movie, The Dark Knight where having faced both the chaos of The Joker and the demon of their own creation, Harvey “Two Face” Dent, Batman and Commissioner Gordon have one final conversation before Batman decides to take the blame for Dent’s death and go on the run from the authorities. As Batman escapes, Gordon’s son – whose life Batman just saved – questions as to why Batman has to run. Gordon begins to explain to his son via the now infamous monologue about how Batman is “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now”. In the background of this scene is Hans Zimmer’s orchestral/synth score, quietly emphasizing the gravity of Batman’s sacrifice. Then, as Gordon proclaims Batman to be “a watchful protector, a Dark Knight” the music erupts into what was introduced to be Batman’s “theme” at the end of Batman Begins, pieces of which can be heard at the beginning the track “Introduce a Little Anarchy”. It cements Batman as that hero and it’s an incredibly thrilling moment at the end of masterpiece of a comic book movie. Also, as a thrilling callback, Zimmer uses the same theme in The Dark Knight Rises when Batman reemerges from a state of “retirement”.
So this post didn’t end up turning out how I’d originally planned in my head. I wanted to talk what I like about scores but instead, it became about the moments that these pieces bring me back to, which I guess in the end is the biggest reason why I like scores. Ultimately, I love reliving the feeling of the experience and scores are a great way for me to do so. I’ll leave you with a few other soundtracks that I enjoy. If you’ve appreciated the above examples, perhaps these will appeal to you as well.