Having listening to Daft Punk‘s awesome soundtrack for TRON: Legacy pretty much on repeat since I got it, I started thinking about other great movie soundtracks. Not just collections of nice music to go with the pictures (that’s been done a thousand times), but soundtracks that are completely integral to the feel of the movie.
As the blurb on the iTunes store page says, “If Daft Punk didn’t exist then they’d have to be invented to write the soundtrack to TRON: Legacy“. While that might just be more marketing hyperbole, I do think the soundtrack is shaping up to be one of those instances where the synergy between audio and visual is so great that one could not exist without the other, so I thought I’d compile a few more of my favorites. Obviously, this is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your in the comments.
Vangelis‘ score to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic has had almost as turbulent a history as the movie itself. The first version released was just orchestral interpretations of the movie score, it took 12 years for Vangelis’ proper version to be officially available. The tracks are full length versions of the cues used in the film, with snippets of dialogue added in, and you can’t hear the soaring ominous synths without imagining flying over 2019 Los Angeles, explosions erupting below you.
This release however wasn’t enough for many fans and there have been many bootlegs over the years, the “Off-World“, “Gongo” and “Esper” editions – all featuring a mix of extra dialogue, sound effects and background ambiance, the ‘blimp’ ladies, a lot of it taken from different cuts of the film or pulled from the surround sound mixes of the DVD releases.
To accompany the 25th Anniversary ‘Final Cut’ of the movie there was also 3 disc special edition soundtrack. The first disc is a remastered version of the original release, the second disc contains lots of additional music and cues from the film, and the third features new material from Vangelis, ‘inspired’ by the movie, which features samples and interviews woven into the music.
Duncan Jones’ underground hit from 2009 features a haunting central piano riff, backed up with some even more haunting strings, that are repeated in various versions throughout the film. The soundtrack was composed by Clint Mansell (formally the singer with UK 90s greebo indie band Pop Will Eat Itself – who were one of my faves as a teenager) apparently in complete isolation, perfectly echoing the feelings of loneliness that Sam Rockwell’s character experiences in the first part of the movie.
As the soundtrack progresses it gets more fragmented, much like the mind of Sam Bell, before mellowing out and reaching for that crescendo at the finale.
I enjoyed this soundtrack so much, that I instantly added all the other films Mansell has scored (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, Smokin’ Aces etc.) to my DVD rental list to see if they’re as good. He’s also got the job on Duncan Jones’ next film, Source Code, so that’s on my must see list already, as well as the critically acclaimed Black Swan.
On paper this really shouldn’t work – a fantasy film set in medieval Europe, staring two Americans and Dutch bloke, with a score blending classical orchestra pieces with Spanish Flamenco guitar, 80s prog rock and Gregorian chanting, but somehow composer Andrew Powell and producer Alan Parsons (he of the ‘Project’ fame) manage it. The various styles perfectly suit the different emotions of the film, from the danger to the romance and everything in between. It’s a tricky one to get hold of now, but there are plenty more clips on YouTube.
Steven Soderbergh’s modern-day ratpack remake boasts a fantastic main cast – the Clooney/Pitt/Damon trio surely ensured it’s success, and it spawned two sequels, but I think the soundtrack by Irish DJ/producer David Holmes helped a bit too. It’s a fantastic blend of original, energetic, retro-jazz-funk skits, mixed with some of his own full length tracks and Vegas-style classics from the likes of Perry Como, Percy Faith and Elvis – his ‘A Little Less Conversation‘ was first reintroduced to the world here, before that awful remix hit the charts. Holmes even drops in a real classical opus with DeBussy’s ‘Clair de Lune‘ scoring the final, triumphant scene, a song he cheekily sampled into one of his own compositions earlier in the film, thus bringing everything full circle for end piece. Throw in some uber-cool quotes from Clooney and Pitt, and there you go, instant classic.
House of the Flying Daggers/Kung Fu Hustle
Yimou Zhang’s fantasy martial arts epic features a very traditional Japanese score by Shigeru Umebayashi, featuring lots of dreamy vocals, pipes, flutes, drums, gongs, and strings all mixed with some moody synths and orchestra. The emotional scenes are full of ethereal vocals and gentle twanging guitars, whereas the battles scenes feature intense drumming rhythms and dramatic strings. My favourite part has to be ‘Echo Game‘ where the wonderful Ziyi Zhang gracefully beats the drums with the sleeves of her kimono. Who cares if it’s possible or not? It looks and sounds amazing.
Sticking with the martial arts theme, the soundtrack to this scene from Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle by Raymond Wong (I think) is so integral to the film that it actually becomes a weapon. As the Musicians take on the Masters, we hear the slightest twang of their instrument and watch as a decapitated head falls to the floor. After some regular, but impressive, fighting they return to their instrument and send wave after wave of music at the Masters and we see their soundwaves transformed into swords, spears and demons. The Masters fight back in a beautifully choreographed dance, and look set for victory, only to have in snatched from them by a powerful chord that literally stops them in their tracks.
Other Honourable Mentions
Any list like this would be incomplete without mentioning John Williams‘ work on so many of our favorite films, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Jaws and Close Encounters to name a tiny fraction of his amazing body of work. The man is a genius, whenever something evil is happening I hear the Imperial March and whenever a fallen hero finds his courage, Indy’s fanfare echoes through my mind.
Of course, Ennio Morricone is another master of the artform, I bet nobody can walk through a set of saloon door without humming the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The score for Dune by Toto is full of trippy bits of dialogue, strings, choirs and even goes a bit prog rock at times. Michael Kamen and Orbital‘s work on the Event Horizon soundtrack is as scary and evil as the movie itself.
Soundtracks can also simply be collections of great songs. The Blues Brothers would be nothing without the classic blues and soul music they sing and listen too. I’m not even going to go into musicals as it’s kind of a given that the music in them has to be superb. Tarantino has a great ear for music to go with his knack for dialogue, as does Cameron Crowe. The soundtrack to Trainspotting was such a fantastic collection of music that a second album was released, featuring tracks that weren’t even in the film! Hang on, that’s not such a good thing is it? Oh well, maybe I should stop there…
I’ve heard good things about the soundtrack to Inception and Monsters but I haven’t seen either of them yet so I can’t really say. What do you think? Any other classics I’ve missed?