Film score is one of the most important things in Hollywood, and a truly iconic piece of film score can ensure a film going down in history. That’s why I am once again joined by my friend Will Brennan (Top 5 Nic Cage films) to choose our favourite single tracks of film score. Now these have to be original music written for the film, rather than popular music, as that’s a soundtrack and is for another list. I’ve also tried to restrict the number of John Williams’ tracks I’ve picked, as he is undoubtedly the greatest composer in the history of film, and I could easily dedicate a whole Top 5 to his work, but again, that’s for another day. I’d also like to add that I’m far from a music expert, and these are just the pieces that evoke something in me. So here are mine and Will’s Top 5 Film Score Pieces.
- Shuggie: What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World, from Man of Steel, by Hans Zimmer – Also known as the new Superman theme, I think that some of Zimmer’s work on the DC Cinematic Universe has been underrated. Now I’m not going to claim that this piece is better than the original Superman theme, but I don’t want this to just be a John William list, so I’m going to go for Zimmer’s version instead. The way the music builds up from a simple couple of notes to a grand crescendo I think comes close to creating something that invokes the heroism and stature of the Man of Steel, and it is by far my favourite Zimmer track to listen to outside of the film itself.
- Will: The Bridge On The River Kwai, from The Bridge On The River Kwai, by Malcolm Arnold – As I was thinking of tunes, I couldn’t help but remember the catchiness – yet ridiculousness – of the old war film soundtracks. This is the kind of tune that would make you sign up in a heartbeat to serve your country because, of course, war in the real world is just marching, whistling, and fighting with no blood actually spilled and deaths kept on the lower end of the violent spectrum. Arguably, the bigwigs in the movie business applied the musical aspect of the military (think the Changing of the Guard or the Edinburgh Tattoo) with the modern realities of warfare and assumed that the two were compatible. The result is a catchy whistling motif that almost allows you to forget that during the construction of the railway itself ‘approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died’ and ‘estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died’. The tune itself, however, will find a way to linger in the deepest, darkest crevices of your subconscious mind (I can’t help but whistle it every now and again) and serves as a perfect example of the dilution of the horrors of war by major film studios in the post-War years.
- Shuggie: The Good The Bad And The Ugly, from The Good The Bad And The Ugly, by Ennio Moricone – This is such an iconic piece of music. It has become symbolic of not just this film, but for Westerns in general. Hearing it invokes memories memories of when Westerns were at the peek of their popularity. For a piece of music to transcend the film is something special. I cannot believe it took until 2016 for Moricone to win an Oscar for his work, especially when something as incredible as The Good the Bad and the Ugly was made. This is a master at work, and easily deserves a place on my favourite pieces of film score music.
- Wills: Theme From Schindler’s List, from Schindler’s List, by John Williams – What I find particularly remarkable about this piece, and its true heart-breaking brilliance, is the way it enables the film-viewer to escape one of the negative senses experienced by those who suffered. That is, the viewer can visually see the violence, horror, confusion and despair unfolding before their eyes, and yet, by removing most of the sound and replacing it with a sorrowful, yet simple, violin theme, it allows them to disengage the fight or flight reaction and simply empathise. Adrenaline is suppressed to allow the viewer to truly empathise with all who experienced, or who knew someone, who experienced the worst genocide in modern human history. The viewer can watch and be justifiably horrified. John Williams managed to convey tragic sorrow through such a simple musical motif and this, in itself, makes it unforgettable: truly one of the greatest film themes in history.
- Shuggie: Duel of the Fates, from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, by John Williams – Now I agonised over whether to include the Dual of the Fates or the iconic Main Theme. In the end I’ve gone for Dual of the Fates because, whilst I believe the Main Theme is the perfect introduction to the films, however it’s not one that I would listen to outside of the film. Dual of the Fates however is an all round masterpiece. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the greatest moment from the prequel trilogy and is a piece of music I could listen to endlessly. The use of the choral music, play brilliantly with Williams’ classic orchestral piece. This piece of music alone justifies the existence of the prequel trilogy.
- Will: Red Warrior, from The Last Samurai, by Hans Zimmer – Basically I love this film. Despite the knowledge that Tom Cruise is only my height – 170cm – and that the story the film is based on featured two Japanese armies fighting in the Western style – with the Western hero being French rather than American – the film maintains a special place in my heart due, in part, to Hans Zimmer’s score during the final scenes. The music perfectly complements the visual story as we see Tom Cruise’s character finally transform from drunken American army officer into a Samurai. As the army marches off and we see the women, children, and elderly bowing in reverence, and the tragic knowledge that they face a modern army equipped for a modern battle becomes all the more apparent. The soundtrack keeps the marching cries of the Samurai warriors as they run into battle and, therefore, enables the audience to empathise with subject characters who will have been dead for over 150 years. The utilisation of Japanese Taiko drums gives the film a somewhat authentic Japanese feel yet, combined with an orchestral Western film soundtrack, manages to feel familiar yet exotic.
- Shuggie: Theme From Jurassic Park, by John Williams, from Jurassic Park – How can a piece of music capture the wonder of seeing a dinosaur on screen? Well you’d have to ask John Williams how he managed it, because he achieved it in the Jurassic Park theme. When you look at how the same piece of music is then used at the end of the film, in a far quieter and softer way, you have to look at it as pure genius. I think that this is one of the most spectacular pieces of film music ever written, and one of the best of John William’s illustrate career, and that’s saying something given his career.
- Will: Duel of the Fates, from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, by John Williams – The highlight track to the highlight scene of an otherwise disappointing movie, the Duel of the Fates perfectly complimented the duel between three titans of the movie – Qui-Gon Jin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul. The scene where Darth Maul unsheathes his lightsabre to reveal two blades will go down as one of the most iconic moments of an awesome franchise, and the greatest scene in an otherwise awful set of prequels. The doors open and Darth Maul is stood there in all his red bad-assery as the distinctive vocal harmonies are crying (for all intents and purposes) “holy shit!”. At that moment you realise that Mr Maul is not one to be messed with and that particular musical theme builds and builds – with a particularly memorable melody from the string section – leading to a dramatic climax that (in my opinion) makes up from the lacklustre movie.
- Shuggie: Concerning Hobbits, from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by Howard Shore – I don’t think that any other piece of film score so perfect captures the spirit of a place like Concerning Hobbits does The Shire. In the big scary Middle Earth here is this one cheerful, laid back, bit of paradise, and Concerning Hobbits really brings out the serenity of the Shire. I think this is probably the single piece of film score that I could listen to the most on repeat. Even now, 15 years after the release of the Fellowship of the Ring, it still instills that sense of home and has a real impact on me.
- Will: Music from the Final Duel, from For a Few Dollars More, by Ennio Morricone – As a huge fan of the Spaghetti Westerns, and an even bigger fan of “Il Maestro – Ennio Morricone – it would be amiss of me to exclude him from this list. I eventually settled on the music played during the final duel from A Few Dollars More. The Watch Chime motif, played in the film itself rather than simply as a soundtrack perfectly adds to the melancholic and, therefore, emotionally charged aspect of a gun battle between two men. These two are not fighting over petty insults at the local saloon. The protagonists wait until the music stops – that is, the music from the watch chimes – before opening fire on one another. The melancholic tune from the watch chimes becomes all the more poignant with the reveal that one of the shooters was fighting to avenge his deceased sister. The sad tune to represent the love and eventual grief among family members is eventually built upon with a brass section and strummed double bass to create an atmosphere of hatred, sorrow, and – for the audience – anticipation. For a simple gun battle, Ennio Morricone has managed to conjure up deeper emotions than excitement.
So those are our picks for our favourite pieces from film scores. What do you think of our picks? Are there any that you would include? Do you ever listen to film score outside of watching a film? And you can follow me @shuggiesays on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.