Tag Archives: movie scores

My Favorite Scene: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) “Musical Conversation”

While I give Steven Spielberg plenty of flak for the turn his career has taken over the last 15 years, that in no way diminishes from his early masterpieces.  I don’t know that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be the hit today that it was back in 1977.  It’s a very deliberately paced film for Spielberg, and the fascination with UFOs isn’t near today what it was even back during the heyday of The X-Files.  We’ve all but shuttered the exploration of space.  We’re a very inward looking species, rather than looking to the stars and thinking about what or who might be out there, and how we might talk to them were they to someday show up.

Today’s planet would almost certainly start lobbing nukes at anything it didn’t understand, and maybe 1977’s would have too, but I love Spielberg’s optimistic and beautiful take on a first encounter with extraterrestrials.  Math is the universal language, and music, at its core, is math.  It’s logical that would be a way to communicate, and if you have John Williams as your composer, you can have a five-minute sequence of simple notes building into a cacophony of musical dialogue that is as spellbinding as any written words could be.  The five tones of initial communication are the most easily iconic thing about Close Encounters.  Over 40 years after its release, this sequence is still chillingly beautiful….and then Richard Dreyfus gets on a spaceship and leaves his family behind (that part I never quite got).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Rogue One Gets a New Composer! Michael Giacchino Replaces Alexandre Desplat!!!

Jeddah, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There is no other franchise in film where the music is as integral as the Star Wars franchise.  John Williams seven scores have been as much a character in the saga as any onscreen presence, and there’s scarcely a person in Western Civilization who doesn’t know a few pieces from Star Wars scores (even if they don’t realize it).  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, in addition to being the first non-episodic Star Wars film, is also the first film to not be scored by John Williams.  Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat (who took over for Williams on the Harry Potter series) was slated to score the film, but today The Hollywood Reporter announced that due to a scheduling conflict the new composer of the film will be Michael Giacchino. Continue reading Rogue One Gets a New Composer! Michael Giacchino Replaces Alexandre Desplat!!!

Killing Time: December 4, 2014 “What’s Happened to Movie Scores?”

I’m behind.  I know I’m behind.  Granted, I have an excellent reason, but columns haven’t been regular and I’ve got reviews that are back-logged and need to go up.  I have days when I’m able to function, but a great deal of the time I’m still in a very difficult place.  I am, though, making an effort to get KT rolling back on schedule.  My current headquarters is in the Great Lakes region so I’m going to have to ski my way to some of these winter movies, but I’m going to do my best to keep things up to standard. Continue reading Killing Time: December 4, 2014 “What’s Happened to Movie Scores?”

Thomas Newman’s Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

Thomas Newman
Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).

The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins

Thomas Newman is the second composer we’ve looked at in this column and he has the “honor” of following John Williams who scored a perfect career 10.00.  This is no knock on Newman.  He has a style of his own and has been scoring some of the cinema’s most memorable films for the last thirty years.

Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell

Unlike Williams, Newman has a very distinctive style to most of his work.  Not being a music professional, don’t kill me if I’m not describing it correctly, but he uses staccato string work to distinctive effect in his best scores: Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Road to Perdition, Saving Mr. Banks, etc.  It’s a signature style.  He may be the only composer I can recognize within ten seconds of screen time as the movie’s scorer.

Finding Nemo, Dory, Marlin, Albert Brooks, Ellen Degeneres

The danger with having that kind of signature style is repetition and self-plagiarism.  James Horner had a signature style and he’s been self-plagiarizing his old work for most of the last fifteen years.  Newman, though, seems to relish in opportunities to experiment and expand his chosen path and since he just picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Saving Mr. Banks, I would say it is an experiment that is still working very well.

Wall-E

In talking about John Williams, we talked about composers being attached to particular directors, much as the classical composers had patrons for which they did their work.  Newman is most tightly associated with Frank Darabont, Andrew Stanton and Sam Mendes.  His work on Mendes films has such an effect on the films that I cannot imagine Road to Perdition without his haunting  and beautiful music underscoring scenes of horror in falling rain.

Tom Hanks, Michael Sullivan, Road to Perdition

Behind Hans Zimmer and the MAESTRO (John Williams official KT honorific), Newman is my favorite contemporary composer (when Howard Shore is not making a Middle-earth film).  Let’s look at the last ten films he’s scored.
NEWMAN’S LATEST TEN:
1. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)…………………..9.00
2. Side Effects (2013)……………………………..5.50
3. Skyfall (2012)……………………………………….9.50
4. The Iron Lady (2011)………………………….6.75
5. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)..7.25
6. The Help (2011)……………………………………7.50
7. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)……….9.25
8. The Debt (2010)……………………………………8.00
9. Brothers (2009)…………………………………….6.00
10. WALL-E (2008)………………………………….10.00
NEWMAN’S CURRENT AVERAGE: 7.875

Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

A very solid current score (higher, actually, than John Williams).  Any Newman score these days is likely to net you almost an eight and that’s consistent quality.  The highlights of his current work are Saving Mr. Banks, The Adjustment Bureau and – nearly – the best score of his career in WALL-E.  Let’s tally the ten best of that career.  A quick note, composer scores are unique to the score not the movie.  Many a great score has been in a crap movie and vice versa, so these scores are based on the quality of the music:

NEWMAN’S GREATEST TEN
1. Road to Perdition (2002)…………………….10.00
2. WALL-E (2008)……………………………………….10.00
3. Finding Nemo (2003)…………………………….  9.75
4. Cinderella Man (2005)…………………………  9.50
5. Skyfall (2012)………………………………………….  9.50
6. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)…………  9.25
7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)…  9.25
8. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of
Unfortunate Events (2004)……………………….9.25
9. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)………………………. 9.00
10. Scent of a Woman (1992) ………………….. 8.75
NEWMAN’S GREATEST AVERAGE: 9.425

skyfall01

You can’t do much better than that.  If he wasn’t following Williams’ 10, that would be a daunting number for any composer to beat.  Williams is the best composer of the 20th Century, so this is an outstanding number and one a lot of the actors and directors we’ve examined would be jealous of having.  In fact, it’s the third-highest number we’ve had across any discipline. 

Though he’s been scoring since the 1980’s, Newman’s skill and prominence have never been higher.  He’s doing the best work of his career, and I can’t wait to hear what he has in store for us over the next few years.  He’s officially attached to two future projects: the troubled Pixar film The Good Dinosaur and a unannounced Disney project releasing in 2018.  Newman seems to becoming Disney’s composer of choice.  Not bad work if you can get it.
newman-thomas-good_dinosaur

John Williams’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

John Williams
Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).

I grew up in a very strict household in terms of….well, everything, but music for example.  Getting approval for any music with words was onerous and I between the period where I stopped trying and snuck it in anyway and was still being scrutinized, I became obsessed with movie music.  Film scores, even for films I wouldn’t be allowed to see for years, were somehow kosher in the Kafkaesque parental rule book and I devoured them.  There weren’t too many 11 year olds who knew who John Williams was.  I knew who he was: he was the greatest composer of the 20th century (I should say “is” as the maestro is still with us, but we’re out of the century is my point). Continue reading John Williams’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies