Star Wars Episode 2 1/2: Attack of the Kaplans
The Use of John Williams' music in Attack of the Clones
By Jon & Al Kaplan
We've been listening to the Attack of the Clones album for several
weeks now, and we love and appreciate most of it. It's a terrific, nuanced
score that had us looking forward to the film, if only to see how the music
worked within it. Now, having just seen the movie, we have a few things
to say about what George Lucas did to John Williams' music. The following
commentary will not be spoiler-intensive -- in fact, we won't really be
talking about any aspects other than music -- but if you don't want to
know anything at all, you shouldn't read on.
John Williams' Attack of the Clones, an excellent score, was
utterly destroyed in the movie. Scores are tampered with all the time.
It's par for the course. But seldom is a score butchered on so many different
levels. And seldom does it even matter...because most scores aren't good
enough for it to matter. This one is more than good enough.
The sound mix in AOTC is one of the worst of all time. We say
this with confidence, knowing that previous Star Wars movies (especially
The Phantom Menace) have had some pretty bad mixes. Even Jeff Bond,
who seldom if ever complains about a mix (he enjoys peace and quiet, and
often keeps his big-screen TV at painfully low volumes), was quick to acknowledge
that Attack of the Clones has a "terrible mix." And he went to a
different screening. It's one thing to not be able to hear any of the action
music under sound effects. It's another thing when every single track of
music in the movie -- including those where there is virtually no ambient
sound, effects or dialogue present -- is dialed down to an inaudible level.
The whole movie sounded like someone had left a John Williams radio station
on in the background. It was as though Lucas was ashamed to have the music
in the movie -- it was literally treated as ambient noise.
When the Fox fanfare began, people in the crowd yelled "turn it up!"
But we sat through a quiet main title. Little did we know that the music
would remain at that volume throughout the picture -- because it wasn't
the theater's fault. As soon as the first ship flew by, it was clear that
the volume was at a good level (we get conflicting reports on whether or
not theaters can control separate volume levels for music, SFX, etc, but
that seems unlikely). There wasn't a single music cue at a proper volume.
We only noticed one time in the whole film where the music was actually
dialed up, and that was for the closing scene, where it was still
quiet. It's tempting to just say: "well, this is the state of film music.
It's treated like wallpaper and you're not supposed to hear it." But that's
not always the case. Even as recently as Spiderman, we have an example
of a decent mix with music playing a prominent role in many key scenes.
And ironically, on TV, where musical wallpaper rules and the mere semblance
of a musical idea is an earth-shattering occurrence, the music is often
mixed extremely loud. Perhaps because it's so comfortably banal, it's seen
as mere emotional sound effects. In the same day we go and see ATOC
with great music and terrible mix; then we go home and watch an episode
of 24, with awful, banal music at peak volume.
Edits and Retracking
A bad mix is enough to do in any score, but George Lucas had plenty
left up his sleeve for this one. Attack of the Clones has innumerable
offensive music edits. Our favorite part of the album, the build-up to
the climactic, sweeping statement of the love theme during "The Meadow
Picnic" is hacked in such a strange and exposed way, it has to rank as
one of the worst music edits in film history. And it wasn't done because
of a last minute re-edit. It was done because George Lucas didn't like
what was written. Had he liked it, they would have simply made an earlier
edit elsewhere in the cue (in a less exposed place) and shifted the music
back so it would line up at the proper sync point. Then they wouldn't have
had to screw around with the climax of the piece. And not only is the first
build-up cut short (jumping directly into the climax), but the build-up
and climax are then repeated in succession! Astonishing move, George! By
the way, that big animal that Annakin rides on looks like shit, George!
Music editing during action scenes is not normally as blatant as the
stuff like "The Meadow Picnic." Not normally, we said. The Zam chase scene
had most of the music intact (though there were plenty of edits, and if
you cared either way about the electric guitars, they're either gone or
plain inaudible), so the mix was the worst problem here. The same cannot
be said for the action music in the last 45 minutes or so of the film.
Things fall apart at the conveyor belt scene, an astonishingly unnecessary,
tacked-on sequence where Annakin and Padme pass through a dangerous but
cartoon-like robot assembly line. This frenetically awful scene, if it
had to be in the movie at all, called out desperately for some kind of
mechanical and consistent music to glue the choppy editing together. Listen
to the "bonus track" on the album and you'll hear the kind of thing that
might have helped it. Instead of using that, Lucas hacks up anywhere from
five to 25 different 15-second snippets from various other cues (mostly
bits from the Zam chase) and patches them together at random. Plus, he
has big, blaring statements of the Love theme, The Force theme and even
Yoda's theme chiming in at completely inappropriate moments. These themes
don't work at all, because this scene is shot as a wacky non-sequitur --
the haphazard dropping in of portentous versions of important recognizable
themes completes the disaster. This cacophonous nightmare took us so far
out of the film that we honestly never got fully back into it.
The following "Arena" scene pretty much discards the album theme in
favor of silence (the end of the track might come in somewhere during the
all-out Jedi attack -- and it certainly comes in later on during the air
pursuit, where its use may have actually been intended by Williams). As
for the battle after the Arena...it's tracked to nauseating extent with
the most banal action music from The Phantom Menace. There also
appears to be stuff from the old trilogy hacked in amidst snippets of ThePhantom
Menace, parts of the "Arena" cue from AOTC and some newly composed
material. This is music -- most of it good music -- that's hacked up and
treated as wrapping paper.
One has to wonder whether Williams even wrote something new for the
epic battle after the Arena sequence. Perhaps he ran out of time and Lucas
was content to track existing music into these last battle sequences. There
are even rumors that the scoring was completed before the editing was completed,
so who knows what the plan really was. Perhaps we're just looking for excuses
as to why the music in the last third of this movie was so incredibly hacked
up -- the earlier music wasn't treated half as poorly. But since Williams
apparently wrote two hours of music for Attack of the Clones, the
likelihood is the Lucas simply didn't like the stuff written for the end.
We may never know the answers, as an eventual double album AOTC
release may just include the abominably edited and retracked soundtrack
from the film (like The Phantom Menace release). There are surely
a hell of a lot more edits that we haven't mentioned. We may not have been
able to clarify and classify this mess dead-on, but we might have been
able to had we been able to hear anything.
The Final Insult
The album "End Credits" close out with a stirring and ingenious combination
of Anakin's Theme, The new Love Theme and Darth Vader's theme. In the film,
this whole segment is flat-out gone. That's right. George Lucas even had
to ruin the end credits. Perhaps he felt that this music was too obvious
(after tracking Darth Vader's breathing over The Phantom Menace
end credits). Or perhaps he was just systematically finding a way to destroy
all of the best parts of the score.
Tampering with the music is George Lucas' right. It's his film. He can
and does do whatever he wants. He is the master now. We acknowledge that,
so if you're uncomfortable with the way we blame him in this article, pretend
we're blaming whoever it is you feel is responsible for what happened to
the music in AOTC. In truth, we're actually more upset with John
Williams. He has the clout to stick up for himself. His music was treated
like junk in The Phantom Menace and he came back for more in Attack
of the Clones; this time with a much better score. And it was massacred.
It'd hurt to think he doesn't care, so we'd like to see Williams turn down
the next SW film. They can track in the score. No one will give
We apologize for this article, but we had to put this in words, if only
to get it out of our systems. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There's
a lot more to say, both positive and negative (positive about some more
great unreleased music written for earlier scenes -- negative about edits,
etc). In the grand scheme of things, perhaps none of this matters -- but
the same can be said about film music, or anything else. Today, this matters
to us. And it just might matter to some of you...