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Soundtrack Redux 

By Christopher Jenkins



A fleet of planes soars through the sky, their passage marked by triumphant horn fanfares. Two lovers embrace in the moonlight as syrupy strings shimmer in the background. Or picture a monster stalking his hapless prey amidst pounding drums and shrieking brass.
 
We all know and respect tradition, particularly when it regards film music. Whether apropos or cliche, certain musical moments are prescribed to specific imagery. It's a simple formula, kind of like the yin and yang of cinema.
 
But what if there was an alternate universe, via digital technology or as of a yet undeveloped application wherein you, the movie fan, could alter a film's musical language to something totally different?
 
The results could be good, better…or worse!
 
Like a fevered dream, the genesis of these random musings began like this;
 
In David Lean's epic soap opera, Doctor Zhivago, Yuri, portrayed by Omar Sharif, is resigned to life without Lara (played by Julie Christie). But as a bus passes by, he spots the love of his life sitting forlornly amongst the other passengers. As she exits the bus, Yuri chases after her, only to suffer a fatal coronary, never to rekindle their shared passion.
 
Maurice Jarre's Oscar winning music for the film, including this scene, is a classic, subtly, and not so subtly (Lara's Theme), imbuing the film with a warmth often lacking in some of the arctic frigidity of mother Russia.
 
But as I viewed this pivotal scene, I started to hear "Axel F" from Harold Faltermeyer's Beverly Hills Cop score. (Are they remaking either of these films yet? Oh, sorry, Doctor Zhivago was a recent miniseries!) What made me conjure that music, I wondered? Then I realized, hey, it could work, in a twisted comical fashion. The pulsing beats suggest an urgency, reflecting Yuri's weakened heart as he seeks the truth about Lara, just as Eddie Murphy's detective Foley was seeking answers to a mystery.
 
To even suggest rescoring a classic film like Zhivago would not only be tasteless, but heresy. It would be akin to George Lucas recruiting Steve Jablonsky to rescore the Star Wars sexology for its 30th Anniversary. Or asking Ennio Morricone to collaborate with a gangsta rapper for a new, hipper "Titoli" for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. (In fairness, Morricone's music has been remixed via the "Morricone RMX" CD series).
 
Manco in da house!
 
Perhaps today's studio execs are paying homage to the past films. Wouldn't it be ironic if a studio suggested John Williams to score Poseidon, the Wolfgang Petersen remake of The Poseidon Adventure? Here's how the scenario would probably play;
 
 Young Executive: "Hey, how about John Williams? He did a great score for War of the Worlds.
 
Older Executive: "John Williams scored The Poseidon Adventure before you were born!"
 
Young Executive: "Good point, good point. How about John Ottman? His Fantastic Four score was awesome!"
 
Older Executive: "Mr. Ottman's currently scoring Superman Returns."
 
Young Executive: "But wait, didn't Danny Elfman do that picture?"
 
The older executive sighs.
 
Older Executive: "Get James Horner's agent on the line."
 
 
What's the point of such musings, you wonder? I'm wondering too. Perhaps it's the rampant revisionism trend of Hollywood. It started when Ted Turner began coloring in classic black and white films. Then, I believe, when Andrew Davis' movie adaptation of the '60s TV classic The Fugitive became a hit, it opened the doors for every film, both good (Psycho) and bad (Cheaper by the Dozen) to be remade, ad nauseam. And who would have thought that with DVDs you can alter the film?
 
A perfect example in 20th Century Fox's Five Star Collection is their 2-disc set of Die Hard. The second disc contains a feature called "The Cutting Room," where the viewer can re-mix and re-edit certain scenes. While this can only hone the skills of future film editors and kill time for "die hard" movie fans, it is indicative of the interactive future of film. Even Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee is being revisited shortly with a new score to replace the original one by Daniel Ampithearatrof. Granted, this was something the director originally envisioned (or heard), but is the DVD release another re-imagining for commercial purposes? If not, why wasn't anyone listening to Peckinpah's when he was alive?
 
And with HD-DVD on the horizon, the possibilities of more revisionism and re-scoring are entirely plausible (perhaps aspiring composers can add their own scores to current films)! Even less viewer friendly DVDs like the recent re-issue of The Bourne Identity tout a special edition, even though it contains an alternate ending discarded by the director!
 
Maybe revisionism is necessary. Perhaps the lack of any truly quality films of late is the cause of the lack of any great scores. This is not to knock today's crop of talented musicians or composers. But where are the chestnuts of yesteryear? Where are the Ben-Hurs, Dirty Harrys and the Star Wars for the new millenium? Sure, Star Wars: Episode III was exciting enough, but even John Williams' score (had to) rely heavily on favorite themes, albeit in much darker modes. Because if recent box office returns are any kind of barometer, how can we expect composers to be inspired by films if we the viewers are bored by them?
 
This is not a condemnation of the industry, more of the state-of-the-art, where the bottom line is a film's opening weekend. Perhaps the creative collective has truly exhausted methods of telling stories in a new and invigorating fashion. Perhaps the only way to tell them again is to remake them. Flashier, MTV-styled visuals created on AVID.
 
Just check out the recent special edition DVD of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, where a new trailer for the film is cut with rapid fire edits to an agitated guitar soundtrack, totally diluting the intensity (and intent) of the film. After seeing this trailer's incongruous style, one wonder's how much of the film the today's studio execs would whittle down -- not to mention probably discarding Morricone's tragic score.
 
As with the aforementioned Peckinpah episode, film music revisionism is nothing new. Whether it be Hitchcock parting ways with Herrmann, Kubrick and his classical library, or Goldsmith scores to Ridley Scott films being altered, film composers sometimes find their blood, sweat and tears discarded like yesterday's newspapers.
 
But to film score fans, such meddlings, whether with Alex North's score for 2001 or Fenton's music to Hitch, are sometimes unfair, if not downright blasphemous!
 
In recent times, however, such rejection is often based upon commercial standards, without regard for artistic merit.
 
Upon remastering Brian DePalma's Scarface for its 20th anniversary in 2003, execs purportedly suggested inserting new music to replace the existing Latin-flavored score and songs by Giorgio Moroder.
 
DePalma wisely refrained and left the existing soundtrack intact. And while the final synthesizer siege music may not be to everyone's tastes, it certainly fit's the mood (and era) of the film. To even suggest inserting a roster of contemporary songs into the film would jar tremendously with the vibe and pacing of Scarface. That didn't stop the DefJam release of "Music Inspired By Scarface" CD, however.
 
Of course, taste in film music, a relative subgenre, is subjective as with any art form. As there is an audience for songs from Spider-man, so too is there one for Danny Elfman's score. Fortunately, labels like Sony and Varese Sarabande are sensitive to this and tend to both's musical tastes, with the latter being the de facto film score label to ardently promote both classic and newer composers.
 
In closing, like the films themselves, movie scores seem to be coming full circle. Just scan the radio channels. Strains of John Barry can be heard in (recent songs) and Harold Faltermeyer is back on the charts.
 
Sort of.
 
Crazy Frog has just scored a hit with a remake of "Axel F."
 
Movie music has indeed come full circle!
 

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