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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Crazy Frog has just scored a hit with a remake of "Axel F."
Movie music has indeed come full circle!