I go through a fair share of film music in any given week. Classic scores by the great composers. New works from the modern masters. And some unexpected gems. I’ll listen to scores from my favorite films, and scores from films I haven’t seen.
Of course, one of the things I love about this blog is that I get to go on about all this wonderful music. And maybe some reader out there will stumble upon a post and get turned on to film music too. At least I can hope for that.
With that in mind, it seemed a good idea to share some of the favorites I’ve been listening to lately.
James Horner, Searching for Bobby Fischer
As a postscript to my recent tribute, this is another of the scores I listened to in the wake of Horner’s passing. And it’s quickly joined the ranks of his masterpieces.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (based on the life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin) is one of my favorite films that I never talk about. It isn’t a fantasy like Field of Dreams, but Horner brings the same sense of mystery and grandeur and humanity that he brought to his earlier classic. All the elements that made “Music by James Horner” such a big deal are here. The ethereal opening, punctuated by flourishes of piano. The emotional string motifs. A few playful themes that both undercut and underline the tension of competitive sport. And heart, so much heart.
If you haven’t seen the movie, you need to track it down. And even if you can’t, I highly recommend the soundtrack (especially the new expanded edition from La La Land Records). Trust me on this.
Jerry Goldsmith, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
One of the great things about being in my 40s is that I came of film age when filmmakers like John Carpenter and George Miller and Joe Dante were emerging to do whatever they wanted. The 80s were such a great time for bat-crap insane movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (yes, I love that movie) and pretty much everything Dante made in that time.
In a lot of ways, Gremlins 2 is the ultimate Joe Dante film. It’s not my favorite (that would be either Innerspace or Matinee. Probably Matinee), but it’s the one that most perfectly demonstrates his film ethos: Establish the rules – in this case, the characters and premise of the original film – then wreak utter havoc with them. And the score is all too happy to follow along.
Composed by Jerry Goldsmith (of course), the soundtrack for Gremlins 2 is as difficult to describe as the film it’s made for. The score begins with the foundation of the themes he composed six years before. Then, just like the mutant gremlins run amuck in the sequel, it takes off in every conceivable direction, and a few inconceivable ones too. From its wild electronics to its manic action cues to references to Goldsmith’s Rambo to everything in between…
… Gremlins 2 is a kitchen sink score in the best possible way, and a high point in one of the great director/composer collaborations. Check it out from Varese Sarabande.
James Newton Howard, Outbreak
Full disclosure compels me to admit that I’ve never actually seen Outbreak. But I cannot, CAN NOT pass up a mid-90s action score by James Newton Howard.
Howard was all over that decade, composing great scores in all kinds of genres, from the comedic fairy tale Dave to the epic Western Wyatt Earp to the pure action classic The Fugitive (and my opinion on that one is not exactly a secret). His score for Outbreak follows the trail set by that earlier thrilller, and builds on the elements and motifs he used there to such great effect, while adding new layers of mystery and horror.
I imagine it’s pretty challenging to make an action movie when your villain is a barely corporeal virus, but Howard’s music finds a way to make it work. As a stand-alone musical work, it’s highly recommended. (And you can also pick it up from Varese.)
And that’s my Film Music Friday. Next week I think I’ll look for some deep cuts, from scores and composers you might not know so well.
Until then, thanks for following along. Keep listening…
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