I’ve been on a bit of a soundtrack binge in the last few months and am finding it a fascinating way to expand my appreciation of films. In more than one case, it’s even making me really want to watch the movie again. It’s not the soundtracks of films like Pirate Radio [my review of Pirate Radio] — which I really enjoyed — but soundtracks known as “OST”, original soundtracks, in the industry, soundtracks where the music has been composed specifically for the film and the scenes within.
As I type this in, I’m listening to the Daft Punk original soundtrack to Tron: Legacy [my review of Tron: Legacy] which is one of the best selling albums on iTunes this weekend, suggesting that I’m not alone in appreciating soundtracks.
The first movie soundtrack I can recall appreciating was — wait for it! — Saturday Night Fever. A double-vinyl LP, it was the great soundtrack of the disco era with hit after hit. Still, it wasn’t an original soundtrack but rather popular songs repurposed for a film that’s still surprisingly engaging, featuring a wanna-be tough guy John Travolta. The first original soundtrack I owned was undoubtedly Star Wars. A ubiquitous composition by the great John Williams, the Star Wars soundtrack expanded my horizons and let me relive the fun of the film (particularly the Cantina scene) dozens of times.
I’ve since gone back and listened to the Star Wars soundtrack again, and find much more richness and sophistication in the compositions, including a wonderful example of how each major character in the film had their own musical signature, their own melody or theme, that recurs based on whether they were in a given scene or not.
John Williams has composed an astonishing amount of great orchestral music for some of the greatest films of the recent decades too, including Jaws, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Empire of the Sun, Star Wars and Jurassic Park. I challenge you to hear the teasing trumpet theme of Indiana Jones or the ominous heartbeat of the cellos playing the theme to Jaws and not be shifted right into the emotional experience of the respective films.
More recently, my two favorite composers are Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. Zimmer’s credits include Gladiator, Inception, The Last Samurai, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes and The Dark Knight, while Elfman’s list includes Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Wanted, The Wolfman, Sleepy Hollow and Alice in Wonderland. I’ll also say that I love the signature melody that John Powell created for Jason Bourne in the Bourne series: great series, great theme.
Daft Punk hasn’t done any previous movie soundtracks prior to Tron: Legacy, but they clearly are pulling from the same playbook, with the driving bass lines and exciting percussion interwoven with sweeping strings. Listen to Armory [iTunes link] or Outlands [iTunes link] for an example of what I think is great sci-fi soundtrack music.
There are more soundtracks I enjoy, including Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings music and Bernard Hermann’s beautiful Hitchcock soundtracks, especially from Vertigo and Psycho. If you haven’t checked out an original movie soundtrack recently, I encourage you to pick up a CD or two, or download some tunes from iTunes or similar. There’s some amazing new music being composed for even films that don’t turn out to be a popular success.
Now, a question to you: If you too are a fan of original soundtracks, what are you listening to that you think I might enjoy?