The Oscars are coming up this Sunday, and one of my favorite categories — aside from the directing, acting, writing and other highly anticipated categories — is Best Original Score.
While La La Land is the favorite right now, I’m rooting for Moonlight because the music in the film fully immerses audiences in main character Chiron’s psyche to understand his emotions.
That’s just one of the many important roles music has in film. One of my favorite scores is from The Social Network because composer Trent Razor reimagined the soundtrack and adjusted it relative to the movie’s elitist, ambitious, selective, young, pompous, sardonic and intelligent environment. It’s very minimalist in nature as well, and it shows how you don’t need every instrument in a traditional orchestra to create a solid score.
Essentially, The Social Network, like many other films, wouldn’t be what it is without the score. The boat race scene wouldn’t have the drama and intrigue that it does without Razor’s version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” It’s also worth mentioning that horror movies are the same way, and they rely on their sound and score the most out of any type of film.
Eli Roth, a horror movie director, once said that people who are afraid in a horror movie shouldn’t close their eyes, but should “[c]lose their ears instead.” What’s scaring you during a horror movie aren’t the images on screen; rather, it’s the intense music and sounds that are making your heart race at a rapid pace. A jump scare works because the sound is cut out after a frenzy of sound, and you’re left anxiously anticipating the return of that sound.
Of course, there are some cases in which a horror movie does not need a soundtrack or score to make the audience feel scared, such as The Blair Witch Project. But for nearly every other horror movie, a great score can make a bad horror movie a great horror movie.
Think about what kind of movie Psycho would be without those frantic strings that play throughout the film. In a class I took at USC with Professor Jon Burlingame, we were shown a clip from Psycho where Vera Miles’ character is shown driving her car at night with the score playing behind it. We were then shown the same clip with the score removed, and the entire meaning of the scene was changed.
In the scene with the score, it looks like a woman is in grave danger and that something bad is about to happen to her. Without the music, it simply looks like she’s enjoying a nice drive in the evening. Music in film has this power, and people are thankfully starting to catch on to not only a score’s importance in a film, but the use of non-original songs as well.
Everyone remembers when Adele first released “Skyfall” before the critically acclaimed James Bond film of the same name’s release. The song is, in my opinion, one of the greatest Bond themes ever made, and it definitely helped to sell the movie, which is also one of the greatest Bond movies ever made. Hearing the song during the stylish opening credits was a delightful example of a synergistic relationship between a movie and its music, and it’s not the only one.
Try to imagine The Departed without the song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” Risky Business without “Old Time Rock and Roll,” and, on a less serious note, Shrek without “All Star.” It’s impossible not to associate these songs with their respective movies because of how well they work in those movies.
Every time I’m studying for an exam and a track from the Inception score comes on from my study playlist, I want to drop everything I’m doing. That film, along with others, has a soundtrack that I could listen to in a non-ironic fashion. Others with non-traditional scores sometimes have a soundtrack so good you wouldn’t even guess it was made for a movie if nobody told you.
Films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Submarine are two movies with soundtracks that not only work for the films as a creative aspect, but also have soundtracks that are just great albums to listen to, the latter created by Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys.
Music in movies thankfully isn’t as overlooked as it could be, but I still think that its importance is understated. It’s definitely as important as the acting, writing, cinematography and everything else that makes a movie great, and the composer of the score is just as important as its director. So the next time you think about a scene or a movie that has really impacted you, think about the music that went into that scene.
Spencer Lee is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column, “Spencer’s Soapbox,” runs every other Thursday.