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Josh Reviews Score: A Film Music Documentary

I love movies, and I love movie scores.  I’m not sure when I first started to realize that a part of what I loved about movies was their score; and that, beyond that, it was in fact the score that was a critical element of those movies I loved.  It probably began with the Star Trek movies.  I watched those movies over and over, and I soon realized that part of what gave those movies their own distinct identities was the different-style scores written by different composers.  The scores for all six original Star Trek movies (by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman, and Cliff Eidelman) are all amazing, but with very different-style scores, each of which are so distinct but all successful in their own way.  Whatever the origin, I have for years been fascinated with movie scores, and I have many great movie soundtracks on my ipod that I listen to all the time.  I love and am intrigued by movie scores.

Matt Schrader’s wonderful documentary Score: A Film Music Documentary is a fantastic dive into the art of creating film scores.  This film will work for those who know little about this aspect of movie-making, with wonderful sequences that explain the many different steps in creating and recording a score, as well as cleverly put-together explorations of just why great movie scores work as well as they do.  The film will also be a delight for those who already love film scores, showcasing a wonderful array of the many men and women who toil to create this art.

The film contains a wealth of interviews, highlighting an incredible array of talented film score composers.  This isn’t a documentary that only focuses on the most super-famous film composers: John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann.  Those giants get their due, of course, but Mr. Schrader has created a film that gives lovely spotlights to a staggering array of talented composers, names well-known to film fans like myself but not to the average movie-goer, including: Danny Elfman (the film spotlights his work on Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, and the original Tim Burton Batman), Thomas Newman (the film spotlights his work on The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and Finding Dory) Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), Alexandre Desplat (Moonrise Kingdom, Argo), John Debney (Sin City, Spy Kids, and many wonderful scores for episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Brian Tyler (whose work I first discovered on Sci-Fi’s underrated Children of Dune mini-series — a score that I know many of you know and love without knowing it, because several tracks are often used in film trailers, like the first 44 seconds of this famous one — as well as a lot of recent work for Marvel, including Iron Man Three and Avengers: Age of Ultron), Marco Beltrami (Hellboy, The Hurt Locker, Logan), Bear McCreary (who scored every single episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica), Tyler Bates (300, Guardians of the Galaxy), Quincy Jones (In the Heat of the Night, The Color Purple), Tom Holkenborg (who wrote the guitar-riff theme for Wonder Woman that debuted in Batman v. Superman), Joe Kraemer (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation), and so many more.  I love that this documentary manages to give so many of these talented composers their moment to shine.  (It’s fun to see what some of these people, whose music I have loved for so many years, actually look and sound like!)

The documentary explores the history of film scores, from the piano and/or organ that accompanied “silent” movies (which, as the film points out, weren’t really silent at all) through early pioneer scores like those for King Kong and A Streetcar Named Desire, to more recent ground-breaking scores, such as those created by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross for David Fincher’s The Social Network.

At the same time, running throughout the film is an exploration of the lengthy process of creating a score, from the initial “spotting” session with a film’s director (we get to see an example of this in footage of Garry Marshall at work) through the writing, recording, and final mixing.  The film mixes some amazing footage created for the film, including footage of the recording sessions of several modern films (such as Joe Kraemer’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation), with some fantastic archival footage (John Williams playing Steven Spielberg his theme for E.T. on the piano, and also Mr. Williams recording the chorus for “Duel of the Fates,” the stand-out musical track from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace).

Mr. Schrader has also crafted some truly fun sequences that help explain how and why film scores function.  I was thrilled to see the sequence that explained the use of motifs in film scores by tracking Howard Shore’s use of his “Shire” theme and his “Fellowship of the Ring” theme in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (Mr. Shore’s scores for those films are magnificent, and represent one of the most incredible use of individual character themes/motifs that I have ever heard — those scores are filled with dozens of individual themes/motifs, which are all beautifully woven together.)  I also enjoyed the moment in which the famous shower scene from Psycho was played without the score, emphasizing the critical contribution that Bernard Herrmann’s music played.

No documentary on this subject could ever be 100% complete, and despite Score’s incredible thoroughness, there were still one or two moments that I was hoping for that the film did not include.  While Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes score received its due acclaim, I wish the film had also taken a few seconds to show some love to his iconic theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  I was a little surprised that Michael Giacchino, surely one of the most talented film composers working today (he was the regular composer on Lost, and has also scored The Incredibles, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, and Doctor Strange), was not heard from or even mentioned in the film.  While James Cameron appeared in several interviews, I’d have loved had Brad Fiedel’s amazing theme from The Terminator gotten a mention.  I was also hoping that the amazing James Horner (who scored many of Mr. Cameron’s films including Aliens and Titanic, as well as the amazing scores for Star Trek II & III) would get a spotlight, and as the film ended, one of my first thoughts was a moment of being bummed that Mr. Horner hadn’t been included.  Good thing I stuck around for the credits, in which Mr. Cameron pops up to tell a beautiful story about Mr. Horner’s work on Titanic.

I absolutely loved Score: A Film Music Documentary.  The film is satisfyingly in-depth, without stretching an audience’s attention span with a very lengthy run-time.  (At 93 minutes in length, the film does not outstay its welcome.)  Score is drenched in a love of film and film music that is infectious.  Film-fans, don’t miss this one.  I loved it.

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