Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 57

Many of you have asked for this, so here it comes. Let's talk about music today.

Who is your favorite soundtrack/score composer?

Panelist: T-Rav

I don't care if it is kind of an obvious choice, I have to give it to John Williams. He's done every George Lucas/Steven Spielberg movie I can think of, and his themes are so iconic--Star Wars, of course, and Indiana Jones, through Jurassic Park to lesser known stuff like Catch Me If You Can, and every score seems to encapsulate the theme of the movie perfectly. I think he's probably done more lasting and successful work than anyone else in Hollywood over the past generation.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Thomas Newman of the famous Newman family. Absolutely love his piano scores in Road to Perdition, Shawshank, American Beauty, Cinderella Man just to name a few. His style is beginning to get overdone, though.

Panelist: ScottDS

Jerry Goldsmith, whom I was lucky to see in concert in 2001, three years before he passed away. A cursory glance at his filmography reveals an eclectic list, featuring classic films and bombs best forgotten, orchestral powerhouses and small ensembles, traditional pieces and synthesized experiments. At film school, I managed to pay homage to him by including a short snippet of the Patton theme in my (otherwise crappy) student film.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

John Williams would be the obvious choice for me because I've liked everything he's done. His work is also incredibly memorable. But I'm not going with Williams. I'm going with John Barry because of the James Bond Theme and his amazing work on The Black Hole.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Max Steiner and/or John Williams! Okay, I really don’t know many of the composers who score movies. This is ScottDS’s forte.

Comments? Thoughts?


Backthrow said...

Three men share my #1/Favorite spot; I can't award it to just one and slight the other two:

Bernard Herrmann
John Barry
Ennio Morricone


Max Steiner
Miklos Rozsa
Henry Mancini
John Williams
Jerry Goldsmith
Elmer Bernstein
Lalo Schifrin

DUQ said...

John Williams. Hands down. I love everything he does and I remember all of it. It's always recognizable.

Tennessee Jed said...

I can only hope Romney and Ryan dominate as much as Williams did with the panel ;)

Scott said...

I answered this exact question at another website a while back. Here's my results...

Elmer Bernstein (10 Commandments, Ghostbusters) - it's amazing how much influence and power his music had.
Carl Stalling (Warner Bros. shorts, early Disney shorts) - He's responsible for the Warner Bros. animation music from the golden era. 'nuff said.
Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther, Touch of Evil, Arabesque) - you know you're humming the Pink Panther tune right now.
Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, North by Northwest) - Bombastic and very, very good.

John Williams (Star Wars, Superman) - duh. Classic Hollywood style.
Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek: TNG, Planet of the Apes, The Omen) - overlooked, but very, very talented
Ennio Morricone (the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns, The Untouchables, The Mission) - simple tunes turned into masterpieces
Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian, Lonesome Dove) - lush, beautiful tones that were scenery by themselves
The Sherman Brothers (lots of older Disney flicks, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Snoopy Come Home) - family musical geniuses, and, God help us... "It's a Small World"

Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) - an extremely organic composer
Brian Tyler (Children of Dune, The Expendibles) - surprisingly effective soundtracks that don't get much cred outside of the soundtrack world, but are excellent nonetheless. Go give "Children of Dune" a listen.
Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Moon) - He works best with Aronofsky, but he's a solid composer otherwise
Hans Zimmer (Lots of Disney stuff, especially Pirates of the Caribbean) - You've heard his stuff, you like his stuff
Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Star Trek, Lost) - the first fun and bizarrely talented soundtrack artist of the new millennium

Patriot said...

I am really liking Hans Zimmer these days/years. Pirates, Gladiator. Lion King, Dark Knight, Crimson Tide, Last Samurai.....and others. Very inspirational and grand thematic style.

Shawn said...

John Williams. The Star Wars movies and the Indiana Jones flicks but him over the top.

Next up would be Jerry Goldsmith.

tryanmax said...

I can't believe this thread made it past 9 AM without mention of Danny Elfman. If you can't say anything else about his music, you can say he has a discernible style. He's defiantly Hollywood's go-to guy for kooky. Of course, he's know most for his frequent collaboration with Tim Burton, but he has worked with many of the most well-known directors in the business.

I'm hard-pressed to name a favorite. Burton certainly seems to draw out his best work. His "Batman Theme" has become as iconic at the character it represents. Some of my favorite non-Burton items include Men in Black, Nacho Libre, and The Simpsons Theme.

Tennessee Jed said...

oingo boing himself. Liked his soundtrack from the Kingdom, Max

Tennessee Jed said...

boingo, that is . . . By opening it up a little to allow multiple favorites by era, I would be remiss not to mention Jerome Moross. He is best known for his great western themes, most notably The Big Country, and t.v. westerns Wagon Train and Rawhide, but he did a lot of other orchestration work as well.

Anonymous said...

Backthrow -

Good list, though I admit I'm not as knowledgeable about Ennio Morricone's work as I should be and I also need to branch out into the Golden Age composers one of these days. I have the Gerhardt compilations that were re-released a couple years ago (a Steiner, a Rosza, etc.) but again, I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about them as I am the Silver Age guys (like Williams and Bernstein and Goldsmith).

Anonymous said...


I love Williams, too. Like many 80s kids, he pretty much scored my childhood. But unlike Goldsmith (who also helped score my childhood), Williams is a household name and, on the whole, was attached to much better films. Goldsmith at times seemed to score anything that came his way. He also got many of Williams' "leftovers": Supergirl after Superman, King Solomon's Mines after Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.

Williams is the kind grandfather while Goldsmith was the eccentric uncle. :-)

T-Rav said...

No politicizing the film thread, Jed! :-)

tryanmax, I thought of Elfman, but while he certainly has talent, his music isn't as stirring as Williams'. Not for me, anyway. That said, I agree he can be quite good on some occasions.

Anonymous said...

Scott -

Great call on Carl Stalling and the Sherman Brothers (if you like them, I recommend the documentary The Boys).

My friends may have grown up watching Mary Poppins but, for me, the Dick van Dyke musical of my childhood was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... and now I can't get "Toot Sweets" out of my head!

I almost mentioned Michael Giacchino in my answer above. He's been doing great work for years - I remember he got on my radar when I listened to his Medal of Honor scores years ago - I'm not even a gamer but I remember thinking to myself, "Man, this guy should score a Trek film one day..." and later, he did!

Bear McCreary deserves to break out one of these days - he just needs one hit movie score, or a filmmaker to support him. (Like Giacchino and J.J. Abrams.)

Anonymous said...

Patriot -

Zimmer is good but he's also spawned a lot of imitators over the years and once a producer or studio exec likes what they hear, they want nothing but that sound. It's why most action scores sound the same nowadays. I don't blame Zimmer entirely but there's definitely a recognizable trend in certain genre scores nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Shawn -

I like the way you think. :-)

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Danny Elfman was the first film composer whose name I knew, based on his work with Tim Burton. I think he's kinda been on autopilot for a while, though. I love his Batman scores (and Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure , etc.).

I love his score for the first Mission: Impossible film, too, along with his Burton-esque theme for Scrooged.

Anonymous said...

Jed -

I know the name Jerome Moross but considering the time period and genre in which he worked, I can't say I'm familiar with much of his work.

T-Rav said...

Scott, I like Michael Giacchino a lot. I do think it's reaching the point where his music for any one J.J. Abrams production is interchangeable with the others, but it's good regardless.

tryanmax said...

Scott, Ah! I meant to name Scrooged, too! I agree Elfman (as well as Burton) has been on autopilot for awhile. On the other hand, when you're charged with creating so much iconic work, even top-notch work can appear blasé by comparison. I saw Frankenweenie the other day, and while it is far from hitting on all cylinders, I think it is the best work from both artists that we've seen in awhile. I'll probably post about it after it hits DVD.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

I've actually said for a while that I think Giacchino does his best work for filmmakers NOT named Abrams. I love his Medal of Honor scores (which La-La Land Records released in one big set last year), and his Pixar scores... but his scores for J.J.'s films are merely good, but not great. Star Trek certainly had its moments and Super 8 has a great theme but that's about it.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

I'll see Frankenweenie eventually. I just saw Dark Shadows last week - Depp was great but the film seemed so small and inconsequential. I guess that's what happens when you adapt a long-running soap opera - there seemed to be much more that was left on the cutting-room floor, especially character stuff.

And ironically, it might be the only Burton film (not counting Sweeney Todd) where the songs were more memorable than the score! Why bother with Elfman when you've got Alice Cooper?! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Elfman is good, but he reminds me of a Jerry Goldsmith rip off.

Let me also nominate John Frizell who does a lot of harder-edged stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Politicize away! There's nothing more political than film soundtracks! ;)

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - if you haven't seen Big Country, you should. The theme and score are worth the price alone, but it is one of the best westerns . . . ever!! My man Hawk is up there in heaven smiling down at me on that one :)

Great fights between Gregory Peck, Charleton Heston, and Chuck Connors

Tennessee Jed said...

Hey the films may be political, but I never thought the music was !!

Kristina said...

love this topic! as Homer was known to say, I'm no expert, but I know what I like, don't even own many soundtracks that I listen to separately, I like to enjoy the music with the film it was meant for. SO, just going off the top of my head and off lasting impressions I have...
Bernard Hermann, North by Northwest is one of the greatest ever, so dramatic, the best example of musical tension& like I said here once before, gives me the goosies.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold for adventure, so closely associated in my mind to Errol Flynn, vital, active sweeping music.
Miklos Rozsa- everything from noir to epic to drama, comedy, the music speaks, and conveys characters through themes.
Alfred Newman- too many even to name, but sweet stuff from early musicals and Mark of Zorro stand out for me.
also Dmitri Tiomkin, to me he means Capra and cowboys, and I always love to see his name on a western movie, which calls for such different style of music.
Franz Waxman for Universal Horror! those were really made by great creepy music and wioleens! Rear Window I know he did, Sunset Blvd too.

amazingly though, and this says a lot, as thoroughly a retro oldie lovin curmudgeon as I am, my most played score CD by far, is a John Williams best of collection. Overall thoughts on this subject, how lucky Hollywood was to gain from the exodus, the flight to freedom, of so many classically trained European composers. Movies don't seem complete to me without that emotional dimension brought by great music. Strangely enough, as much as I love the genre, I didn't have many come to mind from war movies.
next you need to do a debate on best movie song...
thanks for the topic!

Kristina said...

also, a big +1 on THE BIG COUNTRY. great movie

Tennessee Jed said...

Kristina - if not mistaken, Alfred Newman (musician not the cartoon character from Mad Magazine) was the uncle of Thomas Newman and Randy Newman. His name was a fixture in the credits back in the day.

Anonymous said...

Kristina -

Great list! If you like the Golden Age guys, you might be interested in a series of recordings conducted by Charles Gerhardt that were remastered and re-released last year. (Like this one.)

And Intrada re-released the North by Northwest score a few months ago. The previous CD release was taken from an inferior source but they finally cleaned it up!

(I don't work for these labels - I'm just a fan!)

And you do bring up an interesting point - should scores work only in a film, or as separate listening experiences? There are several schools of thought on the subject.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It's all in the notes. You can arrange them to pass on political messages! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Greats lists by the way Kristina and Backthrow! :)

Very well thought out! And I can't disagree with any of the names or films mentioned.

K said...

Jerry Goldsmith
John Williams
Bernard Herrmann

Williams stuff seems too repetitive. Goldsmith's range is incredible and his music the most evocative of the imagery. If I had a list of 5 Zimmer and Horner would be on it as well. For the "composer to keep an eye on" award I'd pick Kevin Manthei.

Kristina said...

Scott, thanks for the suggestions & link, looking at those amazing track listings, all the great stuff there, you can almost hear the tunes just from reading.. can't believe I forgot to mention the iconic Gone with the Wind theme. and after thinking more about it, would add Gunga Din by Al Newman (what, me worry?!) Jed youre right about Randy, btw. that was a big musical family.
a lot of those scores were recycled,as stock music, they were so good. many of the composers wrote theme songs which became classics too.
not a purist or snob by any means about not listening to a score apart from the film, sometimes after watching the movie hearing just the music can bring back the emotion of a scene.
and just an extra thought, so many people make note of noir having such memorable jazzy scores but they were either without much music, since they were so low budget, and the ones we do remember are usually more in the classical style, Out of the Past comes to mind, and actually that was an American composer Roy Webb who also did Val Lewton horror movies (on my mind since I'm currently writing about the subject) John Wayne productions too.

T-Rav said...

Scott, which Pixar scores has Giacchino done? (Assuming it's not all of them.) Criticisms aside, I actually do like most of the music he's done for Abrams.

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

Giacchino scored The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up (for which he won an Oscar, and Cars 2.

And I do like his work for Abrams - I just like his other work a little better. :-)

Dave Olson said...

Michael Kamen doesn't get the respect he deserves. He's certainly no John Williams, but fortunately he's no Danny Elfman either. He did Lethal Weapon, From The Earth To The Moon (HBO Miniseries), Mr. Holland's Opus, and my favorite Christmas movie of all time, "Die Hard".

Anonymous said...

Dave -

I agree, though I'm not that familiar with Kamen's non-action work. I love his Die Hard scores. They don't score action films like that anymore!

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Bear McCreary... Battlestar Galactica Seasons 1-4 is the strongest soundtrack of the past couple of decades. Taken together together it is a breathtaking body of work.

Sucky movie great soundtrack -- The Fountain.

Ry Cooder is great also.

The Once soundtrack by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova was great as a collection of pop songs go.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I totally agree about The Fountain. That was a great soundtrack, but a horrible film.

Tennessee Jed said...

What can one say about Ry Cooder? He is a musical legend to be sure. If you buy his music, though, consider you have just made a direct contribution to the Re-Elect Obama committee. Still, from the time he performed "Memo From Turner" in the film "Performance," to the salty "I am a good old rebel" in the undervalued Long Riders, to the Ai Du with Ali Farka Toure (the seduction song in "Unfaithful") his talent and versatility is beyond reproach.

Individualist said...

I think some of the best music scores are

Musicals: The Music Man (older)and don't laugh but Mama Mia (newer)
For Action Themes: I would have to say the Original Series Theme for Star Trek (although I include that with remakes of the theme done in TNG and elsewhere
For Music in a movie (not a musical) I would go with Music and Lyrics starring Drew Barrymore and the Hugh Grant.

D9on't know who wrote or sang them .... not good with that

tryanmax said...

The Incredibles, now that's a great score. It borrows a lot from spy films, but it really sets the film. It would be an entirely different movie if it just had the typical action score.


RE: Burton vs. Goldsmith, I really think that's an unfair comparison because Goldsmith totally blows Burton out of the water. Burton is a niche composer whereas Goldsmith had a great breadth and depth of styles that he worked in. Virtually any composer could be called a Goldsmith rip-off by the same token.


Sort of an aside: my favorite soundtrack happens to be Amelie, so I guess I go for quirky melodies and unusual instrumentation.


I also want to share some love for Carl Stalling and by extension, though not a film composer, Raymond Scott.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

I think you mean Elfman vs. Goldsmith. :-)

Having said that, I don't entirely agree with Andrew on this one - I just can't see that particular comparison.

Good call on Raymond Scott!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We've disagreed on Elfman before. I just don't find him interesting. I always get the feeling that his stuff is a knock-off.

tryanmax said...

Scott, yes. Oops.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Sadly, your error is now immortalized on the internet. And one day, you will be up for an award like "8th most knowledgeable man about soundtracks" and someone will dig this comment up. So sad. :(

tryanmax said...

That's quite a stretch, considering that I'm an Elfman fan. ;-)

tryanmax said...

BTW, favorite musical, Rogers' & Hammerstein's Cinderella.

AndrewPrice said...

Nice cover. ;)

My favorite musical is Jesus Christ Superstar.

BevfromNYC said...

OT - Arlen Specter died.

Eric said...

All-time: John Williams (specifically Raiders trilogy), Herrmann (Cape Fear), Bernstein (Animal House), Morricone (spaghetti Westerns)

Last 25-ish years: Elfman (Burton Batman movies), Zimmer (some other guy's Batman movies), Stewart Copeland (Rumblefish), Thomas Newman (Heathers), Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico)

Floyd R. Turbo said...

In honor of Specter I nominate the soundtrack for The Hollow Man

AndrewPrice said...

Bravo Floyd, bravo. That's one man neither is going to want to claim.

tryanmax said...

Believe it or not, I think Arlen will get into Heaven. It's just that he'll eventually want to switch.

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, that calls for a slide whistle or a sad trombone or something!

Anonymous said...

All time, and nonetheless a little redundant, is John Williams, although the runners-up could be a little more ambiguous. I will make my awards system gold, silver, and Bronze.

Gold: John Williams, so many soundtracks, and creative with such variety, it's pretty hard to say.

Silver: Elmer Bernstein. (Great Escape, Animal House, National Geographic TV Theme)

Bronze: Okay, I will admit that this is largely based on a few films I have seen with this composer, but I will rate Hans Zimmer fairly high up there. His soundtracks for the Dark Knight Trilogy were impressive, and very well matched to the mood, and the pace of the characters. Add a few more, such as Spirit, the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes, and El Dorado, and he does have a few interesting soundtracks, though the length is nowhere close to Williams

T-Rav said...

Yikes, that's harsh, y'all. I was just seeing some people getting clever with Specter's last name and all. Points for creativity, I suppose.

Tennessee Jed said...

Lots of Hans Zimmer shout outs today which, naturally, makes me feel old. I can remember seeing Zimmer play synthesizer with jazz guitarist John McGlaughlan in Mahavishnu Orchestra about 40 years ago back in circa '72. Interestingly, they were opening for the Grateful Dead at that time. Zimmer was definitely a talent, and next surfaced with Michael Mann laying out that definitive '80's Miami Vice sound. Yes, definitely an good career!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Miami Vice was the first time I heard of Zimmer.

T-Rav, It's a rough crowd around here. :)

AndrewPrice said...

obiwan, What impresses me about Williams is the huge number of soundtracks I can hum. He's got so many of there were I know the music off the top of my head. I can't really say that about most of the rest.

AndrewPrice said...

There's one more I should add. I know Scott (not DS) mentioned it above, but he's worth mentioning again:

Basil Poledouris

I love the Conan soundtrack! That is just a fantastic bit of music.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be late to the party. I have to admit that composers are a part of film that I'm not very knowledgeable about. Thanks for posting this topic.
A few people have mentioned Ennio Morricone,and he has to have a prominent place on any list.The opening bars to The Good,The Bad, And The Ugly are universally recognizeable and that theme has infiltrated movies.I can't count how many times over the course of my life I've been watching some comedy or some little movie and the director will throw that in to show that two characters are about to butt heads.
I can't believe that nobody mentioned Bill Conti! Gonna Fly Now is iconic,and it's what everybody associates with him,but Redemption and the training montage from RockyII are actually richer pieces of music.
I'm running to work now,so I'm sorry if this was rushed but I think I'm gonna play the Rocky II soundtrack on the way in. :)

BIG MO said...

Late to the party too. In addition to many of the composers named here, three of my favorites are:

Kenji Kawai of Japan composed the amazing and subtle music for Ghost in the Shell, but I like his score for the sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence better. In Innocence, Kenji Kawai ramps up the intensity. The story involves cyber-detectives Batou and Togusa’s efforts to discover who is causing sex cyborgs to murder people. One of the hallmarks of this movie is the trip to bad guy Kim’s stunning “Dollhouse,” and the composer rises to the challenge with an terrific music accompaniment which he recorded in an old mine to achieve the perfect resonance. He repeats his vocal masterpiece “Ballad of the Puppets” three times in the score, with each one more exciting than the previous. It’s the same music for “Making of a Cyborg” from the first movie, but performed with a quicker tempo and more underlying synthesizers and drums.) Here is a spectacular live performance of “The Ballad of Puppets: The Ghost Awaits in the World Beyond,” the climax scene where Batou fights his way through a facility while attacked from all sides:

Kiyoshi Yoshida crafted a surprisingly deep score for The Girl Who Leapt through Time, a lighthearted sci-fi/romance about a high school girl who accidentally acquires the ability to go back through time. It’s moving in its simplicity.

Shirley Walker composed the scores for Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Taking a few cues from Danny Elfman’s score for 1989’s Batman (one of the greatest movie scores, period), Walker crafted the perfect – seriously – accompaniment for the animated noir Gotham. You can listen to a few cues from BTAS on YouTube; a company named La-La Records released the complete series soundtrack on 8 CDs in two limited edition runs of something like 3,000 or so. Expensive as heck, but worth it. Walker continued this excellence in her superb score for Phantasm, which gets to the heart of a mystery: Mobsters are being murdered and the Dark Knight is blamed. It's a deft and exciting soundtrack, especially the complete score.

Anonymous said...


I'm not familiar with the first two composers you mentioned but I LOVE Shirley Walker's music, especially for the Batman animated series.

If I recall, La-La Land released one volume of 4 CDs which quickly sold out. Then, this past summer, they re-released it, along with a 4-CD Volume 2 set, and the gentleman who runs the label mentioned on the Film Score Monthly forum that one more volume should complete the series... so we're not done yet! (Walker isn't the only composer represented on those albums.)

They also released some of her music for The Flash - I never watched the show but I bought the CD after hearing the track samples.

Man, Ms. Walker passed away too early.

BIG MO said...

ScottD - indeed, a great loss, but also great legacy. And I inadvertently slighted others who did work for B:TAS.

rlaWTX said...

I'll be honest - I don't notice the music, unless it's something I really like. I own the Miami Vice (TV), Top Gun, and Footloose soundtracks (Footloose - only because I couldn't find Holding Out for a Hero anywhere else [which was also the theme song to an obscure 80s TV show], but I like several other rock songs on there).
I loved the music in Tour of Duty - but it wasn't included in the dvd set.
There - used up all I know. :)

Post a Comment