Monday, July 28, 2014

A Summer that Scores

This summer has been pretty excellent for film scores. While pop songs continue to find themselves sprinkled throughout films, engaging audiences with foot-tapping, head-bobbing goodness, there’s also been what feels like a renaissance in film scoring. X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer’s excellent new time-travel film that redefines what this series is all about, has a score by the gifted John Ottman (who also edited the movie). It’s a mysterious, rousing score that communicates escalating conflict and depth of character while also punctuating the action where it needs to. Wisely, it builds on themes created earlier in the franchise, but it also introduces new material that gets the action going. The film uses two well-chosen songs to evoke the seventies setting, “Time in a Bottle” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” both of which are used to get us in the mood and bring up a smile. But it is Ottman’s score, meanwhile, that gives the proceedings a real and necessary gravitas: Is this the end of the X-Men or a new beginning? Ottman’s outstanding music for this outstanding film seems to promise that there’s a lot more to come. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with a score by Michael Giacchino, continues the epic saga begun in 1968, when Charlton Heston happened upon a banged-up Statue of Liberty on the beach a few millennia from now. The series has had highs and lows, but music has played an integral role since the start. Jerry Goldsmith’s work for the first film was a spectacular mix of traditional and ethnic instruments, as well as just a lot of primitive-sounding stuff. It was a mix that established a sound for these films, easing audiences into a world that looked sort of familiar, sort of alien. Giacchino, known for his knack for picking up classic scores and contemporizing them, borrowed Goldsmith’s sensibility. This kind of borrowing, really musical tributes, was used in the recent Star Trek reboots to great effect, and Giacchino used John Barry’s early Bond sound to infuse thrilling, winking fun into Pixar’s The Incredibles. For Dawn, Giacchino goes all the way back to the beginning, using Goldsmith’s inspired instrumentation and sounds. Coupled with his gorgeous score, the technique squares the film in the here and now and nods to the past. It’s the perfect way to make the film part of a much larger saga and give it a universe of its own, all at the same time.

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