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Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

der-dum. der-dum.


I’m not one to shy away from controversial opinions. I preferred Kill Bill vol. 2. I enjoyed Jackie Brown. I defended Godfather III, for goodness sake, and now is not the time to back down.

John Williams. Good composer. Bad movie composer.

What?!?!?! I hear you say.

Now hold on a moment, let’s break this down. John Williams has written some of the most amazing, recognisable enduring film themes ever. I might mention Jaws and Star Wars, particularly the endlessly iconic Darth Vader theme. E.T. Schindler’s List. Harry Potter.


Music is a director’s most powerful tool. It should be there, underpinning the action. Music makes Trainspotting fun, instead of drab, and makes True Romance beautiful instead of just crude. It can change the whole feeling of a film. It supports the action, and makes damn sure you feel happy when happy things happen, and sad when things go bad.

But it needs to be subtle. To manipulate you without you realising you’re being manipulated. M. Night says he makes sure the scene works on its own without music before even thinking about it. JW’s music just demands too much attention – it sounds great in concert, or as a great work heard in one glorious go, but his orchestrating is…lousy. It’s not the tunes I object to; just the way he uses it. It drags you out of the movie instead of immersing you in the mood.

I’ll be the first to admit he writes great themes. Raiders of the Lost Ark anyone? But his style belongs to an older world of composing, back in the 50s and 60s when everything had a orchestra-default accompaniment. Often when I see those good films swamped by their scores, I wonder whether they are generic enough that you could swap them without the scores of similar films without anyone noticing.

Saving Private Ryan is the film which brought this on. What the hell were they thinking? The last thing it needed was a flag-waving theme tune. SPR is in "war is hell" mode from start to finish. We didn't need graveside salutes, quotes from Abe Lincoln or those damn horns in the background - it was out of keeping with the tone elsewhere. Particularly those clumsy horns, squeaking all over scenes which were powerful enough without them. Every time it cranked up, I wanted to batter the players to death with their own instruments. How dare they put their whining over the scene when Millar breaks down and cries? That was a cinematic crime.

But the rest of them are bad as well. Take Harry Potter, with Hedwig's theme stomping all over it. The music has no magic, or life of its own - he uses no interesting concepts or instruments to make his orchestra sound any different to

Look at Lord of the Rings. You can argue the music is under the film constantly, but under is the key word here: you hardly notice it until you become familiar with the tunes by, e.g., listening to the CD. And Howard Shore is inventive with his sound palatte as well. The Rohan theme isn't played by violins. What you're listening to is the Viking hardinger, or something - it sounds familiar, and alien at the same time. What about the oddball percussion used for the Ents, or the clanging chains for the Orcs? And it's never too much for the scene.

Contrast John Williams and his perfect, unchanging orchestra (or so it seems) What of the upbeat Jaws music. The der-dums are a classic in their own right, but the "everything's OK" tune seems out of place in the film - he writes music, not film music.

Next time you watch a John Williams film, take a step back from his name and look at how well the music actually works with the images. It jars so badly for me...


...while I'm being picky about respected composers, I don't like Thomas Newman that much either...

2 comments:

Rob said...

I'm not a huge Williams fan either, but you've got to admit, the man has created some truly iconic music.

I'd also say that for something like Star Wars, particularly the opening text scrolls, you'd want something booming and melodramatic, as opposed to subtle. Same goes for Raiders, the Jaws theme and quite a few others.

You're quite right about SPR and pretty much anything he does that isn't the theme piece, it's usually overbearing and even unnecessary.

And I haven't seen it since cinema, but I much preferred KB: Volume 1 to Volume 2. I never saw that double as anything more than shlocky action, which the first provided with abundance, while I felt the second one tried to be something it wasn't and just didn't have the grounding to pull it off.

I should really give them a rewatch though.

Ninquelosse said...

I didn't really get into the spirit of KB1 the same way as I did 2. The second one had a better action-plot balance i.e. it had some plot, as opposed to just action. Although my memories of 1 are fairly dim - I saw it in oooh September, and only watched 2 very recently. It seemed a bit more satisfying. I'm thinking of having a go at re-editing the two into one movie - trimming the dull stuff and keeping the amazing bits:

Definitely keeping:
-the anime bit
-the burial alive
-everything with Elle Driver
-the training with Pau Mei, though possibly not Bill's backstory on it...
- Bill's theory about Clark Kent.

Possibly cutting:
- Bud's opening scene in the bar. What was the point of that?
- a bit of the end with Bill. Surely some of it can be trimmed, it was fairly lengthy.

Definitely moving:
- the punch up vs. Vernita Green. Vastly preferred the opening of KB2.

 
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