Oh, I knew this would happen. I started going through all of my 90’s movies, trying to come up with the ones that had the most inspiring and brilliant music. Of course, at first, I had a difficult time thinking of any. Then… I got swamped. By the time I’d made my “official list”, I had over 13 songs. That cinches it. There’s just going to have to be a part 2 to this post at some point. But for now, I’ll stick to the 10 that made the cut.
I may be an 80’s baby but most of my childhood was through the 90’s and a great deal of my favorite movie scores are from that decade. Several on this list had more than one track to choose from and it made it hard trying to narrow it down to one. I’ve chosen all different composers and tried not to repeat anyone although I had originally in my first round of pickings. Some of these composers are ones that I horde soundtracks of: Thomas Newman and Gabriel Yared for starters… But, there are also composers whom I don’t think have had enough recognition in here. There are movies that may contain one little gem of score music and most don’t recognize it. It’s these songs that I’d like to share with you today.
Jumanji – The Monsoon: James Horner: One of the most pulse-pounding tracks from this score. There are definitely some tracks on this score that stand out among others. This is one of my favorite movies from my childhood. The monsoon scene is one of the highest-pitch points in the film because so much danger is closing in on the main characters at once. The drums at the beginning signal the impending danger, along with the trumpet and its repeating four notes giving warning. The danger escalates rather quickly to a climaxing event which seems the absolute worst until the trumpets crescendo and the low woodwinds kick in with the repeating notes of a predator, one that spurns on the most basic instincts to survive. This is a highly dramatic song in some places and deserves just the right kind of scene to accompany it. Being such a huge fan of James Horner’s A Beautiful Mind Soundtrack, I’m not surprised by how he effortlessly makes this score yank you along with the scenes from the movie.
The Man in the Iron Mask – Surrounded: Nick Glennie-Smith: I have a somewhat hilarious view of this film. I enjoyed it very much when I first saw it. In the few years that passed, a friend and I discovered some serious pitfalls in it though, some that were a bit unforgivable. It became our go-to movie to make fun of, very a la MST3K. In fact, I wrote a parody on the film about four years ago which can be found here. But my opinion of the music in this film hasn’t changed. It’s spectacular. And this track exemplifies the best of it. It’s a very heroic track that you can’t help but associate with honor and a good fight. I can see this being a fantastic soundtrack for any kind of an assault. Though I imagine it being medieval or something close first, I can see where it might work for a contemporary setting as well. This is the only soundtrack I own by Glennie-Smith but I know he’s worked collaboratively with Hans Zimmer on a few and on the fantastic X-Men: First Class score with Henry Jackman.
Hook – Granny Wendy: John Williams: John Williams is a magician when it comes to film scores. Having done 3 Harry Potter films, Jaws, and Jurassic Park (will be in part 2), he’s given himself a legendary status as the composer of epic adventure filled scores. But sometimes, I feel as though his quieter tracks have gone a bit unnoticed. Hook was another great memory from my childhood (must be Robin Williams, right?) But this particular track highlights the fragile and magical qualities of the character Granny Wendy played by the tremendous Maggie Smith. The song is played as if through a music box. It’s delicate, gentle, and light. Despite the happiness it implies, there can also be read a sadness in it as well.
The Negotiator – Rise: Craig Armstrong: Up until a few minutes ago, I had no idea this was actually Craig Armstrong. I’d had this contributed to Graeme Revell, who scored the movie. But it totally makes sense when I listen to it again. Craig Armstrong is the creator of one of my absolute favorite songs of all time: Finding Beauty. He knews precisely when to place a beat into the song but also knows when to pull back. He creates a haunting effect with the violins in this piece, as the beat pulses in the background. Now, granted, this version isn’t the version used for the titles in the movie. In the original version, there are sound effects in the background, like applause or coughing. They are enough to chill you when listening to it. The most brilliant thing about this song is the way they layered it with a montage of sirens wailing in the background. You can almost see the distant memory of a past tragedy there, looming in the background.
Groundhog Day – Sometimes People Just Die: George Fenton: If you haven’t seen this movie, do it now. That’s not me being funny. That’s me giving you a direct order. This has got to be one of the best films of all time. Period. There’s a wide range of music in this film, the most notable of course being Sonny and Cher’s “Ain’t Got You Babe” which plays perpetually throughout the film. However, there is one scene in this movie that has clenched all of my senses since I first saw it, even when I was younger. It’s Fenton’s music that really brings the scene home. It’s the first time in the movie where Bill Murray’s character really realizes that he can do something meaningful with the endless chances that he’s received. He can finally help someone instead of taking advantage of this extra time the wrong way. But even then, he still gets the hard but crucial lesson that sometimes no matter what you do, it isn’t enough. Time is a precious gift bestowed to you for a reason. It’s a warning not to waste it.
City of Angels – An Angel Falls: Gabriel Yared: Dear, oh, dear. I had the toughest time trying to choose which Gabriel Yared track to include. It was between City of Angels, The English Patient, and The Talented Mr. Ripley (will be in part 2). But in the end, this song wins out because it has actually been a writing inspiration for me. And for some reason I can’t quite explain, it inspired me to write a story that I started one Christmas about 7 or 8 years ago… a romantic story… an adulterous story. I’m not sure where the inspiration originally came from but this song fueled it heavily. It was a story that I’d still like to continue at some point because it’s about situations that people can’t help but be trapped in because of their emotions. There’s of course a love triangle but it’s between adult characters. Wow, I’m actually getting kind of defensive about it, too. I don’t want it taken for granted as just another one of those stories I guess. Perhaps I can incorporate it with the U.P. which I intend to start after I finish The Monstrum Chronicles. We shall see…
The Horse Whisperer – Hooves: Thomas Newman: Thomas Newman, how I adore thee. The problem is that it was either this or the score to Meet Joe Black. I own both, love both, and find them equal to one another in content and how they move me emotionally. I had to flip a coin, guys. This song inspired a scene in a novel I worked on long ago which actually had some original characters from The Monstrum Chronicles in it. Rivka, Savaric (then called Severin), Amalric (then called Raziel), and Harper (called Krishna). The song was for Krishna’s character. He’s been mentally corrupted by the main antagonist and was battling his sub-conscious for control over his mind. It sounds kind of pathetic when I look at it now but at some point in time, that song really hit a note of sadness. Not being in control of ones own mind, unable to make your own decisions, being forced to do someone else’s will… There’s withdrawal and loneliness, being chased by bad memories, reliving the past, the crushing guilt that what happens to others is your fault… It’s all there in this short and haunting piece.
Armageddon – Leaving: Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams: Two fantastic composers who came together on a movie so monumental, it deserves some attention here in this list. Armageddon had a lot of good music, lots of Aerosmith… but the score was also one that glided through the background in such a way that you forgot it was even there. It meshed so well with the characters, the hopelessness of what was about to happen to them… the violin is perfection in this song. Men were sacrificing themselves in the only way they knew how to save the entirety of the human race. There’s a darkness in this song toward the end that gravitates toward this revelation.
The Usual Suspects – “It was beautiful.”: John Ottoman: It pains me to say that no one has posted this song on youtube. For what reason, I have no idea. It’s easily one of the most moving on the soundtrack. It highlights the romance between characters Dean Keaton and Edie Finneran. She represents his attempt at redemption for his past crimes and yet when he goes to say goodbye to her, he can’t bring himself to do it. He’d rather leave to escape the pain it causes. This had me imagining for hours the complexities of the relationship between the two characters. It’s something they obviously don’t go into in the film but I enjoyed thinking about it, imagining what would have happened if he had told her. This film is in my top 10 favorites list in part because of the music by John Ottoman. He makes you care for the characters and despite some strange tracks on the album, the movie couldn’t have done with out them.
Star Trek: First Contact – Retreat: Jerry Goldsmith: Okay, you got me. I’m a trekkie. Not as hardcore of one as I used to be, but I do have a couple of soundtracks and some movies. At at one point, I had a cardboard cut out of Tom Paris in my bedroom… don’t judge me. This film has some incredible music. If you don’t believe me, just listen to this frightening track by Goldsmith which signals the first time the crew have to fight with the Borg on board the enterprise. In fact, it reminds me slightly of the Jaws theme with the low tuba music. There are plenty of jump points in the song as well. There’s a militant under current here. Though it’s been years since I’ve listened to this soundtrack, it’s this song that stays with me when ever I think about that movie. It’s a high tension piece that works fantastically for a horror novel.
Oh, there are so many songs that I had to pass up for the 10 here. But I promise, in time, I’ll do a part 2 to this. Next week, however, I’ll be focusing my attention elsewhere. I’m going classical next week as I focus on Frederic Chopin, one of my favorite classical composers. Aside from Satie and Debussy, it’s Chopin who seems to always saunter his way into any of my books with one piece of music that drives my inspiration on. I’ll be choosing a few of his compositions for analysis next week!
In other news, I’ve been working on my websites. I’ve gotten voxthebook.com up to speed for the most part. I’ve got a couple of things to finagle with but I should have that finished up by the end of the week, hopefully. Give it a browse and tell me what you think! I also finished reading “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins yesterday and it is with a sad heart that I leave the Hunger Games trilogy behind me. I read 250 pages in two nights. I’ll be doing a review for the series at some point next week. It will probably be spoilerific, so if you haven’t read it, you’ve been warned. And if you haven’t read it, get on it! The movie comes out in less than a week!