Storytelling in Film Scores

Note: For those who actually take notice of the activity that goes on on this blog, you may have noticed how I didn’t post my weekly blog post yesterday. My laptop has been undergoing repairs and updates throughout this past week, and that’s even included uninstalling and deleting documents and programs employees at the repair place it was brought to stupidly put on here. So naturally, I had virtually no access to my blog. But all is fine with my laptop now after the additional defragmentations, upgrades, patches and scans it went through, and so while it’s still the weekend, I’m making up for lost time with a topic that’s long since overdue.

I was in high school when James Cameron’s film, “Avatar,” was released into theaters. It went on to be praised for its visual effects, be nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards, and yet despite it all, I had zero interest in seeing it. It takes a lot for be to get hyped up over what the masses are hyped up over, and “Avatar” was no exception to that. When I was watching the Academy Awards a few months after its release, I remember how the League of Xtraordinary Dancers performed during the show, to a medley of score samplings from the various films whose scores had been nominated that year; including “Avatar.” Composed by the late James Horner, I was intrigued by the score’s sound in its uniqueness compared to the others, which is why later that Christmas, I found myself in the possession of the entire score.

I enjoyed all the songs on there, so much as to where I finally developed enough curiosity for the film itself. It was another six months before I finally saw it for the first time, and I was blown away by it. But as you can tell from this experience, I wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing “Avatar” had it not been for its unique score. That’s something I want to dwell further into today: Storytelling in film scores.

There are so many components to a film, that it can be easy to get lost in and not grasp everything the first time around. While music may tend to be an element that receives lack of attention, it always has tended to be an element I’m all ears for. Music helps the story along, as far as setting the tone for the ears. The score assists with making a tense scene even more tense with a sped up tempo and a tone that puts the audience on the edges of their seats. The score can bring light to a quieter scene, with the tempo going at a slower pace and often with fewer instruments involved. There’s always that  instrumental theme that can be heard whenever it involves a particular character onscreen or when a particular location appears. Sometimes, different versions of a theme can be heard too.

I remember when I saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and how great on how not only we’d be seeing familiar faces again, but also hear familiar music from long-time composer John Williams. However, with new characters introduced in this film as well, naturally there was plenty of new music to go around, as well as new themes. The one for Rey, which played when we first meet her scavenging on Jakku, immediately caught my attention. Her theme has a sense of modesty as we are introduced to a character from a humble place, but builds up to a sound that indicates how she’s meant for more and that a great destiny awaits her. It remains to be the only song I have from the film’s score.

Scores, in my opinion, can do more than a soundtrack alone would. Soundtracks, more often than not, tend to round up the hottest artists of the moment and put them together to make new music. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how heavily incorporated the soundtrack is into the film, it can actually prove to be distracting, in particular with the vocals involved. Score more surely plays a bigger role in a film’s musical sound, as it sets its tone in all the various directions it goes. Soundtracks are more so in capturing the film’s overall theme, narrative-wise. Besides, it often takes multiple people to do a soundtrack, but for the most part, it takes one person to compose a score and one orchestra to make it come alive.

That’s why sometimes I’ll go and see a film multiple times, for there may be a certain piece of the score that intrigued me enough to come see it again. That was certainly the case with, strange as it may sound, “Kung Fu Panda 3”. Composer Hans Zimmer co-composed the first two films with John Powell, but due to the latter’s commitments to scoring “Pan” at the time of production, the former took the solo reigns on the latest installment. Alone, he is a brilliant composer, but this time around allowed him to make space to bring in featured artists; in particular Chinese pianist Lang Lang. In the scene where Po learns about what his mother was like, the music in that scene caught my attention with the minimal, combined efforts of Zimmer and Lang. Such a simple song made for an emotionally impacting scene, and scores that can do that are scores that I live for.

If you’re one of those who also understands the power of storytelling in a score most likely gets where I’m coming from on this. As for everyone else, listen carefully next time when watching the film. How is the score helping the scene along? What kind of emotion is it bringing to the scenes and to you? And are there any particular songs that are resonating with you?

A Moment’s Worth is now available through the following venues: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes. Please leave a review if you can, for my goal is to get a total of at least 20 reviews on all venues (so far, I’ve gotten 12 reviews so I’m already just past the halfway point to my goal). Check out its Goodreads page, which includes two trivia quizzes for all who’ve completed reading it already.

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