Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Top 10 Scores Turning 20 in 2018

Welcome back to a trip on the Musical Time Machine!  For this edition, we're looking just 20 years back...to the year 1998.  Here's a look back at the scores of 1998 with my list of the 10 Best Scores Turning 20!

Let's start the ranking!



10. Deep Impact (James Horner)
Just as he did with Titanic, Horner brought much of the humanity into this disaster film.  Rather than focusing on large action cues, the simple piano theme carries most of the dramatic arc of the characters.  Many cues sound like unused material from Titanic and Apollo 13 (among other bits of Hornerisms).  Some cues like The Wedding and the choral finale are high points.


9. The Horse Whisperer (Thomas Newman)
Newman uses a lot of sweeping orchestral material in addition to the softer flowing moments and swirling minimalist textures.  The more exotic instrumentation lends nicely to the film's setting (dulcimers, fiddles, and all types of guitars), while piano gets featured nicely.  Several short underscore cues don't add up to much, but the longer cues give Newman time to explore.  The great moments in Montana and Rhythm of the Horse stand out.  


8. Saving Private Ryan (John Williams)
Spielberg wanted more musical restraint than John Williams normally provides a film.  Keeping the rawness of the film, there isn't much sentimental or heroic writing in the score. Sometimes the most powerful sound is no music in a film, and it probably has the least amount of score for Williams.  There are some beautifully evocative trumpet solos, and some reflective string writing.  The standout elegy Hymn to the Fallen, with wordless choir, is perfectly served for the end credits.  Its power is still shown when performed in concert or used in a tribute.


7. The Prince of Egypt (Hans Zimmer)
To accompany DreamWorks' first foray into animation, they turned to Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer.  With Schwartz writing songs, Zimmer created a score that accentuated the epic biblical story that added themes and arrangements of song melodies.  The credits read like a early who's-who of Zimmer's Media Ventures.  Lengthy tracks of score are dispersed among the original soundtrack (and collector's edition).    


6. Pleasantville (Randy Newman)
Newman brought a lot of charm to this delightful film.  He gets to show a more sentimental and nostalgic side, aspects that have also been touched on in some of his animated Pixar scores.  There are some lovely piano-led themes, and the score gives some of the magical touches to the film.  A great pairing of film director vision and composer.   


5. Les Miserables (Basil Poledouris) 
Poledouris adapted his composing style to the melodramatic and sweeping epic by focusing on strings and woodwinds.  The score tends to stay in the brooding, low registers.  Character themes appear and change as the story unfolds - grand, militaristic and somber, for example.  Interestingly, the soundtrack is divided into four suites (tracks) with long running times but with subsections within.  


4. Godzilla (David Arnold)
Independence Day and Tomorrow Never Dies showed off Arnold's large scale scores, but Godzilla seems even bigger.  Nothing is subtle - the monster motif (with choir), a large miltary theme, and over-the-top love theme. Of course, that's what makes this score so endearing.  At the unenthusastic box office reception, a score album was never released.  It took until 2007's La La Land Records release for it to finally shine.  It's bold, and tons of fun.  Shame action films aren't scored like this more often.


3. Meet Joe Black (Thomas Newman)
Meet Joe Black isn't a great film but it does have great visuals and a stunning score by Thomas Newman.  This score features some of Newman's most romantic themes and untypical long-phrased string melodies.  It still has some typical Newman trappings, but the highlight is the 10-minute long That Next Place.  [Bonus points if you only saw this movie to watch the Phantom Menace trailer.]


2. Mulan (Jerry Goldsmith)
Much of the epic scope and drama of Mulan comes from Jerry Goldsmith's score.  The rich textures, both Chinese and electronic, add greatly to the film.  Thematic material is strong (and are highlighted nicely in the Mulan Suite).  The songs and score really don't intermingle, with the soundtrack only using a handful of Goldsmith cues.  Would love to hear more of this score expanded and released in the future.




1. The Mask of Zorro (James Horner)
Zorro brought out Horner's most swashbuckling action score in years.  The album features several of the long, grand orchestral set pieces.  Horner deftly juggles all the action, sweeping romance, great themes and melodrama you expect with all the typical Horner panache.  Utilizing some of his old tricks in addition to the Mexican aspects keeps this score fresh and quite the ride to listen to. 



Honorable Mentions:
Antz (Harry Gregson-Williams/John Powell), The Avengers (Joel McNeely), A Bug's Life (Randy Newman) Lost in Space (Bruce Broughton), Shakespeare in Love (Stephen Warbeck), Small Soldiers (Jerry Goldsmith), Star Trek: Insurrection (Jerry Goldsmith), The Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer), What Dreams May Come (Michael Kamen)

Any personal favorites of yours from 1998 that I didn't include? 

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