Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sounds, To Go With Flickering Images

Taking note of the recent passing of John Barry, composer of the orchestral scores for the early James Bond movies – as well as many others, notably The Lion in Winter (an Oscar winner), Midnight Cowboy (a Grammy winner), King Kong (1976), Disney’s The Black Hole, Body Heat, The Cotton Club (1984), Jagged Edge, Out of Africa, and Dances With Wolves (an Oscar winner) … I got thinking about my favorite film score moments.

Admittedly I am an unrepentant John Williams fan, and I tend to collect more science fiction movie score CDs than anything else; so this is by no means a list of what I believe to be the Finest Movie Score Moments Ever.  But here are some themes and movie music moments that got my attention and have held it. Not necessarily the biggest loudest ones, but ones that I think are really effective …

In alphabetical order of composers:

Elmer Bernstein: The theme from The Great Escape, mostly because of its use by “The Simpsons” for the sequence where baby Maggie engineers a daring escape from the mean nasty day care center.

Bruce Broughton: The theme from Silverado, and not just because it was the field show opener for my senior college marching season. I just like it a bunch. It’s a glorious ripoff of every important cowboy movie sound there is.

Tan Dun: “Farewell” from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Danny Elfman: The main title sequence from Beetlejuice, incorporating “The Banana Boat Song (Day-o!)”.

Jerry Goldsmith: The final sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Talk about a score that propped up a movie. The acting was miserable, the special effects problems were legendary; but the music does its job, and then some. (You could say that about Goldsmith’s work in Star Trek V, as well.)

James Horner: The sequence from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock wherein Kirk, Scott etc. steal the soon-to-be-decommissioned Enterprise. The first genuine fun in the Trek movie series.

James Newton Howard: “Harvey Two-Face”, some of the rare non-action music from The Dark Knight. The story on this Batman movie is that Hans Zimmer wrote all the action sequences in that slam-bang, part-music-part-sound-design way of his, and James Newton Howard wrote the “emotional” music content. And I got that straight from the liner notes, where Zimmer admits as much.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Sea Hawk. He is of course owed an enormous debt of gratitude by John Williams and just about every film composer there is. And not bad visuals for 1939.


Bear McCreary: these three clips are from his standout work on the TV re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. THIS is science fiction music? Yes.

[] “Gaeta’s Lament”, a song that one character sings while recovering from, of all things, having his foot amputated. This particular character leads a particularly un-charmed life.

[] “Battlestar Sonatica”, music based on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but which is played during many scenes inside a Cylon base star. I’m not sure whether McCreary considered it underscore or source music. In the 1979 Galactica, it would have been all growly villain music, but here? Cylons apparently are really weird.

[] “Heeding the Call” is the underscore for the sequence where five of the main characters realize that not only have they all been hearing this weirdo version of “All Along the Watchtower” in their heads, but that the song is dragging them together so they can jointly discover they’re all Cylons, as it turns out.


Randy Newman: “Blue Shadows on the Trail”, from The Three Amigos.

Arvo Part: “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”, which was not written for Fahrenheit 9/11, but was used as underscore for the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster footage early in that film.

John Powell: “The Huddle”, the opening sequence from Happy Feet. Pretty serious stuff for what would become a wonderfully goofy animated movie about singing and dancing penguins.

Joby Talbot: “Destruction of Earth”, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Amidst one of the more ridiculously grand pullbacks in cinema history, this is an appropriately huge, and for its length goofy, musical buildup to … the rather anticlimactic demolition of the planet Earth, to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

Jay Ungar: “Ashokan Farewell”, from Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.

Hans Zimmer: from Backdraft,Show Me Your Firetruck” – as much as it’s a terrific theme for heroic firefighters, I also get a kick out of this one because of its use by the original Japanese Iron Chef TV cooking show.

Also Hans Zimmer: from A League of Their Own,The Final Game” – the big finish, living at the intersection of symphonic score, big-band swing (the story took place during World War II, after all), and Warner Brothers cartoon scores.


My apologies, but: the John Williams pantheon…

[] The final sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Only Williams could get away with that quote of “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

[] Overture from The Cowboys.

[] “Adventures on Earth”, from E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Admission: I still have never seen the movie. But I own the soundtrack album.

[] The Map Room At Dawn, the sequence where Indiana Jones discovers the true location of the Ark of the Covenant, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Everything you ever wanted in a semi-religious-semi-archaeological-Middle-Eastern-relic cue.

[] “Leaving Ingrid”, from Seven Years in Tibet. Another film I never saw…

[] The “Order 66” Jedi Purge sequence from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Most composers would write angry, terrified, chaotic music. Williams goes for bleak despair, and hits for extra bases. Watch especially from 2:09 on in this clip.

[] From Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: not the usual, expected cues, but instead the great work as the Death Star wipes out Princess Leia’s home planet.

[] “The Asteroid Field” from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. What is required when spaceships are trying to survive flying through an asteroid field? Virtuosic playing from the London Symphony Orchestra, that’s what.

[] From Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, a curious cue called “Alliance Assembly”, during which the plans for the big attack on Death Star II are laid out. Watch how precisely Williams’ music shifts to reflect even the slightest facial expression adjustments, in spite of some of the tough music edits to extend a short cue into a long scene.

[] And from Superman, although I have always loved the “Planet Krypton” fanfare from early in the film, the brass blaring in the end of the “Destruction of Krypton” sequence is just glorious.


And, because this thought process started with John Barry:

George S. Clinton: The “Shag-adelic” Austin Powers Score Medley, from the first Austin Powers movie.  That’s its official title.

Michael Giacchino: “Lava in the Afternoon”, a sly little item from The Incredibles.

David Arnold: from the 2006 Casino Royale remake, “Dinner Jackets” – the scene in which James Bond gets his first inkling that the debonair look may just suit him: 0:45 on this track.

And finally … at last … needing no explanation:

[] John Barry: “Bond Back in Action”, from Goldfinger.

[] John Barry: “Bond Meets Solitaire”, from Live and Let Die.


February 1, 2011 - Posted by | entertainment, film, media, movies, music, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] Electronic music composer Milton Babbitt. Film composer John Barry, whose passing made me think of the film composers that have made the biggest impression on me, here. […]

    Pingback by A Slightly-Less-Snarky Year-End Review Than Last Year’s « Editorial License | December 29, 2011 | Reply

  2. […] collide: I can also speak in mind-numbing detail about certain science-fiction film scores. I had a moment of blog-posting on this subject once, and that should probably suffice. (To wit: there are no less […]

    Pingback by Detail! « Editorial License | March 21, 2013 | Reply

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