When I was at University, I once saw a TV producer say that the composer was there for when the writer has messed up, and though he did say it slightly tongue in cheek, there was without doubt an element of truth to his eloquently put description of the role of the composer, whether that be film or television. Though it can sometimes feel patronising if really overdone, having a great non-diagetic score can really enhance the emotional engagement with a particular scene, and often make it feel better than it actually is, making up for poor writing or acting.
The use of actual songs can of course have the same effect, however my focus here is on the score composed for the film, and I am in no way claiming this to be some kind of top ten of the history of cinema. However, here are ten recent examples where the film was pretty rubbish or horrifically bad, but no fault can be associated with the composer as they did their job. Whether you agree with my opinion of the film or not, here are ten recent films whose primary (or in some cases only) redeeming feature was the score, and they are great compositions definitely worth listening to.
The (sort of) science behind this chart is that I have given each film and their score my personal mark out of 10 (feel free to argue with either) and the higher they are up the chart, the greater the difference in the marks I have given. So number one in the chart may not necessarily be the best score on this list, but has the biggest difference between how good the score is and how bad the film is.
10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Steve Jablonsky
Film: 3/10 Score: 7/10
Many people have numerous (justifiably) bad things to say, about Michael Bay’s ‘bot franchise, but I have to say that I quite enjoy them, particularly the first film. Though of course the original animated film from 1986 will never be bettered! However number two in the franchise is a complete mess with very few redeeming features, but franchise stalwart Steve Jablonsky’s score still packed a lot of punch. Though not containing as quite as memorable riffs as his score to Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen still contained some superb arrangements of soaring strings, pounding drums and memorable riffs that when listened to in isolation confirm how wasted they were.
9. World Trade Center – Craig Armstrong
Film: 3/10 Score: 7/10
Though Oliver Stone’s melodrama may have been made with the best of intentions, it is a painfully clichéd and quite uninvolving film despite its deeply tragic subject matter. However no criticism can be placed in the direction of composer Craig Armstrong whose powerful and moving score which features is usual trademark of haunting string arrangements is a wonderful listen.
8. Alexander – Hans Zimmer
Film: 4/10 Score: 8/10
Oliver Stone’s epic (well in running time anyway) retelling of the great Macedonian warrior starring Colin Farrell with a ridiculous bouffant wig and lame attempt to hide his thick Irish accent is a total overlong mess of a film, though admittedly has the occasional good bit. I have no idea how they persuaded Vangelis to be the composer of the film’s score, but I am glad they did as it features all trademark of his mixture of strings and electronic riffs similar to his score for the underrated 1492: Conquest of Paradise. The wonderful string arrangements often made this bloated film feel far more emotionally involving than it actually was.
7. Transcendence – Mychael Danna
Film: 4/10 Score 8/10
Wally Pfister’s directorial debut is unfortunately a bit of a mess that despite perhaps being very well shot, never truly capitalises on its potential as an interesting piece of science fiction. However, composer Mychael Danna’s score could not take any of the blame for that as he avoids the usual temptation that most composers avoid of just copying Hans Zimmer and he goes for a far lower key and less obvious score that is far more involving for it. Though of course nothing wrong with Hans (as this chart seems to point out), but so many composers do seem to copy his pounding Dark Knight scores and Danna’s score to Transcendence is a wonderfully ambient score better when listened to in isolation than when watching as part of Pfister’s mess of a film.
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – Hans Zimmer
Film: 4/10 Score: 8/10
In a franchise that started off as a genuinely entertaining blockbuster romp (well, in my view anyway) and went progressively downhill, Hans Zimmer’s scores went in the opposite direction. Though the instantly forgettable number four is admittedly both a dull film with a particularly dull score. Number three is an overlong mess of a film, but Zimmer’s score is a wonderfully epic composition that when listened to in isolation really feels like it should be to a genuinely thrilling blockbuster. Many criticised Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores for being too over powering, but I dread to think just how dull Pirates 3 would have been without Zimmer’s rip-roaring score. The film would certainly be better if its ridiculously long running time was just Zimmer’s music and none of the dialogue which just confused an already painfully muddled narrative even further.
5. Angels & Demons – Hans Zimmer
Film: 4/10 Score 8/10
Though not as dull as The Da Vinci Code, the slight redeeming feature of Angels and Demons is that it is so bonkers it is quite funny, even if the laughs are always at and never with. The plot gets increasingly barmy but it is often comedy gold, and Zimmer’s pounding strings and choral arrangements in some ways play a part in the deluded stoicism of the plot, but make the film feel far more dramatic and engaging than it actually is. Though for an even better and worthwhile experience; just listen to the score and do not bother with the film.
4. Tron: Legacy – Daft Punk
Film: 4/10 Score 9/10
Joseph Kosinski’s sequel that no one particularly wanted may have look bright and colourful, but is quite frankly, very boring and has an incredibly lazy script. However Daft Punk provide a score that is not only different to the electro punk pop they usually provide, but an epic electronic soundscape of soaring strings, banging drums and catchy riffs. Listening to the score in isolation is a far more exciting and involving experience than watching the actual film. I feel it is also worth mentioning that Joseph Kosinski has a tendency to have his films saved by a slightly unconventional choice of composer; 2013’s cut and paste of previous sci-fi films Oblivion is not on this list as it is a solid, if unspectacular, Blockbuster but M83’s score is an incredibly immersive score that often makes the film seem more involving than it actually is.
3. King Arthur – Hans Zimmer
Film: 4/10 Score 10/10
Antoine Fuqua’s retelling of the Arthurian legend may be an overblown blockbuster consisting of cliché ridden wannabe blockbuster winning speeches, an uninspiring plot and bad acting (Clive Owen miscast, Kiera Knightly truly awful), but the ever reliable Hans Zimmer was on true top form for his score. The drums, strings and choral arrangements are truly barnstorming with Zimmer on brilliant form, and it is a score deserving of a truly epic film that as per usual makes the film feel far better than it actually is at times and disguises some truly awful writing.
2. Pearl Harbour – Hans Zimmer
Film: 2/10 Score 8/10
To say that Pearl Harbour is the worst film that Michael Bay is responsible for truly is saying something, but there are so many things wrong with this total mess of a film that have been said so many times already far more eloquently than I could here. Maybe deep down he already he knew his film was a stinker and so recruited Zimmer (not a Bay regular with only The Rock being his other collaboration) to make it feel better. Well Hans certainly gave it his best shot; creating some beautiful piano riffs and string arrangements that are actually very emotional when listened to in isolation, it is just a shame they are well and truly wasted on a film that is totally and utterly abysmal.
1. The Da Vinci Code – Hans Zimmer
Film: 2/10 Score 8/10
It is a terrible book, and also a terrible, boring and overlong film, but Hans Zimmer’s score is anything but; it is a wonderfully put together composition of Zimmer’s trademark pounding strings, with a combination of haunting and dramatic choral arrangements. I personally have no interest or indeed opinion on the film’s apparent controversy, my problem with it is that it is painfully boring and the dialogue itself very, very bad. Anyone who has not seen The Da Vinci Code (and I know that is not many) shoukd count themselves very lucky, but Hans Zimmer’s sumptuous score that would be perfect to a great film based on the church with an actual interesting story should be listened to all that appreciate stunning classical music. The score’s penultimate track Chevaliers De Sangreal is a soaring track that builds to an epic crescendo (and used elsewhere many times) and when seeing the scene it appears in the film, it is such a frustrating waste.
Well, I think a lesson to learn from this chart is that it is the official policy of Hollywood that if their film is may be lacking in certain (or all) areas then get Hans in to make to help smooth over those glaring cracks!