The Academy Awards Soundtrack Rejects

Another Academy Awards telecast is coming and while I usually find little serious disagreement in the films and actors nominated, the award for Best Soundtrack (officially Achievement in music written for motion pictures -Original score) always seems to elude me. Year after year, the Academy Awards selects bombast, sentimentality and faux classicism over innovation, atmosphere, and inventive instrumentation. This year is only slightly less egregious than most. Marco Beltrami is nominated for great Ambient Americana score for 3:10 to Yuma that nods heavily toward Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores. He’s joined by Alberto Iglesias who composed a moving, Middle-Eastern based score for The Kite Runner. The others are pretty much standard Academy fare.

10 To Yuma - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack The Kite Runner

Hollywood occasionally breaks for innovation. In fact, you could say there was a mini-trend in that direction since Gustavo Santaolalla has won two years in a row for the Ambient Americana of Brokeback Mountain and the world music moods of Babel. Those score were preceded by Academy wins for Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a subtle masterwork of Asian touches, classical orchestration and avant-garde edges.

Brokeback Mountain Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000 Film) Babel

But that’s scant consolation. We all thought Vangelis’s oft-mocked, yet still powerful score to Chariot’s of Fire would pave the way for electronic scores in 1982, but that never happened. And even Vangelis’s scores got more Hollywood-orchestral over the years. Tangerine Dream’s rote soundtracks in the 1980s didn’t help matters. After Sorcerer and Thief, it was pretty much over for them artistically in the film world though they cranked them out for another 15 years or so.

Chariots of Fire Sorcerer (1977 Film)

One project I’ve been considering is re-scoring some big films with the music they should’ve used. Imagine Star Wars with Klaus Schulze Stardancer in the opening sequence, Magma for the storm trooper scenes, Mark Shreeve’s Legion for Darth Vader theme music. I’m just not sure that film, which hasn’t aged well, could hold up to really good music under it.

A few great Academy Award Misses:

Music From The Motion Picture Lisa Gerrard & Peter Bourke The Insider (I would’ve picked Gladiator which was nominated – although technically it was Hans Zimmer – but lost to Tan Dun’s equally excellent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score)

The Piano Michael Nyman The Piano (and any number of his Peter Greenaway scores).

Solaris (Score) Cliff Martinez Solaris (and just about everything he’s done for Steven Soderbergh)

Friday Night Lights Explosions in the Sky Friday Night Lights
25th Anniversary - Exclusive [3 CD]Vangelis Bladerunner (The Academy wasn’t going to make that mistake again)

There are many more, I know.
You can hear our version of the Oscars Telecast this Friday Feb. 22 and on some Weekend Echoes stations. Or go to our Playlist for that show.
John Diliberto

Comment posted by
at 2/19/2008 10:50:53 AM


If I am comprehending your above statement correctly, then you assert that Star Wars has not “aged well”. I would ask how you came to this conclusion.

I do not know how applicable some of those pieces would be to Star Wars given that it seems to be more Science Fantasy than Science Fiction, and therefore lend itself to the type of scoring which John Williams composed.

On the other hand, I would suggest that “2001″ might benefit from different music. For example: the evolution (ape->human) scenes would be well served by some of Steve Roach’s great music from “Dreamtime Return”.

Christopher Franke and J. Michael Strazcynski proved how important scoring is to a story in the later years of Babylon 5. They used the same video footage at different times, with different scores for very different dramatic effects.

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