Mar 5, 2009

Soundtracks: Bad Movies

Today I'd like to look at a whole genre of soundtracks that I personally love. These are the scores of awful movies. Sometimes such films will produce some amazing music. My theory is that good composers take their job descriptions very seriously, in that their music is supposed to enhance the film watching experience, but since there's not much of a movie to experience with a bad film the composer goes into overdrive to compensate.

Now at the same time I'll point out that SOME (but by no means all) of these movies are ones I quite enjoy and like. Some are so bad their great, but I'm aware of the fact technically speaking they are stupid films.


The king of overcompensating scores was hands down Jerry Goldsmith, who took pride and pleasure from scoring every project as though it were a worthwhile undertaking. The films themselves often were not, but man the albums are master pieces in some cases! Brian Tyler is seeming to have risen in the post-Goldsmith era to fill in this niche, and many of his projects are in a similar vein.



The Mummy by Jerry Goldsmith. Whatever your opinion of this film (as I know it has many die hard fans) one must admit this is a cheesy movie. A well done one I'll add, but it is cheek and tongue about itself as it goes.


Goldsmiths score lends it an air of legitimacy, and raises the films at parts to feel like a real horror movie. Even if it is a formula romp around ancient ruins.


The Mummy's score is just a really great album. As to not fall into a cliche action score, Goldsmith hints everything with an Egyptian flavour musically, and keeps the music as epic as the scenes will allow him.


First Knight by Jerry Goldsmith. This was just a plain bad movie.


However listening to the music you'd think that it was the definitive telling of the Author legend (has there ever been such a definitive version? apart from Monty Python I mean). Goldsmith pulls out every stop to conjure nobility, majesty, and excitement for a film that was none of the above. I remember when I watched it I was just listening the music most of the time.


The grand pieces for Camelot, and also Author's death, are particular highlights. Most of the battle music is very satisfying as well, but a little generic.


Small Soldiers by Jerry Goldsmith. This film was trying so hard to be so many things it didn't manage to be any of them sadly. Jerry picked up on the quirkiness of the living toys and runs with that. What you get is a high energy score themed to communicate its about amazing small things. To me the music serves well for science, and I tend to imagine scientists and their discoveries to this score.


Star Trek the Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith. As a trekkie it pains me that amongst all the good that is contained within the franchise there is an equal amount of utter crap (I'm looking at you Voyager!!!). Though there are many films in the Trek line that were less than awesome (the oddly numbered ones as a safe measure) most have redeeming qualities. Trek 5 for example while having a stupid quest for God, is sooooooo over the top (due probably to Shatner's directing) that it is very funny.

Two of the films though for me are just bad, and I was torn which to insert here. Mike convinced me to leave Insurrection alone, but in my opinion it could easily have been placed here, as it is a bad movie with amazing music (in fact among my favourite of the Trekverse).


So that means we look at the first ever Star Trek movie. It was about as exciting as life on a spaceship would be in real life, and that would be dull as (space is actually a really empty place after all!). The only thing it had going for it was amazing visual effects, but in many senses these were just a slide show as not much would happen on screen even in an effects shot.


To me the film is a 10 minute story spread over an hour and a half! So to lengthen it you often get a line of dialogue cutting to a special effect shot, the responding line cutting to another similar effect! However when I do this parody out loud I hum bits of Goldsmith's score.


It is an amazing score, and much like First Knight desperately tries to combat the failings of the film. Only in this case it is more extreme. I personally think this was Goldsmith's (quite probably anyone's) greatest compensating role in music holding the movie up.

The Motion(less) Picture often feels like a slide show at times, but one with a great soundtrack to tell you what the missing movement would be like! This is the one thing Star Trek 1 had above 2001. Both a similarly dull movies, with special effects shots that amazing for their time were really impressive, but are dull today. Only 2001 has boring ballet music, Star Trek at least has powerful music to listen too.


This is not only where the famous modern theme for Star Trek originated, but the music Goldsmith came up with for the monstrous V'ger is among the most effective "alien" music ever written. My personal favourite was the Klingon theme Jerry came up with for this film, and it is one he'd bring back time and time again in his additions to the Trek universe.

Starship Troopers by Basil Poledouris. I love this movie. I love it because it is sooooooo over the top it is awesome. That and it has Doogie Houser, but he is evil!

Helping sell us a heroic fascist America innnnnn space is the unbelievably patriotic and masculine score by Poledouris. It is an extreme militaristic musical ride, and makes you feel like you should be out conquering the galaxy after listening. If I'm craving snare drums or a good march this is the album I satisfy my jonesing with.

The Mummy Returns by Alan Silverstri. Where the first Mummy had quirky fun dialogue to make it watchable, its sequel has CG action scenes. It was rubbish frankly. The Mummy Returns felt like watching a video game. Only someone else is playing it!

I wonder if it was even too bad for even Goldsmith to score, or was it simply a scheduling conflict? In any case poor Alan Silverstri got the job. So how did he handle it. Like he always does, with an adequate score. Only this time it was above adequate...


This score in many ways is similar to Goldsmith's first Mummy soundtrack. They both have Egyptian flavours, both are built on (due to their films) solid action music bases, and both have a sense of magic and wonder that the events in the film would conjure if real. Yet they are nothing alike in comparison to each other. Goldsmith's is much more dark and ominous in tone, trying to convince you it is a legitimate viewing experience. Silverstri's is much more fast and excitingly paced admitting you're watching drivel, but you might as well have fun doing it.

Yet The Mummy Returns is the better of the two simply because its film is so much worse. Silverstri isn't getting any help from the film, like Goldsmith didn't on Star Trek. So he resorts to composing the highest quality (production value wise anyways) video game score of all time!

Reign of Fire by Edward Shearmur. A colossally stupid biological plot device used to kill the movie's Dragons, and the forced in halfway tried old "America saves the day again" subplot topples what would have been an otherwise watchable post apocalyptic film. The best line of the movie also singles where it becomes terrible. "Great the only thing worse than Dragons, Americans!". The only good things about this movie were the Dragon effects, and it was where I first saw Christian Bale all those years ago.

Reign of Fire is given an edge of reality due to the efforts of the Shearmur score, and it is one the few of his otherwise really dark efforts I can handle. The reason being that nestled in between the otherwise depressing and dismal score (in the emotional sense not music's construction) is given an amazing brooding heroic theme. It is a very luring hero's theme as it is not overstated, but rather one you can imagine a real person having if they were to have a soundtrack for life in a time of true adversity.

This score was my personal music for Batman till Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard 's presented a legitimate offering (I hate, hate, HATE Danny Elfman's music soooooo much!). Amazingly the new The Dark Knight score features a theme for Harvey Dent that is extremely similar (to the point of being identical at times) to the heroic theme of Reign of Fire... Not only validating it as my choice of Batman music, but perhaps showing that Bale inspires this music from film composers...
Water World by James Newton Howard. Howard has always coasted the fine line between borderline movies and truly bad ones. Many of the projects he is attached to I won't say are bad, but I certainly couldn't say they were good either. His taking on a replacement score gig for the 1995 film Waterworld would be a venture into a disaster movie-wise. Not that you would know from the score.

I wasn't able to track down this album till long after I'd seen the film. It is a masterpiece, and doesn't connect with the film I saw. Sure I know what scenes roughly line up with the music, but that's where the association ends. Howard's music is much like the Goldsmith magic I mentioned before, adding emotional elements that the film just didn't have.

The most amazing of this music is the awe music for the underwater scenes, which I actually forgot about the film till looking at the track list. This is among Howard's best awe music, and a prototype for the entire Atlantis score.

The heroic theme from this film is fun too. It is over the top, and frankly a sort of silly hero's theme. I personally like it, as it fits well with imagining Traumador and his over the top adventures. However if you think about who the music is for, this is Howard musically making fun of Kevin Costner if you ask me!

Timeline by Brain Tyler. If there was ever a score that made me think it was a Goldsmith, but yet wasn't a Goldsmith, it was this one. Even more ironically Tyler was brought in to write a replacement for the first rejected soundtrack for this film by Jerry Goldsmith himself (the last thing he wrote before his death).

Built on a series of very functional themes this album is a solid listen. My only complaint is each theme only gets 2-3 treatments on disc. In the movie I'm sure they had a bit more each (though not particularly liking the film as much as Dan I can't remember).
However this movie has the most hauntingly beautiful 45 seconds of music I have ever heard. As in it is actually haunting. It gives me a pleasant shiver up my spine everytime I listen to it. A forlorn heroic theme with an ominous note of the price of courage.

Wing Commander by David Arnold. If there was a video game I liked while growing up, it was Wing Commander. I was as excited by this movie adaptation as I was by Jurassic Park. Apart from some great name splicing into the movies of technical stuff from the games it was a severe let down.
Not only was the actor cast of fighter pilots annoying (though the supporting cast was actually superb... but Freddie Prince and Matt Lillard still managed to trump David Warner, Tchéky Karyo, and Jürgen Prochnow), the ship designs were the WORST I've ever seen (seriously cigars of varying sizes... minus the Kilarthi fighters, which would be stolen by Battlestar a decade later), and the damn movie literally treated spaceships like submarines in space. They could hear each other on sonar!?!

This is my definition bad movie=great music. I loved the title theme for this movie so much I went to see the film a second time in theatre just to hear it again (as the CD for it took forever to come out)! It was everything the film was not.
Granted as an album it is hit and miss, but the Wing Commander march and the action cues that contain it are on par with Starship Troopers any day with space adventure, and triumphant music. Not so much for the dangers of action, mind you. This one is pure optimism with just a hint of victory even during the "suspenseful" moments. Not that the film really had any!

2 comments:

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

I'll have to find that Waterworld sountrack, I've heard you speaking about it so many times that I feel really really really curious.

Raptor Lewis said...

I'll admit I've never seen the "Mummy" films with Brendan Frasier. It actually scared me when I was a kid. I'll have to look up the soundtrack though.

Two suggestions for this list: JP3 and Babylon A.D. (This movie sucked!!)