Hello, everyone! Music plays an instrumental (yes I’m that cheesy) role in helping emphasize a movie’s core emotions. Who can forget the tense fear exemplified by John William’s Jaws theme, or the tender nostalgia evoked by Howard Shore’s “The Shire” and its variations? These pieces are so effective that even a few notes can transport us back to that movie; what we thought, how we felt, and how we remember it. But of course, for every film with a beautifully matched soundtrack, there is a film with an awkwardly mismatched one. Let’s listen to a few, shall we?
By mismatched, I don’t mean that the music or the movie is bad, but that when they are paired together, they seem to be working towards different goals. They’re tonally different in a way that’s confusing or jarring, but not, at least to my best knowledge, on purpose. Or, in other cases, the music sounds like it was ripped from a completely different film.
1. Movie: Oldboy
I briefly touched on this in one of my other posts about movie soundtracks, but now I will expand on the subject. When I first heard the song “The Last Waltz,” I was entranced. It’s a beautiful, lush piece, reminiscent of a a movie set in the French Court or a costume period drama. “Farewell, My Lovely,” the second piece I heard, was thematically similar, except for a surprising gun-shot sound at the end. Having no knowledge of the plot, I thought that the movie would match the music. Even with the violence (and boy was there a lot of that), the music could’ve been incorporated well, but instead it was horribly wasted. “The Last Waltz” was heard only through a tinny speaker, and although I understood that importance of that song to the plot, I was astonished at how it was treated in the film. In the same way, “Farewell, My Lovely,” was relegated to a particularly violent scene and served no purpose besides being “dramatic” background music.
It just doesn’t work!
Oldboy is a fantastic film, but it does Jo Yeoung-Wook’s score an injustice. His music deserved a very different movie, one whose emotional journey would benefit, not suffer, from the addition of his compositions.
2. American Beauty
American Beauty is what happens when you pair a mediocre movie with a soundtrack that’s completely out of its league. I don’t particularly enjoy the majority of Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for the film (except for the bag song), but I can get what it’s trying to do. Whatever emotion it’s inspiring, I can feel it, even if I can’t exactly describe it. Sam Mendes’ movie, however, is so ham-fisted that it can do nothing but clash with Newman’s score. For every time Mendes shouts “Look at the mundanity of suburban life!” Newman’s score weaves into one’s brain, prompting, not prodding, the viewer’s emotions. The most evident example of the clashing tones is the bag scene. I understand that many people like American Beauty and think that the bag scene is super profound, but, guys, c’mon. It’s a bag. Newman’s score makes it sound like Wes Bentley discovered the meaning of life. So when I hear that score played over the scene of a goddamn plastic bag floating in the wind, it’s a little ridiculous. Mendes screams “LOOK AT THE BAG IT’S A METAPHOR FOR LIFE” and Newman whispers “imagine if this was a better movie. That’s what I did when I wrote this piece.” As a viewer, I think it’s understandable that I left with a feeling of disgruntlement.
No the bag is not dancing with you Wes Bentley because it’s a goddamn bag! You’re watching a video of a bag!
3. Rain Man
I never thought Hans Zimmer could compose anything but a brilliant soundtrack and then I watched Rain Man. Granted, it’s one of his earlier films and deep ( I mean deeeeep) into the Eighties, but oh man, is it bad. It’s like if he took Toto’s “Africa,” stripped the vocals, and repeated it for 90 minutes and said “there’s your soundtracks, sucker!” And Rain Man is silly, but it’s supposed to be a serious drama between a man and his brother. Zimmer’s soundtrack is so…ugh… it just detracts from every moment. Take this scene:
What is he trying to achieve with that music? It tries to be soft, but blares to the forefront, it tries to be subtle, but a synthesizer will never be silenced. And what is this travesty?!!!
What could this song possibly be expressing for this particularly scene? I’m honestly baffled.
Disclaimer: This is just my opinion, so if you think that Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack goes perfectly with Rain Man, I respect that. Same goes for the other two movies. I might be thinking wayyyyyyyyyy too much into the whole movie-music balance.
Let me know if you guys agree or disagree. I’d love to know about other movies that suffer from the same movie-music disconnect. And Hans, I forgive you for Rain Man.
Y’all watching Daredevil right now? I’m really digging this new Douchey Matt™ persona. It’s more realistic than the writers trying to sell Matt as a goody-two shoes who just happens to beat people into bloody pulps. But at least he’s not killing them, right?
Also, in what world does Karen think Frank is justified in killing 30 people? Who cares if they were drug dealers and gang bangers? No one has the right to execute thirty people. That’s basic law and order. How is this a plot line? How is the jury conflicted over this?