Soundtrack or Score?
by Melissa Minners
A friend recently asked me why G-POP.net contains so many musical score reviews. "After all," my friend offered, "it's the songs, not the score, that sell." While I agree that when your average music fan sets out to purchase a movie album release, it is generally not the score they are after, I still believe that the score of a film is incredibly important.
Imagine the Millennium Falcon's escape from the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope without John Williams amazing, adrenaline-pumping score. And, while on the subject of John Williams, how exciting would the Phantom Menace Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon fight scene be without Williams' Duel of Fates accompanying the battle? Horror films aren't as scary without the ominous score featuring spooky sounds sending goosebumps up your spine and blasts of music that make you jump out of your seat.
My first real appreciation of musical score came from a completely unexpected source. I could already appreciate the scoring capabilities of John Williams thanks to the Star Wars: A New Hope Soundtrack, but I never really grasped the emotion that could come out of a good score until I got my hands on the Terminator Soundtrack.
I had seen Terminator and enjoyed the punkish rock songs found in the film, so I headed to the local record store (yeah, I'm kinda dating myself here) and bought the soundtrack on cassette. The songs that I enjoyed were all there, but the album also included the score by Brad Fiedel. Who could forget that spookily haunting synthesizer sound mixed in with dramatic percussion that made up the Terminator Theme. And how dramatic would the love scene between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese be without the score to underline the tenderness and yet urgency of the two lovers in that scene. I had seen the film a number of times, but never realized the poignancy and importance of the score in the film until I purchased the soundtrack.
Though I can thoroughly appreciate a good musical score album, I do believe that not every film score is meant to be sold in album format. It bothers me to no end when I receive an album to review that features a score made up entirely of musical cues (short bits of music featured throughout the film) or ambient sounds and no real music. Also annoying are scores that have solely been created as musical background and never really tell the story of the film. Scores like these don't make for good stand alone albums and don't really deserve album treatment.
There are often times, in my reviewing experience, that I wish soundtrack creators would create albums featuring the songs AND score of the film. And by that, I mean, not placing the songs at the beginning or end of the album, but intermingling them as they appear in the movie, giving the listener a better sense of the emotion, drama/comedy, and story of the film through its music. All of the music is important, but sometimes, selecting songs and intermingling them with the most poignant moments of musical score is the best way to create an album that defines the film. In my opinion, this strategy makes for a more marketable movie album...one that I think more average music fans would seek to buy rather than an album that contains only score.
That being said, there are times when a score is so dramatic...so unique...that music aficionados can't afford to pass it up. Take, for instance, the score of Atonement. Sure, there's a song thrown in here and there, but the more important part of the Atonement Soundtrack is the score and the use of typewriter key strikes as percussion. Such a unique presentation not only heightens the drama of the film, but is so striking as to capture the attention of any true film score fan.
So, soundtrack or score? Well, that's a very difficult question to answer, but I have to say that a film soundtrack featuring the best of both worlds - songs and score - is the key to yielding a more well-rounded representation of the film's music as well as a more profitable album.