The Underrated Power of Film Scores

Jess Wright

Graphic by Michelle Nelson
Graphic by Michelle Nelson

Recently while browsing Reddit I came across a thread saying that the soundtrack from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy composed by Howard Shore had been voted the best of all time. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was a list, revised by a radio station that re-arranges a list of the top 100 scores. The station would hold an annual vote and the listeners would give their votes for best soundtrack.

Anyone who has seen the “Lord of the Rings” movies will know that they are spectacular, the acting is superb and the adaptation from the book is an amazing thing to watch. However, it would not be nearly as powerful without Shore’s beautiful strains of music.

Film scores like this add complexity and new levels to our favorite movies; usually without us even knowing that they are doing it. Afterwards we find that our emotional reactions weren’t really in response to anything the actors or script did, but that the music itself moved us beyond what they could.

“Lord of the Rings” is one of the best examples of this, with songs that remind the viewer of Hobbiton and the other places in Middl Earth with only strains of music to suggest such things.

Even across the world, in China, while I was teaching English to middle-schoolers I found this to be true. The students had no idea about the plot or the characters in “Star Wars,” but when I played them a clip from the main theme they all got excited and knew that it was something important and exciting. Music like this is universal, it transcends language barriers and holds special places in our hearts, along with adding to our favorite movies.

The amazing thing about the list is that “Lord of the Rings” even beat out music by John Williams, the titan of film score composers who has been writing since the first “Star Wars” movie came out and has been going strong since then. Williams’s score for the original “Star Wars” came in fourth on the list, while his music for “Schindler’s List” was second.

Recently, in the wake of the attacks in Paris, another composer released a piece he wrote to honor and remember those who died. Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Chris Nolan “Batman” movies and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise wrote a piece in memoriam for the victims called “Aurora.”

Soundtrack music is often forgotten unless it has big themes, like those of “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings.” However, they are ones that we can openly hum to ourselves while doing day-to-day activities. There is power in film scores that when accompanied by the movie completes a work of art that can move us by appealing to our humanity.