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Movie Music on the Decline

John Williams at 90: the last of the great film composers?

John Williams:
John Williams:

The 90th birthday of John Williams will be celebrated by the San Diego Symphony on Saturday, August 13. In a previous article, I mentioned the lack of well-known composers after World War II. The one exception was John Williams.

Video:

Theme from Superman

With his 90th birthday in mind, I considered the topic further. I realized that John Willimas might be the last of the great movie composers. I began wracking my mind for the last movie I had seen with great music—John Williams-level music. Could Hollywood be following the contemporary composers into musical obscurity? I argue that is, indeed, becoming the case.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Think about a movie that has original music that you love. Not music that you like. Music that you love. Got it in mind? When was that movie made? I rest my case.

For me, the most recent movie with lovable music is Gladiator, I think. Maybe. I did buy the soundtrack back in 2000. While Gladiator was great, the music didn’t quite have the lasting power of other movies with symphonic soundtracks.

Video:

Theme from Lord of the Rings

In 2001 Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came out with a sweeping soundtrack by Howard Shore. That is music that I love. In the same year Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone came out. John Williams was the composer.

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Since then I struggle to find film scores that have music compelling enough to warrant listening to on their own. Of course, the point of a film score is that it supports the film as opposed to being worthy of a life outside the film.

Even the music of John Williams seems to have lost its way. He composed the music for the Star Wars sequel trilogy but, for the life of me, I can’t recall the music from those movies outside of the established Star Wars music from the original trilogy. Williams also composed the music for the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series. That show was more Disney Channel than Star Wars. It was written by children for children.

I’m not here to find fault but in decades past it felt like every few years a movie came out that had music that exceeded the confines of the movie itself. The 1960s had The Magnificent Seven, Doctor Zhivago, El Cid, and Lawrence of Arabia along with the obvious musicals such as The Sound of Music, Westside Story, and My Fair Lady.

The 1970s brought film scores such as The Godfather, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman. The 1980s had Chariots of Fire, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Out of Africa, and Glory. Glory might be the most underrated film score of all time.

Video:

John Dunbar theme from Dances with Wolves

The hit parade continued in the 1990s with Dances with Wolves, Schindler’s List, The Lion King, The English Patient—a towering accomplishment of film scoring—Aladdin, Titanic, and The Red Violin.

Once we get to the 2000s the number of movies with great music starts to go down. In the 2010s it almost stops. Take a look at this list of Academy Award winners and nominations for Best Original Score and decide for yourself.

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John Williams:
John Williams:

The 90th birthday of John Williams will be celebrated by the San Diego Symphony on Saturday, August 13. In a previous article, I mentioned the lack of well-known composers after World War II. The one exception was John Williams.

Video:

Theme from Superman

With his 90th birthday in mind, I considered the topic further. I realized that John Willimas might be the last of the great movie composers. I began wracking my mind for the last movie I had seen with great music—John Williams-level music. Could Hollywood be following the contemporary composers into musical obscurity? I argue that is, indeed, becoming the case.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Think about a movie that has original music that you love. Not music that you like. Music that you love. Got it in mind? When was that movie made? I rest my case.

For me, the most recent movie with lovable music is Gladiator, I think. Maybe. I did buy the soundtrack back in 2000. While Gladiator was great, the music didn’t quite have the lasting power of other movies with symphonic soundtracks.

Video:

Theme from Lord of the Rings

In 2001 Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came out with a sweeping soundtrack by Howard Shore. That is music that I love. In the same year Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone came out. John Williams was the composer.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Since then I struggle to find film scores that have music compelling enough to warrant listening to on their own. Of course, the point of a film score is that it supports the film as opposed to being worthy of a life outside the film.

Even the music of John Williams seems to have lost its way. He composed the music for the Star Wars sequel trilogy but, for the life of me, I can’t recall the music from those movies outside of the established Star Wars music from the original trilogy. Williams also composed the music for the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series. That show was more Disney Channel than Star Wars. It was written by children for children.

I’m not here to find fault but in decades past it felt like every few years a movie came out that had music that exceeded the confines of the movie itself. The 1960s had The Magnificent Seven, Doctor Zhivago, El Cid, and Lawrence of Arabia along with the obvious musicals such as The Sound of Music, Westside Story, and My Fair Lady.

The 1970s brought film scores such as The Godfather, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman. The 1980s had Chariots of Fire, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Out of Africa, and Glory. Glory might be the most underrated film score of all time.

Video:

John Dunbar theme from Dances with Wolves

The hit parade continued in the 1990s with Dances with Wolves, Schindler’s List, The Lion King, The English Patient—a towering accomplishment of film scoring—Aladdin, Titanic, and The Red Violin.

Once we get to the 2000s the number of movies with great music starts to go down. In the 2010s it almost stops. Take a look at this list of Academy Award winners and nominations for Best Original Score and decide for yourself.

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