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Top Ten Movie Scores That Trumped the Movie

August 21, 2011

I was recently ruminating on film scores that have outshone their movie in one way or another.  In a lot of cases, I’ve never actually seen the movie.  I thought I’d try my hand at making one of these pointlessly entertaining and endlessly arguable lists.  My nominations below include the year the film was released and its current user rating on IMDB.com.

Chariots of Fire (1981) (7.2)

If someone broke into your house in the middle of the night, pointed a gun at your head and demanded that you hum the theme of Chariots of Fire, you could do it, true?  What if the same trivia-craving intruder demanded that you quote a line from the movie instead?  Aha!  You’d likely be dead, just as I would.

I have never seen Chariots of Fire.  I would wager that few people actually have.  In spite of its four Academy Award victories, including Best Picture and Best Original Score, I’ve never come across this film on television.

Most of us can hum another famous Vangelis tune, Hymne, but we’d probably identify it as the “Earnest and Julio Gallo commercial.”

 

The Phantom of the Opera (2004) (7.2)

I’ve not seen the movie version of Phantom.  I can’t imagine liking it.

I was never more ready to fall in love with a stage musical than when I attended my first performance of The Phantom of the Opera in 1990.  I have never been more disappointed in a musical before or since.  My primary complaint was that I didn’t connect with the characters—any of them.  They never credibly broke out of their typecast rolls.

But I still get goosebumps when I hear Phantom’s shocking overture begin.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986) (7.1)

The Great Mouse Detective shouldn’t be on this list.  I know.  It snuck in uninvited, like vermin.  I dragged my mom to see a mouse play Sherlock Holmes because I loved (okay, love) animation.  I doubt that many people who reside outside of my head are familiar with the musical theme of this movie.

My youthful assessment was that TGMD had a great score.  (Spare yourself the agony of listening to the song that follows the end credits.)  What is remarkable to me is that I only saw the movie once, yet I could hum a reasonable facsimile of the theme music to you yesterday.  (I only just now looked it up on YouTube.  I was about 80% correct.)  Perhaps I was a prodigy like Mozart; or perhaps they played the theme two hundred times during the movie.

Exodus (1960) (6.8)

I can’t remember how to hum the Ernest Gold’s theme from Exodus every time I’m asked.  (I can’t tell you how often this happens to me at cocktail parties.)  But it’s instantly recognizable when one hears it.

I’ve not seen Exodus, I had to search for a plot summary online.  I never could have told you that Paul Newman starred in it.  Nor that it deals with the creation of modern Israel.  Odd that no one wants to watch a film about that these days.

I seem to recall Darryl and Darryl playing Exodus on twin grand pianos during an episode of Newhart, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) (6.4)


The Phantom Menace has been so derided and degraded that I needn’t add my voice to the chorus.  Being a child of the 80’s, I was drawn to the theater like ewoks to peanut brittle when Star Wars returned.  And, of course, I had to buy the soundtrack.  The track that stands out for me is No. 2, Duel of the Fates.  It seems that John Williams understood, more innately than George Lucas, what the back story of Anakin Skywalker needed to be.  Duel of the Fates is grand, quasi-religious, complex, tense and driving.  Love it.  Eight-year-old Jedi?  Hate it.

DragonHeart (1996) (6.2)

DragonHeart became marginally famous for being the first live action film with a completely CGI main character, Draco the dragon, voiced by Sean Connery.  It didn’t rise much above its notoriety as a novelty, though.

I saw DragonHeart in the theater, but I didn’t pick up on the music at the time.  The sweeping theme caught my ear as background music in the trailer for Disney’s Mulan, sending me on a decade-long search to find out where on earth it had originated.

Evita (1996) (6.1)

By the time I was attending live theatre performances in the 1990’s, the 1979 staging of Evita seemed tired to me.  The 1996 movie had a fresh take on the subject.  Personally, I feel Madonna’s singing nailed the character of Eva Peron, if not all the notes.

What makes the soundtrack stand out for me is You Must Love Me.  The volatile collaborators Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber buried the hatchet after seventeen years in order to write this song.  Their new music and lyrics display a maturity that wasn’t present in the original show.  The 1981 soundtrack was trying way too hard to be interesting.  You Must Love Me is effortless in its complexity; deceptive in its depth.

 

Sabrina (1995) (6.0)

I’ll admit I like the 1995 remake of Sabrina, even though Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford don’t have enough screen chemistry to fill a petri dish.  The film is most engaging during the sequence when millionaire playboy David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) is first smitten with the chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond).

As I listened to the opening piano solo of the soundtrack, I knew I would own it.  John William’s lush and romantic theme is one of my favorites.

The Bodyguard (1992) (5.6)

Gather ‘round children and let me tell you a tale.  Once upon a time, Whitney Houston was America’s sweetheart.  It’s true, I tell you!  Uncle Craigo wouldn’t lie.  Whitney Houston was as sweet as apple pie with custard and American flag toothpicks stuck on top.

There was no time when Whitney’s popularity was higher than when The Bodyguard hit theaters in 1992.  Its soundtrack is filled with one broadway belter hit after another.  The crowning achievement, obviously, was her complete reinvention and annexation of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.

Unfortunately, no one could sit through the movie without gagging.

The Wiz (1978) (4.7)

Can you sing Ease on Down the Road?  I’ll not bore you further, then.  I’ve never seen The Wiz.  Neither have you—I hope.  By all accounts, it wreaks.

So what did I miss?  Hopefully you’ll let me know.

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