Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Most Iconic Instrumental Movie Themes (Part Three)

While drafting this top forty list of the most iconic instrumental movie themes, I realized that my #40 to #21 reflected my personal favorites which managed to gain some popularity over the years. The top 20, however, are generally the soundtracks (not necessarily ma faves) of huge blockbusters--perhaps a reason why these musical scores have made quite a stamp on pop culture.  Check out the list below and see if you agree.

Some have been wondering if the likes of THE DEER HUNTER or KRAMER VS. KRAMER will appear in my top forty. Sadly, the answer is no. In the same way that I have omitted movie themes with versions carrying lyrics in the same soundtrack, I am not including music not written for the film. THE DEER HUNTER's original music was written by John Williams, but its most popular track CAVATINA is a classical guitar piece by Stanley Myers. Most of the music in KRAMER VS. KRAMER is actually by Antonio Vivaldi. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY's famous opening track is by Richard Strauss, and EMPIRE OF THE SUN's SUO GAN is actually a traditional Welsh lullaby.

So the music listed below is wholly original. But as I've mentioned, many of them have become extremely popular because the film themselves for which they were written have been HUGE! If you wish to hear the music described in this list feel free to visit: MY TOP 40 MOVIE THEMES (20-11).

And do tell me if your own movie theme favorites!

#20 JURASSIC PARK (John Williams)
I suppose giant blockbusters have a way of helping their soundtracks approach iconic status. Jurassic Park, after all, was the most successful film released up until 1993 when the movie hit the theaters, and its music is among the most memorable--classic JohnWilliams: bold, brassy, and anthemic. Wiliams wrote the score in the same year he finished Schindler's List, for which he won an Oscar. He was not even nominated for Jurassic though. All right, I do feel that Schindler's is truly more deserving, but there's no denying that Jurassic has become quite popular.

#19 CINEMA PARADISO (Ennio Morricone)
Almost everyone's favorite Morricone score. The music here is considered to be a co-star of this Oscar- and Cannes-winning Italian film. The bittersweet melodies create a persona that watches and sympathizes with Salvatorre as he comes of age, finds a father figure in movie projectionist Alfredo, and has his heart broken. Morricone (assisted by his son Andrea in this movie), creates a most passionate and magical piece, with an innocently rustic appeal. As a movie buff and audiophile, you can imagine the thrill I experienced receiving a DVD of Cinema Paradiso from my sister Eileen.

#18 E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (John Williams)
The American Film Institute voted Williams's work for E.T. as the 14th greatest musical score, and rightfully so. The music (which earned Williams his fourth Oscar) helped define the composer's rich orchestral style in that period of his career. It is grand and uplifting, compelling and endearing. I cannot imagine the bicycle scene to be as special as it became without John Williams.

#17 Beverly Hills Cop (Harold Faltermeyer)
Faltermeyer won a Grammy for original score in 1986 for this, having captured the synth-pop style of the era with his "Axel F" theme. Insanely engaging and danceable, the music heightens the pop attitude of the comedy involving Eddie Murphy's character, who attempts to bust two hustlers in an unauthorized sting operation. Faltermeyer, also credited for the music of Top Gun, among others, had assisted Moroder on the latter's Oscar-winning work for Midnight Express.

#16 SUPERMAN (John Williams)
Watching Superman by myself in 1979 at Circle theater (SRO, mind you), I could not help being mesmerized by the special effects (they were special then) and overwhelming music. Jerry Goldsmith, who wrote the score for THE OMEN, was originally hired to do SUPERMAN, but had to dropout of the project due to schedule conflicts. Thus John Williams took over. Heroic and romantic, Williams's work became a favorite among local marching bands and rondallas. Gee, who isn't familiar, even 3 decades later, with Superman's main theme?

#15 HATARI! (Henry Mancini)
For the 1962 John Wayne movie about Western expatriates catching wild animals in Africa, Henry Mancini wrote the highly popular theme, Baby Elephant Walk--a piece of music I encountered through my sister Audrey, who used to play this on the organ. Combining brass and woodwind instruments to mimic sounds of a herd of elephants, Mancini was successful in creating a whimsical jazz treat that has been covered by a number of musicians. Though many of us, I suspect, do not know the film, you might nod in recognition when you listen to the track.

When a film's biggest mystery hinges on a 5-note alien musical code, how can that movie's soundtrack not make a dent in our musical minds? Spielberg, who directed the movie, purposely gave Williams a 5-note limit because the short motif was to represent an alien greeting, which is supposed to be succinct. Williams developed tons, with Spielberg choosing one at random. Lucky for us, the successful musical phrase resonated with millions the world over.

#13 GONE WITH THE WIND (Max Steiner)
It lost to THE WIZARD OF OZ for best original score at the Oscars. But Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!  Max Steiner's work is The American Film Institute's #2 choice for the greatest film score. Romantic and lush, it is the perfect accompaniment to the 1939 dramatic war film based on Margaret Mitchell's novel. Seventy years later, the music lingers still, carrying the same emotional grandeur. Was it ever used in some Pinoy radio soap?

#12 INDIANA JONES (John Williams) 
So much John Williams in this batch of film music! The score for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is close to 80 minutes long. The film itself? About 100 minutes. Wall-to-wall music that's utterly rousing and pompous. The main theme has been used as well in other Indiana Jones stuff from video games to theme park rides. So even if the music has not been available in music stores since 1995 (it will be rereleased in November this year), no one has really escaped from it. It's hard to believe Williams lost the Oscar to someone else (whom you'll meet soon).

#11 SOMEWHERE IN TIME (John Barry) 
This soundtrack clearly has a cult following. Panned by critics after its release, the movie had a lackluster performance at the box office, but its lyrical music swept audiences off their feet. While Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is a motif in the film, Barry's main theme has become a favorite of many. It was thus surprising when Barry was not even nominated for an Oscar (the award was given to the movie FAME). Lyrics were later developed, and the song was recorded by Pat Castillo and Vernie Varga, among others.

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