For anybody who had the misfortune of taking a ride in my car, they would’ve immediately noticed something was off with the music. It wasn’t the radio. Nope, not Taylor Swift or anybody really recognizable. It was film and TV scores. Actually. This is probably least shocking to Metaflix readers, as I’m sure many of you have the same taste in music!
I play a few instruments (kind of…), but I don’t actually have much formal music training. So, when I talk about film scores, I usually talk about them in the context of how they make me feel and how they support the action, even though I may not be great at using the jargon.
I appreciate famous scores as much as anybody else. How could I not love “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones”? “Inception” is a masterpiece. As are great TV scores such as “Game of Thrones” or “Doctor Who.” A great score evokes the film just from listening to it. Can’t you imagine the world of Inception when hearing “Time”? Don’t you want to grab somebody’s hand and run when you hear “I Am the Doctor”?
But an even greater score doesn’t just replicate the story, it adds a new dimension. The fantasy space epic “Star Wars” is grounded when accompanied by John Williams’ classical score with roots in the 19th century. But while we all may know of these scores; some other great films also have great scores that deserve to be recognized.
And yes, all of these scores are still from great films. An amazing score does nothing to a bad film. If the movie doesn’t connect, no amount of music is going to force it. But an amazing score can take a great film and make it phenomenal. Here are 3 examples of amazing, underrated film scores:
*Note: I seem to use the words score and soundtrack pretty interchangeably. This may bother some of you. I understand your pain.
‘War for the Planet of the Apes’
Okay, this is partially because I think this movie deserves way more attention than it gets. It’s fricken phenomenal! But a large portion of that is because of how great the music is. Michael Giacchino is one of Hollywood’s biggest composer, with 154 composing credits to his name on IMDb. “Rogue One” or “Coco” were terrific, both composed by Giacchino. So, sure, this guy is not underrated, but his work in this movie definitely is!
At its center, “War” is quite a simple story. It is about a father searching for his family. But with all the incredible visuals, epic nature, and promise of war, it’s the score that reminds us of the movie’s emotional core. Oscillating between orchestral grandeur and hauntingly beautiful piano melodies, the “Apes” franchise’s most expansive film is also its most intimate.
There’s no one track that captures this more than “More Red Than Alive,” which rapidly and effectively switches between the two. I dare you to listen to its best track, “Exodus Wounds” and not feel slightly sad, powerful, and incredibly optimistic all that same time. Among all the bleakness of the film, there is real hope in the world the apes are hoping to create. That pays off beautifully in “Paradise Found.”
Giacchino’s score keeps this movie grounded, fueling its raw, emotional power.
Favorite Tracks: Exodus Wounds, Don’t Luca Now, More Red Than Alive, End Credits (can I say all of them are my favorite tracks? I really want to).
‘The Truman Show’
Jim Carrey’s got quite the range. But “The Truman Show” may just be his best work ever. And this one may be kind of cheating a little bit because lots of people do love this soundtrack. The whole score is not original either, as it uses much of legendary composer Philip Glass’ music from other works (among other composers who worked on it). Yet, I still think “The Truman Show” score deserves more praise for how perfectly it captures the whimsical, yet dark atmosphere of the movie.
The main theme is resounding. It reflects the purity in Truman’s soul, but also the naivety. It’s so confidently happy. Compare that to “Truman Sleeps,” which takes the joyful atmosphere and adds a melancholy piano melody. Much of the score feels quite childlike, as Truman grapples with a curated, but blissful life. The score is also big and orchestral, hammering in the scale of this manufactured world. Unlike “Apes,” this movie takes place in one facility, but the music always makes it feel like there is more waiting to be seen. It really is just a terrific movie score.
Favorite Tracks: Truman Sleeps, It’s a Life, Father Kolbe’s Preaching, Powaqqatsi: Anthem – Part 2 (If you are wondering what this last track is, it’s the main theme. But due to a rights issue in the US, if you want this track you may have to check out the soundtrack of “Powaqqatsi,” which is where this Philip Glass track comes from. I’ve tracked it down so you don’t have to!).
Films inspired by true events can also utilize a great score. “Zodiac” is that kind of film. David Fincher is known to command atmosphere in really unique ways. While the direction does that, it’s David Shire’s assured score that beautifully captures the ethereal, foggy 1960s San Francisco.
“Aftermaths” creatively captures the ‘lost in the fog’ kind of feel, as it slides from note to note, never quite knowing where to land in the dark, brooding soundscape. “Graysmith’s Theme” elegantly contrasts this with an easy-going piano riff. There’s something quite joyful or playful about it. But in the context of the film (and the rest of the soundtrack), it’s incredibly creepy. This kind of contrast is crucial for movie scores. Especially in films where we know the ending, the score can—early on—create tension.
Favorite Tracks: Graysmith’s Theme, Aftermaths, Graysmith Obsessed, Closer and Closer.