By: Nick Vita
What makes a movie scene memorable? An over the top action sequence might stick in your mind, or a laugh out loud comedy gag may do the trick as well. A dramatic moment of love or death that makes audiences shed a tear will definitely be one to remember. How about a scene of a secret handshake between a butler and a young redheaded twin? Who’s going to remember that? Everyone knows immediately what scene and what movie I’m referring to. This moment from the movie Parent Trap probably shouldn’t stick out to us, but it does. The reason this scene remains so apparent in our minds is all thanks to the background music. Soulful Strut by Young-Holt Unlimited plays during this moment. Imagine this scene without this song, or even no music at all. It becomes pretty bare. With this specific, perfect track, this handshake gets locked in our minds. That’s the power of music in film.
Music is an aspect of film that really gets overlooked. Soundtracks and original scores obviously get much attention by critics, audiences and even award ceremonies, but we’re not nearly giving music enough credit for being the reason scenes or even films as a whole are memorable. One genre that relies heavily on music would be horror. Creating an eerie score will either make or break your horror film. Halloween by John Carpenter is one of the most famous horror movies of all time. That score is so iconic and has helped push the movie to critical acclaim. Without the music, what do you have? In an interview, John Carpenter talks about how when they were test screening the film, before the score was implemented, audiences didn’t see what the big deal was. The movie just couldn’t deliver proper fear. Carpenter had to go back and create a score. From that day, the main score would send chills down audiences’ spines for decades.
Is it any coincidence that some of the more famous movie scenes happen to be accompanied by music? What’s the first scene you think of when talking about Back to the Future? It’s probably the Johnny B. Goode scene. What’s the most memorable scene in Reservoir Dogs? It’s definitely the Stuck in the Middle With You scene. What about 10 Things I Hate About You? The clear winning moment is the Can’t Take My Eyes Off You scene. Baby Driver, a movie literally driven by music hits you with scene after scene of memorable moments. Take the music out of that film and you have another, while incredibly shot, action movie about cars and joyriding.
When it comes to original movie scores, John Williams is a name known by everyone, and for good reason too. He’s done the score for so many movies. Obviously, he did the score for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter, but he also did the score for Home Alone. Without playing any visuals and only playing the main theme from Home Alone, a rush of nostalgia and Christmas cheer hits the listener. The movie is instantly recognizable, just based on that main theme alone. You start to remember the movie scene by scene, the pizza delivery scene, the old crime movie scene, the setting of the house traps scene. Put some stock soundtrack in place of John William’s masterpiece. There’s got to be a reason this movie gets so much praise. Surely, it would have been forgotten by now without that warming score.
Music is a universal thing that everyone can agree on. If you want to exploit someone’s nostalgia, hit them with a goosebumps-raising song. This new Star Wars trilogy is bad. It will never hold up to the originals. The trailer for Rise of Skywalker did something sneaky though. The addition of Leia’s theme immediately brought me and many fans right back to the original trilogy. Why, even though I go into the new trilogy knowing I’ll soon be disappointed, do those bright yellow block letters at the beginning of the movie get me every time? STAR WARS… que the opening credit theme. Rise of Skywalker was a total blur. I couldn’t pick out one scene from that movie, almost immediately after stepping out of the theater. The one scene that did stick with me though, is when ghost Luke is lifting the X-Wing out of the water. It’s a great call back to The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the Dagobah swamp. In both scenes, Yoda’s theme plays. It’s such an emotional score. Both scenes would be forgotten without that track though, no doubt in my mind.
Much like these new Star Wars movies, Marvel movies will become a blur. Right now, that sounds crazy, but it will happen. Those movies tried way too hard on visuals and completely forgot about the audio portion. The only memorable original score from those movies would be the Avenger’s main theme. Even then, only like 20 seconds of that score is the memorable part. Other than that, I can’t think of one score in those movies. You probably can’t either. What happened? Why was there no effort put into the score? It just sounds so generic, like any other action movie. You know what Marvel movies will get remembered? It’s the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. What do you know? Those movies relied on music and have an amazing soundtrack. The opening scene alone of the first one so effortlessly got stuck in everyone’s mind. The scene starts as if it’s going to be another serious action movie scene of exploration. Then out of nowhere, Starlord puts on his Walkman and begins jamming out to Come and Get Your Love by Redbone. Instant classic. That’s how you open a movie.
When picked correctly, music will boost a film in such an immense way that no other aspect of film can do. For it being such a pivotal point, soundtracks and scores aren’t getting enough recognition. Music isn’t in movies for no other reason than to fill in the silence. Songs are so carefully written or picked to match the on-screen emotion, and when that perfect track entwines with a scene, it greatly elevates a film. Film is an extremely visual art form, but it’s just as equally an audible one too.