Relaxed film composers

January 5, 2010

horner_zimmerOver the holiday I watched two movies, twice: Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes. Like Howard Shore in the Lord of the RIngs trilogy, Mr Horner’s score for Avatar is wall-to-wall music, and, for my money, effective and not memorable. Throwing in a song over the end credits didn’t matter as most of us were racing to the restrooms after sitting for three action-packed hours. My students all remember the Lord of the Rings music, but even after 3 viewings, it just never stuck for me. (Horner and Shore are, of course, terrific film composers, no trashing intended. Both know how to write sticky melodies.)

Hans Zimmer’s score for Sherlock Holmes was terrific. A small ensemble that features a banjo (huh?? in 19th century England??), a hammered dulcimer and a few other instruments. Only occasionally do we hear a full orchestra. Zimmer has fun with this score. He doesn’t try too hard, the score sounds relaxed, effortless, and memorable.

It made me think of scores where composers try too hard, drawing too much attention to themselves and their “goddam counterpoint” as Lionel Newman used to say. Horner’s score was effective and unmemorable; Zimmer’s was effective and memorable. I am in the school that favors memorable tunes in films, so that the audience walks away with not only a theatrical experience, but a new tune or two as well.


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