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What Makes a Film Score Great



Composer Nicholas Britell asks in Slate: What makes a film score really good? The proposed answer is derived from an examination of the 1992 movie Sneakers, a computer hacking drama whose score was composed by James Horner. Britell admits to having watched the movie with pen and paper in hand in order to "sketch out its themes and orchestrations". Ah, music nerds. He continues...
"[The music] is hauntingly beautiful and written in a sophisticated and understated manner. But part of what makes the score special is that it doesn’t necessarily sound like what you’d expect for a film in the “computer-hacking / spy-game” genre. It features unlikely elements—choirs, folk themes, minimalist piano, the saxophone of Branford Marsalis—that lend the film an unusual emotional richness and depth. The score does a great job of making you “feel” all of the mysteries that Robert Redford’s Martin Bishop and his merry band of hackers must unravel...

The choices a film composer makes can either reinforce the drama on-screen, or they can move in contrary motion to it. I've always felt that the best film music does both: It emphasizes the story onscreen and creates its own parallel story. To me, the Sneakers score endures because it does exactly this: supporting the action while overlaying the film with a veneer of quiet beauty and unexpected elegance that lends a sense of richness and complexity to the characters and their drama.






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