Words by Alexander Thompson
Imagine the opening to the Star Wars (1977) film. And the main theme for the Harry Potter series. The majority of films have them. Sometimes you notice, sometimes you don’t. The concept of the film score has been around almost as long as films themselves. Even if you haven’t seen the films, most people can recognize the theme from Jaws, Harry Potter or Indiana Jones. Some songs even get so attached to a film, they can’t separate themselves no matter how hard they try (I’m looking at you “All Star” by Smash Mouth).
When referring to sound in films, It is commonly said that sound is done well if you don’t notice it. However, I don’t completely agree with this statement. I understand that the point is that a film’s score shouldn’t take you out of the moment, and granted, I agree. Anything that pulls you out of the experience is a detriment to the full product. What really makes a soundtrack strong can be appreciated after watching the film. If the score does its job, listening to it should bring you back to those moments in the film and reawaken the emotions it made you feel. I’m one of those people that likes to listen to the soundtrack of a film when I’m out on a walk. There is something about the feelings the music brings back that really get the creative juices flowing.
With both sound and image being two halves of the whole that make up the sum of the picture, you would assume that either on their own would have the same effect. However, if you watch a clip from a film without sound, chances are you won’t get that same feeling from just the images. You’ll fixate on the fact you expect to hear something. The magic of music is irreplaceable. It’s an extremely delicate balance that when executed perfectly, brings a film to new heights. In a weird way, the absence of music manages to be just as important as the inclusion of it. Skillful composers know the right moments to bring up the roar of passion, and they know when less is more. By bringing the music to a minimum, there is an added focus on the words or actions of the characters.
We all enjoy movie soundtracks, but there's a hidden subtlety to the technique of their implementation that goes unnoticed. Soundtracks can truly make or break a scene. It’s just one of the many pieces of the whole that creates a great film. And like any puzzle, you can’t finish it without all the pieces.