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Friday Flix: Sound and Fury

May 20, 2011

I make no secret that I don’t like the Star Wars prequels.  But about two weeks from when this entry posts I was flipping channels and Spike was running “Revenge of the Sith” for probably the 100,000th time.  It reminded me that that movie features my two favorite scenes of the prequel trilogy.

  1. The first scene is the montage when all the Jedi are being killed by clone troopers thanks to Palpatine’s Order 66.
  2. The second is later when Anakin is sitting in the Jedi Council chambers, deciding whether to go help Palpatine or stay there as Mace Windu said.  Meanwhile, across the city, Padme is thinking of Anakin and the future and whatnot.

What these scenes have in common is that they don’t feature really any dialog.  In the first one Palpatine says, “Execute Order 66” but that’s pretty much it.  The second features no dialog at all.  Instead, George Lucas uses the music of John Williams along with the actors to convey the emotion of the scene.  And it worked because A) John Williams is awesome (really, name one memorable movie theme song from 1975-2000 he wasn’t involved in:  Jaws, Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, etc.) and B) Anything that eliminates Lucas’s tin-eared dialog is welcome.

That’s one advantage that movies have over books.  With movies you can use a combination of dialog, images, and sound to convey meaning.  When the three work in harmony it’s best, but sometimes you only need one or two for a poignant scene.  As writers, though, we’re locked into only words to try and paint a picture of the scene.  We unfortunately can’t call in John Williams to add a little extra meaning to a scene with a music cue.

But it is a good reminder that in writing a scene, you can convey emotion in more than one way.  You can use a lot of description or sometimes a lot of dialog, or a combination of the two.  It’s really up to you to figure out what will work best for the scene.

Monday what I’ve learned about Blogging so far…


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  1. I’ve always thought books should come with soundtracks; I remember not long ago seeing a book in Barnes & Noble that came with a CD, and when I proposed to write my Next Best Best Seller,

    It was going to come with the soundtrack, too.

    • You know, I think that was one of your first blog posts that I read, probably through Gather. Has that book come out yet? I could use a harmonica.

  2. Oh the great John Williams! I love his music. It’ll be a sad day when that old fart kicks the bucket.

    • I don’t think he does all that movies now days, mostly just ones for Spielberg and Lucas. Now it’s mostly Hans Zimmer and various Hans Zimmer wanna-bes. Kind of sad.

  3. You know what’s sad? That Danny Elfman doesn’t do more. One of the funny moments I remember from “Family Guy” was when John Williams was replaced by Danny Elfman for the Star Wars score.

    • It’s weird that he didn’t do the score to “The Simpsons Movie.” I mean he came up with the theme song, so that would have seemed obvious. He didn’t do the third “Spider-Man” either after doing a lot of work for Sam Raimi in the past. I guess he was too busy scoring some Tim Burton movie.

      Have you ever noticed how certain directors rely on certain composers? Spielberg and Lucas with Williams, Burton with Elfman, the Coen Brothers with Carter Burwell, etc. Probably because they want someone they can rely on and who shares their vision.

  4. I don’t like Danny Elfman (defends against all the tomatoes). Here’s why: I thought the soundtrack he did for Batman was great. Then along came other shows featuring Danny Elfman…and lo and behold…they sounded like Batman. I thought…hmmm…maybe this is just something he needs to shake off. A decade passed…more movies with soundtracks stealing from the Batman music. Arrrggghhh…he basically had one film score and just changes it up slightly for each new film. It’s terrible.

    John Williams’ music sounds completely different from one film to another. From A.I. to Jaws to Empire of the Sun to the NBC Morning News. Everything is wayyy different. John Williams = genius. Danny Elfman = I could write one song and now I just have to use the same base for all other songs.

    • There’s probably some truth to that, although even with great classical composers they often have a distinctive style. If you listen long enough you can learn to pick out a Mozart from a Beethoven from a Rachmaninoff, etc. just by the sound. It works the same with certain electric guitar players. You know a Van Halen sound just from Eddie Van Halen’s guitar or Guns n Roses with Slash, etc.

      • That reminded me that whenever I listen to the “Titanic” soundtrack there’s a part that sounds exactly like part of the score to “Star Trek II” both of which James Horner did.

  5. Lisa Potts permalink

    A genre that wouldn’t survive without a soundtrack is Horror. Just try watching a scary movie with no music. Boring.

    • Does the Friday the 13th noise count as music? That was another good example of sound providing atmosphere. Also, Psycho and Halloween wouldn’t have been the same without music.

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