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Committed: Science Fiction Action Movie Music Guilt

051513_violinsLast weekend, a friend who works on music for television and film took me to a concert commemorating the 35th anniversary of a publisher of film scores. She warned me that it would be kind of industry-heavy evening for her, lots of people for her to talk to who I wouldn’t know, basically something like a comic book launch party but with a different kind of nerd (though as it turns out, music nerds aren’t that different from comic nerds, they just wear cocktail dresses and button down shirts instead of pink hair dye and Adventure Time T-shirts). The concert comprised of a massive orchestra (she did tell me that they weren’t quite a “full orchestra” but they looked huge to me) who played a wide range of scores, as well as guest starring some of the composers to play or conduct their music.

051513_warnergrandWhile there was a curious kitsch factor to hearing live renditions of things like Hans Zimmer playing “Driving Miss Daisy”, or the love theme from Kubrick’s “Spartacus“, I found myself far more engaged by the science fiction scores, particularly the action ones. It shouldn’t have surprised me, since this is one of my favorite genres of film, but I hadn’t realized how different this type of film music is. The music itself is more intense, more high-energy and hyperbolic than the regular movie scores seemed to be. In many ways it gave me an entirely different perspective on the movies, and made me see that part of what I like about them is how outrageous that type of film can be, even if I hadn’t been consciously aware of it before. Science fiction action movies (when they work) are all about heightened emotions and finding any way to make a ridiculous premise seem plausible, almost like the film equivalent of cape-wearing superheroes. The big difference is that, unlike science fiction action movies, superhero comic books don’t have the support of a musical score to create an emotional connection. In some ways this makes me feel a little more comfortable with my consumption of comic books, since the small handful of people creating them almost always want to be making comics. The same cannot possibly be true of everyone involved in making a movie, and as I watched the musicians struggle through the outrageous action scores I worried that they might be finding them as silly as I did, but without having nearly as much fun as I was.

051513_orchestraAs I listened to the intense bravado of music for films like “Aliens”, “Stargate”, “Alien vs Predator: Requiem” (the composer / conductor looked like he nearly slipped a disc conducting the hell out of that), and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (which had a surprisingly warm and openly enthusiastic composer / conductor), I found myself suddenly aware of all of the musicians courageously plowing through this rather over-the-top music. While I might love it, who’s to say how they felt about it? It seemed as if everyone had to work three times as hard to play this type of music, and it seemed to be the only music which intermittently required a massive choir to simply sing “AAAAAAAH” very enthusiastically. A fit of giggles swelled in me and soon I was fighting to suppress laughter ; It had never occurred to me that serious classical musicians would have to perform this rather campy music. While I adore my science fiction movies, I am aware that they aren’t always targeting the most mature audience and until now I’ve never had to separate the score from the film. Sitting in a very lovely, art-deco hall forced me to do appreciate the intensity and enthusiasm of the music and I found myself confronted by the fact that (as a science fiction fan), I’m partly responsible for the work these poor musicians were working so hard to play. It is one thing for people who’re excited about science fiction films to be engaged in making them, it is a completely different one for people who are excited about classical music to do so and I wondered if they enjoyed it, or found it completely silly. Confronted with a stage packed with people furiously working together, I couldn’t ignore the humanity involved in the creation of these large, complex orchestral scores and I felt deeply guilty for the work I’d inadvertently created for them.

Leaving the concert hall with all the other well-dressed grown-ups, I found myself even more grateful for comic books. While the world of music nerds and comic book nerds might be sort of similar, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for making those music nerds play all the silly science fiction scores I love so much, but I’ve never felt guilty for loving a comic book because someone had to write it or draw it, no matter how silly the book was! Maybe I should have, but because comic books are a such a niche market, everyone I’ve ever met making comic books is doing it because they love those silly stories as much as me. I can only hope that there are music nerds out there who love to play outrageous science fiction action scores just as much.


PowerDad (Jeff)

May 15, 2013 at 11:01 am

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember listening to The Empire Strikes Back album over and over again, and reliving the movie with my Legos and Star Wars action figures. These were the days before there was a VCR in every home, let alone the instant media we have today, so the John Williams score was one of the only means to “feel” the movie again and again.

My family did listen to a fair amount of “classical” music on the radio when I was growing up, but I suspect the John Williams scores provided that further bridging of whatever remaining appreciation gap I might have had.

Now I’m an adult with a daughter, and experienced a special thrill when she received for Christmas a book of John Williams’ movie scores for violin (her instrument). I would say her main interest was playing the Harry Potter theme, but every now and then she’ll turn to The Empire Strikes Back section and play the Imperial March, which transports me to a bedroom long ago in a house far, far away.

PowerDad (Jeff)

May 15, 2013 at 11:09 am

Oh, what I forgot to say was, I don’t think you should feel guilt when it comes to enjoying such music. In fact, this sort of music can be that gateway to bigger and better things for others, and should be cherished as such.

Sci-fi/fantasy music is great, vibrant and emotive. There are feelings associated with the music and these feelings can be attached to real-life. I listen to music most of my day, and particularly turn to my Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Edward Scissorhands, Hunger Games…etc playlists. If I were a musician, it would motivate me to know that there was someone out there, like me, who severely enjoys their efforts.
It is also good to not take this stuff too seriously, othewise you would be a geek ;)

If you REALLY want to rock out, you should check out crime music.

I don’t think you should be embarrassed for the musicians. Think of it this way: the music we think of as classical music? A lot of that comes from action-packed storytelling of the past, too. For example, think of the William Tell Overture or The Flight of the Valkyries. Both are incredibly kinetic and bombastic. Classical music has similar origins to the modern versions, whether it’s a track that they used for an opera or something for a parade march or a ballet about a Nutcracker that comes to life.

And sci-fi music wasn’t created in a vaccuum. They were generated by those same influences. John Williams, especially, has several scores that strongly recall Richard Wagner, among others. (If you listen to the Pops station frequently, I think you’ll find that there are many moments where you go, “Oh, so that’s where Williams/Zimmer/Silvestri/Elfman got their influences from.”) Besides, I think those concert goers were getting their money’s worth. They were probably there for the same reason you were, after all — to hear movie scores played by a full orchestra.

Travis Pelkie

May 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Aw, memories of high school band…

Once we played a John Williams medley, with Star Wars and ET and Superman stuff in there, and I got to rock out on the tympani! Tympani kicks ass!!!

So the Darth Vader intro march or whatever (dah dah dah dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah!), I got to pound the skins for that, and a bit of a drum solo/glissandi (is that what they call it? It’s been so long since I’ve played music…) for the Superman music.

Fun times.

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