You’re in the theatre watching a movie, it’s a Friday night and you want a break from the harsh real world, away from all your troubles.
The movie is Interstellar and you watch the sweet-talking protagonist Dr Cooper scurry across inter-dimensional portals & wormholes, exploring the depths of the universe, in an attempt to save the human race in all its frailty. And as you bear witness to the brilliant acting skills of actor extraordinaire i.e. Matthew McConaughey and premier-grade film direction à la Christopher Nolan, poignant notes of hope and despair bellow out of pipe-organs and electric synths, expressing the countless emotions passing through our head unbeknownst to us. This orchestral medley transports us into the film, puts us in the protagonist’s shoes and helps us see his perspective: that we are nothing but mere spectators in the vast emptiness that is outer space. Unsurprisingly, Han Zimmer’s masterful score left a strong impression on the audience, garnering critical acclaim.
But what is the case for film scores in other movies, be it the emotion-packed and melodic soundtrack in Pocahontas or the whimsical Tyrolean-influenced score in The Grand Budapest Hotel?
Film scores are often put to the sidelines, with the primary interest shown mainly to the cinematography and visual effects of a film, despite the major role it has on the storytelling process. It is impossible to imagine a film without any form of instrumental and music. Yet, there was a time when soundtracks & scores were barely involved in the film-making. In an attempt to make the audience feel less ‘dead’ while watching a silent film, production houses slowly started adding piano music to their movies and from then on there was no looking back.
From classical scores to synth-heavy 80’s scores to full-fledged musicals, film music became an integral part of the whole cinematic experience. However, unlike the actors and actresses of Tinseltown, film composers aren’t household names, rather names that pop up only when asked a question in a game show or quiz.
Scores set the tone for the film, each theme is an indication of the pace and mood of a particular setting. It creates a sense of anticipation that helps maintain continuity, keeping us on our toes as our mind draws up imaginative conclusions based on the tempo and feel of the music. Film-makers use music as a ploy at times, to keep us off-track, toying with our expectation, in case of a surprise build-up to a plot twist. Apart from its use in a scene’s build-up, music adds another dimension to the film. It makes movies more open for interpretation, this being because different people are struck with different emotions, even when they hear the same note. Imagine a scene set at night around a beach, the music that accompanies it changes the way we’d interpret it. If the background track is eerie and dark, the imagery appears scary and frightening, chills shuddering down your spine. Now, if were to change it to a peaceful composition, some light piano, and drums, our take on the visuals would differ. Instead of focusing on the mysterious darkness that fills the screen, our attention is now on the waves: tranquil, idyllic and almost therapeutic.
Music can alter our perception of a movie, from influencing the tone of the film, all the way down to the short scenes, steering our emotions along with the plot, on a journey of its own. A growing understanding should be there for its importance, for without scores or movie compositions, we are left with a stale imagining of a screenplay, moving from frame-to-frame till the curtains fall and the screen displays the word ‘fin’.
-Written by Robin Cherian
Images from Google