Film Review: Score: A Film Music Documentary

Composers and experts discuss movie soundtracks in a polished, laid-back documentary.
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Often a crucial element to a motion picture's success, soundtracks also tend to be overlooked by moviegoers. Score gathers together dozen of composers, musicians and historians to explain how and why music added to visuals can create art.

Following a template established by Visions of Light and The Cutting Edge, Score takes a layman's approach to soundtracks, offering a bit of history and nods to some composers from Hollywood's Golden Age before settling into interviews with the artists behind contemporary movies.

Director Matt Schrader shoots composers working with directors in spotting sessions, as they determine when music will be needed in a movie. We see what inspires their work, sometimes exotic instruments, often everyday sounds. And Schrader spends time in recording studios as composers work with orchestras to master the tone and approach of musical cues that may last only seconds.

Psychology professor Siu-Lan Tan is on hand to discuss the neuroscience of music, but for the most part Score never delves deeper than a Wikipedia page. And the documentary's roundup of contemporary composers is primarily an excuse for greatest-hits medleys. Jerry Goldsmith prompts excerpts from Planet of the Apes and Chinatown; John Williams means Star Wars, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Part of a composing dynasty, Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, Finding Dory) has interesting things to say about electronics, the influx of rock musicians, and how Hans Zimmer has dominated the soundtrack market. Zimmer, meanwhile, explains the music behind a single shot in his Gladiator score. (Zimmer also makes the important point that soundtrack composers are among the last artists today who are commissioned to write orchestral music.)

These strong sections in Score are offset by interviews that recount incidents without digging into details. Tom Holkenborg, who uses the "Junkie XL" credit, talks about spending seven months producing the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack. But he never gets into the nitty-gritty, like how he worked with director George Miller.

Similarly, Trent Reznor, founder and principal of the band Nine Inch Nails and a partner with Atticus Ross in writing the score for The Social Network, has almost nothing to say about electronic composing other than that he is good at it.

The best scenes in Score show the artists at work. We see Heitor Pereira instructing an orchestra how to play his Minions opening. Steve Jablonsky demonstrates on a mixing board how French horns change the way we see a Transformers character. These nuts-and-bolts moments reveal the intensive labor, artistry and sheer magic behind movie soundtracks.

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