Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) Review

Making a documentary about film scores is like making a documentary about cinematography: Almost every minute of cinema since the dawn of the medium has been scored, and so there is a lot of ground to cover. Too much ground for a 90 minute feature that works best when guiding us around recording studios and rehearsal spaces, and is less successful with everything else.

How to tackle such a gargantuan task is a question the producers don’t seem to have satisfactorily answered, and instead we get a little of everything: Composers showing us the weird instruments they’ve collected, directors telling us how important music is, a little light music theory and then countless talking heads discussing someone else’s work, but never in deeper terms than ‘it’s really good’ or ‘it changed everything’. These clips of composer explaining why Jaws is iconic and how Inception changed cinema seem largely pointless, and I would much rather all the back-patting and discussing other people’s work had been left of the cutting room floor.

The elephant in the mixing studio is John Williams, whose iconic scores for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and on (and on) are rightly discussed for an age, but without any direct contribution from the man himself. Everyone agrees that his themes are memorable, but this seems a little redundant, and at times as though Score is aimed at E.T. himself, a light introduction to film scores for someone who has literally no idea what a film score is.

Score is at its best when exploring the spaces that composers use, especially David Arnold’s guided tour of London’s Air Studios, and an extended look at an orchestra recording in Abbey Road. The latter is upstaged slightly by an archive clip of John William’s recording the score to The Phantom Menace while an extremely comfortable George Lucas looks on, slouched so far back on a sofa he’s almost horizontal.

This footage is all available on countless Star Wars release no doubt, and therein lies the main problem with Score- by being so all-encompassing Schrader struggles to find time to take a more interesting deep dive into any one production, in a way that a lot of the films discussed have already managed on DVD extra features.

The broad brushes with which the subject is explored extends to the choice of music- if you aren’t into blockbuster scores there’s not much here for you. Other than a quick nod to Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch’s minimalist score for The Social Network, the film is very much about blockbuster bombast. From the aforementioned Williams via Jerry Goldsmith and Howard Shore to Howard Zimmer.

There’s a little bit of fun trivia along the way, but nothing you won’t have seen or heard before if you have even a passing interest in film music, with Hans Zimmer’s amazing appearance in The Buggle’s video for ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ the hilarious highlight.

Score completes its journey through film with multiple composers declaring Hans Zimmer a genius, and agreeing his driving bombastic score for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has changed the way film music is made forever.

We are then shown a few minutes of the incredibly uninspiring score for some Transformers sequel or other being composed, and as we cut back to Zimmer afterwards it’s hard not to feel a little annoyed at the guy- as good as his work is other film scores for blockbusters since are just retreading ground he’s covered in so many vapid ways that it’s hard to find a happy ending in all this.

Isn’t it time to just stop sticking an Inception noise on everything?

That’s not a question Score wants to answer, and whilst a pleasant enough 90 minutes its hard to feel like there is much to take away from the film, other than how happy Danny Elfman looked in Oingo Boingo.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ½ ☆ ☆ 



Sam Draper

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