The Shortlist: 6 Great Movie Scores You’ve Never Heard

This week’s Shortlist is in absolutely no order; it would be impossible for me to rank one score above another as they’re all equally wonderful and forgotten. With that said, enjoy…

Leviathan (George P. Cosmatos, 1989) – Jerry Goldsmith

Essentially a cheap knock-off of the hugely successful Aliens (1986), Leviathan is derivative in just about every sense… except for the rousing, spirited score by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the most underrated composers of all time. His work on Battle Beyond The Stars (1980) and Capricorn One (1978) is also great, but nothing can match the catchiness of this suite; it hits every note with aplomb, sweeping through emotions and scenarios to deliver basically the tone of an entire film in three minutes. It has romantic majesty and an energized sense of adventure – if the film was half as good as this it’d be a masterpiece!

The Black Hole (Gary Nelson, 1979) – John Barry

The film itself, as I mentioned in this week’s mini-review roundup, is an underrated if highly flawed Disney adventure, a technological showcase for the pioneering A.C.E.S. company and certainly more interesting than the cheap Star Wars (1977) knock-off it’s labelled as. But not even that star-studded cast (Anthony Perkins, Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster) can beat the score by John Barry, which starts eerie and develops a sense of otherworldly paranoia and sinister supernaturalism as it unfolds; it’s screaming strings latch themselves onto your mind and don’t let go. It’s a rousing theme, but also scary, like the accompaniment to an extraterrestrial rollercoaster – and you won’t want to get off!

Arachnid (Jack Sholder, 2001) – Francesc Gener

I love this film probably more than anyone else on the planet; always have done, always will do. It terrified me before I even knew who Jack Sholder, Brian Yuzna and Steve Johnson were (the latter has even read my review at E-Film Blog!) but one of the reasons it stuck in my mind all these years is the multi-layered and thrilling score by Spanish composer Francesc Gener. It’s like seven tracks in one, starting with eerie atmospherics, progressing through heart-pumping strings, tribal drums and finally that melody which arrives around the 2:27 mark, which is like the sound of the descent into a spider pit. Awesome.

Lady In The Water (M. Night Shyamalan, 2006) – James Newton Howard

Yes, I’m actually about to defend an M. Night Shyamalan film. Not just the score either, which is astonishingly beautiful, but the film itself. It’s a wonderful modern fairytale; carefully composed, lovingly told, inventive and acted with complete conviction. Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti have rarely been better and here turn in heartbreaking performances. But it baffles me how anybody could hate a film with a main suite like ‘Prologue’, James Newton Howard’s single masterwork. It’s literally like the sound of a fable come to life; delicate and evocative, like the water creature herself. But the piano melody which begins at 1:30 just takes my breath away. So simple yet unbeatably powerful.

Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, 1989) – Patrick Doyle

Kenneth Branagh’s wonderful directorial debut is sadly forgotten by many but remains one of the finest of all Shakespeare adaptations. It’s lent cinematic scope by the Patrick Doyle score, which is simply too epic for the theatre. The first four minutes are essentially a stirring crescendo leading up to that thrilling musical set-piece which lands at 4:24, simply one of the most heart-stopping pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s over before it’s even began, and in some ways I wish the entire suite was built around that one moment, but the 13-minute track St. Crispin’s Day (The Battle Of Agincourt) is unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. Thrilling.

Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980) – Riz Ortolani

Perhaps the most surprising of film scores, Riz Ortolani’s beautiful music for Cannibal Holocaust – one of the most horrifying and censored films of all time – is best summarized in a word not often used with video nasties: lovely. It genuinely is, with the psychedelic guitar strings evoking just about every positive emotion under the sun; in fact, it’s probably the most effective sucker punch in all of cinema. There is an eerie tone underneath the melody, I grant you, but while this track plays over the opening of the film you’d be forgiven for expecting something which doesn’t feature impaling and animal cruelty. So when you get just that, this gorgeous melody takes on a twisted irony which makes it all the better.