Check it out... if you seek a score that will satisfy your
expectations of John Williams, Star Wars,
and the sci-fi/fantasy genre with its brawn, beauty, and a dash of nostalgia,
for The Force Awakens will remind you
of what can be achieved with a film score.
Skip it... if you are either too impatient to be rewarded with
Williams’ craftsmanship over the course of numerous listens, or if you are so
patient that you are willing to wait up to 20 years (or more) for the eventual
release of the complete score, despite the excellent arrangement of highlights
on the commercial album.
I’d like to begin a new occasional
feature: Analysis of a Cue. In essence, I take a scene from a film and break
down in great detail how and why the music elevates the scene. This time, we’ll take a look at a couple of scenes from 1998’s The Mask of Zorro, directed by Martin
Campbell, starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones,
with music by James Horner.
Clip 1 Context: Don Diego (Hopkins),
who was once the folk hero vigilante Zorro, has escaped from prison after many
years and seeks revenge against those who put him there. He sees Alejandro
(Banderas), eager for his own vengeance, as a promising ally to aid him in his
quest, and thus agrees to train him to take up the mantle of Zorro.
Clip 2 Context: Alejandro, having just
stolen an important map from Don Rafael (Stuart Wilson), hides in the barn
before escaping. However, Rafael’s daughter Elena (Zeta-Jones) confronts him,
forcing Zorro into a duel.
training montage, while by default exciting, carries a uniquely comedic tone. Horner
maintains a relatively sparse musical palette, allowing the sound effects to
take center stage when necessary. A shakuhachi blast at 1:09 sets
up Alejandro in dramatic fashion, whose every wave of his sword whooshes through the air, the sounds setting up the comedic payoff at 1:24, Diego’s casual whack
echoing through the cave.
begin the lesson with a fresh start, and a plucked bass establishes a 3/4
meter, soon accompanied by clapping, foot stomping, and castanets. Between the
flamenco tones and the triple meter (perfectly synchronized with the strikes of
the swords), Horner reinforces the artistry and dance-like qualities of sword
fighting. The music picks up pace to match the increasing speed of the
swordplay, and the swashbuckling main theme slowly forms on trumpet as
Alejandro learns more and develops his skills at Zorro-ing.
guitar enters with vigor alongside a sharp cut to Alejandro’s push-ups.
Repeatedly, the music builds before cutting off suddenly to enhance the comedy.
The first cutoff comes when Diego whips him, leading to the next sequence. The
tempo increases as Diego drills and whips Alejandro. Furious, Alejandro charges
his mentor and the music charges along, ready for a rumble—until Diego puts a
knife to his throat, silencing Alejandro and Horner, and tells him Lesson
soft wind solo accompanies Alejandro’s second lesson, before a restrained but
confident trumpet underscores his mastery of swordplay, building to a statement
of Zorro’s theme to transition to the next scene.
on album, Horner excises this gentler portion, opting instead to cut
immediately to the music for Aleajandro’s duel with Elena. Horner once again
drives the scene with the 3/4 meter and castanets, playing up the dancing
parallels and accentuating the sensual undercurrent of the repartee. Melodic
phrases are reserved for the frequent pauses in the fight, leaving just the
percussive elements to accompany the clanging of swords. When Zorro is
disarmed, a key shift in his theme occurs as he improvises his way to stealing
Elena’s sword and claiming victory.
the two foes share a romantic moment, a lovely wind solo and strings build into
Zorro’s theme, though as Elena pulls in for a second kiss, our hero dashes off
with a flourish of his swashbuckling mariachi fanfare, doubling back for his
hat as the castanets and violins play him out.
observation I couldn’t figure out where to put so I’m sticking it at the end so
I don’t have to write a conclusion either: at 0:16 of Clip 1, Alejandro says
“Pointy end goes into other man.” This movie came out in 1998, nearly 2 years
after the publishing of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Does anyone else think Jon Snow’s first sword
lesson to Arya (“Stick them with the pointy end.”) inspired this line? Leave a
comment if you think so. Also leave a comment if you have any feedback on this
type of article.
Check it out... if you are intrigued by the promise of a horror score that successfully interpolates elements of Herrmann's old-school, acclaimed style, into an album laced with modern instrumentation and production
Skip it... if 63 minutes of tense, relentlessly atmospheric horror music sounds like too much for your palette
Check it out... if you
adored the film and want a souvenir containing various songs needle-dropped
into the film.
Skip it... if you
have a greater interest in Tom Holkenborg’s original score than you do in the
pop and rap classics, as it’s a basically functional score that fails to offer
any highlights, display narrative cohesion, or even elicit rage over its 45
minutes on album.