Off-pitch for a decade, movie soundtracks in renaissance

BY ELLEN HARRIS | JUNE 17, 2009 7:20 AM

The movie soundtrack has been dying a slow and painful death for years. 1998’s Night at the Roxbury might have been the last solid movie album — inspiring massive quantities of head-bobbing and off-pitch sing-alongs.

Movie soundtracks are lame. That 30-second audio clip from the film (X-Men Orgins: Wolverine anyone?) where the cellos are bustin’ it isn’t nearly as cool in a “Lovers’ Theme” (Such as the two-minute, 50-second “Kayla” in the same flick. Gag.) in a score. This is why soundtracks sales have tanked in recent years. The “Lovers’ Theme,” while awesome background noise to Miss Medieval Princess and Gallant-but-Effeminate Knight doing the nasty on the screen can put a person to sleep in 10 seconds flat.

There’s a big difference between an orchestral score and a soundtrack. Many bigger blockbusters have scores (classical music, no vocals, that dreaded “Lovers’ Theme”), while smaller, art-house, or subsidiary production company films do compilation albums. Go ahead, stick a little John Mayer in the middle.

Several geeks around the world may be set to argue that the soaring strains of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean qualify as quality film scoring (The “He’s a Pirate” theme was totally badass). In fact, some of the best orchestration in recent years has come from composer Dario Marianelli (of V for Vendetta and Atonement fame). His jaunty piano riffs and lower-pitched string sounds easily tell the stories of the films in a way that many movie scores don’t.

However …

As America learns to love its cinema once more, some tend to latch onto the songs that evoke fond memories of those super-awesome times spent munching on popcorn and clutching a significant other’s clammy hands. Or for those single folk, that super-awesome time had munching on popcorn and madly texting the suspiciously absent best friend. Either way, movies are making their comeback despite the depressing economy, and so are their soundtracks.

Arguably the best albums of 2008 were Twilight (both Paramore and Iron & Wine? Score!), Slumdog Millionaire (just try not dancing to “Jai Ho”), and Pineapple Express (thug life, motherfuckas). Hands-down.

The best albums of 2009 are destined to be Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and I Love You, Beth Cooper, along with the already released Star Trek.

Granted, Star Trek is a scored production, but the brass and percussion are reminiscent of the most hard-core drum corps sounds (though no high-school marching band was ever that good).

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen kicks off with Linkin Park performing the movie’s theme song “New Divide,” with standout anthems such as Nickelback’s “Burn It To The Ground” and Green Day’s “21 Guns.”

I Love You, Beth Cooper has a small handful of scored tracks, but with such classics as Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and Gym Class Heroes’ “Catch Me If You Can,” it’s something guaranteed to be booming from various car stereos.

The “Lovers’ Theme” isn’t a head-banging good time, but there’s something to be said for the movie soundtrack nowadays. And that something is “AWESOME!”

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