The AltogetherUnexpected: In Praise of John Williams: The Beauty of Jurassic Park
Hey everyone! My wonderful friend Emily at TheAltogetherUnexpected, who wrote that amazing guest post earlier this month has allowed me to reciprocate and write a post for her blog. It’s about the film score for Jurassic Park and how John Williams could have written it like a horror movie but instead he saw beauty in disaster and scored it very differently.
I wanted to post the link here to encourage cross-traffic (seriously, her blog is amazing – check it out!) so here it is. I hope you enjoy it!
7 Reasons Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” Is Actually Genius
Disney’s “The Lone Ranger”, released in 2013, did poorly at the box office and with critics, and currently has a rating of 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. The overall consensus on this movie was that it was poorly written, overdone, and slapstick.
Critics on the site said the film was too long, that Johnny Depp should not have been cast in a Native American role, and that Armie Hammer’s John Reid was a weak and useless protagonist, especially when paired with the forceful personality of Depp’s Tonto.
I recently watched the movie again (twice in a row) with my family and wanted to submit my personal opinion, which is the exact opposite. I think this movie is absolutely genius, and has become one of my favorite movies of all time. If you haven’t seen the movie, be warned, there are spoilers, but you’ve had plenty of time to watch it since it came out.
I looked for articles online and it seems like so many people hated this film that there are few defenders of it, though this review gave it a fair pass. I cannot say I have answers to all the critics’ critiques (pun intended), but a lot of their issues seem to be more with the movie politics than the story and its effect on its audience, so instead I will just focus on my list of what I loved from a fan’s point of view.
So, without further ado, here are 7 reasons why I think “The Lone Ranger” is a fantastic, brilliantly plotted movie that deserves a better rating than it got:
1. The Horse
Let’s start with the smaller points and work up to the bigger ones. The inclusion of this horse is probably one of the biggest reasons critics call it overcomedic. The animal is seen multiple times throughout the film doing things that no self-respecting horse would ever do and appearing places no horse should be able to reach – standing on the roof of a burning barn, drinking beer out of an open bottle, standing on a tree branch wearing a hat, etc. Additionally, Depp’s Tonto (though admittedly we must take this with a grain of salt) claims that the horse told him that Reid is a “spirit walker” and therefore cannot be killed, giving the doubtful ranger the confidence to take the shot with his silver bullet at the climax of the movie. However, the horse was genuinely helpful, always seeming to magically appear whenever (and wherever) it was needed.
While some might say that the horse was unnecessary, I say that as a western comedy (which this movie absolutely was), it is essential to the comedic property. Come on, tell me when you watched this you didn’t at least laugh once at the beast’s increasingly improbable activities! We can all confidently say with Tonto, “Something definitely wrong with that horse!”.
This one is pretty funny. From the very first scene they have together, Tonto doesn’t like John. Instead, he sets his sights on John’s brother, Dan, whom he sees as a “great warrior”. When both Dan and John get shot in the canyon with the rest of their party, Tonto comes to bury them. While he’s there, the horse shows up and starts stamping the ground near John’s grave, indicating to Tonto that John is the spirit walker.
Tonto, obviously not liking this very much, starts trying to lead the horse over to Dan’s grave. He tells the horse that Dan is the “strong brother”, and that John is an idiot. But the horse is insistent, and Tonto is stuck with John for the rest of the film.
The thing that makes this really funny, however, is that it gets brought up again and again. Tonto starts calling John, “kemosabe”, which drives John crazy until he finally asks what it means. Tonto looks straight ahead and says, “Wrong brother.” After that, it becomes kind of an in-joke for the remainder of the movie, but it’s that moment that my family and I still quote all the time.
This reason is a little more somber in nature. The dead bird (no, not dead; “awaiting spirit to return – not same thing”) Tonto wears on his head signifies a much deeper tragedy that turned Tonto into the character he is in this movie. It’s what “killed” Tonto the Comanche and gave birth to the wandering, crazed Wendigo hunter in search of revenge for what happened to his village. He blames himself for being so easily betrayed for the sake of a trinket, which is why he still carries the bird.
I believe the bird represents the Comanche in general. Several times throughout the movie you can catch a glimpse of a live bird, especially around Tonto, seeming to imply that it is the same bird even though the audience knows it’s a stiff mannequin atop Tonto’s head – a kind of symbolic reference, which parallells the Comanche chief telling John Reid, “We are already dead”. At that time in American history, Indians of all tribes were being killed or driven out of their lands, forced to give up their identity and their way of life. Tonto’s constant expectation that the bird’s spirit would return seems to communicate that he still hopes his people could be great again.
At the same time, just as I believe the bird represents the Comanche, the pocket watch represents the opposite, namely the greed of the white men in this story. The fact that Latham Cole and Butch Cavendish were willing to slaughter an entire village of innocent people for a river full of silver all to themselves gives a grave warning to all viewers about the devastation of the sin of greed.
This potent symbolism in the movie’s storytelling is, in my opinion, a huge point in its favor. I personally love to analyze stories and it’s gratifying when there’s more beneath the surface than appears at first glance. Though the movie is a comedy, this genuinely serious undercurrent is what gives the movie weight.
Back to the non-serious, it’s Johnny Depp! One of the weirdest actors in Hollywood but genuinely fun to watch. I have no problem that he played Tonto because this particular Tonto is a parody of a Native American character, not a true one. He’s designed not to represent the Comache in general, but to represent “the one who lost his way”. His character is so wacky, it does nothing to appropriate Comanche culture in any way as far as I can see, because the character isn’t written to represent Comanche culture. The audience knows this going in because of the particular style of the movie, so it’s very unlikely that Depp’s Tonto would be turned into a stereotype. Plus, the movie isn’t big on historical accuracy anyway because that’s not the focus.
So, I think Johnny Depp was a great pick for this role because of the hilarious way he portrays the insane Indian, from the whole “spirit walker” thing to catching the grape in his mouth to the ladder incident on the train (Pirates of the Caribbean anyone?). And those facial expressions? I could watch this guy all day.
I had to put this in here. I just had to. We laugh so hard at this scene every time we watch the movie. I wish GIFs had sound so you could hear just how high-pitched the sound he makes is! Because it’s just a momentary funny and not a whole scene, I almost ruled out putting it as a reason. But every time I watch this movie, I look forward to this moment.
Coupled with where they are in the scene (“You’re lost, aren’t you? Train tracks? I thought you were in Indian Territory.”) and the switching between Ancient Tonto in the museum and the rest of the story, that part of the movie is also critical to the main plot. And they managed to slip that girly scream in there in such a way that it’s very funny without disturbing the momentum of the story. I appreciate that.
I also appreciate the fact that Armie Hammer was willing to make that sound in front of his entire film crew – probably multiple times as they were filming that scene. Here’s a link so you can hear that awesome girly scream for yourself:
This is one of my most favorites – where it starts getting really deep. You know how I talked about the symbolism of the bird and the pocket watch earlier in this post? Well, turns out that the creators of this story got even deeper than symbolism. In fact, from the opening scenes of this movie, you already have everything you need to know in order to understand the story.
When I watched this movie last, I paid specific attention to these symbols. Now, I’m getting a little geeky here because this is something I get really excited about, but bear with me.
Here’s a list of some of the most important visual symbols and characters seen in this movie – the train and train tracks, the pocket watch, the bird, the silver, the Comanche, Latham Cole, Butch Cavendish, Red Harrington (the woman with the wooden gun-leg), Rebecca and Danny Reid, and Captain Jay Fuller. In the first ten minutes of the movie after Ancient Tonto starts his story, every one of these people and visual cues appear, one after another. Watch this Youtube clip for some illustration (the person who posted it doesn’t allow embedding) – it skips bits but you should be able to catch most of the cues.
Everything you need – in one scene – right from the very beginning. The directors are literally giving you the plot but it’s so subtle and well-done that you only notice on the rewatch. This is professional, literary, genius-level writing right here, and is something that every good story has in common – it’s so deep and symbolic that you get more out of it each time you approach it again.
7. Train Chase, Finale, and Score
This is my absolute favorite part of the entire movie. Not only is the camerawork and acting and execution of this whole scene so fun to watch, it wraps up the story perfectly, and the music, oh, my gosh, the music. I’ve noticed every single time I’ve watched this movie that the music is perfect. Everything lines up so exactly it almost seems like the picture was cut to the music and not the other way round. I found a video on YouTube that explains my excitement over this scene way better than I can, so I thought I’d put it in here for you to watch.
This video points out everything I wanted to point out about this scene, and also includes a little more about the camerawork that I didn’t know before I watched it. Also, it told me something score-related that I hadn’t known – namely, that Geoff Zanelli (who worked on POTC and scored the last one) was in charge of arranging the William Tell Overture for this scene using Hans Zimmer’s themes. I had always assumed it was Zimmer but Zanelli did such a fantastic job I can’t help but admire his skill at this. My ultimate life goal right here, ladies and gentlemen!
Well, there you go – that’s my seven reasons you should watch The Lone Ranger. Please watch the video above – it may be a little long but it’s worth it, I promise. And don’t forget to comment below with any questions or comments you may have!
I’ve been listening to film scores in earnest for several years now. I can rattle off facts about films and details about their scores and composers that stagger most of my friends. But I forget the fact that not everyone is familiar to the music behind our favorite movies, so my passionate rants usually end up receiving blank stares. Whenever this happens, I suggesting some places to start listening, based on my own experience. Most people like to listen to music that is engaging and keeps their attention, which, unless you are a fan of classical music, is hard to do without lyrics. But at the same time, some of the most emotional scores include some portions that are harder to follow along with on the first go.
(I have avoided scores by John Williams, not because he’s not a good composer – he’s absolutely amazing! – but because he’s the one composer most people will recognize, having scored so many universally recognized films – Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and E.T., just to name a few)
So keeping that in mind, drawing from a huge list of popular movies and attempting some diversity between composers (though, seriously, almost anything by Hans Zimmer is great for a new listener) here are my top 10 choices for film scores to listen to if you have never listened to one before, along with some honorable mentions:
The Lion King is a classic, more than any other score in this list. I know very few people who have not seen this movie, and even fewer who wouldn’t recognize the music. Many people know that Elton John did most of the songs for this movie, but Hans Zimmer won an Academy Award for the score, though he initially didn’t want to score it because he didn’t like musicals or children’s films. But he accepted the job so that he could take his young daughter to the premiere, and later found that the death of Mufasa in the film helped him emotionally deal with the death of his own father (Daily Mail, 2017). The way Zimmer transfers from the cinematic drama of the major action scenes to the absolutely gorgeous African choir section makes this one of my absolute favorite scores.
I have loved this movie since I was a kid, and when I became interested in film scores, I went back and listened to the score and realized just how memorable this score is. Try listening to tracks like “Preparation Montage” and “Foot Chase” – Trevor Rabin has a rock background (trevorrabin.net, n.d.) and you can really hear that in this score. Then listen to the more orchestral, moving tracks like “Ben” and “Treasure” and you’ll realize why I love this score so much. Additionally, it’s under an hour long, so it won’t take as long as other scores to listen to the whole thing.
This is one of the sweetest and best Pixar movies out there, in my opinion. Michael Giacchino’s talent and feel for the heart of a movie really comes out in his Pixar scores. The track “Married Life”, is my personal favorite, because it was written for that heartbreaking montage at the beginning that made even critics cry. Ellie’s theme is really the highlight and the main idea of the entire movie, and this is one of the best places to hear it. Another good track is “Stuff We Did”, which features Ellie’s theme in a much more subdued and sorrowful light as you remember all the things that Carl and Ellie were going to do together that never happened. This score captures the highs and lows of the story perfectly, and is great to listen if you’re feeling relaxed.
How could I not put The Avengers in here? This score was one of the first scores I bought for myself when I was first getting into film scores a few years ago. It’s so iconic, and every track brings something new and exciting that really helps you remember without half trying what was going on in that scene. Take “Red Ledger”, for example – the conversation between Loki and Black Widow. It’s almost hard to tell who wins in that quiet battle of words – Natasha’s dark Russian theme weaves around Loki’s mysterious alien one so well that halfway through the track you aren’t sure which is which anymore. And one of my other favorites, “One Way Trip”, you can hear the moment that Tony disappears into the wormhole, and the tiny, one-time motif that plays when the Hulk snatches him out of the sky and saves his life.
5: Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone
This score is exciting because I actually didn’t learn about it until I was watching Hans Zimmer’s Masterclass on film scoring. Zimmer said that Once Upon a Time in the West was one the very first movie he ever saw, and that Ennio Morricone was one of his greatest influences (The Telegraph, 2012). So I went and listened to this score and was absolutely fascinated because I could hear so many of Hans’ scores in this music! So much of Hans Zimmer’s style is adapted directly from Morricone’s music and it’s amazing to listen to the similarities. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.
This takes me back into my early childhood, one of the first themes to stick in my memory. I chose the newer version of this score because Alan Menken expanded and broadened the themes from the original animated version, but otherwise kept them the same (Billboard, 2017). So basically, it’s the same music, there’s just more of it. This theme is just so memorable and gorgeous I couldn’t not put it on this list. So lyrical and evocative – doesn’t the music make you want to go watch the movie again?
This was the other score I bought for myself when I first got into film scores, being a hardcore Marvel fan. I love this score in particular, because, out of all the other Marvel scores, this one has a very lyrical, Shakespearian feel to it. Patrick Doyle works with director Kenneth Branagh a lot (ClassicFM, 2018), and you can hear that Doyle knew exactly what Branagh wanted for this score. It’s so gentle and yet so impactful it really deserves its place on this list. Check out “The Compound” and listen to Thor breaking into the SHIELD compound to retrieve his hammer, only to find out he can’t lift it, or “Letting Go”, at the very end, when Loki falls into the wormhole.
I am ashamed to say I have not actually seen this movie yet. But ask anyone who knows their film scores will mention this as a top Danny Elfman score (Filmtracks, 2016). In my own experience, having listened to the score without seeing the movie, I feel that the music is self-explanatory. No, I don’t know what goes on in this story – but I can guess based on the emotion I hear in the music. Ups and downs, action and emotion – that’s all captured within this score. And of course, the Ice Dance track. Amazing!
This is a lesser known movie than all the others on this list. I watched it a few years ago with my family and was not wowed by the storyline, but I was blown away by the music. This particular track kind of encompasses the main character’s entire journey through the movie, a young boy attempting to find his parents by following the music in his head. You can hear the noise of the traffic in New York City, the guitar that earned him money on a street corner, and the voice of the girl who became his friend and support. Using unconventional instruments and a creative composing style, Mark Mancina has definitely nailed it with this score.
10: Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) by Harry Gregson-Williams
This score is special to me. It was the first score I ever listened to – at ten years old – and I was fascinated from the very start. One of my most favorite tracks, “Evacuating London” is kind of a transition track between WWII London and a little house in the country and a magical world waiting in a wardrobe. It’s moving and relaxing and really wakes up your imagination in a way that not much else can. And this track, “The Battle”, is so amazingly evocative of the images in the story. Close your eyes when listening to it and imagine the battlefield of the movie. Do like I did and assign different characters to different instruments, and try to pinpoint the exact moment when the White Witch stabs Edmund and it goes into slow motion. It’s sure to send shivers of pleasure down your back!
Some honorable mentions I want to include are the scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Howard Shore, which is gorgeous but also so incredibly long that a beginner listener might give up after a few tracks. If you stick it out, though, it’s worth it. So many motifs! I could go on and on. Also, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies by Hans Zimmer and Geoff Zanelli have some amazing music. These are easy to listen to but I couldn’t just pick one movie to put in the list as they are all equally action-packed and evocative. And lastly, I have always loved the score for The Polar Express by Alan Silvestri. The only problem with that is that the official score only has three orchestral tracks alongside the rest of the songs from the movie, so there’s not too much there to listen to. But go ahead and listen to them, please!
If you listen to all the scores on this list, you are well on your way to being a better informed moviegoer than all of your friends! I would encourage you to incorporate film music into your regular playlists as it will help you connect with your favorite movies and also broaden your knowledge of how music works to tell a story.