Archive

Epic films

“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way” (George S. Patton Jr.)

“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

War films range from patriotic and heroic fighting stories designed to celebrate unity and self-sacrifice for love of country, to anti-war films that depict war crimes, the disillusion of the public towards the horrors of warfare, and the negative effects war injuries and psychological stress on soldiers and returning veterans.

“We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame. We’ll show them what the British soldier is capable of doing…It’s going to be a proper bridge” (The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957)

While in a prisoner of war camp, British Col. Nicholson co-operates to oversee his men’s construction of a railway bridge for their Japanese captors. Sir Malcolm Arnold incorporated in his score for the film the march Colonel Bogey, originally written in 1914 by Kenneth J. Alford (The British March King). British prisoners whistled unaccompanied the theme several times as they marched into the prison camp. Colonel Bogey inspired Arnold’s original “River Kwai March.” He won an Academy Award for the film’s score.

“I assure you I had no intention of being either harsh or cruel in my treatment of the soldier in question. My sole purpose was to try and to restore him some appreciation of his obligation as a man, and as a soldier” (Patton, 1970)

The film narrates the actions of controversial war hero General Patton during World War II. Jerry Goldsmith composed a memorable, gripping and emotional score full of high-flying marches and reverberating trumpets.

“Well, that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain’t dying. And dying’s what these white boys been doin’ for going on three years now, dying by the thousands! Dying for you, fool! I know, ‘cuz I dug the graves” (Glory, 1989)

The tragic Civil War epic inspires a stunning and very moving score from James Horner. The music is full of honor, courage, tension, and mournful melancholia. As the film, the music is very emotionally charged and uplifting.

“What are you doing? These are mine. These are my workers. They should be on my train” (Schindler’s List, 1993)

German entrepreneur Oskar Schindler saves the lives of over one thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust. Itzhak Perlman‘s violin solos are one of the best examples of how much beauty can be contained in profoundly sad music.  This score is without doubt one of John Williams’ finest and most inspiring masterpieces.

“Captain Ramsey, under operating procedures governing the release of nuclear weapons we cannot launch our missiles unless both you, and I agree” (Crimson Tide, 1995)

A film about a young Navy Executive Officer who thinks and acts in preventing his submarine captain from launching nuclear missiles before confirming his uncertain orders to do so. “Roll Tide” is a wonderful march full of bravura and defiance. The gifted composer Hans Zimmer confidently used a large orchestra and an all male choir to gradually builds a victorious climax full of tension and thunder.

We may all have different feelings about war and its aftermath, but it is quite clear that in one way or another armed conflict will be with us forever. As the Greek philosopher Plato said, “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

War Bridge River Kwai

Notable War Film Tunes

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – Hugo Friedhofer

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) – Alfred Newman

Halls of Montezuma (1950) – “The Marine Hymn” (1919) by L. Z. Philips – based on the Gendarmes’ Duet from Jacques Offenbach’s opera Genevieve de Brabant

Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) is a biographical film about late composer John Philip Sousa (The American March King). He crafted some of the most famous military marches including “The Washington Post”, “The Liberty Bell” (later used as theme for Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series) “The Thunderer”, “El Capitan”, “Semper Fidelis” (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (National March of the United States of America).

Victory at Sea (TV Documentary originally broadcast in 1952–1953, it was condensed into a film in 1954) – Richard Rodgers & Robert Russell Bennett, includes “Guadalcanal March” by Robert Russell Bennet

The Dambusters (1955) – Leighton Lucas (based on the “Dambusters March”

by Eric Coates)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – Malcolm Arnold

Paths of Glory (1957) “La Marseillaise” (1792) by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle

The Guns of Navarone (1961) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Combat! (1962 TV Series) – Leonard Rosenman

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) “The Voice of the Guns” (1917) by Kenneth J. Alford

The Great Escape (1963) – Elmer Bernstein

633 Squadron (1964) – Ron Goodwin

Operation Crossbow (1965) – Ron Goodwin

Hogan’s Heroes (1965 TV Series) – Jerry Fielding

The Sand Pebbles (1966) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Rat Patrol (1966 TV Series)

Where Eagles Dare (1968) – Ron Goodwin

Devil’s Brigade (1968) – Alex North

Battle of Britain (1969) – Ron Goodwin & William Walton “Aces High March” “The Battle in the Air” (Walton’s music was composed with considerable help from Malcolm Arnold, who was responsible for producing the orchestrations)

Patton (1970) – Jerry Goldsmith

M*A*S*H (1970) – Johnny Mandel

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) – Jerry Goldsmith

Kelly’s Heroes (1970) – Lalo Schifrin

The Longest Day (1972) – Maurice Jarre

The Deer Hunter (1978) – Stanley Myers “Cavatina”

1941 (1979) – John Williams

Apocalypse Now (1979) – “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner

A-Team (1983 TV Series) – Mike Post

Platoon (1986) – “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber

Empire of the Sun (1987) – John Williams

Full Metal Jacket (1987) – “The Marines Hymn” by Jacques Offenbach from “Geneviève de Brabant”

Glory (1989) – James Horner

The Hunt For Red October (1990) – Basil Poledouris

Schindler’s List (1993) – John Williams

Crimson Tide (1995) – Hans Zimmer

Saving Private Ryan (1998) – John Williams

The Thin Red Line (1999) – Hans Zimmer

Medal of Honor (1999 Video Game) – Michael Giacchino

Gettysburg (2000) – Randy Edelman

The Patriot (2000) – John Williams

Pearl Harbor (2001) – Hans Zimmer

Band of Brothers (2002 TV Series) – Michael Kamen

Defiance (2008) – James Newton Howard

The Pacific (2010 TV Series) – Hans Zimmer, Blake Neely, Geoff Zanelli

War Horse (2011) – John Williams

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Epic films are larger than life. They project into the movie screens with an aura of greatness what the human spirit is able to aspire to, and what it can ultimately is able to endure.

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler turbulent love affair during the Civil War and Reconstruction is the most successful film in box-office history. Max Steiner’s haunting and spectacular “Tara’s Theme” is a true musical treasure, and one of the most famous melodies in film history. The score for which “the father of film music” is possibly best known, led to the conversion of many skeptics. The film producer David O. Selznick, who has previously been opposed to original film scores, turned into a true believer, as revealed by his well-known comment “really fine musicians are recognizing that scoring is a new form of musical art.”

“May God grant me vengeance, I pray that you live till I return” (Ben-Hur, 1959)

Miklos Rozsa blessed the ultimate Biblical epic with a powerful, magnificent, and glorious score. “Circus Parade (Parade Of The Charioteers)” during the chariot race is not only the climax of this blockbuster film, but also possibly the pinnacle of all epic film music. Watching this movie in the big screen is one of my childhood’s treasured cinematic memories.

“He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior…He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey” (Lawrence Of Arabia, 1962)

Maurice Jarre’s evocative, majestic and breathtaking score is a film and musical composition masterpiece. The sweeping, romantic, and exotic overture is epic on a grand scale. The melodic music mesmerizes you like the incredible power and vastness of the Arabian Desert.

“Now take back the soul of Denys George Finch Hatton, whom You have shared with us. He brought us joy…we loved him well. He was not ours. He was not mine.” (Out Of Africa, 1985)

The inspiring, lavish, and all-encompassing music for this epic romantic drama film is one of the most memorable scores ever written. “Main Title (I Had A Farm In Africa)” is stunningly beautiful with gloomy undertones that are somehow emotionally over-whelming. Only a very skillful master like John Barry could conjure in melody the fundamental nature of Denys and Karen’s relationship. The composer of Somewhere in Time (1980) and Born Free (1966) had an incredible gift to transport us to other times, and to melodically depict the astounding African scenery “at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

“So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.” (The Mission, 1986)

The film portrays the moral and spiritual conflicts faced by Jesuit priests converting natives of South America into Christianity, as they are confronted with the need to conform to Portuguese and Spanish politics of colonization and slavery. The natural beauties of the Iguazu pierced by a crucified priest flowing down the falls.  The ugliness of human sin and suffering transformed through religious penance into the beauty of liberation. A slave trader reading about charity and pure love in Corinthians Chapter 13, right before choosing to take up priesthood. Robert Bolt (a former Marxist) deciding to write the script of a stirring religious movie. An inspired Ennio Morricone producing exquisite acoustic splendor through violin and oboe. As Cardinal Altamirano, one has to see the hand of God in all these labors of love.

Although some may argued that the golden era of epic films has passed, I believed that as long as humans can hope, dream and love new epic masterpieces will continue to be forged. Don’t despair; new epic musical works of genius will continue to reach our ears and our hearts for years to come.Image

Notable Epic Film Scores

Captain Blood (1935) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Alexander Nevsky (1938) – Sergei Prokofiev

Gone with the Wind (1939) – Max Steiner

Henry V (1944) – William Walton

Ivan the Terrible (1944) – Sergei Prokofiev

Captain from Castile (1947) – Alfred Newman

Samson and Delilah (1949) – Victor Young

Quo Vadis (1951) – Miklós Rózsa

Ivanhoe (1952) – Miklós Rózsa

The Robe (1953) – Alfred Newman

Prince Valiant (1954) – Franz Waxman

The Ten Commandments (1956) – Elmer Bernstein

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) – Malcolm Arnold

Ben-Hur (1959) – Miklós Rózsa

Spartacus (1960) – Alex North

King of Kings (1961) – Miklós Rózsa

El Cid (1961) – Miklós Rózsa

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Maurice Jarre

Taras Bulba (1962) – Franz Waxman

Cleopatra (1963) – Alex North

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Becket (1964 film) – Laurence Rosenthal

Lord Jim (1965) – Bronislau Kaper

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) – Alfred Newman

Doctor Zhivago (1965) – Maurice Jarre

A Man For All Seasons (1966) – Georges de la Rue

War and Peace (1966) – Nino Rota

The Lion in the Winter (1968) – John Barry

Ryan’s Daughter (1970) – Maurice Jarre

Papillon (1973) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Wind and the Lion (1973) – Jerry Goldsmith

Barry Lyndon (1975) – “Sarabande” from Suite in D minor (HWV 437) by George Frideric Handel

Gandhi (1982) – George Fenton, Ravi Shankar

A Passage To India (1984) – Maurice Jarre

Out of Africa (1985) – John Barry

Henry V (1989) – Patrick Doyle

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) – Vangelis

Braveheart (1995) – James Horner

The English Patient (1996) – Gabriel Yared

Titanic (1997) – James Horner

Joan of Arc (1999) – Éric Serra

The 13th Warrior (1999) – Jerry Goldsmith “”Valhalla”

Gladiator (2000) – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard

The Passion of The Christ (2004) – John Debney

Troy (2004) – James Horner (replacement score) / Gabriel Jarred (rejected score)

Alexander (2004) – Vangelis

Kingdom of Heaven (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Painted Veil (2006) – Alexandre Desplat

Tristan & Isolde (2006) – Anne Dudley

Atonement (2008) – Dario Marianelli

Australia (2008) – David Hirschfelder