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Slapsticks, parodies, spoofs, screwballs and romantic comedy films have been brightening up our lives with laughter, humor and amusement for generations.

 

“Yes, I can see now”

In my opinion, City Lights (1931) stands at the pinnacle of both silent and romantic comedy film. The music takes us through a wide range of emotional responses as the Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, and develops a friendship with a millionaire. Charlie Chaplin composed a true symphony of laughs, tears, and love. Holding my hand to my heart, I rejoice with hope as I witness the triumph of the human spirit over poverty, infirmity, sorrow, and despair.

 

“I, Lord Kelvin, hereby vow to surrender my position as minister of science to Phileas Fogg if he can circumnavigate the globe… in no more than 80 days” (Around The World In 80 Days, 1956)

The unforgettable score for this adventure comedy film allow us to musically circumnavigate the globe, sampling vibrant exotic tunes as English gentleman Phileas Fogg (David Niven) and his valet Passepartout (my beloved comedian Cantinflas) progress in their 80 days journey. Victor Young was a master of melody and one of the finest film composers of his generation. Prepare to be captivated as you embark in this acoustic voyage. Like leaving Paris in a hot air balloon, it is truly an unforgettable emotional tour de force.

 

“It’s buried under a big W, I tell you. A big W” (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, 1963)

The W stands for Wonderful. The sunny, sweet and pleasant music score by Ernest Gold sets the mood for the incredible adventures of Spencer Tracy and a very talented cast. They will endure about three hours of furiously paced tribulations, as they drive, fly, drill, dynamite, and double-cross their way to $350,000 in stolen cash. This epic comedy film and its irresistible score will stay with you forever.

 

“If you look deep into the stone, you will perceive the tiniest discoloration. It resembles an animal” (The Pink Panther, 1963)

The Pink Panther is a fictional diamond with a distinctive flaw, which resembles a leaping panther. The great Henry Mancini composed a mysterious, highly sophisticated, and utterly original theme for the Blake Edwards’ comedy masterpiece.  This beautiful, seductive, and jazzy instrumental diamond has no flaw.

 

“No, it’s pronounced Fronkensteen” (Young Frankenstein, 1974)

We may never know why the horses rear up and neigh madly in fright every time they hear the name of Fra Blucher, but we all know this Mel Brooks’ film is one of the funniest movies of all time. The black-and-white comedy features a descendant of the infamous mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), and his re-animated creature (Peter Boyle). They dance with top hats and tails to the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (originally written by Irving Berlin in 1929), which parodies Fred Astaire’s Blue Skies (1946) version. The film also features a beautiful violin score “Transylvanian Lullaby” by Brooks’ longtime composer John Morris.

 

“There’s no reason to be alarmed and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?“

Airplane! (1980) is a genial spoof of airport and other disaster movies. Elmer Bernstein took his job of scoring this ridiculous parody seriously. I love the segments when he makes fun of John Williams’ Jaws. The music film auteur also wrote very well crafted compositions for the comedies Trading Places (1983), and Ghostbusters (1984).

 

Let’s close as we started with a silent romantic comedy film score, the amazing music written by Ludovic Bource for The Artist (2011). It is lighthearted, uplifting, and very emotionally touching. “I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh.” (Audrey Hepburn)

 

Comedy Chaplin

Notable Comedy Tunes

 

City Lights (1931) – Charles Chaplin

Modern Times (1936) – Charles Chaplin

The Three Stooges short subjects (1939 through 1959) – jazzy “Three Blind Mice”

The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Franz Waxman

The Ladykillers (1955) – Tristram Cary

Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) – Victor Young

Some Like It Hot (1959) – Adolph Deutsch

The Apartment (1960) – “Theme from The Apartment” , originally “Jealous Lover” (1949) by Charles Williams)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – Henry Mancini

The Pink Panther (1963) – Henry Mancini

Charade (1963) – Henry Mancini

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) – Ernest Gold

Casino Royale (1967) – Burt Bacharach

The Producers (1968) – John Morris

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) – Burt Bacharach

Reivers (1969) – John Williams

MASH (1970) – Johnny Mandel

Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973) – Vladimir Cosma

The Sting (1973) – “The Entertainer”, “Solace” (Written by Scott Joplin/Conducted and Adapted by Marvin Hamlisch)

Young Frankenstein (1974) – John Morris

Blazing Saddles (1974) – John Morris

1941 (1979) – “The March From 1941” (John Williams)

Airplane! (1980) – Elmer Bernstein

Tootsie (1982) – Dave Grusin

Trading Places (1983) – Elmer Bernstein

Ghostbusters (1984) – Elmer Bernstein

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer

Romancing the Stone (1984) – Alan Silvestri

Back to the Future (1985) – Alan Silvestri

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – Danny Elfman

Princess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopler

Spaceballs (1987) – John Morris

Beetlejuice (1988) – Danny Elfman

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Big (1988) – Howard Shore

The Burbs (1989) – Jerry Goldsmith

City Slickers (1991) – Marc Shaiman

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) – Howard Shore

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – Patrick Doyle

Groundhog Day (1993) – George Fenton

Ed Wood (1994) – Howard Shore

Il Postino (1994) – Luis Bacalov

Emma (1996) – Rachel Portman

Life is Beautiful (1997) – Nicola Piovani

Austin Powers (1997) – “Soul Bossa Nova” (1962) by Quincy Jones

As Good As It Gets (1997) – Hans Zimmer

Chocolat (2000) – Rachel Portman

Amélie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Sideways (2004) – Rolfe Kent

The Artist (2011) – Ludovic Bource

 

 

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“It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman”

Superheros are characters that need no introduction. We are exposed to the iconic crime fighters and protectors of the people through comics, TV series, and flicks since we are little kids. We all dreamed of possessing their extraordinary superpowers, and dressed up like them for Halloween and other costume parties.

 

Wonder Woman’s lasso and bracelets, Iron Man’s powered armor suits, Thor’s hammer, and Green Lantern’s power ring are no match for John Williams’ brilliant heroic march (Superman, 1978). The first major superhero film featuring Christopher Reeve lives in our memories and in our hearts. Get ready to be propelled into space, and fly into a fantastic and melodic journey.

 

The Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and other psychotic criminals at the Arkham Asylum are probably asking themselves “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world do we live in, where a man dressed as a bat gets all of my press?” (Batman, 1989) The Penguin, Catwoman, and Mr. Freeze will probably tell them that is hard to compete with Bruce Wayne alter ego when he is driving the Batmobile with Danny Elfman’s “The Batman Theme” soaring in the background. The dark, gothic, powerful and mysterious superhero score is truly awesome and highly memorable.

 

The Dark Knight again landed a great musical score in the film Batman Begins (2005). Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard collaboration is the second best example of how two composers can complement each other (sorry Lennon and McCartney still win). The music evokes feelings of sadness, mourning, terror, tension, and provides powerful driving music for the action scenes. “Molossus” and “Antrozous” are my favorite tracks.

 

“In a stunning turn of events, a superhero is being sued for saving someone who, apparently, didn’t want to be saved” (The Incredibles, 2004). Michael Giacchino’s score for the animated superhero movie features lots of brass, saxophone, and 1960’s spy film nostalgia. “The Glory Days” is a perfect blend of big band jazz and classic John Barry-esque music. “The Incredits” is the best superhero score for closing credits since an amazing piano piece was used for the impulsive alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner (“The Lonely Man Theme” by Joe Harnell from The Incredible Hulk TV series, 1977).

 

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” The theme song of the 1967 cartoon (re-recorded by Michael Bublé in 2002) still remains the most memorable tune for Peter Parker, despite two excellent scores penned by legendary composers Danny Elfman (Spider-Man, 2002) and James Horner (The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012).

I will also like to highlight two recent fine compositions in the Marvel superhero universe:  the great epic action romp “Driving With the Top Down” by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, 2008), and the soaring “Captain America March” by Alan Silvestri (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011).

 

Finally, let’s close with the extremely memorable “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Green Hornet TV Series, 1966), arranged by Billy May from an original composition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It features an amazing solo by Al Hirt, a true trumpet superhero.

 

Superhero Superman

Notable Superhero Scores

 

Adventures of Superman (TV series 1952) – Leon Klatzkin “Superman March”

Batman (TV series) 1966) – Neal Hefti “Batman Theme”

Green Hornet (TV Series 1966) – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov “Flight of the Bumblebee”

Wonder Woman (TV series 1975) – Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

Incredible Hulk (TV series 1977) – Joe Harnell “The Lonely Man Theme”

Superman (1978) – John Williams

Superman II (1980) – Ken Thorne

Flash (1980) – Queen

The Greatest American Hero (TV Series 1981) – Joey Scarbury

Supergirl (1984) – Jerry Goldsmith “Overture”

Robocop (1987) – Basil Poledouris

Batman (1989) – Danny Elfman “The Batman Theme”

The Punisher (1989) – Dennis Dreith

The Flash (TV Series 1990) – Danny Elfman

The Rocketeer (1991) – James Horner “To the Rescue”

Batman Returns (1992) – Danny Elfman

Batman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1992) – Shirley Walker

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (TV Series 1993) – Jay Gruska (the son in-law of John Williams)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (TV Series 1993) – Ron Wasserman “Go Go Power Rangers”

The Crow (1994) – Graeme Revell

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series 1994) – Nerf Herder

Superman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1996) – Shirley Walker

Batman & Robin (1997) – Elliot Goldenthal “A Batman Overture”

Spawn (1997) – Filter and the Crystal Method “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do”

Blade (1998) – Mark Isham

Batman Beyond (TV Series 1999) – Shirley Walker

X-Men (2000) – Michael Kamen

Unbreakable (2000) – James Newton Howard “Visions”

Smallville (TV Series 2001) – Remy Zero “Save Me”

Spider-Man (2002) – Danny Elfman “Main Titles”

Blade II (2002) – Marco Beltrami

Daredevil (2003) – Graeme Revell “Daredevil Theme”

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – Trevor Jones

Hulk (2003) – Danny Elfman

X2: X-Men United (2003) – John Ottman “Suite from X2”

Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman “Main Title”

Blade: Trinity (2004) – RZA

Catwoman (2004) – Klaus Badelt

Hellboy (2004) – Marco Beltrami “Main Title”, “Fathers Funeral”

The Punisher (2004) – Carlo Siliotto

The Incredibles (2004) – Michael Giacchino

Batman Begins (2005) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Fantastic Four (2005) – John Ottman

Elektra (2005) – Christophe Beck (from Buffy and Angel TV Series)

Superman Returns (2006) – John Ottman “Main Titles”

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – John Powell

TMNT (2007) – Klaus Badelt

Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Christopher Young

Ghost Rider (2007) – Christopher Young

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – John Ottman “Silver Surfer Theme”

Iron Man (2008) – Ramin Djawadi “ Driving With the Top Down”

The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Craig Armstrong

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – Danny Elfman

The Dark Knight (2008) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard “Aggressive Expansion”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Harry Gregson-Williams

Watchmen (2009) – Tyler Bates “Rescue Mission”

Iron Man 2 (2011) – John Debney “I Am Iron Man”

The Green Hornet (2011) – James Newton Howard

Green Lantern (2011) – James Newton Howard “We’re Going To Fly Now”

X-Men: First Class (2011) – Henry Jackman “Magneto”

Thor (2011) – Patrick Doyle “Sons of Odin”

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Alan Silvestri “Captain America March”

The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri “The Avengers”

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Hans Zimmer “Rise”

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – James Horner “Main Title – Young Peter”, “Saving New York”

Man of Steel (2013) – Hans Zimmer

Films with fantastic themes often have an element of magic, myth, and wonder. They allow us to escape to imaginary lands, whimsical worlds, and extraordinary alternate realities.

 

“And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline, for no one, no one in this world can you trust, not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust” (Conan the Barbarian, 1982)

Basil Poleudoris musically painted a richly colored mythical landscape full of magic and power, hope and sorrow, beauty and danger, metal and fire. This great musical triumph was accomplished with haunting chorals, thunderous percussion, lavish melodies, and great orchestral sound. He created in the process one of the greatest music masterpieces in fantasy-adventure film history.

 

“Eddie. The guys and I were talking, we’d like want to invite you to our card game on Friday night. Would you like that? Only thing is, you can’t cut!” (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

A young, innocent, shy, eccentric and weird-looking man named Edward (Johnny Depp), whose hands are made of scissors, is adopted by the kind hearted Peg Boggs. Danny Elfman’s music, like Edward’s scissor-handy works (garden sculptures, hairstyles), is highly imaginative, truly beautiful, and breathtaking. A haunting and inspiring musical journey that is melancholic but fun, tragic but hopeful, wintery but heart-warming, and dark but not evil. Tim Burton’s tender, dreamy, heartbreaking, and inspiring movie has, as it deserves, one of the best fantasy film scores ever written.

 

“Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, making them vow to watch over man, always” (Dragonheart, 1996)

The majestic and uplifting Randy Edelman’s score really breathe fire into my heart. “To The Stars” theme is magical, awe inspiring, commanding, stunning, and truly unforgettable. This majestic score is able to transcend tears, sadness, and sorrow. It lifts our spirits to a triumphant state of remembrance, commemoration, and glory.

 

“Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up”

(Peter Pan, 2003)

Inspiring, exciting and delightful, this score is one of James Newton Howard finest accomplishments. The sweet and poignant composition “Flying” is an amazing and uplifting magical adventure. Sweet harps, graceful bells, lovely choral works and soaring melody fill our imagination with mystery, hope and tender feelings. He is able to capture for our enjoyment the wonderful dreamy world of Neverland.

 

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006)

It was hard not to fall in love with Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film masterpiece. The beautiful but tenebrous universe blends a haunted fairy tale with the ugliness of reality. Javier Navarrete’s fantastic lullaby magically captures the mystery of the movie. The score can be at times relaxing and soothing, but the composer’s sweeping imagination combined with violin, brass and strings can conjure dark, majestic and sweeping melodies. The music induces a feeling of incantation, placing us under a comforting spell that helps us go through fear inducing imagery that would otherwise lead to a heightened state of dread and anxiety. It is without doubt one of the best film scores composed in the past decade.

 

I did not dare to overlook the epic fantasy films based on the works of J. R. R Tolkien and J.K. Rolling. I plan to review their beautiful music in a future blog about great fantasy film sagas.

 

Heart of Summer

Notable Fantasy Film Scores

 

The Wizard of Oz (1933) – Herbert Stothart

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Georges Auric

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – Bernard Herrmann

Alice in Wonderland (1951) – Oliver G. Wallace

A Christmas Carol (1951) – Richard Addinsell

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – Bernard Herrmann

Scrooge (1970) – Leslie Bricusse

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – John Williams

Excalibur (1981) – Trevor Jones (featuring mainly music by Richard Wagner and Carl Orff)

Dragonslayer (1981) – Alex North

Legend (1985) – Jerry Goldsmith (European release) / Tangerine Dream (American release)

Clash of the Titans (1981) – Laurence Rosenthal

Time Bandits (1981) – Trevor Jones

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – Basil Poleudoris

The Dark Crystal (1982) – Trevor Jones

Krull (1983) – James Horner

Fire and Ice (1983) – William Kraft

Brazil (1985) – Michael Kamen

Lady Hawke (1985) – Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1986) – Michel Kamen

The Pricess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopfler

Willow (1988) – James Horner

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Highlander (1986) – Michael Kamen and Queen

Labyrinth (1986) – Trevor Jones and David Bowie

Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Danny Elfman

The Green Mile (1999) – Thomas Newman

Groundhog Day (1993) – Thomas Newman

Hook (1991) – John Williams

Dragonheart (1996) – Randy Edelman

Meet Joe Black (1998) – Thomas Newman

Peter Pan (2003) – James Newton Howard

Big Fish (2003) – Danny Elfman

Corpse Bride (2005) – Danny Elfman

Brothers Grimm (2005) – Dario Marianelli

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) –Javier Navarrete

Lady in the Water (2006) – James Newton Howard

Eragon (2006) – Patrick Doyle

The Golden Compass (2007) – Alexandre Desplat

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – Aaron Zigman

Stardust (2007) – Ilan Eshkeri

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Alexandre Desplat

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) – James Horner

Avatar (2009) – James Horner

Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Danny Elfman

Clash of the Titans (2010) – Ramin Djawadi

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) – Trevor Rabin

Hugo (2011) – Howard Shore

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Tyler Bates

Your Highness (2011) – Steve Jablonsky

Wrath of the Titans (2012) – Javier Navarrete

John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Dark Shadows (2012) – Danny Elfman

Life of Pi (2012) – Michael Danna

Snowman and the Huntsman (2012) – James Newton Howard