The Greatest Individual Film Scores

Soundtracks convey the soul of a film. Here are some of greatest scores ever composed and orchestrated.

The Breaking of the Fellowship – Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The rising crescendo of the orchestra brilliantly builds into the theme of the Fellowship and just keeps rising, finishing serenely with a flute and vocal solo, respectively. I get chills every time.

Main Theme from Schindler’s List – John Williams – Schindler’s List

Itzhak Perlman has a unique ability to play the violin like no other. His performance makes the Main Theme from Schindler’s List one of the greatest single scores ever created. Credit is also due to John Williams for first writing this song on piano. Both the piano and violin adaptations are equally and chillingly beautiful. The melody, is one of the most distinct scores. The melody incarnates the sorrow of the darkest epoch in the history of humanity

Love Theme (A Time for Us) -Andre Rieu – Romeo and Juliet

There are few songs more timeless and enduring that the theme from the 1968 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The violinist Andre Rieu’s composition of “A Time for Us” is perhaps the greatest rendition to date. The tragic grandeur of this piece  encapsulates what it means to be human, what it feels like to fall in love.

Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus – Harry Gregson Williams – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

This song defines the childlike innocence of Narnia. Imagine sitting inside a cozy cottage by the last embers of the hearth as this melody faintly echoes through the wintry forests of a distant land.

I’m Sending You Away – M83 – Oblivion

If there is anything that defines the word transcendent, it’s this track. It’s ethereal, otherworldly, metaphysical.

For the World – Tan Dun/Itzhak Perlman – Hero

The trembling vibrato of Perlman’s violin pairs profoundly with a distinct traditionally sounding Chinese melody that soothingly ebbs and flows.

May it be –  Enya – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Irish have a unique ability to speak to the soul through their esoteric, mystical and timeless melodies. This track defines a serenity. A serenity that will come after the eschatological advent of our cosmological journey

Freedom/The Execution/Bannockburn  & End Credits – James Horner – Braveheart

Braveheart is a towering commemoration of freedom and sacrifice, even for those of us who reject that freedom is worth killing for. The film is flawed in its idealization of the past, its revision of history and its over indulgence in violence. However the compelling story guided along by perhaps the greatest score ever written, make Braveheart one of the greatest films of our time, one that will maintain an enduring legacy thanks to the compositional ingenuity of James Horner.

Hymn to the sea – James Horner – Titanic

Although, for some, Jack and Rose’s romance may seem contrived, the Titanic score by the recently departed James Horner, is hardly so and will remain one for the ages. The Uilean Pipes convey the soul that only Celtic instruments can.

Time – Hans Zimmer – Inception

This pulsating and ever rising track crashes relentlessly over the ears, not unlike the waves crashing against the rocks in the opening scene of Inception.

Across the Stars: Love Theme – John Williams – Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones

It’s seems appropriate for a song about a love that change the galaxy to be entitle “Across the Stars.” This composition can hold its own over against even some of the greatest classical compositions from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to The Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss.

A Way of Life – Hans Zimmer – The Last Samurai

There is a serene beauty in this track that invokes an elysian sense of tranquil bliss and introspection.

Duel of the Fates – John Williams – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

The “Duel of the Fates” is a pure masterpiece.  One of the finest compositions of John Williams. It has become a classic and will remain so indefinitely. Only a piece as epic as this one could fit the

A Gift of a Thistle – James Horner – Braveheart

There is very little I can say to describe the profound beauty here.

No Time for Caution  & Dust – Hans Zimmer – Interstellar

The OST for Interstellar may be the greatest single score of all time (Apart from either Braveheart or LOTR). The various tracks from Interstellar are the kinds that capture the soul of a movie, defining it as much as the story itself. It sets the tone for the duration of the movie. Hans Zimmer tapped into something with Interstellar’s OST that reaches into the depths of what it means to be human. His creative and brilliant use of organs throughout the film, makes it an even more impressive feat.

Honor Him/Elysium/Now we are free – Hans Zimmer – Gladiator

Grand. Gorgeous. Gladiator.

Battle of the Heroes – John Williams – Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

A fitting track to this grand and climactic scene.

From the Western Woods to Beaversdam – Harry Gregson Williams: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The evolving dynamics of this song make for a shimmering combination of excitement, foreboding and wonder.

Anakin’s Betrayal – John Williams – Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

If Star Wars is a space opera, songs like this effectively capture the intended drama of the tale without becoming overly melodramatic.

 

The Burning Bush – Hans Zimmer – The Prince of Egypt

It’s no accident that Hans Zimmer has made this list numerous times. This song keeps my love for the Old Testament stories alive.

Love Theme (From BladeRunner) – Vangelis – Blade Runner

The pairing of a sensual saxophone and oceanic synths is an unusual choice for a dystopian cult classic, but the musical brilliance of Vangelis is what made Blade Runner the towering film that it remains to this day. There are numerous stand our tracks from the Blade Runner OST, but the “Love Theme” may be the most memorable.

Heartbeat to a Gunshot – Angelo Badalamenti – A Very Long Engagement

The ambient and vibrant dialectical pairing of violins and trembling synths create a gentle, yet soulful track that tugs on the heartstrings, capturing the restless solemnity of Mattilde and Manech’s enduring love for each other, torn apart by war.

Forth Eorlingas – Howard Shore – LOTR – The Two Towers

Magisterial.

A Small Measure of Peace – Hans Zimmer – The Last Samurai

‘There is a peace that all of us seek, but few find.’

Honorable Mentions:

Evacuating London

Emotions just seep from this track. The second half is pure chills.

Mountains – Hans Zimmer – Interstellar

The track matched the scene in the movie to perfection. You can feel the foreboding sense of impending danger as the relentless tick tock rises and rises into a thunderous cascade of grandiose synths.

The Battle Song – Harry Gregson Williams – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’m not a fan of overly dramatic songs built against the backdrop of war. War is not something music should aggrandize or glorify, but this track is beautiful nonetheless. The  variety of melodic alternations that take place throughout the song give in a diversity that is refreshing. Each successive section of the track expresses the shifts in the story as the listener is transported to the fields of Narnia.

Brothers in Arms – Junkie XL – Mad Max: Fury Road

The urgency and relentless nature of this film is captured well in this track. An exciting and invigorating listen that never bores or slows. As the track progresses it becomes surprisingly melodic.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dialectic of the Two Ditches

Greek mythology tells the tale of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who construct wings so that they may flee from their captor King Minos. As they prepare to leave, Daedalus warns his son that he must not fly too high or too low in order to protect the wax of the wings from being melted by the heat of the sun or soaked from the spray of the waters below. However Icarus fails to follow his father’s advice, foolishly flying higher and higher until the sun melts the wax holding his wings together. Icarus falls into the sea, to his death.

It was also the Ancient Greek philosophers who coined the term “golden mean,” or the notion that every virtue was a balance between two extremes, not unlike walking a tightrope. In a sense, life is a lot like walking a tightrope. It’s a delicate balance where if you lean a little too far in either direction, the result is equally disastrous. I have come to see, along with the ancient Greeks, that in many if not most cases in life, the true path of wisdom is a matter of avoiding the two ditches of partial or incomplete truth which lie on either side.

To avoid the two ditches is to live in a tension between two apparent opposites. That is essentially what a dialectic is. In life each individual must navigate their own pathway. Every person walks a unique path, but like our roads, every path is paralleled on either side by a ditch. The two ditches represent polar opposites, the radical extremes on each end of a spectrum. There are some who choose to walk in these ditches, entirely aware of where they are. Others unintentionally fall into one of the ditches and keep on walking as if they’d never left the path. They become oblivious to the damage they are inflicting on both themselves and on others.

There are many reasons we fall into these ditches. In order to illustrate let me use an example from theology. Christians confess that Jesus is somehow both fully human and yet at the same time fully divine. These apparent contradictions must be kept in tension, or we risk falling victim to either the over-emphasis of Christ’s humanity (the heresy of Arianism) or the over-emphasis of Christ’s divinity (the heresy of Docetism).

But the danger regarding the two ditches isn’t just about avoiding two extremes, it can also come in the form of setting two truths against each other. When we pit a position on one end of a truth-spectrum against a position on the other end of that spectrum, polarization occurs. This is most prevalent in American politics. What are sometimes meant to be truths held together in tension are instead seen as incompatible ideas that cannot be reconciled with each other. One is seen as the correct way to do things, while the other is seen as the antithesis of what should be done. Perhaps we need to start seeing some of the seemingly conflicting ideologies as complementary pieces of a more comprehensive and balanced perspective.

This polarization is most widely illustrated in the broken two-party political system here in America and particularly in the culture wars being waged around various issues. It often can seem like the conservative and progressive ideologies could not be further apart from each other. In some sense they are. However I would like to suggest that this is not always the case. For example, it is not uncommon to encounter a more liberal leaning person who will tend to advocate for individual freedom. Conversely, many conservative leaning people, will tend to advocate for individual responsibility. Likewise, those on the left tend to support social or collective responsibility, while the right supports social or collective freedom. Both sides consistently claim that they are in the right and that the other is sorely mistaken, often caricaturing and demonizing each other. But can it really be said that either side is entirely wrong? Or exclusively right? Perhaps in clinging to an either-or paradigm instead of a dialectical view, both sides end up in opposing ditches, in unnecessary conflict with each other.

Of course, it is also true that this polarization is spurred on by legitimate differences. Sometimes these differences are generational. When a previous generation has taken a particular stance on an issue, one that leaves them in one of the ditches, the pendulum is bound to swing towards the opposite direction at some point in the future. The next generation rightfully rejects the one-sided extremism of their predecessors and rushes to the other side and ultimately embraces a new extremism. Some would argue that this explains the contrast between the extremes of over the top political correctness and the corresponding rise of “PC pushback” that has emerged recently. My primary contention with the analogy of the ditches is that often in our rejection of one extreme, we simply replace it with another.

But there is another way, especially for those of us who follow Christ. Some call it the third way, or perhaps the narrow road. This way is a way that should be guided by the fruits of the spirit. Somehow, Jesus called both a far-right tax collector, who upheld the status quo, and a far-left zealot, who believed in overthrowing the establishment, to come together and abandon their extremist ideologies. The truly wise will try to see the validity of opposing views and to discover the understandable concerns beneath what seem to be distasteful or wrongheaded opinions. There are of course times when a line in the sand has to be drawn, but that does not mean we have to leave the middle way in favor of either one of the ditches. Most importantly our journey on this path should always err on the side of mercy, of justice, the side of peace and self-sacrifice. Jesus called Matthew and Simon to follow a middle path of mutual acceptance and understanding in addition to being a prophetic voice of cultural challenge. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ compel us to follow this example. May we reject the ditches in our lives and in so doing, show the world something radically distinct.

– A shorter version of this article was published in the online Bethel University newspaper The Clarion:

The dialectic of the two ditches