Bright Lights Film Journal

Curse you, Helicopter Score!

Sitting here in my fifth flooor East Village walkup with a bad summer cold, I was all set to finally watch PAN’S LABYRINTH when I had to shirk away in horror from its micro-managing orchestral score. I couldn’t get very far into THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE for the same reason. What is with our contemporary fantasy filmmakers and their need to hover over us with orchestra batons and surging strings, the way helicopter moms do their poor children?

Usually bespeaking a strong influence of John Williams, these over-stimulated scores beat us to the punch every time, telegraphing the monster around the corner while the girl is still in her car. It’s getting so a wicked fascist stepfather can’t adjust his monocle without Wagnerian leitmotifs signaling of the brutal spankings to come, sending the audience wisely to the safety of their remotes.

Williams himself is to blame, as is our own poor memory. Back when we kids all revered JAWS in the 1970s (and grew up to be filmmakers) we didn’t have VCRs, so no one could remember that after the scary shark music Williams had concocted, he’d soured the whole horror mood by using this jaunty sailor shanty stuff for the parts when Quint and company set out to sea. Nowadays there’s nary a fairy can scamper by a kid without a delightful flute fluttering to indicate the child’s rapt awe. Nothing small and observable only on a second viewing is ever allowed to happen. The composer must underwrite it all, lifting every blemish to light so all can see; no child left behind means no child may ever get ahead. We all have to wait while the teacher patiently explains the plot point (See? He’s evil!) via tuba, timpani and synth stab!

Interestingly, Speilberg himself was one who managed to lead the way out of this mess, at least as concernes sci fi and fantasy, with his remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS which nicely refrains from much helicoptering for most of the film. But that film didn’t do so well, as I remember… oh Crikey.