Great Music, Bad Movie: What soundtracks rise above their films?
Image Credit: Kevin LynchTRON: Legacy left me feeling pretty underwhelmed when I saw it opening night in December. (I wasn’t alone: EW’s Owen Gleiberman gave the film a B, and it currently has an unhealthy 49 rating over on Metacritic.) However, I am positively addicted to the TRON: Legacy soundtrack by French techno-gods Daft Punk. It’s a fine addition to an intriguing cinematic canon: Soundtracks that are much, much better than their own movies. Can you think of any others?
I have to point out that I literally listen to the TRON: Legacy soundtrack all the time — at work, at the gym, on the subway. When I’m stressed out and need music that will inspire me like an Al Pacino halftime speech, I turn my frail laptop speakers as high as they can go and blast one of Legacy‘s more action-heavy tracks: “Recognizer,” say, or “The Game Has Changed.” But the soundtrack also has some plenty of fun, even party-worthy tracks (like “Derezzed”), not to mention the truly epic main theme.
In short, Daft Punk’s soundtrack vividly emboadies a whole assortment of emotional states that the actual movie didn’t really come closeto capturing. That’s a common thread when it comes to great soundtracks for not-so-great movies. Just look at Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture — the composer creates an energizing sense of galactic adventure that is mostly lacking in the film’s staid, colorless narrative.
Maybe bad sci-fi movies just bring out the best in their composers: Danny Boyle’s Sunshine was an interesting failure, but John Murphy’s score is simultaneously mournful and exciting. Some soundtracks seem to hint at what failed films could have been: Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy felt unnecessarily stagy, especially compared to Danny Elfman’s jazzy Batman-ish score and Steven Sondheim’s original songs.
And sometimes, a great soundtrack seems to be created almost in opposition to its film: To Live and Die in L.A. seems in theory like a sober (and rote) cop drama, but the soundtrack by Wang Chung takes the film into astronomical, only-in-the-’80s territory. To me, though, the biggest disparity in movie-to-soundtrack quality is Superman: The Movie. The 1978 superhero film isn’t terrible, but it’s also not great — I’ll take the gonzo sequel any day. (Hey, if you want to love a movie that features Superman traveling back in time by circling the Earth, it’s a free country.) John Williams’ score for the first Superman, though, is one of his very best, especially the gorgeous main theme, which feels like pure sonic heroism.
PopWatchers, do you have any other favorite soundtracks that come from meh movies? Feel free to add in non-score compilations, too: I’m not sure I’ve ever actually laughed at The Wedding Singer, but it’s fun watching the movie just to listen to a parade of ’80s songs.
Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich