Are JW's scores getting "mushy"?

Discussion in 'Star Wars And Film Music' started by adlion94, Jan 20, 2005.

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  1. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    I don't know quite how to put this, but ANH and ESB both have a bombastic, highly dynamic quality to the recordings. Brass blasted, strings sweep - there was significant clarity in the overall orchestration and mix. There is a majesty to the LSO that comes through. Never has the main title cue sounded better than ANH and ESB.

    Then, something changed. ROTJ's score got "mushy". There is less distinction in the overall mix and individual instruments don't "pop" anymore. Listen to the opening titles for ANH and ESB, then listen to ROJ and see if you hear a big difference. I'm talking about the mushiness of the final mix. The same music from TIE Fighter attack appears in the Sail Barge sequence and it sounds mushy in comparison to the 1977 recording.

    New engineer? New orchestrator? Different recording equipment? I might write it off to analog versus digital, but I highly doubt they used digital in 1983 for ROTJ.

    This problem has continued to prequels. They sound a little better than ROJ. Clarity is better, but there is a dip in the majesty of the LSO. Not as bombastic as those recordings from the 1970s for the first 2 OT films.

    It could partly be the scoring, too...

    JW isn't writing the highly melodic music he used to. He seems to resort to repetitive brass runs and generic unmemorable strings. Listen to his 1996 Olympic theme versus his 1984 Olympic theme. JW's lost it somewhat. Listen to E.T. versus Harry Potter. Superman or Indy versus Minority Report. Which one is humm-able? Not ragging on the genius, he's every bit the talent Beethoven and Mozart were, but after 50 years, maybe his most prolific years are behind him.

    Even look at the drop in quality of source cues from ANH to ROJ (I think GL told him to score it that way), but I'll take the timeless cantina band jazz over instantly outdated "space disco" of Lapti Nek and that stupid TPM parade music.

    And I'm not saying JW can't write anymore -- Duel of the Fates is fantastic. BUT the prequels are just "film music", not concert-worthy. An audience wouldn't sit still to listen to the new tracks on their own. The Asteroid Chase or the TIE Fighter attack are concert worthy powerful stuff.

    Anyone feel the same?
  2. ThePariah Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2003
    star 4
    I do agree that the PT music is largely unmemorable compared to the OT. I can recall and vocalize all the major tracks and plenty of the minor ones of the OT off the top of my head on cue, but ask me to think of a random piece of music from the PT and I'm often blank. Most of it does seem like filler music, forgettable and unremarkable. Only the loud tracks such as the Battle of Geonosis and Duel of the Fates, or the love theme (Across the Stars) sticks with me.

    One bright spot from the PT for me, though, was Anakin's theme. For some reason it nearly brought me to tears the very first time I heard it, I thought it was that beautiful. And the sinister incorporation of it at the end credits of the two films so far is brilliant.
  3. Strilo Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Aug 6, 2001
    star 8
    I cannot disagree more. On pretty much every point.

  4. General Kenobi Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 1998
    star 6
    Fortunately, he's got a whole slew of "concert-worthy" themes at his disposal for ROTS.

    I'm not looking for any major new themes. Perhaps a new little motif or two.
  5. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    Seriously? You find the "punch" of Star Wars and Empire to be equal to Return of the Jedi? You think that mix sounds just as good?

    Even from the days of the 33 rpm records, I recall thinking (at age 13 no less) that Jedi mushed together. I think it's partly the orchestration and partly the recording, partly the final mix. The dynamics just ain't right. The LSO doesn't blast and sweep out of the speakers.

    As for the musical originality of the PT versus the OT, that might have to do with seeing SW in theaters when I was 7. I grew up with that music. I remember listening to the original "black" double album and going through my Star Wars trading cards.

    Maybe I'm not objective, but the PT is filler music (with notable exceptions - DOTF, Anakin's theme, love theme, etc.). TPM battle music is nothing compared to the Death Star battle from Star Wars or the Death Star stormtrooper shootouts.
  6. Well_Of_Souls Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 26, 2001
    star 5
    While I do agree that RotJ sounds much worse than SW or ESB, I don't think that the recording of that particular score is necessarily Williams' fault.

    And as far as the PT music goes, I find TPM's score to be his best of the last ten years or so, despite the horrendous editing job they did to the score in the film. AotC is way below average in my book, however. That score truly isn't up to the level of quality of the other four SW scores.

    Hopefully, RotS will be better.
  7. Tyranus_the_Hutt Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Nov 14, 2004
    star 4
    This may perhaps be construed as controversial, but I would rather listen to any track from John Williams prequel score than one minute of the stately and awkward formalism of Howard Shore's music for "The Lord of the Rings"; any part that does not include the "heroic" theme/melody (which I can't stand) is quite nice, but awfully reminiscent of James Horner. I could not disagree more with the author of this thread. "Duel of the Fates" and "Beyond the Stars" are simply magnificent pieces of operatic composition which perfectly compliment the films' thematic representations and cascading imagery. "Beyond the Stars", which is, to my mind, one of Williams' most impressive recent scores, somehow manages to be at once romantic, melancholy, innocent, and fated.

    I see that by "mushy", you mean jumbled, not saccharine - am I correct in coming to that conclusion, adlion94? Furthermore, you seek to question the originality of the PT score (in general terms)? I think that you definitely have a point as it pertains to the latter argument; however, I imagine that some of the 'repetition' of thematic material is not so much a matter of 'recycling', rather an issue of inversion. It is clear that Williams wants to compose the score of the PT in a fashion that is almost "backwards", so that it leads into and ultimately merges with the OT. There was an article in Film Comment a couple of years back, the author of which escapes me, regarding "Star Wars" and, specifically, "Attack of the Clones". This person, who purported to be an expert of some sort, also referred to "Clones" musical arrangement, in addition to its sound effects, as being poorly defined and jumbled, and not in polite terms. During the course of his scathing, yet well-written, attempt to rip Lucas, Williams, and Ben Burtt a new one, he stated that in the entirety of AOTC's running time, only a few seconds of musical composition was even worthy of being regarded at all, and that the rest of the "cacophonous noise" could go and reside in the cinematic sewer. Needless to say, I likewise had great difficulty finding any point of agreement with his complaints. Maybe it's just a matter of taste or opinion. I don't know.

    Perhaps I will try to find the article and post it.
  8. General Kenobi Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 1998
    star 6
    I think the track you refer to as "Beyond The Stars" is what we generally call "Across The Stars" around here.

    Also, I'm not sure if everyone is making a distinction between Williams' score, the LSO's performance, and the quality of the recordings. It seems to me that some of the initial argument is based on the quality of the latter two items. I think there has been much agreement in this forum that the recorded quality of the ROTJ:SE discs seems below the standards of the ANH and ESB soundtracks.
  9. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    Mushy, not as in overly sentimental, but mushy as in fuzzy, indistinct and lacking dynamicism.

    I think the problem with ROJ is that it is orchestrated strangely, recorded badly and mixed down and mastered poorly. French horns blare instead sounding fat and mellow, brass sounds tinny instead of bombastic. The clarity of ANH and ESB just had "punch" and I know of no other way to describe it.

    Perfect example. Listen to the main titles of ANH and ROJ and pay particular attention to the reprise of Luke's theme after the droid string motif (that breaks up the main theme in 2 verses). It sounds like mush in ROJ while ANH and ESP "pop" with clarity and punch.

    JW's PT scoring is still as good as anything James Horner or Howard Shore does on their best days, but it isn't the masterpiece JW wrote for ANH and ESB.

    Even the music while Luke watches Princess Leia's hologram or the Jawa's capturing R2D2 is concert worthy. There's a purity and originality to those recordings and melodies that never continued to ROJ and especially to the PT (with a few exceptions).

    Seriously - can you hum a single melody from Minority Report? Would you rather hum E.T. or Harry Potter? JW is running out of gas, that's all.

    Here's another example for Enigma fans - have they ever come close to the power of the first album again? Enigma's later stuff is mushy while the original 1990 album is a masterpiece that sparkled and punched through.

    Are my ears too sensitive? I'm an advertising exec who does music mixes, so this is my job to notice this stuff.
  10. Well_Of_Souls Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 26, 2001
    star 5
    Memorability does not make a film score good per se. I find the score to Minority Report to work perfectly in the film, but on album it is a tough listen.

    There's a big difference between listening to a score in the film and then listening to the same score on CD. They do different things and one is sometimes better than the other. It doesn't mean the score itself is bad, just not suitable for listening on album.

    I think this is mainly what has happened to JW's scoring style. His music tends to work wonderfully in each film he does, but then when the score is translated to album it doesn't quite hold up as well.

    The most recent Harry Potter score works well in both the film and on album for me, so I have hope for Episode III.
  11. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    Actually, that's an excellent point. The primary reason for this music is to move along with visuals in a film, so I guess you're right.

    But to me, a good analogy is cooking with wine.

    Some folks buy "cooking wine" but great chefs will tell you that there's no such thing. You cook with wine good enough to drink. If something's not good enough to stand alone, how can it contribute in a combination with other elements?

    American Beauty would not be the same without that incredible, brillant, genius score. They could've scored it with less melodic, abstract music to achieve the same effect, but the final score is musical enough for concert on in context in the movie.
  12. DarthBrain Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Apr 1, 2003
    JW is still great. I think Harry Potter 3 tough was a great score. others i agree are mushy, almost sounding like cues instead ofgreat music pieces like in Empire and New Hope.
  13. MvTrlrMsc Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 12, 2005
    star 1
    Besides maybe Episode 2 was kind of stunk


    I still love his scores
  14. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    I guess that's a good description - stock music from a film library. I.e. generic "battle" music. To me, there's not one track (maybe Across the Stars) that stands out in AOTC. Just throwaway music.

    Attacking the Death Star in ANH - that's a symphony to rival Tchaikovsky's ballets.

    Since I keep talking about 2 separate elements, composition (writing itself), and recording (performance and production), here's my scale...

    Scale of 1-10:

    ANH
    Composition: 10
    Recording: 10
    On par with the masters of the 18th and 19th century. Mozart himself couldn't have done better. Every track a classic work of symphony. From the most humble Jawa motif to the bombastic space battle. Majesty!

    ESB
    Composition: 9.9
    Recording: 10
    Flawless work of art. Vader's theme. Yoda's theme. Love theme. Asteroid chase, Bespin, Carbonite, Hoth. Not a bad track to be heard.


    ROTJ
    Composition: 7
    Recording: 5
    Lots of rehashes - Yoda, Vader, ANH battle music. But the Emperor's theme is nice. Ewok theme is nice, even tho Ewoks suck. Jabba music sets the mood but is throwaway. The climactic battle has some nice work in it (Luke chopping off Vader's hand).

    TPM
    Composition: 6
    Recording: 8
    Duel of the Fates is the saving grace. Anakin's theme is nice, but doesn't stand out when compared to Yoda's, Leia's, Han & Princess and Luke & Leia's themes.

    AOTC
    Composition: 5
    Recording: 8
    Lousy music all around. Not a single track stands out. Across the Stars is okay, but is a throwaway compared to OT love themes. Also, compare it to other early JW work - Superman love theme for example.
  15. Tyranus_the_Hutt Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Nov 14, 2004
    star 4
    "Across the Stars" - yes, my mistake; I apologize for my "Beyond the Stars" error earlier. I don't know what I was thinking; I must have my head too deeply entrenched in the Roger Corman archives.
  16. Cerrabore Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jan 17, 2004
    star 4
    I agree with you to some degree. A big problem with JW recordings of the last ten-fifteen years is that the sound mix is too soft. However, I think the sound mix is too sharp pre-ESB. There were just a few years, 1980-1985, maybe, that had the ideal sound mix... One big improvement today, though, is that there is far less static in the sound mixes (except AotC; yeesh, what happened?).
  17. outrider462004 Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Oct 31, 2004
    star 4
    Mushy. You want to call a masters work mushy. If it is sometimes, its for a reason. Otherwise, live with it man.
  18. Sithman Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 1999
    star 7
    I pretty much agree with the author.

    He's not saying JW sucks, but that his older scores are far more memorable, hummable, and whatever other words you used to describe them. I agree.

    Like you said, his new scores are great, but inferior to his scores of the 70s and 80s.
  19. adlion94 Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 20, 2005
    Maybe his themes are getting more complex?

    Anakin's theme is a much more complicated melody than Yoda's theme or Princess Leia's theme. It's very unorthodox and harder to hum, that's for sure. Duel of the Fates is pretty abstract compared to OT stuff.

    Even if you listen to the theme to "Catch Me If You Can" (which I love). That's a complex composition - almost an abstract jazz/orchestral piece.

    JW just isn't churning out simple (but classic) Superman and E.T. themes anymore that we can whistle.

    I think, like many artists, he seeks to take his art to another level and layered, complex melodies are where his interest lie.
  20. Cerrabore Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jan 17, 2004
    star 4
    Anakin's theme is a much more complicated melody than Yoda's theme or Princess Leia's theme. It's very unorthodox and harder to hum, that's for sure. Duel of the Fates is pretty abstract compared to OT stuff.

    I think Anakin's Theme has a pretty similar melody to Yoda's Theme, maybe a bit more complicated...Duel of the Fates, on the other hand, is a very simple melody when you remove all the orchestration.
  21. Charth_Maul Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 5, 2001
    star 4
    To a certain extent I'll agree with the author, but all in all I think TPM and AOTC do the job and then some. Duel of the Fates, Anakin's Theme, the Trade Federation's theme, Across the Stars...all memorable and beautiful compositions.

    The only means for which I could agree is that the PT doesn't have as much of a grandiose or sharp sound, if that makes sense. Also keep in mind, we've all been listening to the OT for years prior to the PT, and A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are all timeless masterpieces that set a new bar back in the day. How can one expect, after years between the two trilogies, for JW to shatter the bar again? Please, I hope to God that nobody takes me wrong with this post. I absolutely love the scores of TPM and AOTC, they just have a different tone, or feel if that makes sense. Would anyone disagree? And that's not a bad thing at all. After all, a new tone of music is appropriate for a new prequel trilogy. Like JW said, it's like writing music backwards.

    Genious.
  22. Charth_Maul Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 5, 2001
    star 4
    I'd like to retract my use of "gradiose" and "sharp sounding"...(I was listening to TPM:UE last night).

    But I will maintain, to clarify, that the PT has a much different sound and feel to the music than the OT, enough to where I could POSSIBLY understand criticism. Perhaps "different tone" isn't quite the right word either, but certainly "mushy" is far from the truth. Again, while I don't think the PT, as a whole, is nearly as melodic as the OT, the music is intended to be a building block to the OT, and quite honestly, I think it works out beautifully.

    We really shouldn't be complaining about these truly great scores.

    Does anyone get what I'm trying to say?
  23. Tyranus_the_Hutt Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Nov 14, 2004
    star 4
    I understand and concur with your statements, Charth_Maul. I still don't understand the contextual application of "mushy" in regards to Willaims' music. The author of this thread is certainly not the first person to call his musical scores "bombastic", but I cannot do anything other than emphatically disagree with that assessment.
  24. Draxtralia Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Feb 28, 2004
    star 1
    Anyone thought of blaming Shawn Murphy for this?
  25. Moleman1138 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Aug 18, 2004
    star 6
    JW still has it. After his Prisoner of Azkaban score, which by way is up for an Oscar, he is still the best in the field. The prequel soundtracks are well done too and still have the elements even through he had to start from scratch with TPM.
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