The sounds of cinema

Have you ever thought about what your favourite movie would be like without music? I don’t just mean the musical lovers out there, who’d probably tear their hair out at the thought of The Sound of Music without “A Problem Like Maria” and “Climb Every Mountain.” Movies just wouldn’t have the same punch without those melodies. Imagine how lame Jaws would be without that two-note tune, or how Kevin Bacon’s career would’ve gone if it hadn’t been for Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.”

I recently watched the riveting Hanna and the moment I heard the first eerie chords from the soundtrack, conceived by one of my favourite music groups, the Chemical Brothers, I began ruminating on the power of music in movies.

First off, let me say that Hanna is an intriguing film. Part Cold War spy flick, part coming-of-age story, it contrasts a child’s innocence with the dark forces surrounding her birth. Eric Bana (Munich, Blackhawk Down) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) are the cinematic pillars upon which Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) balances her impeccable performance. There are very few young actors who can convincingly realize both angelic naivety and brutal mercilessness, yet Ronan does it with a flair that left me breathless. This film merits attention, even before you consider the score.

There’s been a recent trend of artists, usually with electronica leanings, collaborating on soundtracks. Last year, Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, collaborated with English composer Atticus Ross to put together the Oscar-winning score for The Social Network. 2010 also saw French duo Daft Punk step up for the hyper-synth Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Hanna follows in this tradition, and the Chemical Brothers did a fine job providing discordant yet oddly beautiful sounds as a quirky underlay for the film. Just as Ronan’s performance sets up deep contrasts, so do the musical themes. Deep, dark synthesizers provide moody atmosphere, while xylophones and bells chime in with child-like humour. Scenes that should be terrifying take on a level of irony that wouldn’t be possible without the harmonic backdrop. As a cinephile, I enjoyed the character studies, the location choices and the cinematography, but it was my inner-audiophile that forced me to take a closer look and listen to Hanna.

There are scenes in movies that are memorable because of what you saw, but more often than we realize, it’s the sounds of the film that leave traces. The trumpet solo in The Godfather, the rolling strings and horns of Dances with Wolves, the haunting piano of American Beauty. Without music, these films lack richness and colour. If you’re looking for a fantastic movie with music to match, be sure to pick up a copy of Hanna. But if you really want to have your mind blown, pick up an old favourite and when your favourite scenes come, close your eyes. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you hear.

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