We all have heard John Williams’ most iconic film compositions. You can probably hum Star Wars, or recognize E.T. or Jaws. Each of this legendary composer’s scores has their own iconic footprint in film music. But today, we count down a few of John Williams’ most underrated scores.
The Adventures of Tintin
While the movie received mixed interpretation one has to admit that the John Williams score on The Adventures of Tintin is undeniably memorable. The score is never overly simplistic or complex and inspires the desire for adventure. The mix of melodies showcases the composer’s desire to never outshine the story. By mixing instrumentals with intricate storytelling, Tintin matches with its score beautifully. Though the movie and the score have faded into obscurity the musical tones and their beauty deserve to be remembered.
John Williams did a Dracula movie. Between the incredible score for Superman and the best Star Wars movie ever made, he composed the scariest music of his career. The 1979 version of Dracula starring Frank Langella as the count is underappreciated. What shouldn’t be ignored is how good the movie’s music is.
Dracula is iconic and so is the soundtrack for this film. People who haven’t even seen this version know the music immediately. John Williams’ score is moody, spooky, creepy and dark, and the vinyl version of it is amazing.
Many of the composer’s familiar musical traits are present here too. Even fans of Harry Potter and E.T. will recognize the style. It’s not Bella Lugosi and it’s not Hammer, but Universal’s take on the ultimate bloodsucker has its moments. You’ll never forget the final scene and that amazing John Williams Dracula theme.
Hearing the score from Home Alone is like gazing into a snow globe. John Williams conjures a wintry audioscape with pizzicato strings, airy flutes and woodwinds, bells and keys. The melody of his opening theme is youthful, crisp, and mischievous, a perfect accompaniment to Kevin McCallister, the sadistic but lovable protagonist of the film. In Home Alone, John Williams crafted a soundtrack that, perhaps more even than most Christmas songs, just feels like Christmastime.
On many tracks, Williams evokes Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”, such as in “Holiday Flight,” which owes a lot to the Russian Dance Trepak. It’s inspired composing that draws on the audience’s preconceptions of what a wintry tune should sound like. He echoes sacred music as well. The use of a children’s chorus, as on “Star of Bethlehem,” and the theme, “Somewhere in My Memory,” reminds us on a subliminal level that this is Kevin’s story.
We almost got a completely different soundtrack. Bruce Broughton was the original man for the job, but he backed out to do the score for The Rescuers Down Under. When Chris Columbus needed a rescuer, Williams obliged. While it’s not Williams’ most famous work, Home Alone shines as a score that elevates its material from cute family film to seasonal classic. After all, can you, without thinking too hard, whistle a tune from The Rescuers Down Under? Didn’t think so. Those are my two cents. Keep the change, ya filthy animals.
Catch Me if You Can
Brassy compositions like “Luke’s Theme“ and “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” define the Williams we know today. Catch Me If You Can instead summons the jazz-pianist-turned-composer. This is the artist formerly known as Johnny Williams and John Tower. Dissonant percussion is prominent — as it was in his themes to TV shows like The Time Tunnel and Checkmate. Catch Me’s “The Airport Scene” sometimes feels like the classier cousin of “Honolulu Dive” from Charlton Heston’s Diamond Head.
But the thing that makes Catch Me one of his best soundtracks is the title sequence. No movie has a better one. The ultra-flat 2-D animation and the daring typography positively swing. Finger-snaps, brushes and xylophones perfectly syncopate the animation. The result is an opening that feels sneaky. And from the sixties. It sounds and looks as if a beatnik poet is up to no good. Which is pretty much what Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is, minus the beard.
No wonder, then, that there are echoes of Catch Me even in that rogue-populated Star Wars Galaxy. Rey the scavenger and Frank the con-artist aren’t so very far apart, particularly when you compare the 41-second mark of “The Flash Comics Clue” to the opening of “Rey’s Theme“.
War of the Worlds
I often listen to playlists of John Williams’ scores. Most of his music is fairly iconic. Catchy themes, bold, brass fanfares, it’s pretty easy to pick out his music. But whenever music from War of the Worlds appears, I have to glance at my display to double check that I haven’t accidentally switched composers.
This score definitely stands out from John Williams’ other scores. Compared to E.T. or Star Wars, it feels “foreign.” Instead of brass, it is filled with electronic gestures and atmospheric sequences that we rarely see from the composer of Jaws. But his skill is still evident, with fluid dynamic changes that executed flawlessly throughout the entire film. I personally wonder at his track titled “Attack on the Car,” that is riddled with complexity and brings an unnerving tension to the table. The entire score only serves to enhance this movie’s suspenseful plot.