Sunday, November 26, 2017

Composing Greatness: #26. John Williams - "Home Alone" (1990)

Scene from Home Alone
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Home Alone (1990)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Music, Original Score; Best Music, Original Song ("Somewhere in My Memory")
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
Best Music, Original Score
-Dances With Wolves  (John Barry) *winner
-Avalon (Randy Newman)
-Ghost (Maurice Jarre)
-Havana (Dave Grusin)

Best Music, Original Song
-"Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" - Dick Tracy *winner
-"Blaze of Glory" - Young Guns II
-"I'm Checkin' Out" - Postcards from the Edge
-"Promise Me You'll Remember" - The Godfather Part III

Additional Information

This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 28
Oscar Wins: 4

Track List

1. "Home Alone Theme"
2. "Holiday Flight"
3. "The House"
4. "Star of Bethlehem"
5. "Man of the House"
6. "Scammed by a Kindergartner"
7. "Please Come Home for Christmas"
8. "Follow That Kid"
9."Making the Plane"
10. "O Holy Night"
11. "Carol of the Bells"
12. "Star of Bethlehem"
13. "Setting the Trap"
14. "Somewhere in My Memory"
15. "Attack on the House"
16. "Mom Returns and Finale"
17. "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas"
18. "End Titles"

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Home Alone Theme"

In this case, it's pretty easy to cover both nominations at the same time since both overlap repeatedly throughout the album as they do here. John Williams goes full Christmas and creates one of his most twee and fangless scores yet. It's a score that cribs from his better work to create a sweeping sense of the one joy he didn't create. The sentimentality of the holidays is nicely captured here, and it has all of the hits to make an adequate score. I don't know that it will change anyone's favorite holiday records collection, but it does little to change Williams' legacy as being able to pull a good score out of anything imaginable. He's done better, but this, this right here, is fine.

Interesting Standout:
"Setting the Trap"

For the most part, the score follows a lot of the old John Williams tricks verbatim. It's hard to really argue with the theatrics and the building of his work throughout the soundtrack. However, there's something that sounds new and odd about this track. It may be a recollection of the many motifs featured throughout the album, but it is done in a more dated kind of way. Not dated in the way that traditional compositions are, but in that it sounds more electronic and devious, creating a sense of Williams going for contemporary cool. It is far from the best track on here, but it definitely stands out as something that is off from the rest of the music. It has an offbeat spy kind of vibe to it, and that's not what the rest of the album has for sure.

Best Moment:
"Making the Plane"

Clocking in at under a minute, John Williams has outdone himself yet again. It's a track that is borderline ripping off a Christmas standard, but manages to stray far enough into his own style to create one of the quintessential jaunty tunes of his career. This may be on the lesser side of what he's remembered for, but I'm confident that I've heard this out of context countless times, and that is a testament to how memorable it is in spite of how short and repetitive it actually is. Also, it's a nice break from the otherwise standard composition work of the remaining score that fills the other tracks on the album.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

This thankfully isn't as trite as The Accidental Tourist, but it's a far cry from what is so interesting about John Williams as a composer. He goes to kiddie territory and produces a subpar score that works in all of the hits. You'll probably recognize E.T. or Superman somewhere in here, as well as the entire Christmas catalog of melodies he's likely pulling from. It's still well made and captures the essence of what a Christmas soundtrack should sound like. However, it's so tame and inoffensive that it never becomes interesting for too long. It's fine and achieves enough inspired moments to be worth checking out, but it feels like one of the moments in John Williams' career where he just got nominated because he was John Williams. That's pretty obnoxious.

Up Next: Hook (1991) for Best Original Song

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 
2. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
3. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
4. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Jaws (1978) 
5. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
6. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
7. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
8. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
9. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
10. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
11. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
12. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
13. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
14. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
15. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
16. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
17. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
18. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
19. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
20. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
21. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
22. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
23. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
24. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
25. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
3. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
4. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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