Sunday, February 25, 2018

Composing Greatness: #34. John Williams - "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)

Scene from Saving Private Ryan
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.

*NOTE: Because of Oscar Sunday, Composing Greatness will take the week of March 4 off and will return the following Sunday. 

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Dramatic Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-Life is Beautiful (Nicola Piovani)*winner
-Elizabeth (David Hirschfielder)
-Pleasantville (Randy Newman)
-The Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer)

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: 37
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Hymn to the Fallen"
2. "Revisiting Normandy"
3. "Omaha Beach"
4. "Finding Private Ryan"
5. "Approaching the Enemy"
6. "Defense Preparations"
7. "Wade's Death"
8. "A. High School Teacher"
9. "B. High School Teacher"
10. "The Last Battle"
11. "Hymn to the Fallen (Reprise)"

Note: Listen to here.

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:
"Hymn to the Fallen"

After Amistad, it was tough to decide if the magic of the Steven Spielberg/John Williams partnership was hitting a bit of a snag. Then this week's score comes along and creates one of the composer's greatest and most nuanced works. From the militaristic drums that play through the foggy haze of the horns, creating music that is nostalgic and brave. This is the type of music that he's more known for with Oliver Stone. It lacks the familiar bombastic motifs and replaces it with a sentimentality that is powerful without being overwhelming. This is the type of score that proves Williams' maturity and ability to be more than a melody man. This is an atmospheric score layered with an awe that is nuanced and powerful in equal detail.

Interesting Standout:
"Defense Preparations"

For the most part, the score has a continuous and slow paced atmosphere around every track. It starts off just the same here, capturing a certain fear within its cold and ominous melodies. Then it happens. For a brief moment, the score lets loose of its simplicity and goes for walking pianos that at times recall Jaws in how the threat lingers over the music. It's jarring and captures an intensity that never goes away. It's a brief moment in an expansive score, but it raises warnings of what could possibly come. It's powerful, and definitely reflects how John Williams could use minimalism to full effect. There's even traces of Catch Me If You Can that can be heard throughout the brief run of chaotic notes.

Best Moment:
"Finding Private Ryan"

In theory, this is one of John Williams' greatest scores, period. It ranks among his very best and part of that comes from a uniform composition that ebbs and flows in nuanced fashion. However, this track manages to show the layered complexity that he can bring to his music. In its mature moments, he manages to mix the percussive drums with horns that boom without being intrusive. The entire atmosphere of this trace captures what he does best in a condensed form, even managing to use the elegant strings in emotional and powerful ways. The melodies and instrumentation help to add a sentimental vibe that never feels out of place in spite of the dangerous undertone that lies in the music.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

As I have mentioned before, this is among John Williams' greatest scores, possibly alongside E.T., Schindler's List, and Born on the Fourth of July as one of my favorites. Even when he's being quiet, he has produced a powerful score that never goes for the familiar bombast, instead choosing a more sentimental and nostalgic tone that is reminiscent of old war movies without overstepping. He continues to prove that his partnership with Spielberg is something special, and this is the first time that Williams feels like he captures something more personal and complex about Spielberg spectacle. This is another piece of art from Williams, and I can only hope there's more that are as interesting as this one. 

Up Next: Angela's Ashes (1999) for Best Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" - Schindler's List (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Superman (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
10. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
11. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
12. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
13. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
14. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
15. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
16. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
17. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
18. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
19. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
20. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
21. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
22. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
23. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
24. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
25. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
26. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
27. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
28. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
29. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
30. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
31. "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. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "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. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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