Sunday, March 25, 2018

Composing Greatness: #37. John Williams - "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001)

Scene from A.I. Artificial Intelligence
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: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore)*winner
-A Beautiful Mind (James Horner)
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (John Williams)
-Monsters, Inc. (Randy Newman)

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: 40
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Cybertronics"
2."Hide and Seek"
3. "Abandoned in the Wood"
4. "The Moon Rising" 
5. "Shake Down Shabby Town"
6. "Capturing Mecca"
7. "To Rouge City"
8. "Man-Hatten"
9. "Search for the Blue Fairy"
10. "Stored Memories"
11. "The Blue Fairy"
12. "David and the Supermecha"
13. "The Reunion"
14. "End Credits"

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:

I'll be honest that the past few weeks of John Williams has produced a series of decent but not great scores. So, it's exciting then that the return to Steven Spielberg collaborations has brought out one of his most engaging scores in quite some time. This score at times recalls Thomas Newman and has a fascinating balance between atmospheric, electronic, and somber. There's something artificial in it that intentionally creates an emotional struggle throughout. It's powerful in all of the right ways and, as a whole, may be one of Williams' most accomplished scores. The "theme" of this soundtrack is a bit familiar for him, but it still manages to convey a deep melancholy within its strings and somber tone. It's not the most iconic piece of music, but it's one of the most nuanced and assured that he's ever done.

Interesting Standout:
"Shake Down Shabby Town"

I wanted to go with a longer song, seeing as this doesn't even clock in at a minute. However, it's hard to find a standout that feels too different from the entire tapestry. At least with this song, there's an intensity and whirling emotion that comes with its brief existence. It pulls you in, forces you to feel the rush of danger. John Williams as a whole puts his all into this score better than he usually does, and it's interesting to hear those few moments of panic in a score that gestates between harmonious peace and a melancholic woe that moves through the instruments like a wave across a sea. It's in this brief moment that it feels like something different, as if this existential robot movie was going to be an action film.

Best Moment:
"Hide and Seek"

It's tough to not just pick the early tracks as being the best, if just because they are John Williams doing his thing. In this particular case, the piano seems to be playing hide and seek with the score. It has a catchy little melody that pops out randomly throughout to emphasize some devious intent. It's an upbeat and fun song in a score that largely relies on heavy emotions and deeper and complex melodies to convey its bigger picture. Still, this is a good example of why this score works so well. It manages to feel a bit distant without losing any emotional weight. It captures him at his most ambitious and mature, capturing something greater than another iconic medley.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

I will admit that I didn't have high expectations for the score going in. However, there's something interesting to listening to it as part of a bigger picture. While it does remind me a lot of Thomas Newman at times, it is essentially John Williams once again reinventing himself. Throughout the 90's, he turned in more mature scores that saw him go away from iconic melodies. Now he's producing music that is indicative of the tone of a film with more complex themes, such as the value of life. There's an existential vibe to this score, and it creates one of his most accomplished pieces of music. There's not a dull note on here, and it creates a powerful singular piece even as the pacing changes. It may lack the iconic moment on par with Jaws or E.T., but it's still genuine Williams. 

Up Next: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) 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. "Cybertronics" - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
12. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
13. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
14. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
15. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
16. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
17. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
18. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
19. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
20. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
21. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
22. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
23. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
24. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
25. "The Patriot" - The Patriot (2000)
26. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
27. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
28. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
29. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
30. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
31. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
32. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
33. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
34. "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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