The very first album I ever bought was the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I think its secret was that both composer John Williams and filmmaker Steven Spielberg understood the magic of what they were doing. The special effects wizards behind Jurassic Park had so perfected their on-screen dinosaurs that it ushered in a new era of filmmaking.
Before Jurassic Park, creatures used to look like stop-motion claymation characters or giant puppets. But in Spielberg’s movie all that changed. Sitting in cinemas in 1993, watching the brachiosaur emerge from the trees and rear up on its hind legs, the only reason we knew it wasn’t a real dinosaur was because it couldn’t have been.
This meant that the attraction to see the film was not just to experience a rousing adventure, but to have a magical experience – seeing creatures move and breathe in a way that could never have been imagined. And that’s what made that soundtrack so special – the awe of seeing real dinosaurs for the first time was all captured in John Williams’ majestic main theme to Jurassic Park.
From then on, I was hooked on soundtracks. They weren’t cheap to collect, but these CDs so thoroughly recreated the mood of my favourite films that they were worth every cent.
Film music was the genre that drew me towards other orchestral music, particularly classical music. For a long time, these two types of orchestral music existed in different worlds. If you went to see a live orchestra perform, it was all classical. Meanwhile, film scores only existed on CDs at home, played perhaps once by the orchestra for the original recording.
But in the last decade, all this has changed with the introduction of movies in concert – a simple idea which has finally highlighted the brilliance of great film scores in a never-before-seen way. In these performances, the film is projected complete with all the sound effects and dialogue – but without music. Instead, the music is performed in time to the movie by a live symphony orchestra.
It becomes a completely different way of experiencing the movies you love. Hearing a live orchestra fire up the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning of a Star Wars film or hearing the delicate tones of a the familiar Harry Potter theme is exhilarating. Small details that you may not have originally noticed in the soundtrack suddenly spring into the foreground. Suspenseful scenes that you might have thought were all to do with editing and camerawork turn out to be drawing their power from the music underneath.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra is part-way through two great film franchises known for their soundtracks – the Harry Potter and Star Wars films. Audiences haven’t always known what to expect the first time the first time they attend. Some people think it’s just going to be an orchestra playing the music, only to be blown away when they realise that it’s the live film with the score. But the concept has caught on and movies in concert are an integral part of our concert year.
In the future, I dream that a day will come when a studio will prepare a version of an upcoming film to be performed the day the movie comes out. Imagine it – the latest blockbuster that everyone wants to see and you don’t just have a choice between regular, 3D and IMAX – now you can hear it live with orchestra as well.
But for now, I’m glad that many of my favourites are getting the live orchestra treatment!