Is The Soundtrack Just as Important as the Film?

With the current releases of Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2 and Baby Driver, the soundtrack is seminal within the film. These films ask the question about whether the soundtrack is important.

Original scores have been used to set the tone of films for decades. Imagine films like Jurassic Park without the John Williams score or Interstellar without the organ filled Hans Zimmer composed soundtrack. The effectiveness of an original score is concrete, a film can rely on a film score to enhance emotion and heighten action. The composed scores allows a set tone and pace of a film. This article is asking whether a soundtrack composed of unoriginal songs can do the same trick? Soundtracks in film are not a new concept but in the new era of online music streaming and the desire for nostalgia in film, music has become a key focus for any big budget release. One just has to look at the release of the original Guardians of the Galaxy to see the true impact of the soundtrack of a film. The film’s soundtrack topped compilations charts worldwide and became one of the many selling points of the film. The soundtrack became popular on vinyl and also were sold as cassette tapes. Becoming the 5th biggest selling album in the US in 2014, is the film soundtrack just as important then the actual film?

With the anticipated release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, there were many fan forums discussing about what songs they were going to include in the sequel. When the soundtrack was released fans tried to guess about when and where the songs would be used. Within the film Peter Quill’s father, Ego notes the song Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass represents the relationship between him and Quill’s mother. Songs can become a subtext to the film’s plot or indeed heighten the tone of a scene. You only need to look at the infamous Reservoir Dogs scene where Mr Blonde is cutting the ear of a police officer and Stuck in the Middle With You by Stealers Wheel, an upbeat song, is played in the background. The juxtaposition of the song and the scene heightens the violence of the off-screen butchering of the ear. Without the Stealers Wheel song the scene would lose its iconic status. The audience wouldn’t be able to identify that Mr Blonde is a true psychopath as he gains an enjoyment from cutting the ear off, by dancing and singing along to Stuck in the Middle With You. The song is a key ingredient in the message that the director, Quentin Tarantino, is trying to put across.

Ansel Elgort in 'Baby Driver' [Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Ansel Elgort in ‘Baby Driver’ [Credit: TriStar Pictures]

The newly released Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright, is another example of how effective the soundtrack can be for a film. Baby Driver is about a young getaway driver that has a hearing problem and uses songs on his iPod to drive and escape the cops. This central plot point creates the rhythm of the film. Car chase scenes are choreographed by the song that Baby is listening too. The pace of the car chase works in tandem with the beat of the song. The first car chase is accompanied by the song, Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This erratic concoction of drums and guitar becomes the center of the whole scene. The rhythm, the pace and the beat becomes the driving force of the whole entire beginning of the film. Baby Driver is a modern musical, that just like when Valjean bellows One Day More in Les Miserables, Baby Driver is full of songs that progress the story and set the tone of each act of the film.

The medium of film is not too dissimilar to music. Both need the build, the bridge, the chorus and that one final note that blows away the audience. Music and film is a perfect relationship that when used right can create something truly magical. Music can help create the rhythm and pace of a film. Music can work with film to create memorable moments. It can be argued that Back to the Future would not be as magical without Huey Lewis’ The Power of Love or Guardians of the Galaxy would not of been so surprising without the ooga chakas of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling. Music is as important than the visual counterpart. Both the visual and aural need one another to work. Films like Baby Driver and Guardians of the Galaxy need both to work and when they do, they create memorable moments of cinema. The soundtrack is the composer of the film, the visuals are instruments and together can create a cinematic masterpiece.

What is your favorite movie soundtrack?

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