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SciFi Symphony

Last year my husband took all of our CD’s and downloaded them onto our home computer. So now at dinner, he’ll just set the comp’s music program to “random” – and we’re never quite sure what we are going to be listening to. It could be anything from Vivaldi to the “Spice Girls” (although I generally do have to intervene and urge the computer on to something else then…)

So, one night, this orchestral music strikes up and my ears perk up. There were elements of regal marches and also some very soothing, almost “New Age” pieces, and I didn't recognize it right off the bat. I asked hubby what was playing and he replied, “Star Trek”. I immediately though of Captain Kirk and green alien women, but he corrected me and said it was the soundtrack to one of the movies.

It got me thinking about soundtracks for movies, specifically Sci-Fi movies.

I believe it was the first “Star Wars” movie (okay, movie episode IV, but the first one to be filmed) that made me actually hit my piano as a kid and try to plunk out a piece of music I had heard. I would have been about 6 years old.

“Star Wars” was a phenomenon. It really began the “epic film” trend, and the music was no exception. To this day I can hear the main theme, “Luke’s Theme” or the “Imperial March”, ”Darth Vader’s Theme” and be instantly transported to that film. This is due in large part to the composer, John Williams, employing a technique called leitmotif that is often associated with Wagner’s operas. Leitmotif is a recurring theme, usually short melody, that is associated with a specific character or idea. Of course every movie’s theme song makes us think of that movie (hopefully), but the leitmotif makes us think about specific elements within a film – anchoring scenes to memories with music.

Consider: “The Imperial March” – the dark melody that herald’s Darth Vader’s appearance. We know he’s going to be around soon because of the music, and we know that nothing good is going to happen. Whereas when we here the clunky, chipper music of “Parade of the Ewoks” we automatically know that cute little furry creatures are soon going to be running around, and we can relax a bit during the film.

“Star Wars” was the first sci-fi film to win the Academy award for original score, in 1977. Interestingly enough, another film scored by John Williams was also nominated in that year, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Williams was also nominated in 1980 for “The Empire Strikes Back” and in 1983 for “Return of the Jedi”, although neither of these scores won. In 1982, he did win again however, for a little sci-fi flick called “E.T.”

The “Star Trek” movies cannot be ignored, either. In 1979, the first film “Star Trek – the Motion Picture” was nominated for its score (by Jerry Goldsmith) and in 1986 “Star Trek IV – the Voyage Home” was nominated (by Leonard Rosenman). The theme song for Star Trek was originally written for the TV show by Alexander Courage, however each composer rearranged the theme to fit each new film. Unlike the “Star Wars” movies (which were all composed by John Williams – even the new trilogy), the “Star Trek” movies used several different composers. Jerry Goldsmith did write the most, 5 of the 10 films, including the last three films. He was also the main composer for the TV series “The Next Generation” and “Voyager”.

Music is an important part of SciFi movies.

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