At the Movies - It's Not The Same Without Music

Whilst watching Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a sense of nostalgia washed over as the familiar jingle of Hedwig’s Theme transported the entire cinema back into Harry Potter universe. John Williams’ iconic tune, which is featured in all of the franchise’s films, always transports its listener back into the world of magic. The recurring soundscape is so familiar that audiences are promised an adventure every time they hear it.

The magnificent world that J.K. Rowling created on paper is brought to life on the big screen. Coupled with the brilliance of John Williams’ music in the films, the experience is heightened, and audiences are elevated through the highs and brought down to the lows. 

HARRY POTTER - Hidden Messages In The Music

Williams and the instalments’ ensuing composers maintain a clever use of music to highlight significant recurring themes throughout the series. The musical motif in Hedwig’s Theme represents hope, and is called up only in moments of courage or safety. This video highlights the use of the motif in different scenes, citing the noteworthiness of its rare appearances in the last and darkest instalment of the series: the Deathly Hallows. In the Deathly Hallows, the melodic motif is almost never played in its complete form. 

“It’s as if this theme, and the hope that brings with it, has been damaged, and at this point of the complete story, there’s no question.”

The damaged theme signifies “hope’s end” as Harry’s impending death looms.  

The depth and wealth of symbolism in the Harry Potter series, from the significance behind one’s Patronus, to the wands waved and spells cast, is paralleled and enhanced by the brilliant use of motifs and themes in the film’s score. In other words, the soundtrack itself acts as the film’s musical trope. 

JURASSIC PARK - Word Painting

Another sign of Williams’ genius is his use of word painting to enhance scenes. We are all familiar with the Jurassic Park Theme, but did you realise that the first 4 notes played by the French Horn actually paints a Brachiosaurus - the first dinosaur that the characters see in the park?

Additionally, the composer also makes use of harmony to complement the feeling of awe and wonder that one would experience in encountering a creature of such magnificence and rarity for the first time. Within the melodic theme that is tonally centred in the key of Bb major, he embeds an Ab note and harmony at selected moments, a scale degree which is not native to the key of Bb major. This “anomaly” alludes to the rarity of the dinosaur species, and reinforces the sense of surrealism that the characters would’ve experienced at that point in time.

Through his intelligently orchestrated soundtracks, Williams successfully constructs musical re-tellings of the stories that his compositions accompany. He is adept at creating sounds and musical excerpts that artfully depict the essence of important characters - can you really think of Darth Vader without instinctively hearing the percussive, imposing tune of the Imperial March? - as well as capturing precise moments of emotional tension - would the nail-biting moments of Jaws be as anxiety-inducing without the music? 

JAWS - With and Without Music

The soundtrack of a movie plays such an instrumental role (pun intended!) in steeping the audience in the realism of the story. In the aforementioned masterpieces, we encounter the magic that emerges from the marriage of two briliant art forms - Cinematography and Music. Have you ever wondered what the experience of watching your favourite film would be like without its accompanying soundtrack? Check out this video and discover for yourself the cinematic impact of music, and why its presence (and therefore absence) in a film makes so much of a difference!