Jan 22 2013

Five Great Moody Sci-Fi Scores

Published by at 10:00 am under Lists

Okay, that’s a rather specific title up there. There’s plenty of great film music out there that would be right at home backing a writing session or study blitz. But moody SCI-FI scores have a very specific sort of appeal to me.

Perhaps its something about the metallic, unnerving atmosphere that these movies create. Or, alternatively, the imagination and innovation that has to go into the worldbuilding and design.

I’ll just be general and label it the “otherworldly” factor. Whatever the reason, here are five of the best scores on the market to get your brain in a groove.

Legend

Okay, yes, I’m already cheating. The line between sci-fi and fantasy can be muddy, but Legend falls 100% on the fantasy side of it. This is the only one, I swear.

Besides, it earns the right to be here by being really, really cool. There aren’t necessarily a lot of hummable themes in this score, but it manages to be one of the best examples of that synth-driven mysticism that dominated the genre back in the eighties.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev2zFPw9NUY

One of the coolest things about this track in particular is that Jerry Goldsmith somehow manages to make those obvious synthy noises sound timeless. No small feat, especially when one considers how many of the soundtracks from that time period are HORRIFICALLY dated.

Fun fact: This score was the accompaniment to the “European” director’s cut of the film. American audiences got a reduced version of the movie, which cut out parts of the story but also replaced Goldsmith’s sublime music with a soundtrack from Tangerine Dream.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Thank goodness for Blu-ray releases.

Deus Ex

I can’t find it, but I swear Paul’s mentioned the soundtrack to this game before. Maybe not. Either way, the Tron-esque synthetic thumping that backs this ultra-cool sci-fi noir is well worth checking out.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiN6t7K7txw

This is the most shamelessly cool score in this article, but you know what? Sometimes I need something shamelessly cool. Deus Ex is the perfect thing to accompany a late-night drive, or to help get your brain in problem-solving mode.

Just as the denizens of the game have their bodies augmented by technology, so does this kickass score augment our reality whenever it comes through the speakers.

Blade Runner

Ah, Vangelis. While his most famous piece is undoubtedly the theme from Chariots of Fire, his score for Blade Runner is brilliant in its own right.

Equal parts eighties synth, film noir, and futuristic groove, the music behind Blade Runner does a great job of setting up the tone of the film without ever leaping into the forefront of the experience. It’s certainly not as edgy and cool as the aforementioned Deus Ex, but its more relaxed tone and pace suits a movie that’s primarily constructed from visuals and philosophy.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbWNZkoQHuE

It’s hard to imagine any noise that would better suit the opening images of industrial fire, or the closing monologue from Batty. Rarely does music from a sci-fi movie like this actually sound like it might have come from the future, but in Blade Runner’s case I think it actually does.

Minus the saxophone, I guess.

Moon

Duncan Jones’s low-budget thinkpiece has proven itself to be one of the most resonant, recommendable sci-fi movies of the past decade. Everything about this movie rocks: Sam Rockwell, the design, the shooting, the story… and yes, Clint Mansell’s music.

Indirectly following his devastating work on The Fountain and his iconic pieces from Requiem for a Dream, Moon’s soundscape is significantly less bombastic than Mansell’s most popular stuff. Its main theme comes off melancholy and subdued; a spiraling motif that eventually forms the backbone for a surprisingly emotional score.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAlROD7E5Lk

It must have been devilishly difficult to come up with a musical signature for a movie that tackles so much complexity in its plot and its themes, but Mansell knocked it out of the park with this one.

Alien

Man, there’s just nothing like a Jerry Goldsmith score. In his second appearance on this list (and Ridley Scott’s third), he brings us one of the most unnervingly powerful low-key scores in the history of the genre.

Much like the film it accompanies, Alien’s score starts off low. Just as the Nostromo’s crew slowly walk into the trap that awaits them, so the music weaves a melodic snare for our subconscious. By the time the big moments of the back half of the movie come along, Goldsmith has his hooks in so deep that he can play us like a fiddle. Or an orchestra or whatever.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaT-JX5r8i8

Even more remarkable, the music has much the same effect on its own.

What about you guys? Any great sci-fi music that helps you get your mind in gear?





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3 responses so far

  • eLTeezy

    Have the embedded Youtube videos been funky on this site for anyone else recently?

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    Great piece, David. Jerry Goldsmith is a favorite of mine, and his score for Legend is a masterpiece. Thankfully it wasn’t lost to the ages.

    Also, I’ve never gotten around to playing Deus Ex, but holy hell does that track make me want to pick it up tomorrow.

  • Steve2

    The Goldsmith score to Legend makes the film both complete and timeless. The Tangerine Dream score however, was the main reason I loved the film as a kid, and still do to this day. What can I say? I love 80’s synth.

    I actually prefer watching a fan cut I found that adds the director’s cut scenes back in, but keeps the Tangerine Dream score. Best of both worlds IMO.

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