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Is John Williams' Amistad generally underrated?


Carnifex
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I must say Amistad is the John Williams score I become most connected whilst listening, it possesses huge emotional charge. For example Middle Passage is a masterpiece that makes me very nervous, it is John Williams at his finest and amazing trumpet americana of the John Quincy Adams- scenes makes the other half of the score.

But when the greatest works of his are discussed, Amistad is usually absent somehow. Although I surmise there is no hostility against this score, but surely some who cherish it as one of his best, or am I wrong about this matter?

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I completely love "Dry Your Tears, Afrika", and I like listening to the whole score from time to time... But the movie tanked; maybe that didn't help the score?

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The film is also one of the best Spielberg film. Hard to believe why it did not success.

It was released at about the same time as "Titanic" -- that certainly didn't help it out at the box office.

My take on it is that it's ALWAYS difficult to get people to pay money to be bummed out. They'll do it once in a while if they think there's a good reason ( Schindler's List) or if you trick them into thinking they're seeing an action movie (Saving Private Ryan) . . . but for every "serious" movie that does well at the box office, there are ten that disappoint or flop outright. For whatever reason, Amistad disappointed.

That said, it's like most Spielberg movies (i.e., excellent), so the movie is definitely underrated.

The score . . . ? In my opinion, not so much. I LOVE "Dry Your Tears, Afrika," but I find the rest of the score to be somewhat disposable. I never skip it when I'm listening to my Williams CDs, but I usually find myself zoning out while it's playing, and I cannot now, while glancing at the track titles, remember even vaguely what more than maybe two of them sound like.

So in my opinion, no, Amistad is not especially underrated amongst Williams' works.

"Dry Your Tears, Afrika," though . . . definitely on his "greatest hits" list.

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I love it. And I find that I come back to it much more often than most other Williams drama scores. Seven Years in Tibet is always cited as the great Williams drama score of 97, but in my opinion, Rosewood and Amistad are much better, some of his best in that genre.

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The film is also one of the best Spielberg film. Hard to believe why it did not success.

because its really not one of Spielbergs best films,

In the 2000's Catch Me If You Can and War of the Worlds are better.

In the 1990's Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and Jurassic Park are better, even the Lost World is no worse.

In the 80's, the Last Crusade, Empire of the Sun, Temple of Doom, E.T. The Extra-Terrestiral, and Raiders of the Lost Ark are better.

The 70's Close Encounters and Jaws. Steven has made a few more than one or two better films

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I really like most of it..."Dry Your Tears, Afrika" is a wonderful piece as already mentioned (though I remember its outright exuberance was a tad jarring at the start of the end credits), and Cinque's Theme is a really nice, tragic melody given many varied renditions throughout the score; those French horn solos in the concert piece of the theme are just sublime. The John Quincy Adams music is quite enjoyable too, very light and pleasantly patriotic (ie, not overbearing). So yeah, I'd say it's probably underrated. Or at least frequently overlooked.

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I think Amistad is not spoken about so often as JWs big blogbusters but that does not mean that it is not appreciated. It certainly belongs in a group of JW scores from the mid to end of 90's that do not receive much discussion.

 

There is so much more to this music than just "Dry Your Tears Afrika", which in itself is a superb piece and theme. It is a very varied and interesting score with little nuances that may not be evident on the first listen. The beautiful flute, harp, and horn (James Thatcher) solos in Cinque's theme that denotes such sorrow but also perseverance with almost religious undertones. The African rhythms that propel the most harrowing and most triumphant scenes, the amazing amount of varied choral work that subtly saturates this music, the deft orchestrations (well duh! this is JW after all) and wonderful instrumental solos apart from those mentioned, especially Tim Morrison's wonderful trumpet solos and Pamela Dillard's vocal work all combine to create a truly unique JW score.

 

The score has two styles running parallel to each other: The African and American music. Dillard's voice, the choir and the percussion carry their quite traditional role to portray the Africans. Williams does this with dignity and grace. Not once have I felt while watching the film that the African music would have been too underlining or too cliché. It creates the atmosphere and the background for the characters and supports them.

The Americana of the music is pure JW. Morrison's solos supported by the Americana strings are warm and regal, summoning at once the noble air of those Americans striving to free the Africans and also the sense of justice (however little there might be of that in the justice system in the film). This music also portrays the character of John Quincy Adams a central if at first reluctant defender of the Africans.

 

The choral work as I mentioned above is almost always present but Williams uses it only for the Africans. Americans have to do with the standard symphony orchestra in this film. And what choral work it is. It ranges from the exultant Dry Your Tears Africa to the lonely and haunting work in Middle Passage and the threatening deep almost grunting chant on track July 4, 1839. Truly a superb effort from JW and took me completely by surprise. He really creates those unprecedented sounds as Spielberg notes in his liner notes.

 

All in all a score worth investing time and effort into. Beautiful, haunting, powerful and moving.

Oh and answer to your question Carnifex, yes Amistad is underrated or at least not enough discussed.

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There are far better Williams scores that are underated, Rosewood, Sleepers and several of his 70's works.

"Dry Your Tears Afrika" and "Cinque's Theme" are both good and I don't mind the music for Adams but it's not anything that's great.

The film is a mixed bag but it's not entirely Spielberg's fault. The best scenes are on board the slave ship (as horrifying as they are), if the film had kept that same dark, gritty attitude thru out then maybe we might be talking about it more often.

Plus you throw in a happy ending to events in American history that I would hope most of us aren't too proud of and it kinda ruins it.

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The film is also one of the best Spielberg film. Hard to believe why it did not success.

because its really not one of Spielbergs best films,

In the 2000's Catch Me If You Can and War of the Worlds are better.

In the 1990's Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and Jurassic Park are better, even the Lost World is no worse.

In the 80's, the Last Crusade, Empire of the Sun, Temple of Doom, E.T. The Extra-Terrestiral, and Raiders of the Lost Ark are better.

The 70's Close Encounters and Jaws. Steven has made a few more than one or two better films

Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of th Sun, E.T. and Jaws are not better than Amistad.

Other films in that list are on a par however.

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Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of th Sun, E.T. and Jaws are not better than Amistad.

bowdown

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Particularly War of the Worlds is disgrace amongst the repertoire of Spielberg. Well maybe I was too harsh with Jaws, it is a good film.

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Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of th Sun, E.T. and Jaws are not better than Amistad.

Other films in that list are on a par however.

Wow... man... Amistad better than E.T. and Jaws??? That's pretty far-fetched.

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Particularly War of the Worlds is disgrace amongst the repertoire of Spielberg.

Yep.

As for Amistad it has some terrific scenes (not only on the ship), but doesn't work for me overall. Some scenes drag too much and final speach of Adams somehow doesn't inspire me as much as it should.

The score, on the other hand, is among my own Williams' top (alongside several other). I find it superior over Rosewood, however it doesn't stand up to the power of Seven Years in Tibet.

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Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of th Sun, E.T. and Jaws are not better than Amistad.

I haven't seen Amistad, so I cannot judge, but I seriously doubt it is better than all of those films (except Empire of the Sun, possibly).

Particularly War of the Worlds is disgrace amongst the repertoire of Spielberg. Well maybe I was too harsh with Jaws, it is a good film.

WotW was quite a good film, for me. Defenetly not better than Spielberg's best films, but defently a great film. It's very entertaining, and the special affects are great. And while I don't like the score (happy, Miguel? :D ) when seperated from the film, it works very well in the context.

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  • 9 years later...

This is such a beautiful cue:

 

The transition from noble Americana at 1:10 into the deconstruction of Cinque's Theme is just stunning; melancholic and uplifting yet tragic all at once -- followed by that wonderful transition into Adams' Theme, complete with the trademark Spielberg dolly-in. It's as pure a 'Spielberg-Williams' moment as you'll ever see.

 

I believe this score would rival The Lost World as a total revelation in complete, chronological form (compared to Williams' OST sequencing, which is all over the place and missing 40+ minutes of music).

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Both the score and the film are very underrated in my opinion. Also the cinematography is superb!

 

It is a better film than Titanic and I'm a girl who is normally given to teenage romance. 

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It's underrated but the expansion won't be a revelation like A.I. or Lost World. Still one of my favourite titles to become completed. But the score that is really underrated abd even bettee than Amistad is Rosewood.

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I suspect a lot of JW fans haven't listened to the soundtrack at all or enough to form an informed opinion of it. Personally, I think the 1st half of the OST is much better than the 2nd half. The first 6 tracks are so damn good but the 2nd half leans heavy on Copland-esque America stuff that is generally just less interesting to me. Still good though. 1st half is like really inspired JW, 2nd half very typical JW.

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21 minutes ago, Stefancos said:

 

You say this about a score that has been out for 20 years?

Yeah. It doesn't get talked about much at all. I can't read minds but it seems like a JW fan blind spot. 

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6 minutes ago, artguy360 said:

What's the MB? 

MB=message board. Unless you are asking some kind of deeper philosophical question on the nature of what makes up a message board? ;) 

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I see. Well I was talking about JW fans in general like people who know John Williams through Star Wars and Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. Most JW fans don't buy expensive limited edition re-releases or watch JW music covers on youtube or seek out mp3s of his live concerts. We here are the hardcore minority. I'm pretty sure most JW fans have never listened to the Amistad OST. 

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16 minutes ago, Stefancos said:

Where do you meet these "JW fans in general"?

People in life. Family, friends, coworkers. My brothers love JW. They have listened to TFA independent of the film, they love his music for Harry Potter, Indy, etc. They have never even listened to the Amistad score. I have friends who have borrowed some of my JW cds, and they've never mentioned Amistad. I have coworkers who have actually played JW music at work, and they've never played Amistad. I feel pretty confident that's the case with most JW fans. They know his biggest works and love them and associate him with Star Wars and other big movies but they're definitely not registered on this forum. 

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After seeing this movie yesterday i would say the score isn't underrated, as it is rather quiet and subtle throughout and has virtually none of the usual set pieces of S/W. 

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I enjoy the Amistad score, and listened to it this year for the first time in a very long time.  Haven't seen the movie in more than 15 years, but I recall the main set piece for "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" accompanying a liberation scene that just didn't fit together.  I remember the scene itself being too bombastic for the material.

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  • 3 years later...
3 minutes ago, King Mark said:

1994-1999 is the only period I almost lost faith in Williams

 

It's my favourite period of Williams ever (although I would include the first four years as well). EVERYTHING he did in the 90s is pure gold. The one I like the least is SABRINA, but even that is wonderful.

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38 minutes ago, King Mark said:

1994-1999 is the only period I almost lost faith in Williams

 

I know what you mean. I like several parts of Nixon and Seven years in Tibet, and bits and pieces of other soundtracks, but on the whole I thought he was burnt out. Same 2005 -2010 after Geisha. Luckily he recovered again splendidly with Tintin and War Horse.

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1 hour ago, King Mark said:

for me the time between Jurassic Park and Phantom Menace was like a walk through the desert

 

Sorry to hear it. Goes to show how different we are, I suppose.

 

As I've said elsewhere, my "drought" period is from 2008 onwards.

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2 hours ago, King Mark said:

1994-1999 is the only period I almost lost faith in Williams

For every period of his I think the statement is valid that JW's scores were at least as good as the movies that he wrote them for. Ok, sometimes he made weird choices of movies to work for. But of course such choices are not always made based on artistical criteria, but in personal relations etc. In the mentioned period some of my favourite scores were composed like The Lost World, Angela's Ashes or The Phantom Menace. And yes, I like Stepmom. The Days Between is still my favourite piano piece of his. The movies are not always brillant. Amistad has a good score, the movie's subject is really interesting, but the movie inapproprately cheesy ( or soppy? I don't know the correct term in english).

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All right, the true question that people should've been asking is: do you think Amistad deserved the Oscar for Best Original Score over Titanic? Do you consider Amistad a better score than Titanic?

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17 minutes ago, Edmilson said:

All right, the true question that people should've been asking is: do you think Amistad deserved the Oscar for Best Original Score over Titanic? Do you consider Amistad a better score than Titanic?

 

Definitely not. I think AMISTAD is a wonderful score (especially on album), and I think the film is vastly underrated. Probably seen it some 7-8 times. But TITANIC is a bonafide masterpiece - both film and score - and deserved every award it got.

 

Hosting the concert here in Oslo that played the theme (with choir) was a privilege, even if it took place while everyone else was in Vienna to see the man himself live.

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Interesting.

 

I have a complicated relationship with Titanic's score. I'm a fan of the action music for the sinking scenes, and I like the synth choir during the Southampton and the departure of the ship scenes, but I don't care that much about the rest of the score.

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