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The Phantom Menace by John Williams is a prime example of effective texture and atmosphere


BLUMENKOHL
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My favorite part of the whole score is the crisp, aristocratic, "Roman Empire" texture it has. But what does Roman mean? I think in this case it refers to the particular combination of musical elements that hark back to the scores for Roman films of the golden age of film music. There is a rolling, smooth, and rather neutral undercurrent in the lower frequency instruments that reflect the omnipresent nature of the huge bureaucratic Republic as generous use of trumpets and other crisp high frequency instruments carry forward the emotional payload of the music.

Some examples that very clearly show this:

Around 2:42

Around 1:55 on to finish

George Lucas wanted that refined Roman atmosphere, that's probably why he went to Italy to shoot some scenes. And John Wiliams nails it.

It's interesting to note how much of this texture is lost by the second film, which makes the remaining prequel scores sound a little less unique than The Phantom Menace, and more like much of his other modern music. Here's an example from Attack of the Clones for contrast:

From 2:57 to 3:40

The "undercurrent" is less neutral, more emotionally charged and also beefed up significantly. The crisp, sharp, high frequency tops are no longer there, and are instead replaced by broad, sustained, and medium frequency brass.

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You really nailed some things here. I never thought of it in this Roman way, but I've always noticed (and have been bothered ) by the shift in the overall sound of the prequel scores that happened between Phantom Menace and AOTC.

EP 2 and 3 DEFINIELY have that more modern Williams sound, and I kind of wish the amazingness of TPM sound and feel would have continued to the other two films..

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Actually, I think JW gave each planet and culture in TPM a very clear musical character, not a necessarly thematic one, but in terms of orchestration and color. Those Roman textures as you put it, are clearly associated with Coruscant and the feeling of this milenary Republic. You have many great examples of this in the scene when Padme calls for a vote of no confidence or when they meet Vallorum after landing on Coruscant.

On the other hand, Naboo has a also very clear musical character, very evident in the scene when Padme confronts the Trade Federation by via com or the scenes in Otoh Gunga. The music sounds so green, ecologic, aquatic, verdant. It's endlessly fascinating

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John Williams really worked on TPM. He knew he was expected to come up with something special, since expectations would be sky-high.

After the way that score was butchered in the film JW took a more relaxed approach for the other 2.

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I think you have a very interesting analysis here that shows the causes of the underlying shift in style. However, I have always preferred AOTC to TPM, so I think you may actually be explaining why AOTC is more enjoyable for me personally.

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John Williams really worked on TPM. He knew he was expected to come up with something special, since expectations would be sky-high.

After the way that score was butchered in the film JW took a more relaxed approach for the other 2.

I think you're exactly right. This score is absolutely full of fresh energy. After the hack-job, I think he cared less.

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John Williams really worked on TPM. He knew he was expected to come up with something special, since expectations would be sky-high.

After the way that score was butchered in the film JW took a more relaxed approach for the other 2.

THIS.

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However, I have always preferred AOTC to TPM, so I think you may actually be explaining why AOTC is more enjoyable for me personally.

Me too.

AOTC & ROTS are genuine SW scores to me whereas TPM, despite its brilliamce is a phenomenal adventure score that happens to utilize familliar thematic material.

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John Williams really worked on TPM. He knew he was expected to come up with something special, since expectations would be sky-high.

After the way that score was butchered in the film JW took a more relaxed approach for the other 2.

THIS.

Yeah, we've all stated this a million times before. John went all out because he (like everyone else) expected Lucas to deliver greatness. In the following movies one can clearly hear that he no longer gave a shit. There are highlights, sure, but that's because you don't get a John Williams score without at least a couple of highlights.

Anyway, what Blum calls "Roman", I call regal. You can hear it all of the Star Wars scores, but it's at its most prominent in TPM.

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Actually, I think JW gave each planet and culture in TPM a very clear musical character, not a necessarly thematic one, but in terms of orchestration and color. Those Roman textures as you put it, are clearly associated with Coruscant and the feeling of this milenary Republic. You have many great examples of this in the scene when Padme calls for a vote of no confidence or when they meet Vallorum after landing on Coruscant.

On the other hand, Naboo has a also very clear musical character, very evident in the scene when Padme confronts the Trade Federation by via com or the scenes in Otoh Gunga. The music sounds so green, ecologic, aquatic, verdant. It's endlessly fascinating

I agree. I still perceive the regal/Roman Republic colors permeating the majority of the score, which isn't a bad thing, just goes to show how thorough Williams is.

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I have always preferred AOTC to TPM.

OST or complete score?

Both. I particularly like the OST of AOTC, but I think the score works well in the film. It may not be "Roman" but I'm a sucker for the "Romantic" style.

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You make good points and analysis Blume. Williams does indeed utilize this very regal and refined sound in TPM to depict a certain feeling of sophistication, elegance and atmosphere of the Republic era. This same style is used to a lesser extent in the other two Prequel scores, perhaps because of the shift of focus on JWs and films' part. One could see it as gradual moving towards the times of the OT in sound as well, the luster of the Old Republic slowly fading away and giving way to a bellicose and dark age of the Empire but this could be reading too much to the architecture of these scores or Williams' conscious effort to use this shift in sound to depict it but it certainly illustrates it quite eloquently.

There is a wonderful sense of scope and majesty in this style of scoring which while not exactly like the similar music in OT is certainly kin to it.

Williams also succeeds in creating very effective individual worlds for TPM as Merkel says in his post. There is definitely a lot of effort and inspiration at work in all the worlds from Naboo to Coruscant as far as the musical style is concerned.

In the later scores Lucas wanted Williams to try new things like the percussion heavy music for the night life of Coruscant or the noirish flourishes of Kamino or the raging march music of Mustafar. Williams still maintains a certain sparseness at Tatooine, clear lines and instrumental details, the alien feel of the insect planet of Geonosis and so forth. But I still maintain that the shift of focus left Williams less space to paint the planets as he had to focus more on the psychological subtleties and noirish subplots etc.

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Well said! As you pointed out Blum, Williams was clearly very thorough in terms of orchestral colour and flair with Phantom Menace. Thus he worked hard on that regal flavour and such. And while he definitely took a different course for the remaining prequels, I believe they are great scores. Attack of the Clones is a brilliant score if you ask me.

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Excellent thread. From a musical perspective, the bright 'Roman" timbres remind a lot of Ottorino Resphigi (Pini di Roma, Fontane di Roma, Feste Romane) and in turn Alex North, whose sword-and-sandal scores were influenced a lot by him.

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To be honest over the time my appreciation for AOTC grew even more and more. I like that it is such a different and in some ways experimental score for the Starwars franchise. I still think it is worse than the other five scores but only because these scores have such a ridiculous high level of greatness. TPM certainly is the best of the prequel scores!

But i love listening to AOTC! Discovering and rediscovering all these rythmic and motivic layers in the modern JW action sound creates tons of relisten value. I absolutely adore the "Chase through Coruscant" cues. It's the crowning achievement of modern JW action scoring. So if you like his modern voice it doesnt get better than that. Even the other action tracks like "The Jango Fett Fight" or the great "Padme Falls" are fun to listen to just because they are so different to the usual melody based action music. It happens so much on the rythmic side and the whole orchestra has a great kinetic energy.

And then there are the completely unexpected creative parts with the insect like music in "On the Conveyor Belt", the unique melody in "Approaching Naboo Palace", the eerie harp chords for the Coruscant Night Club scene or the Asian flavoured Tatooine music heard in "The Jango Fett Fight".

On this board all the creative stuff of AOTC that has to do less with melody and more with rythm or exotic scoring is criminally underrated!

Many of you said that John Williams took a more relaxed approach and didnt give his best. In my opinion that cannot be true. Most of his more rythmic based modern kind of action music is probably harder to compose than the melody based tracks. He and George Lucas did their best to be different and more creative especially on the action side.

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At the risk of getting shredded to pieces in this thread, let me state my personal feeling towards Phantom Menace: meh.

What you call "Roman" or "regal" or "full of texture" I call a typical modern John Williams score with a couple of nice fanfares that doesn't remind me in any way of the original Star Wars films. Not only, but especially because of Duel Of The Fates, which has nothing to do with the Star Wars soundscape established by Return Of The Jedi.

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The prequels definitely feel very different than the OT, but it is a refreshing change. I personally wouldn't be able to pick between the two trilogies score wise, they're both fantastic.

Plus the prequel films have an entirely different feel than the OT films.

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The Phantom Menace is his best score since Schindler's List and has yet to be topped by any of his work from this or the last decade. Attack of the Clones doesn't come close to TPM's status. Some of the action stuff would fit well in Minority Report. But at least the love theme is great. Revenge of the Sith is more about the style than themes. However, the style is great.

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  • 11 months later...

To go back on topic, TPM is very richly orchestrated. Good to see that the score ages well over time (I remember everyone hated it when it was released).

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You guys have flawed memories. I am sure that it wasn't liked as much as it is now, because people compared it to the original OSTs.

But if you want to believe it has been a 5 star score on this board since ever, be my guest.



It's always seemed that MSM lived in an alternate reality!

Perhaps you should be more critical of 'reality'.

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That is true. I don't remember the score itself being received anything but enthusiastically. The presentation on CD on the other hand...

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