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The Book Thief (2013) - New Williams film score!

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Does anyone here actually use "haters gonna hate" non-ironically?

Part of my point is that if you want to denigrate a score, it's really easy to render it dull and prosaic with the stroke of a pen (or keyboard, as it were). I love basketball, but you can make it sound incredibly boring by describing it thusly: "you have an orange ball and you win by putting it into a ring more often than your opponent does." If you get reductive enough, anything can be made to seem uninspired.

I think we do this selectively. We want our baubles of apparent novelty and innovation, and when we get them, we give the score a pass (e.g., A.I., Prisoner of Azkaban), even if whole passages would otherwise be ripe for criticism. When we don't get them, we reach reflexively for the "rehash" button and overlook subtler ways composers can express something new.


What really strikes me the most with Williams' score for "The Book Thief" so far, is the exact opposite of the sort of sedate attitude you seem to detect, Publicist. I don't hear stagnation. I hear an unyielding sense of wonder.

You would hear an unyielding sense of wonder in Williams' breaking wind, so no surprise there. But thus any constructive debate has ceased to exist, making place for the usually inane fan masturbation (cue user Marcus to gloss up his own lack of any critical distance to the object of his affection in long-winded fake-erudite terms).

Boys, it was fun, but i'm out of this.

Come back once the score is officially released and readily available! Really, most of us are just riffing off the cuff at this point. The suggestion that the discussion here was more "constructive" in the past is specious. Dating back to the ezBoard days in '99, debate has always been a potent mix of the insightful and the inane.

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I don't understand why the debate is abourt originallity and innovation in Williams' music.

Can we all realise that nothing - and i mean literally nothing- that Williams has written is innovative or new? (or any other film composer for that matter)

All has been done before by other composers, mainly in classical music.

I think the debate should be whether something is interesting or non-interesting.

eg. There is nothing innovative about the E.T. score.

But still it's a masterpiece!

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I suppose the ticking clock counts as new in the Williams canon.

Hook's Madness!

I don't understand why the debate is abourt originallity and innovation in Williams' music.

Can we all realise that nothing - and i mean literally nothing- that Williams has written is innovative or new? (or any other film composer for that matter)

All has been done before by other composers, mainly in classical music.

I think the debate should be whether something is interesting or non-interesting.

Regardless of whether he's innovative, I'd say Williams is good at creating a unique "feel" for each score that sets it apart. Many of his scores are in the same idiom as earlier ones, but still manage to convey a different mood that is appropriate to each film. Look at his different scores within the same franchises, even... every Star Wars score feels different, same with JP and Lost World, etc etc.

Of course, some of his scores manage to catch us off guard more than others, like AI or POA. In the case of Book Thief, though, the only thing that seems likely to inspire Williams to branch out more is that it's not directed by Spielberg, but it looks to have the same tone and even the same subject matter as a typical Spielberg film. I'm sure we'd all enjoy being surprised again like we have been by a select few of JW's scores in the past decade, but this project isn't exactly conducive to that. For myself, I'm not expecting something revolutionary, but more of a spiritual successor to the existing latter-day Williams drama scores, and I hope to enjoy it on those terms.

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I don't know what some of you call "typical" Spielberg score. Williams has explored an extremely varied palette of orchestral colors and moods in his collaborations with Spielberg. AI, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters were also Spielberg scores, and they are pretty unique in Williams canon

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I was referring to the film, not the score, in my post as being similar to a "typical" Spielberg film. I see Book Thief as being Spielbergian in its Nazi Germany setting, prominent child characters, and sentimental tone. My point was that the film is very familiar territory for Williams, and it wouldn't be surprising if his score reflects that. But that won't stop me from enjoying the score.

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A little bit off topic:

Marcus, I've heard some pieces of yours, you seem to know well your craft and all.

So, I would be very curious to hear your opinion on this:

Is there any Williams theme or film score at all that you find it's among his weakest endeavors (post-1975)? (not necessarily meaning that it's bad. But less interesting)

@filmmusic: I tend to rate composers, not individual scores/pieces, and I also tend to take the long view of those composers that interest me.

As such, I see John Williams ouvre more as one corpus, and one that I find continually engaging and instructive.

Granted, there will be pieces that resonate more strongly with me than others, but its the continuity of voice and growth in all of these efforts that I find so compelling.

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I was referring to the film, not the score, in my post as being similar to a "typical" Spielberg film. I see Book Thief as being Spielbergian in its Nazi Germany setting, prominent child characters, and sentimental tone. My point was that the film is very familiar territory for Williams, and it wouldn't be surprising if his score reflects that. But that won't stop me from enjoying the score.

I missunderstood, I apologize

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No problem, your point is a great one. It's true Williams' work for Spielberg has produced a varied body of work over the years. I think this indicates that Williams likes to challenge himself to create variety among his scores.

The Book Thief doesn't seem to have been a project he took on for that type of challenge, but perhaps it was an inspiration to him in terms of emotional resonance rather than any unusual musical styles that it suggested.

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Regarding POA, I'd rather use the word eclectic than original. Still, it's an absolutely wonderful score

I still prefer HPSS over HPPOA and HPSS has always been described as Williams in his usual blockbuster style

I'll say again I prefer Williams writing in his familiar way than something really experimental

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I always prefer the ones with the most variety... i consider TOD better than Raiders, PoA better than SS and TESB better than Starwars. Sparsely used old material in addition to very strong new material seems to let me favor sequel scores.

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Style is naturally a given, and the superficial similarities to previous efforts is in my view precisely a sign of originality, not lack thereof! The origin being a true and profoundly clear musical voice, and indeed one with an extraordinary range.

I think this is a great point; to a certain extent, I would rather Williams build upon his standard style than go completely off the wall. The latter often, while not always, involve relying heavily on pre-established ideas written by other composers. Ideally there is a mix of both (ie Memoirs of a Geisha, Prisoner of Azkaban), but I would rather have a JW score that relies heavily on JW's style (and preferably takes it in a new direction) than one that is completley indistinguishable as something written by JW. And I think this is pretty much the standard that is used for judging most musical artists throughout the centuries; if you compare Tchaikovsky's symphonies, for example, there are some sections that are so undeniably similar that they border on self-plagiarism. It's fine though--it's just Tchaikovsky saying something in a way that feels right for him. So often the collaborative nature of film music forces a composer to completely abandone his/her natural style (ie John Debney with Cutthroat Island), I think we should be happy that JW so often gets a chance to write something that is true to his voice.

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But JW gets to write something that's true to his voice with every film. What are you talking about?

Sure, JW has the luxury of being choosier with this films due to his success in the industry than most film composers. But even then, I'm not so sure your statement is entirely accurate. Would you say a cue like "Dinner with Amelia," which is based on a Zimmer temp, is true to JW's voice? Or something like "Making the Plane" from Home Alone, which is just a reworking of "Trepak" from the Nutcracker? I hear Zimmer and Tchaikovsky in these cues--sure there are touches of JW that he gets to add here and there--but where it counts, these cues are JW speaking IMO, they're JW pastiching someone else. They're stylistically different for JW, which might tempt one to proclaim that he's leaving his comfort zone and experimenting. But for me, their pasticheness outweighs their uniqueness in JW's ouevre (not that I blame JW for these references--they're clearly the result of a director's demands--but they do detract somewhat from the artistic merit of the work, IMO).

Compare this to something like "The Partiot," a score commonly cited as being JW at his least innovative. That may be true, but at least we know we're getting 100% JW! Again, the best is something like Memoirs, Angela's Ashes, the SW prequels, that is somewhere in the middle. It is eclectic in that it certainly relies on allusions to works by other composers/from other genres of music, and in that sense is new for JW, but at the same time it relies on and develop's JW's standard style.

Basically, this is what I'm trying to say: JW's scores can do 1 of 3 things, and I prefer him to do #1 most, #2 second most, and #3 least:

1. Take JW's style to new places and in new directions (ie Memoirs of a Geisha, AI, SW prequels)

2. Use JW's trademark style and not develop it that much (ie Lincoln, The Patriot)

3. Completely abandone JW's usual style for something that pastiches other works/genres (maybe Images, but the best example are cues based on temp tracks by other composers, like "Dinner with Amelia")

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Thanks Hlao-roo. That's just we were missing here, the cynical critics by the people without any idea of (real)music.

Exactly. God forbid violin swells in any score now

Oh well they said the same of War Horse, but I think can already be considered a Williams classic on album

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I don't care about the movie. I only care how the music sounds by itself

That is why you fail.

But JW gets to write something that's true to his voice with every film. What are you talking about?

Sure, JW has the luxury of being choosier with this films due to his success in the industry than most film composers. But even then, I'm not so sure your statement is entirely accurate. Would you say a cue like "Dinner with Amelia," which is based on a Zimmer temp, is true to JW's voice? Or something like "Making the Plane" from Home Alone, which is just a reworking of "Trepak" from the Nutcracker? I hear Zimmer and Tchaikovsky in these cues--sure there are touches of JW that he gets to add here and there--but where it counts, these cues are JW speaking IMO, they're JW pastiching someone else. They're stylistically different for JW, which might tempt one to proclaim that he's leaving his comfort zone and experimenting. But for me, their pasticheness outweighs their uniqueness in JW's ouevre (not that I blame JW for these references--they're clearly the result of a director's demands--but they do detract somewhat from the artistic merit of the work, IMO).

Compare this to something like "The Partiot," a score commonly cited as being JW at his least innovative. That may be true, but at least we know we're getting 100% JW! Again, the best is something like Memoirs, Angela's Ashes, the SW prequels, that is somewhere in the middle. It is eclectic in that it certainly relies on allusions to works by other composers/from other genres of music, and in that sense is new for JW, but at the same time it relies on and develop's JW's standard style.

Basically, this is what I'm trying to say: JW's scores can do 1 of 3 things, and I prefer him to do #1 most, #2 second most, and #3 least:

1. Take JW's style to new places and in new directions (ie Memoirs of a Geisha, AI, SW prequels)

2. Use JW's trademark style and not develop it that much (ie Lincoln, The Patriot)

3. Completely abandone JW's usual style for something that pastiches other works/genres (maybe Images, but the best example are cues based on temp tracks by other composers, like "Dinner with Amelia")

I had a huge post in response to this and I accidentally swiped my magic mouse and it went back to the previous page on my browser. Soooo, I'll just leave it with that you went off on a completely different tangent than what I thought you were talking about.

I may as well join Quint and Blume on the spectator bench.

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Having just read the book and judging from a quick listen to the samples, it strikes me as the perfect score to experience for the first time while taking an early morning stroll through the park behind my apartment.

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I am taking a quick listen of the album on Spotify this morning before work and (surprise surprise) am loving all of it. There is no denying the shades of familiarity but it is good familiarity to my ears with hints of styles of Stepmom, Accidental Tourist, Angela's Ashes, hints of Nixon (mostly unreleased tender material) and other scores coming through, which are among my favourites. Who really cares if the music has hints of these familiar elements as long as it has the ability to move you and transport you.

Very loyal to his style Williams has crafted several themes for the story and these are quite distinct. From the first listen I caught at least: The Book Thief main theme, the Family Theme, Liesel and Max, Liesel's fascination for books (motif) and what I would perhaps dub the Death's Theme. I can't wait to delve deeper into this music later. :)

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Who really cares if the music has hints of these familiar elements as long as it has the ability to move you and transport you.

Depends on how familiar, right? If the hints are too good, you're wondering what President Nixon is doing in the WWII European Theatre.

Haven't heard the album yet, but I'm not surprised the (secondary) thematic writing is solid, based on the excerpts. Looking forward to it.

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Who really cares if the music has hints of these familiar elements as long as it has the ability to move you and transport you.

Depends on how familiar, right? If the hints are too good, you're wondering what President Nixon is doing in the WWII European Theatre.

I don't personally think it gets that transparent with the stylistic hints. Similar rather than the same.

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The Malay Mail Online

As if another layer of schmaltz were needed, the music is by John Williams.

Cinema Blend

From the presence of Rush and Watson to the generically sentimental score from John Williams, it's a soulless chimera of every Oscar-bait trope, cobbled from a story that actually deserved better.

Geeked Out Nation

The cinematography was great and surprisingly the films score was composed by the great John Williams. However Williams score was rather reminiscent of his other work with Steven Spielberg.

Why So Blue

The Book Thief also has a beautiful score by John Williams that seems like a step too far in some cases. It is not that the score is bad, but the film feels fairly small in scope compared to what Williams has composed, which especially doesn’t help when the film has the need to really emphasize its drama with scenes that reek of cliché.

Culver City Observer

Stepping away from his decades of work with Steven Spielberg, John Williams' score is lush and sweeping.

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These are mostly young male hipster critics, brought up on a poisonous diet of Zimmer And RC. Anything symphonic or orchestral or melodic sounds boring and dated to them. Same way a classically made film with patience seems boring to them. I think modern film critics for the most part today or unfit to judge musical scores.

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It'd be easier to point the finger at millennials, but the allergy is widely shared, boomers and Gen X'ers included (e.g., Chris Packham, who endearingly referred to Williams' score for Lincoln as "orchestral bullshit"). I think it has something to do with a certain prevailing ethos in critical circles, but beyond that it may also be related to the recession of orchestral music from (pop) cultural relevance.

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It'd be easier to point the finger at millennials, but the allergy is widely shared, boomers and Gen X'ers included (e.g., Chris Packham, who endearingly referred to Williams' score for Lincoln as "orchestral bullshit"). I think it has something to do with a certain prevailing ethos in critical circles, but beyond that it may also be related to the recession of orchestral music from (pop) cultural relevance.

I think you're on to something. It seems to me that a lot of critics don't necessarily want to feel anything when they see a film, and of course music lends feelings and emotion to a film. With that said, I do think that scores can get out of hand and go too far, and I do think Williams has been guilty of this. It can be a tricky balance. The argument that critics attack music because the film isn't working for them and the music is an easy target can also probably be applied. However, I do find it amusing that Williams gets blasted for it, but when someone like Michael Giacchino does it (the finale of Super 8, for example), it is appreciated by film critics.

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It's not exactly that they don't want to feel anything, is more the fact that they don't wanna be told what to feel. They feel they want to draw their own conclusions from every film, and a lot of people have a stigma for Williams name automatically and associate him with big orchestras and sentimentalism.

Again, it's a pre-conceived notion. Hansy is and has been an over-the-top sentimentalist too, but he doesn't get bashed about by (by critics at least) because they associate his name with other stuff, more modern sounding and more direct. That's something that people really seem to like about modern film music, how direct can be. Whereas Williams can throw you a piece and have all sorts of different moods but MV's approach is much more direct, carrying one sentiment during the whole thing. And it's one sentiment that hits automatically.

Of course, I imagine Koray and company will disagree with me -and you have every right in the world to- but just have in mind that I'm not a Zimmer basher.

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Just finished listening to the complete soundtrack.

I'd say it's an average score, that gave me the impression that was either written quickly or that the composer was bored with it a bit.

No developments, variants and variations of themes or expansions..

In no way I could say that this is a masterpiece, because that would mean that I think it's on the same level with Schindler's List, E.T., Hook. etc, which I don't.

I would hope that the best of the themes, the one that opens track 1, would be used or expanded more, but it turned out that it's just an introductory theme to the main theme. (unless it's used more in the film)

One other good moment is the theme of "The Visitor at Himmel Street", unfortunately heard only once. Williams must have realised that it's indeed good, so he repeated it in the end credits.

The "Rudy is taken" track is another high moment, reminiscing strings' moments from Star Wars III.

The main theme itself, as i've said, though mermorable and with interesting harmony, is uninteresting overall, never deviating from the basic rhythmic idea.

Surely, one of the soundtracks I won't be listening as much as others..

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... the score is by John Williams, his first non-Spielberg feature since Memoirs of a Geisha 8 years ago. Williams’ music is surprisingly delicate for such a broadly dramatic story, which makes it all the more effective.
Stepping away from his decades of work with Steven Spielberg, John Williams' score is lush and sweeping. Notable is the sound design which finds the delicate balance between score, bombing, sirens and dialogue.

... jaunty scenes of Liesel and young Rudy frolicking, Disney-esque music swelling
Composer John Williams has written one of his finest scores for “The Book Thief,” his first score to a film not directed by Steven Spielberg in almost ten years. Composed primarily for piano and string orchestra, Williams’ music is delicate, haunting and exquisite, and like the film, evokes incredibly emotional ideas in the most intimate of ways.

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It's not exactly that they don't want to feel anything, is more the fact that they don't wanna be told what to feel. They feel they want to draw their own conclusions from every film, and a lot of people have a stigma for Williams name automatically and associate him with big orchestras and sentimentalism.

The problem I have with this criticial conception of emotional manipulation is that it's artificially narrow: sentimentalism is hardly the only variety of emotional excess. It just draws the most ire because it's the one most closely associated with commercialism.

No developments, variants and variations of themes or expansions..

How often does Williams really develop his themes, though? I felt that the themes in Williams's last non-Spielberg effort, Memoirs of a Geisha, were relatively static as well.

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No developments, variants and variations of themes or expansions..

How often does Williams really develop his themes, though? I felt that the themes in Williams's last non-Spielberg effort, Memoirs of a Geisha, were relatively static as well.

Don't remember the whole score now, but i think they were more developed or expanded than here. (at least in Becoming a Geisha and Confluence)

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In the middle of my first listen, and there's at least limited development of the waltz-like Angela's Ashes theme introduced in the third track as Williams puts it through different instrumentational variations.

Yes that particular idea is varied quite a lot in orchestration throughout, often interpolated subtly into the fabric of the cues. I suspect it is some kind of family theme.

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It's not exactly that they don't want to feel anything, is more the fact that they don't wanna be told what to feel. They feel they want to draw their own conclusions from every film, and a lot of people have a stigma for Williams name automatically and associate him with big orchestras and sentimentalism.

The problem I have with this criticial conception of emotional manipulation is that it's artificially narrow: sentimentalism is hardly the only variety of emotional excess. It just draws the most ire because it's the one most closely associated with commercialism.

No developments, variants and variations of themes or expansions..

How often does Williams really develop his themes, though? I felt that the themes in Williams's last non-Spielberg effort, Memoirs of a Geisha, were relatively static as well.

I would count Geisha is a Speilberg film. He produced it and for the longest time was going to direct it. But decided to produce instead. So definitely a Spielberg connection in Geisha as well. POA would actually be his last non-Spielberg effort.

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"The Visitor at Himmel Street," which, by the way, opens with an oboe rendition of that terrific introductory theme from the first track, is truly ravishing -- and emblematic of what's missing from movie scores today.

Yes that is the other "main theme" of the score (I suspect it is connected with Death) and that particular rendition is ravisihing indeed. The following serene string theme is not too shabby either.

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