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Your Favorite Third Act Musical Surprise


Cerebral Cortex
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You're in the final act of the movie. You feel as if the composer has played all their cards. You think you know what all the big new thematic material for the film is, all they have to say has been more or less exhausted. And then out of nowhere they drop something new and unexpected on you, a piece they'd had waiting in the wings but were intentionally holding back until the absolute opportune moment towards the end of the film to unload it on you. I'm referring to what I'm calling the third act musical surprise.
 

Some examples would be Battle of the Heroes not playing until the final fight at the end of the ROTS, Jedi Steps not being heard until the last minute of TFA, Carpenter waiting until the last thirty minutes to introduce some groovy new chase music in the latest Halloween film, etc.

The main criteria is it has to be a piece that doesn't feature until the last third of the film (or even the credits) and was not hinted at prior in the film, thus making it a total surprise when it becomes unveiled to the listener. With that in mind, I ask you: what is your favorite third act musical surprise?

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7 hours ago, Thor said:

You're basically asking for great Finale music.

 

In a way, yes, but by calling it Finale music I fear we get stuck in thinking of music that specifically closes out the film, whereas I primarily want to focus on music that appears at any point in the last act and nowhere else.

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34 minutes ago, Thor said:

You're basically asking for great Finale music.

 

Is he?

 

@Cerebral Cortex correct me if I'm not putting this quite right, but you're looking for what I often call the "musical breath of fresh air" that composers will sometimes put into the last part of the composition, in the sense of NOT setting-up some major musical moment or theme.

 

So, a little bit like how Wagner would assiduously set-up most of his leitmotives, and then end a music drama by introducing a completely new motif like Wotan's love for his children in Die Walkure?

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Yoda's theme in 'The Clash of the Lightsabers' as they all escape Cloud City.  1:38-1:58

 

 

 

The Dash Across No Man's Land in War Horse.  It's the only action track in the film, but it fires on all cylinders.  Blew me away when I saw it in theaters.  1:56

 

 

 

The Mecha Word - A.I.

 

 

*edit, I guess the first one doesn't really count (although maybe it does because it's the first time we hear Yoda's Theme in an action sense?)

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7 hours ago, Chen G. said:

 

Is he?

 

@Cerebral Cortex correct me if I'm not putting this quite right, but you're looking for what I often call the "musical breath of fresh air" that composers will sometimes put into the last part of the composition, in the sense of NOT setting-up some major musical moment or theme.

 

So, a little bit like how Wagner would assiduously set-up most of his leitmotives, and then end a music drama by introducing a completely new motif like Wotan's love for his children in Die Walkure?

 

Yes, exactly! Thank you. Worded it much better than I myself could.

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wh.jpeg

 

A random one but your description definitely fits here.

 

After 30-40 mins of very pleasant and wistful Gaelic stylings, the score suddenly erupts into some of the best frenetic action music Howard has written - it's quite similarly structured to the finale in King Kong... only with a far more upbeat ending.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Arena march in Attack of the Clones

 

The arrangement of Luke's theme for Lando's return in TROS

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  • 1 year later...

Was watching Spirited Away. With less than 10 minutes until the film closed, I felt pretty confident I was more or less familiar with all the core musical ideas of the film, but then it decides to unload this one on you:

 

 

 

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On 20/12/2020 at 12:30 AM, karelm said:

What about radically different treatment of earlier music?  I recall finding this calm version of the Jaws theme so incredibly memorable back in theaters back in the 70's.  It came out of nowhere in the film but was the B section of the Jaws theme with a completely different treatment not heard in the film before.

 

Not quite nowhere. It's heard in OUT TO SEA, and SHARK CAGE FUGUE.

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In Red Sparrow. I'm a huge James Newton Howward and I remember watching the film in the cinema and being kinda disappointed with the score after the terrific prologue. The film itself was very downbeat so I expected a very slow & quiet ending.

But then the 8-minute 'Didn't I Do Well?' began to play and I was shocked. It's one of the best cues of James Newton Howard's career. Amazing!

 

 

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Well, it was a surprise to me. The other two you mentioned weren't. I don't even know what they are. :lol:

 

Karol

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Well, its a surprise because, technically, its not material we've heard before; whereas the material associated with Smaug we've heard a lot: we haven't heard it treated like that, but its still material we've heard.

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I had Hidalgo on in the car today, and was reminded of this absolute beauty after a mostly drama-based start and middle - a clear highlight:

 

 

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10 hours ago, Richard Penna said:

I had Hidalgo on in the car today, and was reminded of this absolute beauty after a mostly drama-based start and middle - a clear highlight:

 

 

 

What a great cue that is.

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I guess that sort of material has an unfair advantage in that it comes on the heels of the musical buildup of not just one score but at least 2.5.

 

I like the material associated with Thorin's death: part of the magic of the leitmotif technique is that the motives are constantly being recontextualized by sheer virtue of being heard next to other motives. So that we hear the theme associated with Thorin and then the theme associated with "Death and Parting" and then the material affiliated with Tauriel and Kili, not only connects al three but also shows us that both the latter and the former had been carrying the seeds of their own demise all along.

 

Just because we don't come out of the movie singing it doesn't mean that emotionally it didn't do its thing!

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You bring up some great points about themes sitting next to each other and how that proximity affects their relationship to their own individual concepts and then each other. It is one of the reasons I tout that The Last Jedi is such a masterful score. While I think there is much more new material than people give the score credit for, it is the way in which all of the thematic material is used, old and new, that makes that entry so brilliant. The Spark is a great example. Leia's themes passing one to the other like that really draws out the differences in the two kinds of love. Han Solo and the Princess sounding particularly romantic and poignant there.

 

The two themes sat next to each other in Leia Breaks the News as well but it didn't have this effect. Which brings us back to your point. It isn't just the new material or how it evolves or how it lays over each other, but sometimes it is simply what comes next and how we get there. What stories we tell along the way

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