Top 6 SF/F Soundtracks of 2010


Last year was by far one of the best years for movie soundtracks, not just in terms of “good music,” but also in terms of experimentation on the part of composers (as some of my choices below will show).  The year prior, of course, was a good year too, but 2010 really grabbed me, with some composers playing a greater role in the merger of source material with musical material.  I don’t know if this is a “new” thing, but it sure is something I haven’t noticed in past years from major pictures (the experimentation on the part of composers seems to have been centered on “blockbusters” in 2010; whether that means anything is up to the music critics to figure out).

Here are my top five picks for 2010 (in no particular order)(after the fold):

Inception (Hans Zimmer)

One of the best science fiction films ever made has the luxury of having one of the most important and (I hope) influential soundtracks ever written.  Hans Zimmer certainly has a lot of detractors, but his use of layers, his manipulation of audio to produce a variety of effects (then replicated in various ways for the body of the musical narrative), and his unflinching willingness to experiment to the extreme (see the behind the scenes stuff for The Dark Knight) are prime examples of why he his one of the best composers living today.

I’ve written plenty about the soundtrack here and here, in case you’re interested.  My other posts about Inception are here and here.

Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk)

One of the biggest surprises for me was the announcement that Daft Punk would be scoring the soundtrack for Legacy.  I was apprehensive about the duo, because as much as I love their music, I had a hard time imagining it forming the background of a film like Legacy.  The result, however, blew me away.  Legacy‘s soundtrack is a clever mix of heavy electronic rhythms and traditional orchestral scoring (some of which is then manipulated by the duo–who are, of course, known for their audio manipulations).  The soundtrack is actually quite clever, since it mirrors the intersection and conflict between two worlds (the real world vs. the Grid).  Hopefully we’ll see more soundtracks from Daft Punk in the future; they’ve clearly got a knack for it.

My reviews of Legacy can be found here and here.

How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)

Light.  Bubbly.  Fun.  Despite the film’s flaws, I loved How to Train Your Dragon, and the soundtrack is no exception.  It brings out the spirit of adventure that made How to Train Your Dragon such an enjoyable film.  Then there’s “Sticks and Stones” by Jonsi (the end title piece), which is one of the happiest songs I’ve heard in a long time (which might explain my love for it in times of annoyance or sadness:  it has a way of lifting one’s spirits (sort of like the movie, right?)).  I recommend the soundtrack if you want something uplifting.  It might even make for good walking music!

Here’s my review of How to Train Your Dragon.

The Last Airbender (James Newton Howard)

First things first:  the movie was bloody awful; so awful, in fact, that it might very well be the end of M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s career.  A good thing?  Maybe.

But the music for the soundtrack, while somewhat simple for a Howard score, sets up the epic scenario better than the actual film.  It is suspenseful, fun, and (sometimes) quite beautiful.  There are a number of great little themes at work here, and if a second movie is made, perhaps we’ll hear these develop (if we’re lucky, maybe someone will tell Shamalamadingdong he can’t write or direct the next in the series).  I think Howard could have been more ambitious with his use of themes/instruments from non-European cultures, but considering the near-gutting of practically all of the representations of non-European cultures from the original series for the movie, I suppose it’s unfair to blame Howard for the oversight.  In any case, the soundtrack is a good mood-setter and well worth listening to.

(Note:  Loopdilou and I will be reviewing The Last Airbender as part of our Torture Cinema feature at The Skiffy and Fanty Show next month.)

Skyline (Matthew Margeson)

I didn’t see the movie and have no intention of doing so.  The soundtrack, however, is dark and suspenseful.  It’s like listening to David Arnold (Independence Day) one moment and Graeme Revell (The Chronicles of Riddick) the next.  There is plenty of beauty here, too.  The melodies shift from chaotic to idyllic (as would be expected of an action-oriented science fiction film) and the overall feeling is a mixture of excitement and wonder.  I suspect we’ll see much more of Margeson in the future, particularly for genre films.

Book of Eli (Atticus Ross)

One of the more experimental works of 2010 (along with Inception), The Book of Eli is a mixture of dissonance and ambient chill.  It’s like John Murphy’s Sunshine merged with Jerry Goldsmith’s The 13th Warrior.  It’s not easy to listen to, just as Schoenberg’s 12-tonal melodies aren’t for most audiences, but Ross has done a fine job creating the necessary atmosphere the post-apocalyptic film needed, with just the right amount of beauty to seep in through the cracks.  Not for the faint of heart, sure, but still worth a listen.
Those are my selections.  So, what am I missing?  What are you favorites for last year?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

4 thoughts on “Top 6 SF/F Soundtracks of 2010

  1. You know, I just can't remember the soundtrack to The Last Airbender. I think I spent the whole sitting groaning and complaining about everything that was done wrong or was inconsistent or was badly acted or was badly scripted or was badly CGI'd or was etc. etc.

    But I definitely agree with Inception. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same power on any screen that isn't the huge screens in the theaters (the soundtrack, that is), but it is still beautiful.

  2. Yeah, I noticed the music once and decided to listen to it without the movie. It turned out to be quite good. The movie is awful, so a lot of the good aspects of the music gets lost under all that…

    Inception is brilliant, and even more so in a theater with a great sound system!

  3. You can pretty much hear all of Inception on YouTube, and I suspect you can do the same with Tron, although there was a fan-made "fake" soundtrack that was made before the movie was released which might give you search problems…

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