Recently, the BBC showed a special 2-hours Proms programme, dedicated to the music of John Williams1. It was a mixture of his most and less-known music, with some odd choices and omissions (Rey’s Theme and no Imperial March? No Home Alone or Jurassic Park?).

I love movie music but I find some of the older composers, such as Williams, a bit “samey” at times, albeit they know how to do a cracking tune. And then there’s the question of sexism…

Let me explain further.

Listen to the music of John Williams, James Horner or Jerry Goldsmith and you soon begin to hear the same themes. Let’s take James Horner’s brilliant music for the Star Trek movies. The Klingons had a very distinctive tune, with the sound of clashing metal. But then listen to the music of Aliens or, his first big soundtrack, Battle Beyond the Stars and you’ll hear the same again. It’s the same of the other composers – there are parts of many of William’s music that remind you of music he’s composed for other films.

But what they do get right is the main theme. Star Trek, Jurassic Park, Jaws, etc, all have distinctive theme tunes that most people could hum. Now try the same for The Dark Knight or the first X-Men movie. Nope, doesn’t come to you, does it? I find many of the more recent composers suffer from the inability to create a catchy, identifiable theme tune. I know I’ll get shot down for saying this but Hans Zimmer is probably the most well known who falls in this this category, in my opinion.

However, that’s not to say that all modern film composers are the same. If you take a look at the Marvel movies you’ll see that the earlier ones lacked any kind of standout theme – Thor, Iron Man, etc. By the time of Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, however, new composers were brought on board who changed this. For the latter movies – Avengers, Ant Man, Doctor Strange, there were catchy tunes to hum to, straight away.

Finally, and something that occurred to me whilst watching the BBC Proms, is how sexist movie music is when it comes to the female character and, particularly, the music of John Williams. For whatever reason, female characters always have to have their own motif (often lacking for the males), which are lighter and less serious. Lois Lane, Rey or Princess Leia, are all examples and, in this case, all by John Williams. In comparison, take the Ripley music in Aliens, this time composed by James Horner, and you get something that’s as macho and exciting as any other male-orientated theme.

Could there be an underlying air of sexism (non-intentional I would suspect) in William’s music?

  1. I would have embedded the video into this page but, although the BBC allows it, their videos are not SSL, which causes errors on this site – sorry, but the BBC need to gets its act together[]