Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Darker Look at Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

As someone who loves movies and wants to write effective scores to accompany them, I think it is valuable to discuss my analysis of scores. I invite others to engage with my ideas and add your own insights and opinions. I hope to create an open forum to discuss what can make the best film scores. I begin with Jurassic Park because it is a film that is known and loved by many, and the music is incredibly famous.

The music in Jurassic Park, although containing beautiful melodies, is ineffectual, and in fact detracts from the movie. Movie scores are not separate entities from the movies. There is inevitably a dialog between music and visuals. One does not separate the two in his mind while watching the movie. That does not mean that music always needs to agree with, or even support what the film is depicting. For example, a character can appear intelligent, charming, and thoughtful. The music, however, can describe the character as evil, conniving, and cruel. Contrast can help the movie develop complex characters. But when a score is composed of music that is entirely unrelated, or counter to the direction of the story, then the music can become a distraction. Music that is memorable is in even more danger of causing this problem. If music is bland and uninteresting, the viewer might not even consciously acknowledge it. The music would become like white noise. If the music is memorable, the audience members might even go so far as to sing along with the music. The conscious awareness of the music when it is counter to the story not only becomes a distraction from the story, but also may mislead the audience as to the point of the movie. And it is precisely because of this problem that the music of Jurassic Park is such a poor choice for the movie.

Many people I have spoken to who never actively pay attention to music scores fondly remember the music to Jurassic Park. Some are capable of singing one of its two major themes despite not having heard it for many years. The first of these two themes, which I have titled the “Park” theme, is first heard as soon as the helicopter reaches the island and is most consistently found in the trumpet. The second theme, which I have titled the “Animals” theme, is first heard as soon as the group encounters the brachiosaurus and is most consistently found in the strings. However, this music is used considerably less than one might think. In the approximately 66 minutes of music for the movie, the “Park” Theme appears at only 5 separate points in the movie for a total of 8 minutes, and that is including the entrance during the credits. The “Animals” Theme appears at 3 points for a total of 9 minutes (It is a considerably slower and longer theme). So the music that everyone associates with Jurassic Park amounts to roughly 17 minutes, barely more than a quarter of the music. But, in the closing credits (most notably used as a way of summing up the story through music) those two themes are primarily all that is heard. So the closing credits music ignores roughly 3/4 of the movie in favor of these two themes.

If these two themes were the driving force of the movie, or if they captured the identity of the movie, then the music would have accomplished its goal. It did create a lasting impression on the viewers. However, the music seems to present the movie in a confusingly different light. The “Park” theme begins with open 5ths and a primarily major harmonic structure. It is dramatic and bombastic, but bright and cheerful because it is major. The effort to portray the adventure of going to a “lost world,” and even wanting to capture the large dinosaurs in the music seems a reasonable effort. But the cheerful and positive music seems better fitted for a movie like We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, where the heroes are the dinosaurs. The music neglects to portray the bloodthirsty and deadly nature of the dinosaurs (at least 5 different characters are killed by them). But that still leaves the “Animals” theme. If it provided a contrast to the “Park” theme, then the “Park” theme would make more sense. These two themes would provide the two different sides of the dinosaurs. The beautiful and gentle side would play against the ferocious and dangerous side. That, however, is not the case. The “Animals” theme is at least as positive and cheerful and considerably more gentle and sweet than the “Park” theme. So the music in these two themes portrays dinosaurs that are essentially gentle giants. While it is true that the film does not ignore the gentle beauty of the dinosaurs, and there are many touching moments, like the birth of a velociraptor, that relish the creation of life, the velociraptors also nearly kill the children and do manage to kill the game warden and two of the workers. One exception exists to support the danger of the dinosaurs. A third theme in the movie is dark and foreboding. However, this theme is highly underused and underappreciated. Most would not even remember its existence in the movie. It does appear in the closing credits, but the theme is only four notes long, and those four notes are repeated just 3 times at the end. So with no real musical support to the dangerous side, the music encourages the construction of a Jurassic Park that, by the end, even Mr. Hammond (the designer of the park) says is a terrible idea.

The movie greatly underappreciates the power of its musical themes. The score consists of beautiful melodic lines that, although they do not dominate the score, draw a majority of the attention and leave the viewer confused as to whether the movie is a cute action film about dinosaurs, or a dangerous horror flick with dinosaurs. Even with more thematic balance to the darker side of the story, the music could have been far more successful at fitting the movie. However, as it stands, the music just detracts from an otherwise delightfully clever story about dinosaurs brought to the 20th century.