In twenty years, the language of storytelling and music has continued to evolve and has sometimes even undergone a certain renewal. Film is expanding its horizons more than ever before, television is keeping pace with increasingly challenging productions, and video games are inventing new forms of expression. Never before has there been such an abundance of incredibly varied content, at a time where anything is possible. The past twenty years have seen creators gain more freedom and new names emerge; people and creations that were unknown in the nineties and that seem so important today… This list is far from being exhaustive, but it provides an overview of influential pieces from this remarkable era. Remarkable, like every other era, but no less important. Things weren’t better before, and they’ll no doubt be just as good after. See you in 2040?
1 – Gladiator (Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard – 2000)
Hans Zimmer was already immensely popular and had been receiving Oscar nominations for several years (Rain Man in 1998, The Preacher’s Wife in 1996, As Good as It Gets in 1997, The Prince of Egypt and The Thin Red Line in 1998), with a memorable victory in 1994 for Disney’s The Lion King, when he composed the music for Ridley Scott’s huge box office hit. Even so, the composer divided opinion. He doesn’t have an academic background and is self-taught when it comes to musical culture, with a penchant for electronic music, new-wave and pop rock. In other words, he upset the established order of Hollywood, especially being of German origin. He was also criticized for overshadowing the real talents with his persona: it is true that Hans Zimmer does not orchestrate; he surrounds himself with an army of copyists and musicians to create his worlds and textures.
Gladiator was no exception and “forgot” to mention Klaus Badelt on the album cover. But everyone agrees: Hans Zimmer really composes, is an exceptional melodist, plays many different instruments and revolutionized the production of film scores, something that Hollywood desperately needed. Gladiator, largely co-composed by Lisa Gerrard whose voice still resonates in our minds, was hugely successful and gave this late peplum an epic atmosphere and sometimes an intimate aspect that truly rejuvenated the use of symphony orchestras in cinema.
2 – Harry Potter (John Williams – 2001-2004)
In the early 2000s, John Williams was busier than ever. His challenge at the time was to accompany George Lucas in the second Star Wars trilogy, which was no small feat. The composer also frequently worked with Steven Spielberg (Amistad in 1997, Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and A.I. Artificial Intelligence in 2001) and his services were always in high demand. At that time he was already a legend, a status acquired in the 1970s with the two aforementioned directors. But the Indiana Jones and E.T. composer had another regular collaborator: Chris Columbus. Williams worked on the superb Christmas comedy Home Alone and its sequel, as well as a third, more intimate movie, Stepmom (1998).
The literary phenomenon Harry Potter was then adapted for the screen with a series of extremely ambitious films. Columbus, also a producer, immediately understood that this feature film and its sequels had to be skilfully accompanied by orchestral and bewitching music, full of recognizable themes like those popularized by Star Wars. And who better than John Williams for the task? Not content to simply write a score imbued with mystery, magic and beautiful orchestration, the composer created a main theme that became an instant classic and, almost twenty years later, is one of the most recognizable melodies in the world. He returned to compose music for the second and third movies, before stepping aside for other composers to continue his work. The theme however, remained!
3 – The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim (Jeremy Soule – 2002-2011)
Discovered thanks to his work on the video game Secret of Evermore, a Japanese-style RPG by Square Soft (a publisher of Japanese origin, but developed by their American subsidiary for a Western audience), Jeremy Soule demonstrated a great ability to adapt right from the outset. But like many he was not recognized by the profession, other than by gamers, belonging to a category of composers who suffer from the image of video games. He also composed the music for the video game adaptations of Harry Potter as early as 2001, considered de facto to be inferior to its cinematic counterpart.
But by gradually making a name for himself on quality games like Icewind Dale and Dungeon Siege, Soule was able to compose for Bethesda Softworks’ Morrowind in 2002, leaving a lasting impression on gamers. This title is the third in The Elder Scrolls series, which takes place in a medieval fantasy setting that has the particularity of being an open world: the player has access to a huge map with cities, mountains, rivers, caves and thousands of mysteries to discover freely. Jeremy Soule unintentionally participated in the development of a gaming system that would eventually become one of the demanding technically, narratively and even musically. Video games can no longer be qualified as inferior to any other media: the integrations systems, specific narrative and the talent of the composers make video game music a precise artistic discipline that is just as viable as any other. With Morrowind and its two sequels (Oblivion in 2006 and Skyrim in 2011), Soule became one of the leading skilled composers participating in the creation of an exceptional and important new medium.
4 – The Lord of the Rings (Howard Shore – 2001-2003)
In 2001, no one would have predicted that Howard Shore would be in charge of the music for this fabulous trilogy. Written by English author J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is an incredibly elaborate literary masterpiece that was reputed to be impossible to adapt. For the music of Peter Jackson’s movies, many composers who had already demonstrated their ability to produce a grandiose and epic atmosphere could have fit the bill: John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Basil Pouledouris, Maurice Jarre… No-one understood Jackson’s decision to work with Shore at first. He is an excellent composer who worked extensively with David Cronenberg on very unusual movies such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Crash (1996). He also composed soundtracks for thrillers (The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, Seven in 1995) and light dramas and comedies. Mainly interested in experimental projects and unostentatious scores, he is a hugely talented albeit discreet composer.
Many were puzzled when it was announced that he would be working on The Lord of the Rings. But that was due to poor knowledge of the profession, and Howard Shore, also known for his excellent orchestrating skills, is good at his job and knows his classics. His metamorphosis to adapt to this huge epic work actually perfectly reflects his career, which never ceased to shift and evolve, taking unexpected twists and turns. Peter Jackson’s trilogy has everything you would expect from its composer: with its brilliant themes, enchanting melodies, talented soloists and fabulous orchestration, his music is incredibly profound. A definite classic, that ended in 2003 yet remains by far the greatest epic movie franchise of its generation.
5 – Howl’s Moving Castle (Joe Hisaishi – 2004)
The reserved Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi was already familiar to Western audiences in 2004 with Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ book. Studio Ghibli’s previous movies were becoming increasingly popular and took advantage of very late worldwide distribution to reach their target audience and improve the reputation of Japanese animation, which had been poorly received for many years.
After Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2002), Howl’s Moving Castle takes place in a European setting, like 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. Musically, Hisaishi pulls out all the stops with a beautiful symphonic orchestra featuring European overtones and a main theme in three parts, reminiscent of the waltzes of great composers. The movie follows in the footsteps of Spirited Away in terms of music, with a large orchestra, something that wasn’t common practice before. However, an exception was made for this movie: a “picture album” recorded with much fanfare at Abbey Road. Such an album is composed during the creation of the film or even before. It outlines themes that help the designers and animators. The final soundtrack can end up being very different. Picture albums are common in Japan, but producing them with a large orchestra in such a prestigious studio was still rare. Especially when taking into account the fact that Hisaishi comes from a very different musical background, a mix of electronic and experimental music, despite studying in a music academy. As a result, the movie practically has two outstanding soundtracks, demonstrating the immense talent of the composer.
6 – The New World (James Horner – 2005)
Terrence Malick is a unique director who surprises by the way he directs his storylines. After the formidable The Thin Red Line in 1998 with music by Hans Zimmer, he directed The New World, the true story of Pocahontas (largely romanticized) and the love triangle she forms with John Smith and John Rolfe.
For this feature film he called upon James Horner, whose style is just as distinctive. Much more melodious than most Hollywood composers, Horner developed several styles throughout his career, taking over from Jerry Goldsmith for the sequels to the Alien and Star Trek franchises, composing material for war and action movies, dramas and comedies, and even excelling in scores with folk and Celtic music for movies such as Legends of the Fall (1994) and Braveheart (1995). He was even responsible for Titanic’s (1998) Irish flair and the Amerindian sound of The Missing (2003). His writing includes a lot of harmonic diversity, conscientiously chosen instruments and melodies that brilliantly replicate a wide range of emotions. He also uses a series of four identifiable notes in his music, known as the “danger theme”, which has become a hallmark of his work. For The New World, he continued to explore modern music influenced by the era of the movie, as he did for Troy (2004) and as he would do for Apocalypto (2006). A believer of the Harmony of the Spheres theory, Horner worked on his compositions with the aim of creating a musical illustration, not just to accompany the movie without much consideration as some composers do. The New World is one of his greatest achievements, but all of the composer’s work from the past twenty years is an absolute must. He died suddenly in a plane crash in 2015, leaving a huge void in this industry that sometimes lacks originality.
7 – The Illusionist (Philip Glass – 2006)
Working for the big screen isn’t an easy task for composers of minimalism music like Philip Glass. Belatedly recognized for his talent, which was notably expressed in very modern operas that did not make him popular at first, Glass was wary of the commercial world represented by Hollywood and wanted above all to write music for the stage. However, he accepted to write a score for a very unusual film that is neither fictional nor a documentary: Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio. A true artistic feat, this work introduced Glass to the public, who was then asked to work on projects he deemed serious, such as Paul Schrader’s biopic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) or John Irvin’s war film Hamburger Hill (1987). Nevertheless, commercial cinema caught up with him in the 1990s with Bernard Rose’s 1992 psychological horror film Candyman. Glass thought he was working on a unique project, but the movie’s producers transformed Candyman into a run-of-the-mill horror flick during editing. But the composer ultimately found his bearings in mainstream cinema, working on a series of collaborations while taking great care to always choose projects that suited him.
In 2006, Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was released shortly before the wonderful The Prestige by Christopher Nolan and was subjected to a number of detrimental comparisons. However, it perfectly illustrates the impact of music that is both well written and performed. So much so that a few years later, Nolan and Hans Zimmer took inspiration from Glass for Interstellar… Although the movie is forgettable, Glass’ score for The Illusionist is a little-known gem that advocates for this immensely talented composer’s body of work over the last twenty years.
8 – Ratatouille (Michael Giacchino – 2007)
This Pixar movie released in 2007 takes place in Paris and features a rat who can cook. The director is none other than Brad Bird, the brilliant writer behind The Iron Giant (2000) and The Incredibles (2004). At first, the subject matter of Ratatouille doesn’t seem quite as enchanting, but the magic really works: the movie was a hit and even received the Oscar for best animated film the year of its release! Artistically, the movie features some beautiful scenes where the camera spins gracefully to the rhythm of Remy’s movements.
The music is also very cleverly written during the tasting scenes: the smells and flavors are conveyed using soft melodies and beautiful harmonies. When it comes to music, Michael Giacchino naturally stands out. At the time, this regular of Brad Bird works (The Incredibles and even One Man Band, the short created for the release of Cars in 2005) was enjoying a hugely successful period during which he had started to become a household name. With a background in video games and a solid education, Giacchino knew how to adapt and surprised many with his musicality. Ratatouille is extremely sophisticated, very astute with a masterful orchestration, and is undoubtedly one of the best animated film soundtracks in recent years. He renewed this feat with the theme for Up in 2007, which has now become a classic, and brilliantly tackled the scores for revivals of cult classics such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park and The Planet of the Apes. What a journey!
9 – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (Harry Gregson-Williams, Nobuko Toda… – 2008)
Video games have been rubbing shoulders with cinema for some time now. It is no longer pertinent to consider this relationship solely in terms of adaptations from one media to the other. It is interesting to study the way in which they can be interconnected and influence one another. Genius game designer and accomplished cinephile Hideo Kojima understands this. It would be pointless to create a movie adaptation of his Metal Gear Solid saga, as it already has a certain cinematographic aspect. Very well written characters, a breathtaking narrative and a historical dimension, in the eras and throughout the sequels, that has no equivalent in cinema over the last twenty years.
Kojima decided to work with several Japanese and American composers such as Norihiko Hibino and Harry Gregson-Williams for the third installment, and Nobuko Toda and Gregson-Williams for the fourth and final chapter in 2008. The three previous titles set the bar high, but the result met fans’ expectations. Above all, Kojima proved once again that video games don’t need the movie industry and that creating a movie adaptation of a game doesn’t make it any more prestigious. The genius of MGS lies in the fact that it is part game, part movie and sometimes combines these two different narrative methods. Just like its music, which is either very illustrative or versatile depending on the context. An undeniable success that was echoed in Kojima’s latest work, Death Stranding (2019).
10 – Assassin’s Creed II Trilogy (Jesper Kyd – 2009)
After two long years, Ubisoft finally released a sequel to its Assassin’s Creed game. An experience that takes place in the modern world akin to Total Recall, where the player relives the experience of their ancestors via a machine that can read memories embedded in DNA.
Jesper Kyd, a Danish composer living in America returned to work on this sequel. With an orchestral composition occasionally infused with electronic sounds, he abandoned the Gregorian and Arabic chants of the first opus to focus on Italy during the Renaissance, with an impressive theme performed by a soprano that would later become the main theme of the saga that is still used today. Above all, this sequel tells the story of a young Italian man, Ezio Auditore, who witnesses the assassination of his family and discovers a war that has been going on for centuries between a brotherhood of assassins and the Knights Templar. The story is a journey through time, the likes of which is rarely depicted in movies, that is divided into three games: the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy. Jesper Kyd develops his themes over the course of each episode and offers brilliant compositions illustrating the mysteries of Roman culture and the omnipresence of the church in a society that is becoming more and more modern. A genuine narrative and musical triumph, this trilogy remains in the hearts of fans ten years later: the composer did not return after these three titles, but was called back for the 2020 opus depicting the Viking civilization – nothing out of the ordinary for a Dane! But it is his talent as a composer, very far from Hollywood standards, that has allowed him to make a name for himself.
11 – Inception (Hans Zimmer – 2010)
Christopher Nolan has been making waves for the past ten years. His filmmaking is uncompromising and his first movies were praised by both the press and the general public. On IMDB, his movies are all rated above 8/10 with the exception of 1998’s Following (7.6) and 2002’s Insomnia (7.2), which is an astonishing feat. With Batman Begins, his career became international. He decided to work with Hans Zimmer (who composes with James Howard) and the style they developed is in keeping with the genre, which often means “mainstream”: unlike Marvel movies, now owned by Disney, Nolan’s Batman is very dark, with music that can’t be classified as “easy listening”. The style evolved over three movies dedicated to Gotham City’s superhero and even set the tone for Superman’s Man of Steel and the sequels produced by Nolan. But it is with other movies that the duo best expressed themselves.
In 2010, Inception transfixed a whole generation of viewers. This highly original story was effective and creative, and was supported by very minimalistic music from Zimmer, with a theme featuring “only” four haunting notes. The movie was a hit and became an instant classic. Critics, however, do not hesitate to accuse Nolan and especially Zimmer of taking a simplistic approach. Yet Inception is like no other movie, dealing with complex themes and situations with an experimental structure. A score that was too prominent or melodious would have had a negative impact on the end result. The duo returned to work on the score for the brilliant Interstellar. Here, the music is reminiscent of Philip Glass’ work, with the incredible organ, the extended notes and a magnitude that sometimes disrupts the viewer’s bearings, accentuating the effect of the very unusual editing and giving the film a unique atmosphere. The director admitted that he was inspired by Reggio and Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi. An idea, that of editing and music, that takes shape in the surprising Dunkerque (2017), with an almost perfect fusion of elements for a unique narrative.
12 – Game of Thrones (Ramin Djawadi – 2011)
Often considered to be inferior to movies, TV series took a while to accept the idea that a story could span several hours or years, like literature and soap operas. Several series would discard the concept of stand-alone episodes to accommodate a serial format where you can’t miss a single episode. Both Twin Peaks and Lost, in their respective times, broke the mold. The 2000s saw this approach develop to the point of becoming the norm. Deemed impossible to adapt, Game of Thrones is an incredibly complex work that uses the same serial format. A young talent from Hans Zimmer’s team was chosen to illustrate the series musically. Ramin Djawadi was the composer for Blade: Trinity in 2004, Iron Man in 2008 and Clash of the Titans in 2010. His style wasn’t unforgettable, but he was good at his job.
The 37 year old Iranian/German composer ended up working on Game of Thrones almost by accident. He wasn’t at the same level, in movies or elsewhere, as Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino or his mentor Hans Zimmer. But in Game of Thrones, a strange magic occurred: the soundtrack was exceptional and the theme became an instant classic. Some parts were absolutely stunning, such as the Light of the Seven suite from season 6 (2016), almost ten minutes of unreal beauty to illustrate one of the most iconic scenes in television. Djawadi also created a buzz with the series Person of Interest and Westworld, both created by Jonathan Nolan, who is the screenwriter for his brother Christopher’s movies. Proof that cinema isn’t everything!
13 – Wolf Children (Takagi Masakatsu – 2012)
Often considered to be the new Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda was even considered to direct Howl’s Moving Castle, but failed to reach an agreement with Studio Ghibli. After directing two Digimon movies and with a successful career as a key animator (he worked on the Dragonball films, among others), Hosoda took the reins of One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island (2005) before gaining a more global reputation with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, both of which were screened internationally.
Wolf Children is a unique film: with an original plot, Hosoda created a touching story that is far from being cliché, more in line with Studio Ghibli’s approach, and enlisted the help of Takagi Masakatsu for the music. With its gentle songs and orchestral pieces that are both light and emotional, the film makes a great impression in a style thought to be limited to Miyazaki’s work, but with greater sincerity in the way the story is expressed through music. You will not only find great orchestral compositions, but also more personal pieces featuring guitars and piano. Granted, the themes of the movie have already been widely covered elsewhere, but here we witness the blossoming of a director/composer duo that we hope to see grow like Miyazaki and Hisaishi. They both worked together again in 2015 for The Boy and the Beast and in 2018 for Mirai. It would be very hard to pick only one Japanese animation duo from the past twenty years. But this pair has become one of the best, and is the one to watch.
14 – Attack on Titan (Hiroyuki Sawano – 2013)
As far as animated TV series are concerned, Japan periodically creates Shōnen titles (typically marketed towards young male teens). From Dragon Ball to One Piece, Naruto and Bleach, the industry has enough to keep us busy. The recent success of Hajime Isayama’s manga Attack on Titan, first published in 2009, led to the release of an animated series much later — the author really takes his time — with the first season airing in 2013. Attack on Titan is captivating and exhilarating, with very impressive fight scenes as well as a clever mix of innovative animation techniques and a scenario that focuses on the question haunting the inhabitants of this world (and the spectators): where do the titans come from?
It’s difficult to define the work of Hiroyuki Sawano musically. Multifaceted, it blends acoustic instruments and electronic sounds, experiments with sound design, can be intense or minimalist and is perfect for an anime that is demanding as it gets straight to the point. The result is surprising, original and very catchy. It was necessary in renewing a genre and a style that is often too Japan-centric. Attack on Titan doesn’t leave one indifferent artistically speaking, and its approach should be applauded.
15 – The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat – 2014)
A very prolific composer in France during the 1990s, Alexandre Desplat surprises with his versatility and mastery of composition in all its forms. His international career began in the 2000s when he made a name for himself with Peter Webber’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in 2003 and Jonathan Glazer’s Birth the following year. He never abandoned French cinema but continued to climb to the top: Stephen Frears’ The Queen in 2006, The Golden Compass by Chris Weitz in 2007, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008 and many others, including a movie about a certain wizard named Harry in 2010. Once a potential candidate for the new Star Wars movies, he remains a new star of the movie score world and is in high demand with many directors, from Polanski and Besson to Del Toro, Anderson, Hooper, Audiard and Costa-Gavras. In 2014, Wes Anderson entrusted him with creating the soundtrack for a surprising film combining dark humor and drama, tinged with surrealist adventure: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The music is somewhat disconcerting at first, with a recurring motif as the main theme that is a real earworm, but proves to be incredibly rich. Incidentally, its uniqueness confirms Alexandre Desplat’s great versatility and his central place in the global movie industry for the past twenty years.
16 – The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone – 2015)
A famous composer of spaghetti westerns, Ennio Morricone’s talents don’t stop there. Although his soundtracks are generally short, Morricone was extremely prolific (over 500 soundtracks!) and made a name for himself with a new genre of satirical cinema, but contributed to the industry in many ways. Thrillers and crime (The Burglars, The Professional, Le Marginal), horror (The Thing, Exorcist II), heroic-fantasy (Red Sonja), comedy (La Cage aux Folles) and historic adventure (The Mission, Richard III, Once Upon a Time in America): Morricone was incredibly versatile and developed many styles, from the bric-à-brac of spaghetti westerns to orchestral music, experimental music and easy-listening. But curiously, none of his music ever received the sought-after Oscar for best music.
For that, he had to wait for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a very unique western, released in 2015. Similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), in which a team of scientists in Antarctica must find out where a deadly virus that assimilates the members of the lab is hiding, The Hateful Eight takes place during a blizzard where the characters must discover who the “traitor” is. Morricone had already created an extraordinary soundtrack for the particularly bloody horror movie, and, coincidentally or not, he reused some of the edited music for Tarantino’s film, which is no less graphic. A resounding success, The Hateful Eight won its only Oscar, Golden Globe and British Academy Award for its music! An essential composer of the past twenty years and now eternal legend who often stood out from his peers.
17 – The Last Guardian (Takeshi Furukawa – 2016)
Fumito Ueda continues his personal introspection in this unique game that stirs up passions with both fans and critics. Following ICO (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005), The Last Guardian is an exceptional saga in the video game world, where games are often too similar to one another.
The music was entrusted to Takeshi Furukawa, who follows the brilliant Michiru Ôshima (ICO) and Kow Otani (Shadow), two of the most prestigious composers in Japan. A great responsibility for Takeshi Furukawa. This Japanese-American composer first gained recognition as a copyist, composer and orchestrator in the USA for series such as Star Trek, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and independent short movies. Not very prolific, it’s unclear how he came to work on such a game, but the result is just as good as the work of his predecessors. With great skill in orchestration and vocals, he developed a very classic but incredibly effective style, in perfect harmony with the epic style of the game while maintaining a unique touch. The composer’s “quality over quantity” way of working is certainly an asset: the soundtrack is a marvel with only one hour of music. A true work of art that reminds us once more of the emotional power that video games are capable of wielding.
18 – Star Wars (John Williams – 1999~2019)
Since it was bought by Disney, there has been no shortage of new additions to the Star Wars saga, much to the delight of fans. Thankfully, composer John Williams, now 88 years old is still around. A remarkable career that has spanned several decades without interruption and that never leaves one saying “it was better before”. His work is as good as ever, and he proves it with the 1999 to 2005 prequels, but also through Steven Spielberg’s increasingly sophisticated movies (The Terminal in 2004, War Horse in 2011 and The Pentagon Papers in 2017).
As for Star Wars, the composer was still up for the job despite the fact that George Lucas was no longer working on the series. Episodes VII (The Force Awakens, 2015), VIII (The Last Jedi, 2017) and IX (The Rise of Skywalker, 2019) make up the third trilogy and John Williams became, along with actor Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), one of the main contributors to the saga to be credited in every major installment since 1977! He also wrote the main theme of Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018. Williams’ work on Star Wars always uses the same formula: fewer motifs, but truly masterful orchestration, harmonies and melodies that remain deeply rooted in our memories. If only one composer could be remembered until the end of time, it would definitely be “John Williams”.
19 – Red Dead Redemption I & II (Bill Elm & Woody Jackson – 2010~2018)
In 2010, a new western game was released by the creators of GTA. It features an open world that is extraordinarily accurate and realistic, in a setting that inevitably evokes the golden age of American adventure cinema. Red Dead Redemption broke several records. Its 2018 sequel was incredibly popular and produced tens of millions of sales.
Musically, the composers didn’t go for the easy option. The music of the members of the Friends of Dean Martinez collective is imbued with Southwestern American culture and influenced by Mexican culture and diverse genres, from post-rock to bluegrass, electronic music and jazz. Working with dozens of sometimes very famous instrumentalists, the identity of Red Dead‘s music is genuine and extremely well produced. Nothing is left to chance, with a compositional approach that spans several years and seeks to embrace the world of western America. Technically, the music is also an example of integration within the game and therefore becomes a part of the gaming experience. This musical illustration is not linear and static like that of movies, but reflects the choices of the player and accompanies the narrative process. This is what makes video game music so special, especially with open-world games. The second opus released in 2018 features ten hours of music that was composed, dissected and restructured, with a team of a hundred highly talented instrumentalists. These past twenty years have proven that video game soundtracks are some of the most creative musical works out there.
20 – Parasite (Jung Jae-il – 2019)
Over the past twenty years, Korean cinema has boomed and is comfortably established where Japan and Hong Kong used to reign supreme. It isn’t necessarily better, with some movies that are better than others just like cinema throughout the world, but it sometimes offers real gems. The classic and pop guitarist Lee Byung-woo put his formidable melodic talent to use on A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Jee-woon, 2003). This score would become a world-famous theme used in TV commercials, but also in Bong Joon-ho’s movie Mother in 2009. Jo Yeong-wook is Park Chan-wook’s principal composer for his uncompromising movies that rapidly conquered audiences around the world (Oldboy in 2003, Lady Vengeance in 2005, Thirst in 2009). In 2019, Parasite became the new Korean hit movie. This disturbing thriller tinged with black humor doesn’t leave viewers indifferent and features an unconventional score.
Composer Jung Jae-il already made a name for himself in 2017 with the Netflix production Okja by the same director as Parasite. This time, however, his work exceeds expectations and is a perfect fit for the themes of the movie. It still evokes a sense of melancholy and simplicity, with a remarkable ability to develop powerful themes and striking harmonic developments, while creating a strange feeling in the background. Admittedly, it’s less spectacular than John Williams, but the result is just as beautiful. Bong Joon-ho can be proud. With the gripping thriller Memories of Murder in 2003 and the excellent fantasy movie Snowpiercer, which earned him international recognition in 2013, the director successfully developed multiple genres. Something that was confirmed by the movie industry elite: Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019 and no less than four Oscars including the Holy Grail, the Oscar for best picture. A must-see.
Bonus: Final Fantasy VII Remake (Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, Mitsuto Suzuki… – 2020)
Final Fantasy looks back on its journey after twenty years. Its official concert is one of the longest running franchise concert tours, which goes to show just how much fans appreciate the music of this series. Never before has a video game generated such enthusiasm. Timeless stories, which are perfectly enhanced by outstanding artistic development and, above all, by timeless compositions. Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t like the remakes we’ve become accustomed to through American cinema. The original 1997 title has been completely redesigned and contextualized in the series’ universe. Nobuo Uematsu’s original compositions have been respected, but were rearranged to offer a new, sometimes radical experience that doesn’t necessarily seek to be nostalgic. To support this endeavour, many composers helped make the score contemporary. Although the iconic Uematsu stepped down, he still contributed one new track: the “Hollow” theme song.
Among the artists who contributed to this contemporary soundtrack, which is varied and tied to the legendary episode of Japanese video game culture, are Masashi Hamauzu, the saga’s “successor” from Final Fantasy X onwards, and Mitsuto Suzuki who joined the license during Final Fantasy XIII. The result is mind-blowingly diverse, spanning no less than seven discs offering over eight hours of perfectly produced music. A plethora of themes, taken from the 1997 original or totally new, form a complex ensemble of varied genres and styles. Would Final Fantasy VII Remake be Square Enix’s most extravagant episode? The bet was risky, but both long-time fans and newcomers applauded the result. Thirty-three years after its creation and twenty-three years after Final Fantasy VII, the Final Fantasy saga proves once more its worth in the hearts of players with this remake. No one predicted it, but there might be a before/after FFVIIR, for the license, and even for the Japanese video game industry.
About: Romain Dasnoy
After working for various organizations such as the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival, Comic Con and Japan Expo, Romain Dasnoy founded Wayô Records and the events company Overlook Events, two structures specialized in music, particularly video game, animation and film music in particular. Designer and producer of the official Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Stephen King, Tribute to John Williams, Tribute to Ennio Morricone and TV Series Live concerts, he is also behind the European performances of Joe Hisaishi, Danny Elfman and Final Fantasy. Passionate about the relationship between storytelling and music, he designs his own musical events, writing for the specialized press since the early 2000s and producing the first column dedicated entirely to video game music for a major national radio station (France Musique). He has written several books on video games, TV series and pop culture, as well as science fiction short stories published by Rivière Blanche.