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Scores and Special Effects Series - 1999
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• Posted by: Steven P.
• Date: Tuesday, August 9, 2022, at 6:22 p.m.
• IP Address:
• Now Playing: Last Castle - Goldsmith

Yes, I'm still working on this series. I took a little break recently from it to catch up on some other scores I acquired, and since I'm starting a 2 week vacation next week it will be a while before I dig into the 2000's, but in the mean time, I'll be closing out the 1990's in style.

The Matrix – Davis

One of the biggest surprise successes of the late 90’s was The Matrix. At it’s core it was a sci-fi film, but the inclusion of story with some meaningful philosophical ideas, as well as taking inspiration from anime, kung-fu films, and a bit of 90’s metal/rock music videos would result in one of the most original blockbusters of the decade. The film is full of memorable characters, ideas, and lines, and represents one of the last films to launch a major Hollywood franchise not based on existing IP. The impact this film had on pop culture at the time cannot be understated. With this film and the sequels, Matrix references were everywhere. In fact, when I got my first personal laptop, I downloaded one of those screensavers that would display the green-Matrix code text from the films (amazing what we think makes us “cool” when we’re teenagers). It’s a true testament to the Wachowski’s that the film still holds up as well as it does to this day. The original Matrix film deserves to be recognized as one of the best science fiction films of all time.

No discussion on the Matrix would be complete without mentioning the ground-breaking special effects. The “bullet-time” effect was the most noticeable achievement that came from The Matrix, but all of the cool visuals and effects became so influential and recognizable that audiences would see them copied and parodied well into the 2000’s. Speaking from personal experience as someone who saw this in theaters when released, taken by my friend you saw it a week before and having to get special permission from our parents to see a R-rated film, the impact was nothing short of mind-blowing. The combination of creativity and innovative visual effects really pushed the envelop of what was capable at the time, and was an obvious choice to win the Oscar for best visual effects.

The score for the film would be written by Don Davis, still a relative new-comer to solo projects after spending several years as an orchestrator. His music provided a unique voice and style to the film, at times very avant-garde in his approach, but still capturing the tone the Wachowski’s were going for with their blend of serious sci-fi and intense action set pieces. The action music can sometimes be chaotic, at times feeling like it might lose control, but Davis just manages to reign it all in before it does. The score tends to work better in the film than on album, where it really enhances both the eeriness and coolness that comes with first being exposed to the world of the Matrix. The most traditional orchestral idea from the score remains the gentle yet romantic love theme for Neo and Trinity, a personal favorite of mine. Davis would explore this theme, as well as several other ideas from this score, in more detail with his work on the sequels, but his first scores still lays the groundwork for what would become of the more interesting trilogy of scores from a composer.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – Williams

Few films had as much anticipation as The Phantom Menace had at the time of it’s release. The first prequel to the beloved and successful Star Wars trilogy, exploring the backstories to characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi created a stir of excitement practically unprecedented at the time. Any film with that much hype is almost certain to fall short of everyone’s expectations, and in fact the reception was mixed among the Star Wars fanbase. Regardless of audience’s opinions on the film itself, most good agree that George Lucas was able to expand the scope of his Star Wars saga and allow for fantastic new additions for visual effects and score.

Much like the original trilogy before it, The Phantom Menace had ground-breaking achievements in visual effects, advancing the medium like few other films in the decade. With CGI, the visual effects team was able to create fantastic new worlds, characters, spaceships, and everything else fans expected from this series. However, in regards to Episode I the practical effects are often overlooked, which is a shame because the work done for the various ships/vehicles, props, and locations were equally as great. In my head I know why The Matrix deserved the Oscar in this category, but in my heart I can honestly say I would have been happy to see this film win the award too.

One area of the film that seemed to garner praise from all groups was the score by Star Wars legend John Williams. Much like the film, it was a different style from the original trilogy, embracing the more fantasy-aspect focus of the prequels. He would bring back some of his iconic themes, including the main theme, force theme, and brief appearances of the themes for Yoda, Palpatine, and Jabba the Hutt. However, the bulk of the score would focus around his new material, including new themes for the 9-year old Anakin, the evil trade federation, and what would become the breakout sensation of the score, his epic “Duel of the Fates” which would under-score the fantastic final battle in the film. It score was an enormous achievement of adventure and emotion, establishing a new but familiar palette for the Star Wars prequels.

Stuart Little – Silvestri

I only have brief memories of seeing the beginning of Stuart Little, only because my family rented it and I lost interest somewhere during the film. It just wasn’t for me.

I guess the visual effects were good, which had a CGI rodent paired with human actors, a trend Hollywood would later adapt for a bunch of Alvin and Chipmunks movies and a new Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers movie earlier this year. Compared to the other 2 films nominated, this is in a distant 3rd place, and I’m surprised it got a nomination over some other films in 1999.

I’m not familiar with Silvestri’s score for the film. I did find some cues on You Tube, and music reminded me of some of the lighter dramatic music he did for films like Forrest Gump. I’ll stick to Mouse Hunt when I want to listen to a Silvestri score about a mouse.

Biggest Omission of 1999: The Mummy clearly deserved a nomination over Stuart Little.

Film Ranking:
1. The Matrix
2. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
3. Stuart Little

Visual Effects Ranking:
1. The Matrix
2. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
3. Stuart Little

Score Ranking:
1. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
2. The Matrix
3. Stuart Little

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