It took me some eight months to catch up with the rest of the movie music world but last night I finally watched The Book Thief. No spoilers so read on. I knew John Williams' Oscar-nominated score from the album, of course. But not how well it might work with the images and story. How well it might meet the visions of the director. Underline, enhance the heartfelt playing by lead Sophie Nélisse. Which, all of the above, it did beautifully. I think the score is a masterpiece - in the classic sense.
The picture was bigger than I had expected. Visuals, scale, subject matter. Emotionally overwhelming at times. WWII, Nazi Germany, life in turmoil, homes displaced, Jews in hiding, loved ones disappearing, men, boys going off to war... and books banned, burned. How difficult for one young girl who desires to read, to learn, to understand these events. And Williams wrote straight to the heart of the story, not the world at war around young Liesel. I must admit it is a little worrisome thinking about scoring pictures the way Williams scores them is now becoming a thing of the past. Not in the usual "they don't make 'em like they used to" sense because most of the technological developments in picture making seem to have been good ideas. Editing has become more efficient. Space ships now look real. Battles look more intense. I don't know, something like that anyway. But music, at least in a picture like The Book Thief should be timeless, emotional, real. Perhaps it should even be written that way, with paper and pencil. I look back through the centuries of music done by masters with pen and paper and know the fruits of their labor are indeed timeless, emotional, real. Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies resonate today just as they did a century ago. That sort of thing. In the Blu-ray extras there is a feature on Williams and he states to the camera that this old-fashioned method is how he works. Were I composing music for movies I'd be saying "I'll have whatever she's having." Translation: I'd be doing whatever it is that Williams does.
But I digress. My desire to have richer contemporary soundtrack experiences lately gets in the way sometimes. This was a wordy way of saying I thought the music was more than just an important part of the movie Brian Percival was putting on the screen. It was a layer of it, a part of the collaborative effort that results in a good movie. Were there a method of creating national treasures out of movie composers, I reckon John Williams should be just that.