The Composers: Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri has a singular sound that announces his work as few can. His brassy fanfare punches are synonymous with the movies they appeared in, and his themes catch the spirit of the characters and propel the story like any other vital element of a film. The Back to the Future theme has almost a sailing, swashbuckling demeanor about it, and it doesn’t really matter if the sailing is through oceans or time. The Predator theme is a massive figure itself, stalking through jungle brush, with just a hint of  percussive clicking to indicate something not quite human is in pursuit.

Silvestri can handle small dramatic moments and comedic flourishes, but when it is time to amp up an action setpiece, few are as equipped as Silvestri — an honor we believe even his peers would bestow upon him.

 

Back to the Future (1985) – The best film soundtracks become as much a part of a movie as any dialogue or set. This is certainly the case for Silvestri’s Back to the Future score, which deftly evokes a host of moods throughout the film.  This music is heroic, mysterious, tense, and wistful. Most importantly, though, it is BIG.  Imagine for a moment that you’re a composer, tasked with writing a piece of music for a scene in which a teenager is chased by would-be bullies while riding a skateboard. Probably calls for something a little humorous or even wacky, right? Not for Silvestri.

If you had never seen Back to the Future, you’d think this was an unused cue from an Indiana Jones movie. But it works perfectly here, as do the rest of Silvestri’s compositions.  Shockingly, this excellent score went without an official release until 1999, as part of a Trilogy box set. The first film’s score solo was issued in its entirety as part of a two-disc set in 2009. If you’re a fan of this movie – and who isn’t? – it’s an essential purchase. – Chris Holmes

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Back to the Future made Alan Silvestri a bona fide star in the film score world. His use of urgent, rhythmic brass and a mature, heroic theme turned what was already a smart, well-cast comedy to the kind of worldwide smash everyone in Hollywood wishes they could associate with. But with the score to director Robert Zemeckis’ BTTF follow-up Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Silvestri proved he was anything but a one-trick pony.

Like Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit had a lot going for it – a whip-smart Chinatown-lite script based on Gary K. Wolf’s pulpy novel and a groundbreaking combination of live-action footage with hand-drawn animation – that even a really good score could have been lost in the shuffle. Luckily, Silvestri was up to the task, crafting another brassy score which fused his active style with the breakneck pace of Carl W. Stalling’s classic cartoon scores of the golden age of animation.

There are so many great cues in the film – the Looney Tunes- esque fanfare to Roger’s introductory cartoon, the  Daffy Duck to the strains of Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody,” the kinetic strings and horns that punctuate the film’s many chase scenes – but the top piece is the theme to our fractured hero Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), which starts as a bittersweet melody for solo trumpet and gives way to a slinky, piano-and-upright-bass-driven motif. Cues like those let the Roger Rabbit score prove what Back to the Future established – that Alan Silvestri was a master of Toons…er, tunes on film. – Mike Duquette

Predator (1987) – My favorite Alan Silvestri score is Back to the Future — that Clocktower sequence is a standout piece of film scoring. I remember seeing the film for the first time (at the drive-in no less) and getting chills hearing the main theme for the first time at the moment where Marty is trying to outrun Libyan terrorists in the Twin Pines mall parking lot.

As a fan of action music, a close second favorite for me is his score for Predator (1987). From its exciting “Main Title” to the cool sneaking around the jungle stuff to the striking “Billy and Predator” and the rhythmic music for the final confrontation between Arnie and the Predator, Silvestri really nailed it, establishing himself as an A- List action movie composer. He went on to write the music for such “classics” as Richochet (1991), Eraser (1996) and Judge Dredd (1995) and you might roll your eyes at those titles but every one of those contains a kick-ass Alan Silvestri score (my favorite of those being Dredd, an album I find myself playing a lot).

But it was his collaborations with director Robert Zemeckis that put his film composing skills to the test, giving us scores like the subtle Contact (1997) and the daringly sparse score for Cast Away (2000). – Jeff Johnson

The Abyss (1989) – To resurrect, in its most literal form, is to have cause to rise up. The Abyss is a movie all about resurrection, mostly reflected in the character of Bud, the deep sea oil driller played by Ed Harris. First it is about him rising up from a terrible divorce from ex-wife Lindsey (Mary-Elizabeth Mastrontonio), then from the Deep Core submersible unit he and his crew are stuck in near the bottom of the ocean. Then, in order to defuse a bomb that has fallen into the abyss, the deepest trench of the ocean, Bud has to descend. His act of sacrifice (that initially is known as such solely to him) tells the creatures living down in the depths that this failed entity that is the human race may yet be worthy of a second chance, a resurrection.

The track “Bud On The Ledge” breaks from the funereal requiem into a climbing scale of nothing less than glory, all triumphant and choral, as if this examination of humanity’s worth was all on one man’s shoulders and he passed the ultimate test. Like any good film music, it sells the moment when married to the imagery, but works just as well standing alone. It is always the calling card of a great piece of music when it can work in both rigors and still feel like an emotional, creative expression. – Dw. Dunphy

End Titles – Back to the Future
Main Title – Predator
Valiant and Valiant – Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Bud on the Ledge – The Abyss


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  • David_E

    Much love for “Prince’s Day” from the Blown Away soundtrack, as well.

  • chadwicktron

    Don’t forget his freaky awesome funk he did for the “CHiPs” TV series!

  • DK

    I’m with chadwicktron on this one. I purchased both of the CHiPs soundtrack volumes on CD. Great music to listen to while stuck in rush hour traffic. Makes it tempting to try something crazy, because you have the music already queued up!

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