Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Tonight is Oscar night and once again we're going to listen to this year's nominees for Best Score. Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences gave the golden statuette to A.R. Rahman. His music for "Slumdog Millionaire" was a dramatic blend of East and West.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Five film scores are nominated for the academy award this year. WEEKEND EDITION commentator Andy Trudeau begins our guided through them with the music for "Avatar," composed by James Horner.

(Soundbite of music)

ANDY TRUDEAU: Film composers typically write fast and on short deadlines. According to James Horner, he was working on this piece for more than a year, so clearly this is music he's thought about a lot. The result is a score with many small touches instead of broad strokes. The various cues on the soundtrack are well supplied with brief, delicate vignettes.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Horner previously won an Oscar for "Titanic" but established himself by writing for action films. So, there's also vivid battle music in this score, cast for a large symphony orchestra.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Oscar-nominated by James Horner for James Cameron's "Avatar."

Next, we're going to get small. Here's some music for "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" by the twice previously nominated Frenchman Alexandre Desplat.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Do you hear how he combines that long cello line with the plucked strings? Alexandre Desplat said that the director of this stop-motion animated film originally wanted a big symphonic sound. But after seeing some early test segments, the composer convinced him to go with leaner, more transparent instrumentation. It's impressive how he chooses and blends his instruments. I'll even forgive him for channeling Ennio Morricone at one point.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: That's Alexandre Desplat whistling by the way. There's less than 25 minutes of score on the soundtrack, but it's clear throughout that the composer was having a real good time.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Oscar-nominated music by Alexandre Desplat for "The Talented Mr. Fox."

Everything transforms radically for the next nominee - nominees actually -Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders for scoring the film "The Hurt Locker." This is a non-traditional soundtrack intended to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Electronics, a small group of instruments, real sounds recorded on site often all layered together as much a soundscape as score. This soundtrack chronicles the experiences of a three-man bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Again and again, the piece conjures up a deadly, hostile environment

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: What humanity that does exist here is grim, and strangely detached.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: It's a bold choice by the Oscar selection committee. Music by once previously nominated Marco Beltrami and never previously nominated Buck Sanders for "The Hurt Locker."

Next, the scoring assignment for director Guy Richie's reimagining of "Sherlock Holmes" went to Hans Zimmer, a composer whose trademarks are loud and hard. Here, it was the director who urged the composer to change his musical persona. And Zimmer obliged sort of.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Early cuts of Sherlock Holmes featured a temporary soundtrack from Hans Zimmer's music for "The Dark Knight." Rather than trying to match the continuous, pounding energy of that score, Zimmer often went the other way -all the way to Romania in some spots.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: But this is an action film after all, and these are the times Zimmer's most effective. At one point, with the hero in harm's way, he has fun with the Westminster Chimes melody you'll hear it in the low strings.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Past Oscar winner Hans Zimmer in and out of character for "Sherlock Holmes."

The last of this year's nominees for best score is Michael Giacchino, whose busy 2009 schedule included the "Star Trek" reboot. This nomination is for the Disney/Pixar animated film "Up." Once more, Giacchino shows that he isn't afraid to write an old-fashioned melody as our unlikely hero begins a great adventure.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Previously nominated for his work on "Ratatouille," Michael Giacchino said that here he wasn't scoring animation, he was writing for characters. For one of the principal figures, he created a motif that's first heard as a sad waltz; it's a theme heard throughout this score.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Wonderfully uncluttered orchestration. Like any good film composer, Giacchino follows wherever his character goes and adapts the theme to the circumstances. Here, it assumes exhilarating proportions.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Michael Giacchino's "Up" rounds out this year's Oscar nominees for Best Original Score.

Also in the hunt are "Avatar" by James Horner, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Alexandre Desplat, "The Hurt Locker" by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders and "Sherlock Holmes" by Hans Zimmer.

These are all fine scores, but this year there's no real standout for me. So this time around, I'm going with fun, loud and over-the-top by casting my vote for Hans Zimmer's "Sherlock Holmes."

HANSEN: Andy Trudeau has been handicapping the Best Score Oscar for us since 1996.

And during tonight's Oscars, you can join us at our Web site where pop culture guru Linda Holmes will host a live blog during the ceremony and the staff of WAIT, WAIT DON'T TELL ME will indulge in a little red carpet mayhem. That's at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.