There are many elements that come together to make movies the finished products that they are, but one of the most important is music. In a musical, the influence is obvious, as much of the story development is wrapped up in the songs and you often find yourself humming them as you leave the theater. In other films, it might not be so readily apparent, but music is often used to significant effect, whether it is the film score or pre-existing music that plays in a particular scene, either as ambiance or as though the characters themselves were listening to it.
When it comes to the musical score, the best place to turn to for examples is to science fiction and fantasy epics. For instance, think of John Williams’ scores for “Star Wars” and the Harry Potter films. Hearing “The Imperial March” evokes a sense of dread as well as excitement, while the gentle mystery inherent in “Hedwig’s Theme” brings to mind all the wonders that the world of Hogwarts entails. In “The Lord of the Rings,” Howard Shore develops distinct themes for different characters and races in Middle-earth. One of the most powerful is “In Dreams,” which plays at moments where a sense of friendship is the strongest, especially among the hobbits.
Christmas movies and scenes almost always incorporate existing Christmas music to some degree unless they are musicals in their own right and present new material to the audience that becomes later fodder for holiday radio. This has happened with both “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” Other films, though, have been known to make use of a wide variety of carols, from Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in “Home Alone” to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late” in “Almost Famous.”
Sometimes, the characters even sing songs themselves. For instance, in “The Jerk,” Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters share a sweet duet of “Tonight You Belong to Me,” cementing the love that they shared and the obstacles to their relationship. In “Elf,” Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell sing “Baby It’s Cold Outside Together” after she has begun to warm to him. However they appear, songs make a movie much richer. Music can make everything interesting from Montreal plumbers to vhs to dvd transfers.