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MIND MELD: Our Favorite SF/F Movie and TV Soundtracks

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We’ve covered a lot of topics in our Mind Meld series, from books, to cover art and lots of stuff in between. But we haven’t touched on the topic of music. We attempt to fix that oversight with this week’s question. We asked our panelists:

Q: What are some of your favorite SF/F movie and TV soundtracks/scores?

Here’s what they said…

Andrew Liptak
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and science fiction fan, and writes regularly at Words in a Grain of Sand on speculative fiction and history, and has written for sites such as SF Signal, io9 and He currently holds a degree in History and a master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, and resides in the green mountains of Vermont with a growing library of books.

There’s a couple of science fiction soundtracks that I listen to constantly, and they’ve held up well over the years:

Battlestar Galactica: Seasons 1-4 (Original Television Soundtrack), Bear McCreary: When the show first came out, I loved the unconventional nature of how everything was set up, from the ship all the way to the music used. The soundtrack is a stunning one, and very different from what’s typical in science fiction.

Contagion: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Cliff Martinez: This borders on the line between science fiction and thriller, but I’ll include it. I love Cliff’s music, and this entire soundtrack has an excellent opening theme, with a great sound throughout the rest of the album.

The Dark Knight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard: I really disliked the soundtrack for Batman Begins: there’s not a lot that I thought distinctive about each track, and I’ve only listened to it a handful of times. The Dark Knight, by contrast, is outstanding. It’s raw, harsh and dark.

Firefly (Original Television Soundtrack), Greg Edmonson: This one sort of goes without saying, but I like more than just the opening theme song. The music does a lot of what Battlestar‘s soundtracks did, bringing a very unconventional and world-wide feel to the Firefly universe.

The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture), Clint Mansell: Clint Mansell has composed some of my absolute favorite music. The Fountain‘s music is soft, subtle, and beautiful.

In the Shadow of the Moon (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Philip Sheppard: Not a science fiction soundtrack, but one that should be listened to. Sheppard’s music for the documentary takes a different turn from some of the grandiose music that’s typically associated with space movies / films / documentaries. This soundtrack is heroic, sharp and fantastic.

Inception (Music from the Motion Picture), Hans Zimmer: Inception is one of my favorite science fiction films to have come out recently, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack really left an impression, from beginning to end.

Moon (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture), Clint Mansell: Another absolute favorite from Clint Mansell, this soundtrack blew me away, and I often find myself listening to it while writing or driving. It fits the movie perfectly, with its high, empty sound that drives the movie forward.

Solaris (Score), Cliff Martinez: Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack for this film is one of the high points of the film, with a delicate, complicated sound that is relaxing, soothing and very beautiful.

Titan AE (Music from the Motion Picture), Various. This isn’t a score, but I’ve got a real soft spot for the soundtrack for Titan AE, which carries with it some fond memories of my adolescence.

Matt Cardin
Matt Cardin ranks among the foremost authors of contemporary American horror” (Laird Barron). “Matt Cardin is the most underrated horror writer in America” (Tim Lebbon). “It’s a bold writer who, in this day and age, tries to make modern horror fiction out of theology, but Cardin pulls it off” (Darrell Schweitzer). “In the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, Cardin’s accomplishments as a writer are paralleled by his expertise as a literary critic and theorist” (Thomas Ligotti). “Dark Awakenings offers the dream imagery of the best weird fiction but goes even further beyond the ordinary thanks to Matt Cardin’s fierce intellect” (Nick Mamatas). “Matt Cardin is becoming a kind of expert on the subject of the relationship between religion and horror” (Mario Guslandi). “Matt Cardin’s stories display a thorough appreciation of what cosmic horror is all about” (Brian McNaughton). “Matt Cardin is one of those rare horror authors who is also a true scholar and intellectual” (Jack Haringa).

My musical life has been dominated by film scores. My on-again, off-again music compositional activities bear the clear imprint of this fact. (See, for example, the obvious film music influence on my album Daemonyx: Curse of the Daimon.) So it’s hard to call out some favorite fantasy and SF (and horror) scores without feeling that I’m excluding dozens of others than I love just as much. But here’s a shot at it:

1. Ravenous by Damon Albarn and Michale Nyman. An astonishingly brilliant score to an almost equally brilliant little art house horror film. The film is set in 1840s America, and Albarn and Nyman construct various parts of the score around folk-and-frontier musical motifs, which they incorporate into really memorable original musical pieces that are alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, quirkly, lovely, and disturbing. A huge amount of thought and work went into the scoring. For example, the film’s supernatural menace is built around Native American myth of the Wendigo, and Albarn stayed on a Native American reservation for several days with an elder named Quilt Man, famed for his traditional singing, in order to gain the man’s trust and finally convince him to sing for a recording. When you hear Native American singing on the soundtrack, it’s for real. Albarn also spent time listening to early American music from the Smithsonian collection to compose one of the score’s signature pieces, titled, appropriately enough, “Manifest Destiny.” The musical climax of the score in the piece “Saveoursoulissa,” composed of deep-ominous looping synth tones and apocalyptic-sounding male voices chanting the glossolalia-like title word is, in a word, transfixing.

2. Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris. I’ve listened to this entire score literally dozens of times, and consider it a high point not just in fantasy film music but in late-20th-century film music as a whole. It’s endlessly and deeply moving and engrossing.

3. Star Wars by John Williams. ‘Nuff said.

4. The Lord of the Rings by Leonard Rosenman. This is the score for the 1978 animated version from director Ralph Bakshi, not the score composed by Howard Shore for Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy. Obviously, Jackson’s films are light years better than Bakshi’s half-lame, half-cool effort, and Shore’s score is really wonderful, and probably, objectively, better than Rosenmann’s. But Rosenmann’s music hit me when I was very young, and the yearning and poignancy he built into it struck me then and stayed with me permanently as a perfect embodiment of the aching sense of sehnsucht that Tolkien channeled into his creation of Middle-earth. I actually owned not just the double-LP soundtrack album but the limited picture disc double-LP featuring four lush scenes from the movie. I also owned a copy of the simplified sheet music adaptation for piano of the main title music.

5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Tan Dun. The film is overwhelming and so is the music, especially since its overall cast of aching melancholy, beauty, and tragedy is amplified enormously by the prominent participation of Yo-Yo Ma on the cello.

6. House of Flying Daggers by Shigeru Umebayashi. This one grips me for pretty much the same reasons as the Crouching Tiger soundtrack (although it doesn’t feature Yo-Yo Ma). Umebayashi’s incorporation of both Western and Eastern elements and instruments — see, for example, the exquisite appearance of the oboe in “Farewell No. 1” — is marvelous.

Finally, it’s not a single soundtrack, but:

7. The Goblin Collection, 1975-1989. No commentary needed. Contains main title music and other music from “Profondo Rosso,” “Suspiria,” “Tenebre,” “L’ Alba Dei Morti Viventi” (i.e. Dawn of the Dead), and many others.

Fabio Fernandes
Fabio Fernandes is a writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Also a journalist and translator, he is responsible for the Brazilian translations of several prominent SF novels including Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. His short stories have been published in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, England, and USA, and in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II:Steampunk Reloaded


One of my all-time favorite SF movie soundtrack is Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack was so awesome it was revamped for ST: The Next Generation – and I was thrilled when they did it, because it conveyed the whole sturm-und-drang idea of space travel to where no one has gone before. If there is a true science fictional anthem, it is this.

That said, of course we can’t put aside John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack. Especially the Imperial March. That remains to this day my
awesomest cliché of evil ever!

And Vangelis’ Blade Runner. This electronic avant-garde soundtrack helped to redefine the genre musically, in my opinion, introducing jazz and retro elements which were not common in SF films until that date. But then, we’re talking of the quintessential cyberpunk movie, the one that broke many a barrier in its time.

As for TV series, I have lots of favorites. From my childhood days, another John Williams classic, though he was known as Johnny Williams
then: The Time Tunnel! The “tick-tock” theme song resonates powerfully still today and it’s been copied to exhaustion, but nothing beats the original. From the nineties, Christopher Franke’s soundtrack for Babylon 5 is really good (although the experiment they did in the pilot with Stewart Copeland as composer was very interesting as well; but it just seemed as if cyberpunk had arrived much too late to the party, alas.)

My personal favorite in the series, though, is the remake of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. Bear McCreary did an absolutely fantastic job mixing several styles and giving it a really global (or galactic) ambience, not the stuff you sometimes see in the Grammys labeled as “world music”. The theme song, that in less than one minute combines electronika, powerful orchestration with contraltos singing a kind of Mozart-like requiem, followed by a 180 degree turnaround with the use of taikos, warlike basso profundo shouts that remember Maori war chant and all these pieces fitting beautifully is something to be applauded as a major achievement in music history.

Patrick Hester
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and podcasting dude who lives in Colorado with two cats, Dakota and Shadow, who make sure he gets little sleep and always remembers who is really in charge. He writes science fiction and fantasy (mostly), and is represented by Bob Mecoy for his fiction. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards. He writes for,, and has had columns on and Professionally, he pays the rent as Marketing Director for a local Colorado Mortgage company.

Great Question. I cant just pick one, so I’m going with four.

1) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. It seems fitting that the best of the Star Trek feature films would also have the best soundtrack. I find myself whistling it, for god-sake! James Horner scored the flick. The intense horns and strings drive the film, accent the tone, that of an old fashioned naval battle, and really, really stick in your head. (Did I mention the whistling?)

2) Stargate. This is a great flick. Archeologists uncover an ancient device buried in the sands of Egypt. Decades later, they figure out that it’s actually a portal to other worlds. Composed by David Arnold and played by the Sinfonia of London, the music is haunting. I find it wonderful when trying to write intense scenes in my own fiction.

3) Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Album & Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Radio Sunnydale. If you like independent artists and a mixture of rock and angst, these are the soundtracks for you. From Nerf Herder’s drum infused theme from the opening credits of the show, to Aimee Mann’s ‘Pavlov’s Bell’. Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ to The Sundays cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’, these two soundtracks have a little something for everyone.

4) Say what you will about 1981’s Heavy Metal, but you can’t deny that the soundtrack rocked. Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Don Felder, Nazareth, Journey, Grand Funk Railroad and Stevie Nicks, just to name a few.

Karen Burnham
Karen Burnham reviews science fiction and fantasy for SF Signal and Strange Horizons, edits the Locus Roundtable blog and podcast, and works for NASA.

When I first saw this question, I thought of some film themes that I love (Duel of the Fates from SW: Phantom Menace, the Fellowship theme from LotR, the Prologue from Stardust), but realized that none of the full scores live up to that level. I kicked around a couple of other full scores that I listen to from time to time, such as the original Conan the Barbarian (what they saved on dialog they invested in music) and the original Highlander (Queen! How can you beat that?) But then I realized that there’s a score I happily listen to over and over; it introduced me to a band and I promptly ran out and bought more albums from that group.

The Secret of Kells is an animated film that tells a made-up legend story of St. Brendan as a young boy helping to save the iconic Book of Kells from marauding Vikings, having the help of an Aisling spirit and defeating Crom Cruach along the way. It’s a lovely film which won many awards in Europe.

And the score is gorgeous! It’s done by an Irish band named Kila which specializes in instrumental contemporary Celtic music. That’s a sweet spot for me. Among the ‘most listened to’ items on my iTunes are tracks by Gaelic Storm, Great Big Sea, Young Dubliners, Shooglenifty , Peter Purvis, and Leahy . All by itself, the score of Secret of Kells added Kila to that list. It’s not often that a film score hits you just right like that. And it’s important to listen to it as a whole. Occasionally one of its tracks gets shuffled in to my playlist, and it always seems a bit out of place. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts (not a problem with other Kila albums, which have very strong stand-alone tracks).

The Secret of Kells is a wonderful movie, and the score makes it all the better. I’d highly recommend that you take a look at it. I think that it’d be great for slightly older children (the Crom Cruach scenes might be scary for very little kids), and I know that my mother, in her 70’s, adored it as well.

Jeff Patterson
What can be said about Jeff Patterson that hasn’t already been said in a number of restraining orders? He blogs at Bad Day Studio, doodles at ConceptArt, and tells a Holiday story once a year at He is terrified of what will happen if Hollywood ever remakes 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I like the weird stuff. My various playlists and mix discs are peppered with odd bits of movie and TV music. They manage to pop up when my devices are on Random Play, so I’ll catalog them in no particular order.

But before I get to that, I’ll start my list with James Horner’s soundtrack for Battle Beyond the Stars , a sweeping set of arrangements which clearly landed him the Star Trek gig. When this film came out it was rare to see a B-Movie with such a robust score, and Roger Corman famously ended up using the music for other movies.

Yet even as a young’un I preferred eclectic background music to the heavy bombast of a full orchestra. La Planet Sauvage, released in English as Fantastic Planet, had a creepy electric score by Alain Goraguer, deeply influencing Angelo Badalamenti’s later work on Twin Peaks. This was what the psychedelic movement should have aspired to in the 1970s.

Bob Crowe’s vibraphonic grooves in Barbarella introduced me to lounge music, and utilized Pavlov’s method of reward by searing it upon my young memory adjacent to images of Jane Fonda disrobing in zero-g. The dismal movie of Moorcock’s The Final Programme also has a killer score, and I know I will make many enemies by unequivocally stating that Danger: Diabolik is Ennio Morricone’s best work.

I also expect flak for including The Last Temptation of Christ on this list, but the film openly admits to deviating from accepted biblical canon and therefore could be categorized as a fantasy. To be honest, I’ve never seen the film, but Peter Gabriel’s world music soundtrack is a fantastic album.

Few soundtracks are as effective in conveying otherness as Forbidden Planet , with the discordant ambient drone of the Krell musicians. Imagine what Monsters From The Id could have done with Pro Tools…

My favorite cartoon soundtrack is easily Samurai Jack, which used a variety of styles and genres from classical to Arabic to rave. Batman The Brave and the Bold comes in a close second, if only for moments like this.

I became such a fan of Marty Simon’s music for the TV series Lexx that I even watched the excruciating final season just to listen to it. The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere had unnaturally malevolent music by Brian Eno. Graeme Revell’s score for the Dune miniseries is equally threatening at times. Revell was also involved in my favorite concept for a soundtrack: Wim Wenders’ 1991 near-future film Until The End of the World. Wenders asked artists like U2, REM, and Talking Heads to write what they thought their hit single for the summer of 1999 might sound like, and most of the songs were pretty good.

This is probably cheating a bit, but in the 80s and 90s there was a trend of bands and artists performing live original accompaniments to classic silent films. Online searches will yield a number of excellent examples, but my three favorites are Art Zoyd’s score to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Gary Lucas’ one-man soundscapes for The Golem, and Club Foot Orchestra’s take on Metropolis .

Hands down, though, the soundtrack that has graced my speakers the most is Peter Thomas’ delightfully insane Raumpatrouille Orion score. Any music which drives sharp-dressed spacefaring Germans to this is a force to be reckoned with.

Honorable mentions go to Lisa Gerrard’s work on Salem’s Lot and The 13th Warrior, Evan H. Chen’s music for the short-lived Crusade, Richard Gibbs soundtrack for the Battlestar Galactica reboot miniseries, anything Barry Gray did for Gerry Anderson (but mostly UFO and Captain Scarlet), and Laurie Johnson’s score for The Avengers.

In conclusion, let me say that in a rational world there would a channel dedicated to a loop of Jennifer Connelly lip-syncing to Anita Kelsey’s performance of Sway from the exceptional Dark City soundtrack, and I leave you with what is, in my opinion, the zenith of all Western culture: Nancy Wilson’s rendition of the theme song from The Last Dinosaur.

Charles Tan
Charles Tan‘s fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as The Nebula Awards, The Shirley Jackson Awards, SF Crowsnest, SFScope, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy Literature, BSC Review, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal. In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award for International Activism which is described as “In recognition of those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia…” He is also a 2011 World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award, Non-Professional category. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, or Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009.

That’s a difficult question–at least from a Western viewer–mainly because outside of genre films, a lot of shows either don’t release soundtracks or don’t have a budget for a huge production. There are exceptions, of course, such as the recent Game of Thrones soundtrack released last year, or the Buffy and Angel soundtracks. But for the most part, when we talk about soundtracks or scores, they’ll most likely be based on movie releases: Highlander The Original Score, The Princess Bride Soundtrack, Labyrinth: From The Original Soundtrack Of The Jim Henson Film, etc.

If you’re willing to stretch the terms of the original question, there are two soundtracks I want to bring your attention to. For fantasy, there’s the Dungeons & Dragons Official Roleplaying Soundtrack by Midnight Syndicate. Don’t confuse this with the movie, but rather this is a soundtrack specifically commissioned for the RPG (Midnight Syndicate also has a history of producing fantasy-themed albums). The other album, for science fiction, is the Starcraft II : Wings of Liberty Collector’s Soundtrack. Both CDs feature terrific background music (no vocals) and capture the atmosphere of their respective franchises.

Japan, on the other hand, are masters when it comes to soundtracks. In fact, a lot of successful TV series have more than one soundtrack and include a combination of vocal songs and background music.

One example (and a favorite) is the soundtrack to the anime Vision of Escaflowne: there are four soundtracks in the series (plus an additional one if you count the movie). The memorable theme song, “Yakusoku wa Iranai,” was sung by Maaya Sakamoto, but what also stood out where the background music composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi. Here’s some memorable BGM tracks:
Dance of Curse
Shadow of Doubt
Flying Dragon
While all four soundtracks need to be collected, if I were to pick just one, it’d probably be Vision Of Escaflowne: Lovers Only.

Another compelling soundtrack is the Record of Lodoss War TV: Original Soundtrack. There are three albums (more if you count the direct-to-video OAV that spurred the video franchise) and the opening theme, “Kiseki no Umi,” also features Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno. If you’re going for a high fantasy atmosphere, this is the album to listen to.

For science fiction, there’s a lot of great soundtracks (some of you might even remember the Starblazers theme) but if I had to pick one (I really have a long list, such as the various Gundam series), I’d probably go with the two soundtracks for the Shin Getta Robo OAV. The second opening theme is quite upbeat, and here’s a favorite track.

Jessica Strider
Jessica Strider works once a week in the SF/F section of a major bookstore in Toronto. She posts author interviews, themed reading lists, book reviews and more on her Blog.

What a brilliant question. Music really sets the mood for everything and there are some great soundtracks. Having said that, I haven’t bought a soundtrack in years (mostly because I don’t listen to as much music anymore and really loved soundtracks for studying in university).

The most recent soundtrack I thought was incredible, was for the new Battlestar Galactica. I’d find myself thinking of the songs and playing particular melodies in my head all day after watching an episode.

When we were watching Babylon 5 my husband pointed out that the music was done with a full orchestra, unusual for TV shows, and it really helped make it a fantastic show (along with brilliant season long plot arcs and complex characters).

With regards to older stuff, obvious nods have to go to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Arc and Jaws. All of which have music so iconic that people who haven’t seen the films probably know the main themes.

One of my favourite soundtracks is Jurassic Park. It’s a great mix of soft, melodious tunes and action packed high base music. And while I know a lot of people didn’t like it, I thought the soundtrack for Ladyhawke, with its techno beat, was a lot of fun. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new Harry Potter soundtracks, which are probably the most recent ones I’ve purchased. They’re all fantastic with a lot of great tracks.

When it comes to anime – which comprises most of my collection, Hayao Miyazaki’s films all have fantastic soundtracks (particularly Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away). The Heroic Legend of Arslan had a great score, with a lot of haunting flute music and some rousing marches. I loved Gundam Wing‘s music, with its interesting mix of classical and techno sounds. And Visions of Escaflowne had a great collection of uplifting instrumental music as well as some heart-wrenchingly sad songs. Then there’s Slayers and Magic Knights Rayearth, both with great upbeat tunes.

And I’ve barely glanced at my collection. 🙂

Fred Kiesche
Fred Kiesche has been reading science fiction since the early 1960’s. He has a collection of over 8,000 books at home, at least half of which is science fiction and fantasy and the rest are made up of books on science, history and other non-fiction subjects. He is an avid amateur astronomer, devoted husband and father, and is seemingly perpetually underemployed since 9/11/01. He blathers on this and other subjects at The Lensman’s Children.

In the Beginning was the Word

My first encounters with soundtracks was on a grainy black-and-white television in the early 1960’s. I can still recall being creeped out by the music and the sound track (the sound effects) of such Outer Limits episodes as Demon with a Glass Hand, Soldier, and more. Outer Limits was not only some of the earliest science fiction that I remember, but my first encounters with how music and sound effects can work together to make a story better.

Forbidden Planet featured “electronic tonalities” with a completely synthetic soundtrack. In here the noise of the ship, the sound of the weapons, the scream of the Monster from the Id, all combined as one. You can’t dance to it, you can’t hum it, but it was one of the best aural environments in the film that I experienced.

A few years later came Star Trek. Again, an interesting mix of found music and sound environment. The music, especially in the space scenes (oh, that Doomsday Machine was a real thriller!), was stirring but can you imagine life on the Enterprise without the sounds of the computers, the turbo-lift, the engines, the transporter?

The sound track that affected me the most, and which is still a favorite to this day, was the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there was an original music score done for the film (by Alexa North, which was released as a soundtrack on its own several years ago), seeing the movie on the big screen (during its first release) not only confirmed me as a lover of classical music, but introduced me to the wild edges of orchestral works (and probably led me to all sorts of “experimental stuff” or “electronic stuff” that I still listen to today). Whether it is the marrying of Also Sprach Zarathustra (Strauss) to several key scenes (such as the triumphant tossing of a bone into the air), or Ligeti’s music on the approach to Jupiter and the journey Beyond the Infinite, this soundtrack was the key for years.

After 2001: A Space Odyssey, I can think of several soundtracks that in whole, or in part, remain favorites. The Planet of the Apes, with Jerry Goldsmith’s occasionally odd-sounding score affected me but, alas, I did not have the actual record (later CD) for years after seeing the film (once!) on the big screen. Silent Running, with a mixture of both a orchestral score and a more poppy collaboration between Peter Shickle and Joan Baez remains one of the few scores where I think either a rock or folk approach works with science fiction.

It All Started With a Big Bang!

I’m sure that other contributors to this installment will talk about Star Wars. So, while a favorite (actually, I like the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back better), I’ll talk about the post Star Wars soundtracks instead.

Star Wars was both a blessing and a curse. It opened the floodgates to many more SF/F productions, but that meant we were seeing a lot more dross along with the gold (Adventures of Stella Star, anyone?) The same went with the music: everybody and their brother and sister were doing big special effects productions with bigger and bigger orchestral numbers. I’m sure that the studios would have been happy if they had been able to clone John Williams, but it lead to a certain sameness (and dullness) in the soundtracks.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien, both born in the post Star Wars-glut managed to avoid this for the most part. Both scores were courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith and featured the non-standard orchestration that attracted me to Planet of the Apes. While I might find some sequences of Star Trek: The Motion Picture tedious, I’ve never found the music to be tedious. Alien manages to creep me out, with or without the film as a back drop.

Another effort that stands out for originality was the Vangelis score for Blade Runner. Marrying sound effects, visuals, and a sweeping electronic score made a lasting impact on me. I cannot see a clip or still without thinking of the music or vice versa.

Along the cyberpunk end was the soundtrack to the animated film Ghost in the Shell and the soundtrack to the series of the same name. The film’s score is odd and atonal, the series features a lot of rock and jazz. Both have been permanently loaded on my iPod since I first bought it. The first Matrix movie (are there any others?) mixed both orchestral and rock to a good effect (I love watching the DVD with the music-only option, great pacing all the way through!).

I could mention many more: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Battlestar Galactica (the reboot), Stargate (any version) and more, but those are my key listens.

Derek Austin Johnson
Derek Austin Johnson‘s criticism has appeared in SF Site, RevolutionSF, Nova Express and Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. He lives in Central Texas with the Goddess.

Film soundtracks accompany action onscreen in order to evoke mood or emotion; they are not meant to stand alone. Yet often a soundtrack takes on a life of its own, taking on even more significance than the movie featured. Consider that, as a James Bond fan, I recall few details about the movie Tomorrow Never Dies (save for the fact that it completely wastes the talents of Michelle Yeoh), yet remember very clearly David Arnold’s exceptional score, from the opening gun barrel fanfare of “White Knight” to the slow fading notes of “All in a Day’s Work.” If it borrows too heavily from riffs from previous John Barry Bond soundtracks, it at least keeps the brio and energy of the best of Barry’s music alive.

So how do you get a soundtrack that, like an aural Frankenstein monster, lives beyond the movie that spawned it? As with any album or mix, track diversity helps a good deal. Stanley Kubrick chose Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “On the Beautiful, Blue Danube” for 2001: A Space Odyssey initially as temp tracks, but found they worked so effectively that they became integral to the movie itself.
The most famous track of John Williams’s score for Superman: The Movie is of course the “Theme from Superman,” but focusing on only it means one misses the haunting evocations of “The Planet Krypton” and the grandeur of “Leaving Home,” to say nothing of the almost comic beats of “The March of the Villains.” Williams’s work on Star Wars caused fanboys and general audiences alike to flock to their
local record stores, but The Empire Strikes Back, which added the foreboding “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” the eloquent “Yoda’s Theme,” and the almost saccharine “Han Solo and the Princess” to the Star Wars canon, turns out to be the superior work.

What is my favorite science fiction soundtrack? I’ll choose two from the 1980s. One is Vangelis’s Bladerunner, released finally in the 1990s. From the synthesizers that open “Main Titles (From Blade Runner)” and the desolate saxophone on “Blade Runner Blues” to the crecendoing use of synth and timpani on “Blade Runner (End Titles),” it never ceases to be worth sitting back and listening, despite
the fact that it (like the movie itself) is beginning to show its age. (Avoid the version released by the New American Orchestra in 1983. The notes are right, but the sound is completely wrong.) The other is Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for Metropolis, in which pop songs play over Fritz Lang’s tale of a man who dwells among the 99 percent, and a scientist who creates a hot Art Deco robot to disrupt their attempts at freedom. Granted, in many respects it’s even more dated than Vangelis’s Bladerunner soundtrack, but the individual tracks, from Freddie Mercury’s “Love Kills” to Cycle V’s “Blood from a Stone,” manage to hold up without the visuals.

Lisa Paitz Spindler
Lisa Paitz Spindler is a science fiction author, web designer, blogger, and pop culture geek. Her space opera novella, The Spiral Path, is available from Carina Press. Lisa maintains the Danger Gal Blog hosted by her alter ego, Danger Gal, whose stiletto heels are licensed weapons and whose ninja stars travel faster than light. Lisa, however, gets through each day on caffeine and science blogs. She also enjoys pina coladas, walking in the rain, and Battlestar Galactica marathons.

My all-time favorite SF/F movie soundtrack is Gladiator composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. Zimmer’s epic style captures the essence of the battle scenes while Gerrard’s haunting vocals offer a wonderful counterpoint, knitting together well the emotional turning points of the story.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring composed by Howard Shore, I also love the choral elements — from the all-male choir to Enya — which immediately transport me into another world.

James Horner’s soundtrack to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan early on evokes an 18th century naval spirit and at the end captures the marvel of the Genesis terraforming project as well as the hope it could bring for Spock’s return. Following this soundtrack with Horner’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock really shows the breadth of the story though.

I also enjoy listening to the Stargate original motion picture soundtrack with its sweeping opening overture to the smaller lilt of “The Coverstones,” a bit that I heard repeated often in the TV series. One of the unique aspects of this soundtrack is how the romanticism is meshed so well with such sweeping otherworldly landscapes.

Also, in a complete departure from everything I’ve said so far, The Matrix soundtrack is perfect for gearing up for the week on long Monday morning commutes accompanied by my trusty Starbuck’s, particularly “Spybreak” by The Propellerheads, Rob Dougan’s “Clubbed to Death” and Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” With that soundtrack, by the time I walk in the door I’m not just vertical, I’m actually awake.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
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14 Comments on MIND MELD: Our Favorite SF/F Movie and TV Soundtracks

  1. Love this! really great stuff.

  2. The first soundtrack to a genre movie or show I bought was the soundtrack to Back to the Future.

    Besides that and after that, I’ve been particularly taken by the soundtracks to Solaris, Inception, Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) and plenty of John Williams stuff.

  3. Some epic favourites of mine mentioned above… particularly Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica and Solaris.

    One missed off the list though, maybe cos it’s too new or it’s not from an epic movie, but Tron: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk is all kinds of superb.

  4. Love this Mind Meld and the answers! My favorites are:
    * The soundtrack for Gladiator. Lisa Gerrard is really special. She wrote the words for “Elysium” in her own made up language that she uses when she “speaks to God.” Beautiful and haunting.
    * Clint Mansell’s soundtrack for the film “The Fountain”
    * Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack for “Seirei no Moribito” and “Ghost in a Shell”
    * John Williams’ soundtrack for “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” especially “Princess Leia’s Theme”
    * Howard Shore’s soundtrack for the “Lord of the Rings” films

  5. Stephen J. // February 1, 2012 at 9:07 am //

    So glad somebody mentioned BABYLON 5! The music for that show was actually what got me *into* the show, when on a whim I listened to it at a used-CD sampler counter (this was back in the 1990s before I had Internet access) and was absolutely blown away by Franke’s techno-grandeur.

    For eerie, atmospheric gloom and power, though, Trevor Jones’ score for DARK CITY also has to be mentioned; and for energetic, joyful pulp, Alan Silvestri’s score for THE MUMMY RETURNS.

  6. How could I ever forget SOLARIS?? Cliff Martinez did a masterful job in minimalism with that soundtrack.

  7. I agree with _Back to the Future_

    Also how about _Flash_, _Barbarella_ (of course), and _Dune_

  8. I’ve always loved the 2001 soundtrack.
    Surprising that nobody mentioned the music for The Andromeda Strain. Search for it, interesting minimal electronic music concrete’.

  9. Bill from PA // February 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm //

    Don’t forget the pioneers in this category whose work holds up pretty well today.

    King Kong by Max Steiner – This is the earliest full SF / F score I can think of on a non-silent film and greatly contributes to the continued effectiveness of the film. It also offers a good example (in the Tyrannosaurus battle) of a scene where the score is correctly silent.

    Things to Come by Sir Arthur Bliss – The happy choice of a modern, but not too modern, British composer who manages to get the proper tone for this tale of a future British dystopia / utopia.

    The Bride of Frankenstein by Franz Waxman – This contains a lot of fantastic music, much of which was recycled quite effectively in the Flash Gordon serials.

    There’s also the outstanding scores composed by Bernard Hermann for The Day the Earth Stood Still, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts, and Fahrenheit 451.

  10. Nobody mentioned The Fifth Element soundtrack by Eric Serra! Shame, shame on you!

  11. Can’t forget the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack!

  12. D’oh! Thanks, Ted. I don’t know how I could’ve forgotten that.

  13. My favorite is the soundtrack to Ray Bradbury’s THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT, which has never been released on CD (and some Disney exec is burning in hell this very minute for that oversight).

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