Isolated Scores

Does Anyone Listen to Isolated Scores?

Somebody, please explain to me the point of a DVD isolated score. Don’t get me wrong, I like isolated scores. It’s nice to hear Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Oscar-winning score for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD or Bernard Herrmann’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST performed in all their original glory, especially when the original soundtrack recording doesn’t exist (as in the Korngold) or is out of print (as in the Herrmann). I also think it’s great to study a score alongside its images to see what the composer was highlighting in a particular scene–whether it was the drama, the story, the emotion, the international workings of the characters, or some combination of all of the above. And it’s even better when it’s a pure isolated score, as opposed to a music and effects track.

But do most film music fans, much less the general film fan, actually use the isolated score feature, much less care? I write about film music for a living and I have a hard time getting excited about it. The thought of sitting through a film a second (or third, fourth, fifth…) time with just the music seems a little odd to me. If it was possible to jump from cue to cue, like chapters on the DVD itself, now that would be a different story. But without that capability, it’s frustrating to sit through lengthy patches of film with no sound or fast-forward and miss the beginning of a cue. Of course, you could write the timings down for each of the cues, but who wants to go to all that work? (Though I have.)

One of the best examples of an isolated score is Charlie Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT. On the 2003 DVD (now out of print), the entire score was put in a separate bonus feature. Granted, it’s a music and effects track, but the effects are minimal. For the most part, the score as it plays is rarely “marred” by dialogue, so, in effect, watching the film is like experiencing an isolated score. But for those of us who wanted a copy of the score by itself, this was a very welcome surprise, especially since the Oscar-winning score has never existed in anything remotely resembling a complete version.

The Twilight Time DVD label features isolated scores when possible, and Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox feature quite a few isolated scores on their discs already, as well as some other studios. I say more power to ’em! I wish every single DVD and Blu-ray release had one, if for no other reason than historical purposes. I just wonder what the appeal is.

What do you think of isolated scores? Do you use them?

  1. I think the “Hollow Man” DVD got it right: It had the isolated Jerry Goldsmith score, and when no music was playing, the composer talked about his involvement in the project, and shared thoughts about film scoring in general. Highly recommended!

  2. Goldsmith’s isolated scores were always well-done, especially on ‘Planet of the Apes’. I think the recent Alien blu-ray ones were fantastic, especially including the slate numbers and allowing you to jump from there.

    But one of the best reasons for them for me is to be able to listen to a score where not all of it appears on CD. For instance, the original ‘Alien’ reconstruction on the first Alien DVD in the 90s, or ‘The Omen’ which has a few cues not on Varese’s deluxe edition.

    1. Good point, Charlie. I agree about the selections not available on CD, though they’re usually not much. Then again, sometimes the elements are there for an isolated score (i.e., ROBIN HOOD) yet either no CD or not available for the CD when it released. Go figure.

      I have PLANET OF THE APES sitting here so I’ll make sure and check that out when I watch it. I’ve heard the ALIEN blu-rays are excellent as well.

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