Hasitha Fernando on the top ten rejected film scores…
Hans Zimmer once famously quipped that, ‘You haven’t made it as a film composer until you’ve had a film score rejected.’ Hollywood plays nasty like that. So much so that having a film score kicked to the curb, at least once in your career, has become a norm. Nearly every major film composer has gone through this harrowing ‘rite of passage’ and no one (with the exception of maestro John Williams) has been immune to it. So, without further ado here are a list of 10 film scores that got rejected, in no particular order.
1. 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) – Alex North
One of the most influential film composers in the 50’s and 60’s Alex North played a pivotal role in shaping the Hollywood soundscape back in the day. Crafting the first all-jazz film score in 1951 for Elia Kazan’s A Street Car Named Desire, the musician’s next stint for Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 historical drama Spartacus instantaneously cemented him as one of the greats of his era. Integrating modernism with the typical film music leitmotif structure, North created rich themes that resonate with audiences even to this day. A perfect example for this would be his Oscar nominated song ‘Unchained Melody’. Eight years after Spartacus, Kubrick commissioned North to create the score for his seminal classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The visionary director wanted the film to be essentially a non-verbal experience, in which its score played the integral role of evoking the mood or setting. However, quite infamously Kubrick ditched North’s music, in favor of the film’s temp-track composed of classical pieces, and the rest, as they say, is history. Later in 1993 the entire original score was released from Varèse Sarabande Records, produced by North’s friend and colleague Jerry Goldsmith. In January 2007, Intrada Records issued 3000 copies of a limited-edition CD featuring North’s original recording of the score from 1968. For what its worth, North’s effort was quite a good one, but the score’s overt similarity to sword-and-sandal epics of its time certainly would have robbed 2001: A Space Odyssey of its now timeless quality, so I suppose Kubrick made the correct call after all.
2. The Exorcist (1973) – Lalo Schifrin
To this day The Exorcist remains the only horror film to be nominated in the Best Film category of the Academy Awards, and for good reason. The groundbreaking movie went onto become the bench-mark of modern-day horror, which inevitably lead it to being aped by less talented creatives aiming to make a quick buck. Hence, the multitude of sequels, prequels, rip-offs and spin-offs it spawned. It’s director William Friedkin famously first approached the legendary Bernard Herrmann to see if he might be up to scoring The Exorcist. After a disastrous screening session with Herrmann, Friedkin next went to another up-and-coming big name in film scoring, Lalo Schifrin.
Once again, even after clearly communicating his requirement to Schifrin, the director ended up being disappointed. Instead of the small-scale chamber music Friedkin wanted, what he ended up getting was extremely loud, brass-heavy pieces which didn’t mesh with his vision. Much like Kubrick, Friedkin too ended up using the temporary score he’d put together. Nevertheless, if you thought that Schifrin’s effort was sub-par, think again. The spine-tingling effort is nightmare fuel of the first water, but perhaps it was a tad bit aggressive for the director’s liking and having seeing the film it becomes clear why Friedkin rejected it.
3. Mission: Impossible (1996) – Alan Silvestri
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Bruce Geller’s 1966 TV classic Mission: Impossible, was one of the biggest box-office hits of 1996. It catapulted Tom Cruise to super stardom and kick-started one of Hollywood’s most enduring mega-franchises. But the behind-the-scenes process of adapting elements of the TV show into a film proved to be quite the challenge, as neither actor/producer Tom Cruise, director Brian De Palma nor the multiple screenwriters involved could come to an agreement on what they wanted with their film.
Hot off his Academy Award nomination for 1994’s Forrest Gump, Silvestri was a much sought-after talent at that point, so him being hired for this gig was kind of a no-brainer. But one thing inevitably led to another, and Silvestri got replaced by Danny Elfman during post-production by Cruise. Listening to the 20 odd minutes of rejected music written by Silvestri, all these years later, you realize that even though it’s a solid effort the 80’s esque synth-heavy soundtrack -replete with wailing electric guitars- just didn’t work in the context of De Palma’s cold war style espionage drama.
4. Troy (2004) – Gabriel Yared
Ridley Scott’s Gladiator ushered in a historical drama renaissance of sorts in the early 2000s, with each major film studio clamoring to capitalize on the opportunity as fast as possible and all at once. By 2004 this has reached a saturation point where three tentpole films namely, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy were released during the same year. The German film director’s Trojan war reimagining was the most successful of the trio that year, but that didn’t stop it from having its fair share of behind-the-scene dramas, as with most big-budget movies. The most infamous element of the film’s arduous development process was undoubtedly its soundtrack.
Petersen approached Academy Award-winner Gabriel Yared a good year before the film’s scheduled release, impressed by the musician’s creative outputs in the past. Not having tackled a project of this magnitude Yared poured his heart and soul into it, going to the extent of assembling 100-piece orchestra and hiring a Bulgarian chorus to recreate an authentic Eastern-European sound. But alas, a few disastrous screenings later the talented musician was given the proverbial boot, and the gig went to veteran film composer James Horner, to craft a score in under two weeks. Yared didn’t take this firing lightly, composing a lengthy letter highlighting the circumstances of his sudden expulsion from the Troy movie. As unorthodox as this move was, it’s understandable considering the effort he put in. Nevertheless, the bootleg release of Yared’s work-which harkens back to historical epics of yesteryear- makes for a truly fascinating listen giving us a brief glimpse, to what could have been.
5. The 13th Warrior (1999) – Graeme Revell
Following the massive success of Jurassic Park and its sequel Jurassic Park: The Lost World, studios were on the look out to adapt more of Michael Crichton’s properties. Enter Eaters of the Dead, a 1976 novel following the fictionalized experiences of a real-life 10th century Muslim Arab who travels with a group of Vikings to the North, to take part in a hero’s quest. The concept was promising on paper, for certain, but somewhere down the line, when adapting the property, the project fell apart. The production was riddled with innumerable creative differences leading to multiple re-shoots, edits and replacement of its musical score. Naturally the film’s budget ballooned to disastrous proportions and the botched end- product was met with a very mixed response by critics.
The rejected musical score was composed by Graeme Revell, then a rising talent known for the eclectic soundtrack he created for 1994’s The Crow. When Basil Poledouris of Conan the Barbarian fame turned down the initial offer, director John McTiernan next turned to Revell and on McTiernan’s request the composer conjured an admirable ethnically charged score featuring a multiple array of exotic instruments. Of course, one can say that Crichton made the right decision recruiting Jerry Goldsmith to redo the score, which is damn good in its own right, but one wonders how well Revell’s contribution would have worked in the context of McTiernan’s originally intended film.
6. Torn Curtain (1966) – Bernard Herrmann
Ah yes, the film that ended maestro Bernard Herrmann’s and the uber-talented Alfred Hitchcock’s long standing professional relationship. He wrote the scores for seven of Hitchcock’s most popular films including Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho over a period of a decade. Sadly, this fruitful association fell apart with the polarizing 1966 Cold War political-thriller Torn Curtain.
While Hitchcock and the studio wanted a pop-and-jazz influenced soundtrack – even hoping against hope that Herrmann would write a song lead actress Julie Andrews to perform- what they ended up getting failed to appeal to either party. British composer John Addison stepped in to provide the requirement that Herrmann failed to deliver, but the latter’s unused score gained a greater popularity amongst film score enthusiasts and has so far been re-recorded and re-issued several times over the years. It’s hard to decide which effort works best in the context of the movie, but as far as popularity is concerned Herrmann’s venture, of course, takes the prize.
7. Gangs of New York (2002) – Elmer Bernstein
Composer Elmer Bernstein has had his share of rejected scores through his five-decade long career, notably with The Journey of Natty Gann and The Scarlet Letter. The story goes, that Bernstein sent a letter to actress-producer Demi Moore thanking her for rejecting the score for The Scarlet Letter so he could use it in a better movie. While The Scarlet Letter was a great score in its own right one of the more baffling omissions was Scorsese’s rejection of Bernstein’s score for Gangs of New York, considering the multiple successful collaborations they’ve had in the past.
Bernstein’s expressive, Celtic-esque score would have suited the 19th century setting perfectly, but it was thrown out of the window in favour of a temp track which mainly featured excerpts from a Howard Shore concert piece called “Brooklyn Heights”. If industry rumours are to be believed this score rejection apparently took place due to the insistence of one Harvey Weinstein. And back in the day Weinstein had a tremendous say in the projects he was involved with. Still, it’s downright depressing that a musician of Bernstein’s calibre, who composed some of the most instantly recognizable themes in Hollywood history, had to undergo this form of demeaning treatment on numerous occasions in the first place. Quite sad really.
8. Air Force One (1997) – Randy Newman
In the 90s Jerry Goldsmith was the go-to guy for scoring pulse pounding action music. The guy had the knack of instantly recognizing the requirement of a film and delivering the appropriate soundscape for it. As such, he composed the brassy, arousing score for Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One, with the assistance of his protégé Joel McNeely in just twelve days. But how did that particular situation come about? Well, initially Randy Newman, a composer more known for his associations with animated film, was commissioned to craft a suitably patriotism instilling soundtrack for Air Force One.
However, Petersen thought his compositions resembled a ‘parody’ of the high-octane, political action thriller he had created, and thus Newman’s effort was canned. Later Petersen had this to say about his decision, “It has nothing to do with the quality of the music, Randy’s one of the greatest in the business, and a hugely talented man. We all know that. But it was not my taste, and finally I had to make that decision.” While Newman’s rejected music is an exhilarating listen on its own, revisiting the property does make one understand why the director did what he did; it simply didn’t work.
9. Timeline (2003) – Jerry Goldsmith
This critically panned mess of a film based on one of Michael Crichton’s novels briefly reunited composer Jerry Goldsmith with director Richard Donner, who helmed the little 1976 religious horror film called The Omen. Their first collaboration blessed Goldsmith with an Academy Award for Best Original Score as well as a nomination for his chilling ‘Ave Satani’ song. The same fortune however, did not carry over to their next venture which was 2003’s Timeline.
Although Goldsmith produced a sweeping, powerful score infused with romanticism and adventure, it was dropped in favour of a completely new effort by Brian Tyler when the movie underwent heavy re-edits and alterations in post-production. Goldsmith who was ailing at that time declined the offer to retool his existing music, so his effort was shelved. While it can be said that Goldsmith’s final work being unused by Donner was a blessing in disguise, considering the film’s disastrous reception, we can at least be grateful that it was released officially as an album to be appreciated by his fans.
10. What Dreams May Come (1998) – Ennio Morricone
Italian composer Ennio Morricone pretty much re-shaped the soundscape of the Western singlehandedly through his haunting compositions for Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. Now considered one of the most prolific film composers of all time even this legendary musician had to endure the embarrassment of having his complete score rejected.
With the surreal fantasy-drama film undergoing multiple editorial changes during post-production and the producers pining for a more accessible score than Morricone’s emotionally heavy product, Michael Kamen was hired to conjure a completely new sound for the movie. Kamen used the song “Beside You” featured in his band’s 1971 album ‘Roll Over’ and adapted it as the film’s main theme, crafting a simple but effective score in a span of three weeks. If you are a connoisseur and seek a more emotional, thematically rich sound, reach out for Morricone’s output… if not Kamen is the man for you.
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.