4.) The Plot Device

High Fidelity. Empire Records. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. There are countless films about music, and naturally, they have awesome soundtracks. When Rob Gordon plays the Beta Band’s “Dry the Rain” in attempt to get customers to purchase their three EPs, he’s also selling viewers the High Fidelity soundtrack. Plot device soundtracks are ones built of songs referenced in their films, so integral to that they’re actually a part of the script itself.

These kinds of soundtracks aren’t exclusive to films that center around music, however. The soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the best selling albums of 2014, and that one falls right into this category. The soundtrack is a cassette tape carried by protagonist Peter Quill, and has a huge impact on the movie’s plot. This classic rock mix tape is sprinkled throughout the film to great effect, and with heavy hitters like David Bowie, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack sold so well.

Anyone who’s read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows how important music is to teen protagonist Charlie, and that importance is ever present in the 2012 film adaptation of the novel. The soundtrack is extremely well executed, even if it does diverge a bit from book readers’ expectations. Personally, I’m glad I could buy an album that featured the Smith’s “Asleep” without having to sob my way through the rest of the b-sides that make up Louder Than Bombs.

Plot device soundtracks can be the most powerful of all, because we can connect with them on so many levels. Not only do these tracks accent the film on an aesthetic level, they go on to give emotional weight to the characters listening to them.

5.) The Perfect Fit

Once in a while, by commission, meticulous selection, or a combination of the two, a soundtrack will be put together that perfectly compliments a film in every way imaginable. In 2003, before Twilight burned us out on vampires, Danny Lohner was tasked with creating the soundtrack for vampire action flick Underworld, and he knocked it out of the park. The soundtrack features overdriven guitars and industrial clashes from The Dillinger Escape Plan to Finch to Skinny Puppy. It also has its more somber tracks from the likes of David Bowie, Milla, and Lisa Germano. The soundtrack has all the grit of a leather-clad, Matrix-esque action thriller and enough heart to make you wish the movie itself had been better.

While we’re on the subject of grit and leather, perhaps the best example of the perfect fit soundtrack is a certain groundbreaking R-rated comic book movie. (No, I’m not talking about Deadpool.) 1994’s The Crow features a soundtrack made up of the darkest the 90s had to offer. It has an original track from The Cure. It has tracks by Helmet, Rage Against the Machine, Violent Femmes, and Stone Temple Pilots. And all of these songs fit into the film organically. The soundtrack is utilized in a way that gives the film more meaning than it had any right to have. Don’t get me wrong. The Crow’s story is touching, and it was made extremely well during a time when Hollywood had absolutely no idea how to make a comic book movie. But this soundtrack does much more work than most.

There’s one last film that deserves to be in any article about soundtracks. In fact, it deserves to be in any article about anything, because it’s just that great. Highlander. Highlander is a 1986 film about immortal men chopping each other’s heads off with broadswords in hopes to become the last immortal still standing, for a reason which is never adequately explained over the course of five films, a live-action TV series and a children’s animated series. Sean Connery is in it for some reason. More inexplicable is the story behind the soundtrack.

Every song on the soundtrack was composed by Queen specifically to match the tone of the film. Because the band actually wrote these songs with the film in mind, Highlander’s soundtrack allows many scenes to be incredibly moving, in spite of the film’s somewhat ridiculous premise. “Who Wants to Live Forever” is featured to chilling effect as protagonist Connor MacLeod copes with the reality that he will outlive everyone he loves. It’s a theme of the film that the acting and script fail to sell, but Freddy Mercury’s crooning vocals really get it across. In fact, this soundtrack may be the only reason this film, and franchise, ever got anywhere… so, a movie that inspires a band to write a soundtrack that makes the movie successful? Well, I guess that’s what “perfect fit” really means.

Related: Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2 Movie Review

 

Article by Jesse Mangan

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