Classics have one tendency: they keep coming back. Not only in the form of sequels, but also reboots and remakes. But very often, the subject matter is interpreted in a wholly different and darker way than what came before. When a new version calls for a darker mood, you can bet the music will be the first thing to change.
Certainly a more somber directional style is key, so is moody cinematography, not mentioning authentic performances, but if the music isn’t right, an attempt at a more serious interpretation of a classic can utterly fail and turn into farce.
Usually the darker result is applauded and effective, and in no way demeans the power of the original work. Case in point: Batman. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s riveting efforts on Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have been universally hailed as effective, compelling, and appropriately gritty. But their brilliance is no threat to the continued reputation of Danny Elfman’s original work, which is still celebrated as a masterpiece.
Sometimes, however, the original is so light-hearted and campy that a darker interpretation has no choice to rein it in and bring it back to the mood originally intended by the creators. Then, there are two possible outcomes. If the new version is successful and accepted as established canon, the music of the original loses all credibility becomes laughably dated. If we go further back in Batman’s history, we find this. Tim Burton’s successful endeavor in the late 80s, accompanied by Danny Elfman’s music, relegated once and for all Nelson Riddle’s original television work of the 60s to the ranks of “cheese.”
Scenario #2: if the new interpretation fails to outclass the original, the new version’s music will be utterly forgotten while the light-heartedness of the first one remains the accepted convention. This happened with the world of Oz. After remaining a classic for nearly 50 years, The Wizard of Oz had set a standard of children-oriented whimsies. When the sequel Return to Oz came out in 1985, people were shocked to see a darker vision of Oz, despite this one’s truer respect of the source material. Forgotten was the movie, its finely tuned direction and pace, its jaw-dropping special effects, and of course, its masterful score by David Shire.
New interpretations of classics will always flourish, and we, as audience, have the real power to decide which version (or versions) will be remembered and find themselves on even the most casual soundtrack collector’s shelf.