The rejected score in Hollywood is a sad and all-too-common reality. Many people in the movie business get frustrated, misunderstood, and ultimately fired, and composers are no exception. And yet some of cinema’s most tantalizing scores are those that never made it to the screen.
A composer never chooses to displease his director and producers on purpose, of course. Movies are art, and art is open to interpretations. When the filmmakers’ interpretation diverges from that of their composer, issues will arise. If only the filmmakers were better at describing what they seek from a composer… but then again, if they knew how to “speak” the music language, they most likely wouldn’t even need a composer: they’d do the honors themselves (like Clint Eastwood and John Carpenter).
One of the most famous rejected score in recent history is Gabriel Yared’s Troy. Perhaps deemed too historically serious and cerebral, it was replaced by a glorious and accessible score by James Horner. Both are excellent at what they strived to do, but it’s a tragedy to Yared’s fans that his masterful approach was deemed unfavorable to box office success.
Also a crowning achievement is Graeme Revell’s The 13th Warrior. The exciting score exudes a certain Jerry Goldsmith vibe and is quite superb. And yet it was rejected and none other than Jerry Goldsmith himself was hired to replace it.
No amount of fame can protect a composer from the torments of the rejected score. Just ask legendary Elmer Bernstein how many scores he’s had rejected (ten!). Even maestro Ennio Morricone can misjudge a film. In What Dreams May Come, his approach to death and the afterlife was dead serious. The subject is extremely heavy, granted, but the filmmakers determined that Morricone’s somber opus would outright kill the audience. They hired Michael Kamen instead, who wrote a serious yet airy score brimming with romance.
Air Force One was gung-ho film about American heroism personified in its president. It inspired Randy Newman to write a tongue-in-cheek score with very subtle farcical tones that undermined the subject matter. According to Jerry Goldsmith, who replaced him, the filmmakers “caught him”.
But the greatest rejected score story of all time is Alex North’s 2001—A Space Odyssey. Trusting in his working relationship with Stanley Kubrick, North started scoring the film sequentially and made it about a third of the way through when he got a call from Kubrick saying that he’d done enough, claiming that the rest of the film would be scored with eerie breathing effects and other sounds. North attended the premiere, only to find the film scored with the classical music clips we all know. Not a note of his music was present! Although Kubrick’s decision did serve the film incredibly well, never telling North beforehand was a tactless act that soured the relationship for the end of their careers.
So many hard choices had to be made in cinema history, so many alternate versions that might have been. Who was right? Only our ears and a lot of imagination can hint at the answer.