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Best Original Score Oscar preview: John Williams’ ‘The Book Thief’

'The Book Thief' soundtrack


It is no wonder why he John Williams receives Academy Award nominations as often as he does. The films to which he contributes resonate with the viewer long after seeing them, which is largely due to the music (no disrespect for any directors). He creates scores that not only dig their way into the fabric of our being, but they possess life essences of their own and become living, breathing entities that become a part of our culture.

'The Book Thief' soundtrack by John Williams
Sony Classical

Yes, it is a cliché to bow at the altar of The Williams, but there is a very good reason for the flood of admiration. He truly is the best at what he does. He wields a power over the entire orchestra that is nigh inhuman. Does he have “the force”? Is he secretly a Hogwarts wizard? Or is he simply an adventurer, hyper-observant to the human condition and able to transmit all aspects of life into sound? We may never know the truth of it, but we can enjoy the fruits of his labor until recorded music is but a memory.

The Book Thief” is no exception to the Williams work ethic. Every instrument in his palette work as a team to build the aural story of the film. Some elements strike harder than others and weave through each other to lure the viewer/listener into its experience through purity, honesty, and neo-reality.

However, there is something about the score that hearkens strongly to his 1990 score for “Presumed Innocent.” Be it the instrumentation, chord progressions, or something between the notes, a striking similarity in some of the primary themes exists between the two. And this is really the one fault in Williams’ scores. He is constantly so deep within his own wheelhouse that whenever he records a new score, it becomes increasingly difficult not to hear musical similarities – be they short melodies, progressions, or instrumental pairings – that have been noteworthy in his previous works. In addition to the aforementioned “Presumed Innocent,” it may not be unusual for one to hear patterns reminiscent of “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Jaws 2,” and “Angela’s Ashes” within “The Book Thief.” At least he leapt the biggest hurdle and gave “The Book Thief” independence from “Schindler’s List.”

Regardless, Williams is a musical storyteller. Not only can he create characters through music, he builds the sets, paints the scenery, and makes the listener feel like he/she is experiencing the film all over again. And, like Alexandre Desplat, Williams has a fondness for mirroring reality with whimsy, which gives even his darkest scores a brave silver lining. “The Book Thief” is brooding, mysterious, suspenseful, and morose - a lot of darkness tempered by a soft air of curiosity. The root of this all results in the nasty little trick Williams plays on fans of his scores – he makes you WANT to see these films to find out how the puzzle fits together.

BUT CAN HE WIN? It’s probably an even money bet on Williams. You just never know when he’s going to rake in his sixth Oscar. With 49 lifetime nominations and currently trucking at the age of 82, the Academy may want to toss him one more before they no longer can. Of course, at that point, they’ll probably just name the award after him anyway.

Do you think John Williams will win?

The soundtrack to “The Book Thief” is currently available at iTunes, Amazon, and Amazon Digital.

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