Nerd School: Know Your Composer

by Joe on November 22, 2011

Nerds love movie scores. It’s as simple as that. It’s my own personal opinion that the film composer will be looked upon with as much reverence as the classical composers of the last 300 years. Now, the majority of the western world is aware of John Williams, and can probably hum any number of his famous scores, but how familiar are you with some of the other composers who help define the nerd cinema? Looks go through some of the biggies…


Basil Poledouris: This is not the first time I’ve written of the virtues of the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. I however would love to reiterate how Poledouris’ soundtrack to the 1984 film defined my love of film scores. Not to say Poledouris had been slacking in the genre. Known for his  epic and bombastic style replete with massive brass sections and rhythmic almost march style drumming, Poledouris’ scores turned Robocop from a cheezy satire on 80’s consumer culture into a seriously heart thumping action flick.I know it’s sad to say, but his career for me peaked in 1997 when he released one of the greatest scores of all time, Starship Troopers. It is also worth mentioning the score to The Hunt for Red October whose mixture of early 90’s Jack Ryan synth and Russian folk music really drum up the feelings of nostalgia for cold war thrillers. Sadly Poledouris died in 2006.

Best Cuts:

Conan the Barbarian: Prologue / Anvil of Crom

Though I mentioned this in my primer on Conan, the opening monologue and subsequent drums just prime you for Ah-nold in all his barbarian goodness.

Starship Troopers: Klendathu Drop

no single piece of music can encompass the feelings of patriotism, fear, and in a strange way irony quite like the action centerpiece from this movie.

James Horner: Do you like bagpipes? Well then you’ll love the quintessential sci-fi/fantasy composer of the 80’s. Seriously though, the 80’s and 90’s were the golden age of Horner’s style. His early works in genre including the awesome score for Battle Beyond the Stars, The best Star Trek score, The Wrath of Khan, and Krull. Later in the 80’s and early 90’s he hit with Aliens, Willow,  and The Rocketeer. Horner is all about the classic adventure score, which is designed to pump you up. However, that isn’t to say that his songs can’t have soul and depth.  Probably his most famous score is the oft imitated Braveheart, who’s theme is required to be played every time someone is trying to pump-up some underdogs.

Best Cuts:

Willow: Tir Asleen

A movie that benefits from the rose colored glasses of my youth, Willow’s single greatest asset is Horner’s Soundtrack. Tir Asleen is the song which we get to hear Madmartigan’s theme full blast. tune in to about 6:35 for my favorite part.

David Arnold: Though he has relatively few scores in the genre department, Arnold is best known for his  sci-fi score collaborations with Roland Emerich and Dean Devlin. The two best known of his scores, Stargate and Independence Day best exemplify the adventure science fiction soundtrack. Though both are very different, each carry their respective themes throughout the soundtrack making it difficult to pull out individual sings. Stargate is probably the better known of the two due to it’s use in the Stargate TV franchise. Here Arnold uses a middle Eastern motif to give the film a strange Lawerence of Arabia in Space vibe. ID4, as we colloquially call it, was the first in a series of blackbusters were we as American’s got to hate on foreigners (or in this case aliens). Arnold, who is British does an amazing job capturing a feeling of patriotism rising from the ashes of defeat. The only mistep in the score is that we never got a  Randy Quaid theme.

Best Cuts:

Sherlock: Main Theme

As I stated above David Arnold never really has recognizable themes. However his score for the updated Sherlock series is remarkably good being both playful and deadly, matching the main character’s portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Bear McCreary: Probably the newest Composer on my list is McCreary, who’s unique style of music has lent well to his successes in television.First coming to attention for his work on the “Battlestar Galactica” reimagining, McCreary has defined himself as having a very avaunt-garde  style. He’s creatively minimalistic and has a jonesing for bizarre foreign instruments. His career defining run on BSG continued on to his runs on the underrated “The Cape”, and “Human Target”. However his current run on “The Walking Dead” is shaping up to be pretty good as well.

Best Cut:

BSG: Admiral and Commander

Although I love the Cylon theme heard at the beginning of every episode, The father son theme in “Admiral and Commander” is so wonderfully ripped off of James Horner, I grin every time I hear it.

BSG:Prelude to War

great use of all of McCreary’s talents including his ability to pull in minimalism, weird instruments, and strange non-western sounds.


Sure I left plenty of people off the list, but who says I can’t talk about the in the future? Let me know who I should talk about…


Hear Joe every week on the Planet Arbitrary Podcast  or follow him on Twitter when he Live tweets Terra Nova every Monday @planetarbitrary

Read Joe’s other articles: Paranormal Activi3Thieving Sci-fiThe Walking Dead Primer, The Genre Problem, Star Trek Blu-rays 1 and 2 Doctor Who Season 6 Round Up, ConanPrimer, GOT COK: Casting Roundup 1 + 2, Trek in your Queue 1 and 2, Game of Thrones Primer II, Obama Trek Mutant Fatigue Sci-Fi A-Team Star Trek: A Different Generation, An Alternate History of the Doctor, Inn at the Crossroads interview, A Love Letter to Natalie Portman, Failed Star Trek Spinoffs, Thor Primer, Doctor Who Season 6 primer, A Game of Thrones Primer, More



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

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Anthony November 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm

You forgot how fitting listening to the Robocop soundtrack is whilst driving into Indianapolis.


harryhausen October 11, 2012 at 1:54 am

I miss Jerry Goldsmith. He was one of the greatest composers and he managed outstandingly in sci-fi as well. But I completely agree with the rest of your list. Had fun reading and listening to your article. Thanks!

PD: Maybe I miss also a reference to the James Horner’s infamous “parabará” 0:D


harryhausen October 11, 2012 at 1:56 am
harryhausen October 11, 2012 at 2:00 am

By looking for the link above I learned this was “influenced” by Wagner’s Parsifal



Joe October 11, 2012 at 9:54 am

Ah the parabara! totally forgot about that.


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