Silent hallows


Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with my housemates.  Others who are much more qualified than I to talk about film have commented on the many things to like, dislike and puzzle over, and I am sure fan sites are full of people comparing every line of dialogue, item of clothing and significant glance to the book.  However, one thing really struck me, and that was a particular brilliance in the soundtrack.  In terms of music, a good job was done throughout.  However, I did not often notice the specifics of the music in the score (other than a particularly apt use of Hedwig’s Theme), but I did notice that somebody – perhaps Alexandre Desplat (the composer), perhaps David Yates (the director), perhaps someone else – displayed great wisdom about moments when the score was not needed at all. So many films and television shows these days have constant background music, and in some cases it threatens to overwhelm the sounds in the foreground, including unimportant little things like dialogue.  Doctor Who is particularly guilty of this.  Murray Gold’s music in the episodes is uniformly brilliant, but it’s often very obtrusive to the point you wish it would just stop (which, in one episode where we had a view from the vacuum of space, it did). 

In Deathly Hallows, the score is used sparingly, and is so much more effective for it.  Poignant and scary moments are not telegraphed to the viewer, leaving us to decide how to react.  Film scores can often tell us, generally subconsciously, how we are supposed to be feeling at any given moment – tense, excited, elated, depressed.  But some of the most effective moments in the film were carried out in silence, or at least with no intrusions from the invisible orchestra.  Footsteps, breathing and real background sounds came through with unusual clarity in these moments.  I found that the silence somehow added to the tension in a certain scene set at Godric’s Hollow, and at other times the emptiness of the soundscape echoed the way in which the characters themselves felt spent and empty.  The film is a perfect example of the ‘less is more’ maxim (or at least, less can be more) applied to movie music.

When the film comes out on DVD, I would be quite tempted to watch it through paying particular attention to the score and the moments when it is not present.  This would, I believe, be an absolutely fascinating experience.  If I took nothing else away from it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 showed me that silence really can be golden.

    • Trish
    • November 25th, 2010

    I will be paying especial attention to the soundtrack now when I go and see it! I think the right soundtrack can make or break a film.

    The soundtracks I like best are unobtrusive and add to the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. Sometimes (such as in this case) parts of the film are better without any background music at all.

    The worst ones can ruin it altogether – I am thinking particularly of some romantic comedies/children’s films where syrupy sweet background music can make the film seem a bit tacky and low budget when actually it is quite a good story.

    It also surprises me that quite often in films nowadays they don’t seem to pay enough attention to the clarity of the dialogue – it can be quite muffled sometimes. It is no good having amazing costumes, scenery and special effects if the viewer is missing occasional words that the main characters are saying. (On the other hand it could just be time to get my ears syringed again).

  1. I enjoyed paying attention to the (lack of) soundtrack when I went to see the film following your review. You’re right (of course!). It was well done.

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