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The Music of Fantasy Cinema by Janet K. Halfyard (review)

From: Notes
Volume 70, Number 1, September 2013
pp. 111-113 | 10.1353/not.2013.0131

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

As the study of film music continues to grow and become more welcomed in mainstream musicology, several series have been created specifically to discuss various genres of media and their related music. One of these is Genre, Music, and Sound, published by the relative newcomer Equinox Publishing Ltd., founded in 2003. The series, listed under the topic of popular music on their Web site (https://www.equinoxpub.com/equinox/books/browse.asp?serid=34, accessed 15 March 2013), is designed to offer conference-style articles on various topics within a particular grouping. As a volume within this collection, the focus of The Music of Fantasy Cinema is not to provide a thorough background for the realm of fantasy film music; rather, it aims to present specific research on individual movies and their music. In addition, as with other entries in the series, the more international flavor of the book means that some of the cultural aspects discussed may not be familiar to the typical American moviegoer (as in, for example, Philip Hayward’s “Numinous Ambiance: Spirituality, Dreamtimes and Fantastic Aboriginality,” which considers Australian Aboriginal culture as related to the music and sounds of Peter Weir’s The Last Wave). The volume is intended for graduate-level media and film music students or higher; those who do not have a reasonable background in media studies should look elsewhere.

The Music of Fantasy Cinema contains eleven articles on movies ranging from 1958 to 2010, though only the first article deals with movies from before 1977. Editor Janet Halfyard states in her introduction that she sees several themes that form a thread throughout the book, including a shift toward the use of popular music and a way “to see clearly the manner in which fantasy and its musical strategies have changed over time” (p. 10). At first glance, however, this collection of articles does not appear to present these or any other particular themes or ideas to connect all of the chapters together. The articles are too limited in scope to give a true representation of all fantasy films, especially considering that, as Halfyard herself admits, the text does not include articles on what she describes as “grand epic fantasy” (p. 8), that is, films such as those of the Lord of the Rings series. In addition, though several of the articles do in fact discuss popular music as used in the films (for example, Lee Barron’s “Fantasy Meets Electronica: Legend and the Music of Tangerine Dream”), the inclusion of three of the last four chapters focusing on orchestral music in a book that presents the articles in chronological order does not support the editor’s assertion of an overall shift toward popular music scores.

One strong theme in the book, however, and in fact an overall strength, is the discussion of fantasy as a genre. As those who enjoy fantasy in its various forms know, defining what it entails can be tricky. Should it just include standard sword-and-sorcery stories, or should the scope be broader? If the scope is broader, what percentage of fantastical elements needs to appear in order for it to qualify? Are there certain quantifiable components of the plot that can be used to determine whether or not the story as a whole should be branded as fantasy? Halfyard takes a broader approach, including comic book heroes (Ben Winters’ “Super man as Mythic Narrative: Romanticism and the ‘Oneiric Climate’ ”), adventure stories (Janet K. Halfyard and Victoria Hancock’s “Scoring Fantasy Girls: Music and Female Agency in Indiana Jones and The Mummy Films”), and stories that mix elements of fantasy and science fiction (Janet K. Halfyard’s “Superconductors: Music, Fantasy and Science in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). Perhaps in order to substantiate this broader context, though, several of the volume’s authors, including Halfyard, Mark Brill (“Fantasy and the Exotic Other: The Films of Ray Harryhausen”), Liz Giuffre (“Entering the Labyrinth: How Henson and Bowie Created a Musical Fantasy”), and Alexander G. Binns (“Music and Fantasy Types in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands”), take great pains to describe how their films fit within the fantasy realm, quoting works by authors such as Joseph Campbell, Alec Worley, Katherine...

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