John Barry’s shadow and the David Arnold debate

John Barry

John Barry

A Jan. 4 story on the MI6 James Bond fan Web site saying Thomas Newman rather than David Arnold will be scoring Skyfall renewed debate among 007 fans about the quality of Arnold’s work. Once more there were arguments whether a new composer is needed for the film series.

First a major caveat: the move hasn’t been confirmed yet. Many Web sites summarized the MI6 report, but a quick look through those stories didn’t indicate that any of them actually confirmed MI6’s story. They’ve been more concerned with analyzing what it means. There’s also been no official announcement about a composer for the 23rd James Bond film. The official 007 Twitter feed has only been doing “this day in Bond history” the past few days.

Arnold, who turns 50 on Jan. 23, is the only composer other than John Barry to work on more than one Bond film in the series produced by Eon Productions. The likes of Bill Conti, Marvin Hamlisch, Eric Serra and others got to do one but were never asked back.

Barry, who died last year at age 77, still casts a long shadow over the series musically. He worked on 12 Bond films. He arranged the James Bond Theme in Dr. No and composed the scores for 11 more, ending with 1987’s The Living Daylights. Paul Scrabo’s Bond Memories video series last year reported on a screening of You Only Live Twice (which featured one of Barry’s best scores in the series) in Suffern, N.Y.. Barry’s memory was a big part of the proceedings. (Disclosure: Scrabo complimented a recent post on this blog and Gary Firuta, a speaker you’ll see in the video, is a friend of HMSS, providing invaluable help on a recent story about Bond movie scripts):

Arnold in the 1990s re-recorded John Barry songs from the Bond movies, giving them a contempory revamp. That helped get him the job of scoring 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies and remained in place through 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Arnold divides fans. His supporters say he’s carrying on the Barry tradition while adding a modern flavor. His detractors say he’s the musical equivalent of an empty suit, that there’s no there there. You can sample the arguments yourself at this thread on the MI6 Web site’s message board or this thread on the Commander Bond message board.

Assuming Newman does score Skyfall — he has worked several times with Skyfall director Sam Mendes — it will be interesting to see what direction the debate takes. Can Newman, part of a family dynasty of movie composers, satisify the Arnold detractors and/or supporters? Will Newman veer from the Barry music template? You would think yes, but that’s hardly guaranteed.

6 Responses

  1. Personally I’m disappointed. Arnold was always going to have a tough job as he will always be compared with Barry, but his scores for the last two films have been excellent. Yes, I do miss the John Barry sound sometimes, but appreciate all the more in the films he did score. And let’s face it, the ONLY good thing about Quantum of Solace was the soundtrack – not the theme song though.

  2. Agreed. Comparing Arnold to Barry is like comparing Moore to Connery – it’s not exactly apples to apples, and probably not really fair. David Arnold was the first post-Barry composer who I enjoyed and wished for his return (much more than Hamlisch, Conti, or Serra). I thought his scores for all five of his Bond entries were right on the mark, and each track seemed to accurately reflect for mood of the film, and of the scene. His Quantum score reflected the brooding tone of the film (for better or worse), while tracks like ‘Caviar Factory’ reflected the fun, not-so-serious, tongue in cheek style of that set-piece (again, for better or worse), and I think his Casino Royale score contributed greatly to elevate that film to new heights. Personally, I wish the film-makers would stop trying to fix what aint broken.

  3. Clearly you haven’t heard: Internet forums don’t have to account for anything they say; they are self-authenticating! (Don’t take my word for it, just ask ’em.)

  4. As an ardent Bond and Barry fan since the year dot, I’m surprised that Arnold has been allowed to stay at the helm for so long. Comparisons to John Barry are unfair – that’s true. But what is also true is that whilst I can instantly recognise and name all of the soundtrack cues composed by George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Eric Serra and even Monty Norman – there are very few pieces composed by Dave (or is it David these days?) Arnold that I can remember.

    He has added nothing “new” since he took over scoring duties on Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s definitely time for a change.

    Natalie Portman would be my choice. Anyone who’s interested can Google her for a list of the films she has scored. A lot of it is similar to Barry’s non- Bond work.

    Anthony Clark

  5. OOPS. I think I meant to type RACHEL Portman.

  6. As much as I LOVE John Barry, I had to say, that his weakness was always action music, in the case of the Bond films, action was a major part of the plot, and sometimes his action music was not wright, we had to accept Barry was no Goldsmith. But for romance music or drama music, Barry was the king!, no one was better than him, well, perhaps Delerue or Morricone.
    In the case od David Arnold I have never liked his music, is forgettable 100%, so I think Thomas Newman is a much better choice for the next film!

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