Would You Like to Watch Movies Without Their Score?

By  · Published on November 13th, 2014

Warner Bros.

A lot of people love the music in Gravity. Our review agreed that “Steven Price’s gorgeous and terrifying score only tie[s] up the film’s peerless technical package.” It even won the Oscar in that category. But there are also a lot of people who hate the music. And then there are people who like the score on its own but aren’t particularly fond of its use in the movie. The main reason given is that Gravity begins with titles regarding the lack of sound in space (not that non-diegetic things should ever be a weight on authenticity). For them, Warner Bros. is looking out. This February, the studio is releasing a two-disc Diamond Luxe Edition Blu-ray of Gravity, which is mostly being touted for its Dolby Atmos audio but which also offers the choice to watch the movie sans score.

Called the “Silent Space Version,” this option is labeled a “surprising cinematic experiment.” As far as I can tell, it’s the first of its kind. For a modern sound film release, anyway (for silent cinema, you just mute the whole thing, especially if you’re watching some bad public domain copy). While there are plenty of DVDs and Blu-rays that allow you to watch a movie with just the score, I can’t find any others where you can isolate all except the music. I mean, why would there be? Are there any other movies where we’d want that? In response to the Blu-ray, The Guardian compiled a short list of movies they’d like to see without their soundtracks, including Titanic, Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible II and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (obviously the list is just a bad joke). Commenters on the post add Midnight Run, Scarface, Contact, The Right Stuff and others.

Thinking about anything without its score, no matter how bad we think it is, has to remind us of this funny video of Star Wars minus the John Williams music:

Well, how about some alternate scores and soundtracks? Again, silent cinema has plenty, especially Metropolis, which for some reason hasn’t been made available in a package featuring at least the original Gottfried Huppertz, the cult classic Giorgio Moroder version and the popular newer Alloy Orchestra score as separate audio track options. Not that it matters too much to play the audio from a different source (the Alloy Orchestra one is available on CD) when the score is the only soundtrack. Whereas, for instance, it’s not easy to play the CD of Alex North’s unused 2001: A Space Odyssey score while watching the movie, because you can’t turn off the music Stanley Kubrick went with instead (you can find YouTube clips where it’s synched to mostly dialogue-free sequences, but you still lose sound effects and apemen yelling in some). I’d love for Fox to put out a disc with the choice of hearing the North score mixed into the film.

Related would be the option to be able to go back and forth between the different versions of Touch of Evil, but there it’s not just a matter of the soundtrack being different and swapping out the Henry Mancini score in the famous intro for the diegetic audio version of the 1998 reconstruction made based on Orson Welles’s notes. The whole movie has been recut. The same goes for Ridley Scott’s Legend, which you can find in theatrical release form with the Tangerine Dream score and the extended director’s cut with music instead by Jerry Goldsmith, both versions on the same DVD but not where you can interchange the soundtrack because they’re different cuts of the movie. It’s the same with Scott’s Blade Runner, where it’d be fun to go back and forth with the voiceover narration, but again the audio isn’t the only thing changed in the director’s cut.

Speaking of voiceover, though, could that be another thing we’d like to remove via audio option on a Blu-ray? I know there are some who’d like to watch Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby without Tobey Maguire’s narration or would prefer to not hear Christopher Evan Welch’s voice in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona or might better enjoy Jason Reitman’s new movie, Men, Women & Children, minus the unnecessary exposition from Emma Thompson. Of course, a lot of voiceover narration is awful but still not exactly redundant or useless for the storytelling, and without it you could be missing something. One brief voiceover moment that isn’t narration that should always be up for excising: Lois Lane’s inner monologue during Superman.

Now, let’s pretend you could eliminate or change other elements of a movie besides the more easily switched audio tracks. A version of each of the Star Wars prequels where you can watch without Jar-Jar Binks? Same with the Thor movies and Kat Dennings? And maybe that new Gravity disc can have a version without a certain fake-out moment? Letting viewers delete characters and scenes at will starts to be too much of an interactive experience, if it were possible, but there was a time when DVDs were making attempts at various user-generated options, including the opportunity to watch scenes from different camera angles. Maybe the new Gravity Blu-ray is the first step back in that direction. In that case what would you like to be able to control, alternate or “fix” with a special bonus feature of a movie?

Related Topics:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.