Dialogue vs Melody
How much melody can there be under dialogue?
It is common for directors to fear that melody will get in the way of the dialogue. This is an understandable concern, of course, since the coherence of the story relies in large part on the dialogue being assimilated by the audience.
Anything that gets in the way of the story should be cut or simplified, right?
However, an instrumental melody can be easily assimilated by the audience simulateously with dialogue. (Notice I said an instrumental melody here, more on this later.)
A good example is the helicopter ride in Jurassic Park, the scene where the main characters are chatting away in the helicopter on their way to the island.
Here is the music from that scene; “Journey to the Island” by John Williams.[audio:http://www.gettingthescore.com/audio/Journey-to-the-Island-clip.mp3]
As you can tell, this is music filled with clear melodic lines, rhythm and colour. Did you remember the music from this scene? Did you even remember there was music in this scene? Perhaps not and that is exactly the point!
Audience members are completely able to assimilate melody and dialogue all at once because they do not step on each other’s toes!
Songs, on the other hand, do step into the dialogue’s territory because our minds are naturally drawn to the voice and will attempt to understand the lyrics and dialogue all at once… not always successfully. Oh, it’s still possible to have songs under dialogue, but approach with caution!
Off-screen dialogue requires more care while underscoring. Dialogue without the reinforcement of facial expressions and lip movement requires a bit more effort to be clearly understood, and thus the music must make a special effort to stay out of the dynamic range of the speaker’s voice and avoid sweeping melodic statements.
But then again, perhaps a big sweeping statement is exactly what is needed!
PS: Could this Jurassic Park scene have worked well without music? I don’t believe so. The music was important to this scene at this point in the movie especially because it was all dialogue.
You see, this scene occurs during the journey to the island, but the sitting down dialogue could have easily negated the feeling of excitement and anticipation which was required at this point in the film, otherwise the momentum would have been lost. Gotta love a good use of film music!