Thursday, 3 March 2011

Score Review: LOST - Season 1 (Michael Giacchino)

At 10pm on Tuesday 2nd May 2006, I sat down to watch an episode of TV that would entirely change the way that I think about TV, film, music and storytelling in general.

This episode was the season two premiere of LOST. I had only ever heard snippets about LOST before, and it was only through my sister's insistence that I gave it a chance. After having watched this episode, I then proceeded to watch the second episode of the season immediately after. I then watched the third episode immediately after that on E4. The following week, I managed to watch the entire first season on DVD (that's 25 episodes, or 1025 minutes) in time for the fourth episode the next Tuesday.

So began my love affair with LOST.

It was one hell of a rollercoaster ride, with many, many ups, but also some disappointments. However, the one thing that stayed constant, never for a second dipping in quality, was Michael Giacchino's groundbreaking, and heartbreaking, soundtrack. Before I properly start this review, I feel I need to give an idea of the scale of what Giacchino achieved.

Howard Shore wrote almost 594 minutes of music for the famously long Lord Of The Rings Trilogy over a time period of just under 4 years.
John Williams, considered by many to be the greatest Hollywood composer of all time, composed music for 790 minutes of Star Wars footage for the six films over a number of years, spanning decades.

Over six years, whilst juggling a number of other scores such as the Academy Award winning UP, Michael Giacchino wrote more than 5,000 minutes of original score for LOST. However, unlike most TV scores, Giacchino's effort was not some half-hearted attempt at spooky background music with no structure or relevance. Again with the scale:

All three composers frequently use the Wagnerian Leitmotif idea in their scores, giving characters, locations and ideas their own 'themes', providing an emotional undercurrent that links parts of what is seen on screen through the music. For example, in Fellowship of The Ring during the council scene, the Gondorian Theme is heard as Boromir speaks of his homeland. This same theme is then heard in a grander form as Gandalf and Pippin ride across the borders of Gondor in Return of the King.

In Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings, roughly 90 themes and motifs are introduced and developed over the course of the three films.
In the Star Wars Bi-Trilogy(?!), John Williams uses approximately 50 themes and motifs.

For LOST, Michael Giacchino wrote at least 156 themes and motifs throughout the show's run. For a Hollywood movie, that number of themes is just plain ridiculous, let alone for a 40-minute a week TV show.

Over the past six years, an album has been released for each season, plus another for the very last episodes of the show. Including double albums, that's 10 CDs of music that have been released. Today, I'm just going to review the first CD, Season One.

This soundtrack album is very definitely a basic introduction to the music of LOST. Despite the many character themes that were originally introduced in the season, many of these won't be heard on CD until much later. The main themes introduced on this particular CD are, quite simply, the main themes. This includes the 'Survivors' theme, a simple lament that acts as the main theme for the series and has at least 30 variations on the CD releases alone, even including an asian-flavoured variation for the characters of Jin & Sun later on in this CD. The second of the major themes is the 'Life and Death' theme, a gorgeous, and very interesting piano piece, that will combine with different character themes on later releases when the character in question dies. Both of these themes relate to the quieter, character-based side of LOST.

However, the true stand-outs on the Season One release are the terrifying chase cues. For his work on LOST, Giacchino decided to strictly limit his musical pallette to a select ensemble of instruments. Whilst the entire range of stringed instruments are here, Giacchino decided to get rid of all brass instruments other than the trombone. If Giacchino ever wants a trumpet-like sound, he simply mutes uses a muted trombone instead. Giacchino also makes some interesting choices regarding percussion, including the frequent use of plane wreckage from the show played in a surprisingly varied number of ways. This combination makes for some truly spine-trembling action cues, especially so for the 'Monster' scenes:

In fact, this is the only CD in the LOST collection that is truly scary to listen to for the majority of the time, with the soundtrack leaning more towards Indiana Jones-like mystery and adventure themes later on in the series. A perfect example of the juxtaposition of the emotional and the unsettling exists on the last track of the CD, 'Oceanic 815'. This track starts with the 'Survivors theme' and gradually segues into a simple variation of the 'Life and Death' theme. As the two themes start to play together, it is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire soundtrack. However, things take a turn for the worse as the Survivors draw close to the now-legendary 'Hatch':

The video above also shows just how important Giacchino is to LOST. It is often the case that all dialogue is taken out of a scene and Giacchino's music is left to play out the episode, as will be made even more obvious in the final 8 minutes of the series EVER, which feature only one single line of dialogue and a whole lotta Giacchino.

The character themes that are lucky enough to be introduced in this release are almost entirely John Locke-centric, and deservedly so, as Locke had his best music in the very first season of the show whilst we were still trying to figure out his motivations and his origins. His themes range from his downright awesome 'Hunter' theme on 'Crocodile Locke'... his almost unbearably tragic main theme heard in 'Locke'd Out Again'...

Speaking of ridiculous track names, Giacchino excels with his titles on this and all of his LOST releases including such classics as 'Run Like, Um... Hell?', 'Booneral', 'Shannonigans', 'Thinking Clairely', 'Getting Ethan'.... I think you get the gist now. Other character themes include Claire and Charlie's sweet 'Friendship' theme, as well as Kate's mysterious, Bernard Herrmann-influenced theme, and Hurley's absolutely brilliant 'Fat-Man-Running' theme:

Overall, this soundtrack really encapsulates everything that is important about the show and, if I were reviewing this as it first came out, I wouldn't doubt giving it a perfect 10. However, having heard the later soundtracks and where Giacchino takes the music from here, I think I shall have to lower it a bit to give them some room:

Rating: 9.0


  1. Yay for me! Without me you would not have known the beauty of Lost. At least there's one thing I'm good for!

  2. My Introduction to lost was similar to yours also joining during season 2. But more on point I'm glad someone else appreciates the epicness of the score as its not often commented on. Lost would not have been as emotional, triumphant, heartbreaking or epic without Giacchino's work.

  3. I, too, love the music from Lost. Most of the CDs I listen to at home are my Lost soundtracks and that is all I listen to in the car on my drives to and from work. I agree that Giacchino is a genius and that he greatly enhanced the experience of Lost. I do take exception with your use of the word ridiculous when describing his naming of the themes. Some of the titles were straight forward, some were tongue in cheek, some were plays on words, but I don't know that I would describe any of them as ridiculous. With that said, however, I look forward to your future insights about the music from Lost.

  4. Don't worry, when I say ridiculous, I mean it in the best way possible lol

  5. That was good. I wish someone would write a book similar to the Lord of the Rings for Lost. All the themes, leimotifs, and ideas scribed for cohesive analysis.