Times are not good for film composers. Once upon a time, directors knew how to use music in their movies, even building scenes around the scores: think of teams like Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, or Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. That time has passed. Nowadays, if you notice the film score, that's a sure sign that it's bad. When the strings begin to swell as the heroine starts to cry, that's when my nausea sets in and I head for the exit.

The only interesting scores these days are coming from former rock musicians. Oingo Boingo's Danny Elfman first made a splash working with Tim Burton on Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and even if he's been repeating himself over the years, his music continues to be fun. The Police's Stuart Copeland has shown promise with his work on Rumble Fish and Fresh, though he's hit or miss. Then there's Philip Glass, more avant-classical than rock, whose scores are much more interesting than his regular compositions.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is being overrun by a bunch of overworked hacks like James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart), a man who always uses the same chorus and often manages to win awards (his last good score was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Or Hans Zimmer, Oscar winner for The Lion King and Oscar nominee for The Thin Red Line, who's really much more of an arranger than a composer, and who rarely makes interesting choices.

The most overrated film composer on the planet, however, is also the most famous: John Williams. For Star Wars he ripped off Holst's "The Planets" (go to the library and check out the movement "Mars" if you want proof), and for the more operatic strains of The Empire, he threw in some Wagner--and it works! They are great. But that was two decades ago. What hasn't worked are the bulk of his other scores, which tend to be obvious and overly sentimental.

Williams is best known for working with Steven Spielberg, but as Spielberg "matures" (something I don't approve of, but that's another article), Williams' scores do him no favors. For Empire of the Sun, for example, Williams goes overboard in sentimentality, when the film is not very sentimental at all. It reflects nothing about the complexity of a child's eye view of war. Terrible score. More recently, he's Oscar-nominated for Saving Private Ryan, which is so desperate to pull your heartstrings it ends up breaking them. Ah, but Williams is a star in the world of film composers, and with the Star Wars generation ascending to Hollywood power positions, he will never be lacking a job. And that's too bad.