In a world…: Trailer Music

By Michael W. Harris

Some of my earliest posts here at The Temp Track dealt with movie trailers and how they used music (here and here).  I would like to briefly return to this topic and discuss some new thoughts.

First, in my first full post on this blog back in 2009, I discussed two different trailers for the film Watchmen and why I liked the original more than the second.  You can read the full post linked above, but it came down to how the music editing for the first trailer was more skillfully done than the second.  Here are the two trailers.

Trailer #1:

Trailer #2:

So while the first trailer actually made me excited for the move, the second one turned out to be an accurate depiction for the music for the film itself: a messy mélange of music from other media.

Along this line, I recently came across another trailer that might just feature the worst use of music I’ve ever heard.  This trailer was for the 1989 film Glory, which actual features a great score by James Horner and was one of my favorite films growing up.  But, had I encountered this trailer before I saw it, I might never have seen it.

Yes, that was Carmina Burana.  My problem with the music is that it is NOTHING like the film itself.  The use of “O Fortuna” gives the images an epic, grandiose scale that is not the story of the film.  The film is about a very personal struggle against racism and the noble sacrifice of a courageous company of men, both black and white.  It is about honor and courage, but the quiet kind.  It is not about the “Glory” of war, but rather the glory one finds is fighting against injustice because it is the right thing to do.  The film is not about the nobility of war, but rather the nobility of the human spirit in the face of one of the most horrifying injustices ever visiting upon on group of people by another: slavery.

Of course, the fact that that Carmina was embraced by the Nazis just makes it doubly insulting and jarring.  To cleanse that from your mind, I offer you this:

Okay, so let’s jump to more recent history and the Inception trailer that most people point to as beginning the fascination of trailers using loud horn blasts.

So a few things about this: most people blame Zimmer for these horns blasts, but the music for the trailer was not written by Zimmer, nor was it even written by a Remote Control composer!

The music used is a piece called “Mind Heist” written by Zack Hemsey, though both the trailer music and Zimmer’s score both have those loud horn blasts.  Was Hemsey inspired to use the horns because of the work Zimmer had done on the score when he was commissioned to write the music?  Probably.  But I’m a stickler for proper attribution, and Zimmer didn’t composer this music.  But, for you Zimmer haters, those horns were used in the first trailer for the film, which used Zimmer’s actual music, but people tend to remember the second trailer for some reason.

But this brings us to an interesting and growing segment of the Hollywood machine: composers of either pre-made or trailer specific music.  These composers are not unlike those who write stock music cues for libraries that license music for TV and sometimes film or even web content.  In fact, a great deal of music for trailers comes from these firms, such as Fired Earth Music, which counts among their stable of composers Ryan Amon, who just completed his first major film score for Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium (look for a full review soon).  In fact, some of Amon’s music was used in the TV spots for Watchmen (to bring this post full circle).

I’m not going to say if this new industry of just trailer music is good or bad (though anything that creates MORE jobs for composers, in my opinion, is a good thing), but it does raise some interesting questions about music and trailers.  Trailers for me, when done well (as in the case of The Social Network), can be just as compelling as films themselves, sometimes more so.  Making a good trailer is hard to do, and more often than not, like so many films, the results are just “meh.”  Of course, it helps when that trailer has good music to go with it.  But with pre-packaged trailer music (commissioned music, I understand, is the exception, not the norm), music that already conforms to the pacing and rhythm that decades of movie trailers have established, well that just waters down further an already watered down genre, doesn’t it?

And to underline my point on formulaic trailers, I’ll leave you with this:

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