Not Your Usual “Soundtrack”

Seems like I’ve always loved movie music. No doubt most of this is an extension of my love for movies — it’s often possible to recapture much of a film’s emotional impact just by listening to the soundtrack. Sometimes that music is inextricably linked to its cinematic parent; I find it tough to hear John Williams without picturing the original film. Other times, it stands alone, independent of the original purpose (a lot of Danny Elfman’s work comes to mind).

Styles and genres vary, but there are certain consistencies in film scores. They frequently vary between the understated (intended to lie largely unnoticed beneath dialogue) and the bordering-on-overblown. I’ve found that most people have limited understanding of what makes for good scoring; I’m often asked (as a producer/editor) to use a particular piece to score a video, a request I usually reject. Most music that works by itself is too powerful, too distracting, to run underneath other content.

In any case, if you do like a particular score, you can usually find it eventually — in far smaller quantities than the “Music From and Inspired By” pop disc.

Lately, I’ve become intrigued by another, more obscure type of film music: movie trailer music.

Usually, trailers (i.e., movie commercials, called “trailers” because they used to follow rather than precede the theatrical feature) will just recycle selections from another movie. Trying to market RoboCop? Pull some music from The Terminator. The Bourne Identity? Try Run Lola Run. The Scorpion King? Conan the Barbarian. Batman Returns? How about... Batman (okay, sequels are pretty much no-brainers). Editing a decent trailer is challenging enough, but trying to find music that not only fulfills the general score requirements but is compact enough to start and finish within that two-minute window is pretty tough. So when the movie marketers do find something, they tend to use it repeatedly.

That’s what set me off on my little quest: I began noticing that a particular piece of music was used over and over again in a number of trailers. Swing Kids. A Few Good Men. Instinct. Thirteen Days. And a slew of others. A little research revealed the original source: “Fire in a Brooklyn Theatre,” from Randy Edelman’s Come See the Paradise soundtrack. It’s a short little piece — really just progressive variations on a few notes — but the sense of tension builds consistently throughout. Perfect for selling that new dramatic picture (whatever the picture may be).

Some time later, a second piece caught my ear. I heard it originally in the Judge Dredd trailer (a trailer which far surpassed the quality of the final picture), and then later in Lost in Space (ditto), among others. This one proved a little harder to track down; it turns out that Jerry Goldsmith was originally contracted to score Dredd, and wrote an original piece for the trailer. Unfortunately, he later dropped out of the project, and Alan Silvestri took over. The trailer track would have disappeared into oblivion if it weren’t just so good to sell that new action movie (again, regardless of the particular movie in question).

Enter John Beal. Beal (for the most part) specializes in one particular type of composition: He copies the style of existing soundtracks, and recreates them in trailer form. Let’s say you’ve got a new Tim Burton film coming out (or, more likely, something the marketers think is “Burton-esque”). Since Danny Elfman does all of Burton’s films, you’d like to use something of his, but none of his existing pieces really fit the trailer you’ve cut together. So John Beal comes along and does “original” music for your trailer that (supposedly) sounds like it came right off of Danny Elfman’s (Macintosh) keyboard. Beal released a two-disc set a few years back entitled Coming Soon! The John Beal Trailer Project, on which he included the aforementioned Judge Dredd trailer theme.

My latest acquisition is from a pair of brothers who go by the pseudonymous appellation E.S. Posthumus. They’ve got a CD entitled Unearthed (only available via their website) which, though it’s not actually movie music, certainly sounds as though it could be. Its most recognizable track, “Pompeii,” achieved a small measure of fame in the first Spider-Man trailer; other tracks have started cropping up as well (including the latest Daredevil ad), and I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to hear more in the months (and years) to come.

If movie music has a small cult following, then trailer music is really heading toward the obscure. I’m certainly not qualified to argue the artistic merits of the music in question, but I have to admit it’s been kind of fun researching this stuff.

So for the moment, I think I’ll keep listening.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home