Monday, October 19, 2009

Film Trailers and Music

Last Friday, Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are hit theaters, carrying in its wake the expected critical reaction. My local reviewer found the film profoundly boring, a claim I can't counter as I haven't seen the movie, but one line in his review did provoke me to a response:

"A word about the creatures. Constructed by the Jim Henson workshop with their faces digitally augmented in post production, these towering, shaggy, overstuffed monsters perfectly capture the look of Sendak’s timeless illustrations. That’s why this film has one of the coolest trailers around." [emphasis added]

Have you seen the trailer? If not, or if it has been a few months, take a gander before continuing on:

Reading that line, I was amazed that he actually believed that creatures themselves made the trailer. They were certainly a part of the equation, and I'll admit to a thrill of recognition this summer when I first saw the preview before Harry Potter. The creatures are Sendak's drawings come to life. But the reviewer seems to forget that trailers are primarily visuals and music. The trailer for Where the Wild Things works because the trailer was cut to a song that perfectly matched the film's intent.

Most trailers are cut to portions of the temp track, a rough outline of previously composed music the director gives to the composer as a guide for the type of music he'd like to hear in the final mix. And most directors know little instrumental music other than film music, which is why James Horner's Aliens or Wojciech Kilar's Bram Stoker's Dracula keep getting used over and over. But occasionally the people who create trailers take the time to find a perfect marriage of sound and image, resulting in a powerful trailer.

Think back to earlier this year with the Watchmen trailer. The trailer opens with two cues from Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, "Prophecies" and then "Pruit Igoe." This is movie music, sure, but it moves at the same pace as the images on screen. Then, in a stroke of beauty, the music segues into Muse's "Take a Bow," a song that Matthew Bellamy claims is based on his listening to Glass's soundtracks. But beyond the musical coordination, the song's lyrics include the lines:

"And our freedom's consuming itself,
What we've become is contrary to what we want
Take a bow.

Death, you bring death and destruction to all that you touch."

These lines summarize much of Watchmen in a few short words. In other words, the trailer is a perfect match to the movie and works profoundly on multiple levels

Returning to Where the Wild Things Are, the trailer opens with footsteps, birds, and hints of the wild things themselves, allowing the impact of seeing those creatures to fully register. But then, the song "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire enters halfway through the song with these lyrics:

"If the children don't grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to

Here is a song about growing up and closing off your heart to wonder and love and emotion accompanying a trailer for an adaptation of a book that celebrated how the imagination of children allows them to deal with complex emotions. And when the wild rumpusing begins, the trailer circles back to the beginning of the song, a wordless vocal jam that moves in tempo with the images. Sure the creatures startle and amaze us, but the music grabs our heartstrings and plays them perfectly so we respond intellectually and emotionally to the trailer. That's why some trailers last and why some draw us into the theaters to watch films.


mdeals said...

I enjoyed my yesterday night with "where the wild things" excellent..

Ben said...

The Watchmen trailer was great. I don't think I had seen that one before. Of course, I've always liked the music from Koyaanisquati.