The Last Jedi

This past Monday, Lucasfilm and Disney kicked off the week by dropping the most revealing trailer yet for the much anticipated follow up in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi. Already sitting at twenty-seven million views for the officially uploaded YouTube video alone, the trailer serves to propel the campaign into its final two-month stretch until release. As usual, the judicious use of music that blends series themes new and old factors heavily into this trailer’s appeal.

A fade in at the beginning syncs with a quick glissando of a harp, leading into a trademark shroud of mysterious string tones, generally shifting around a minor chord, to set the mood. A deep, gravelly voice-over offscreen addresses an unnamed person; however, as scenes of the First Order’s militia go by, it’s heavily implied to be part of a conversation between Snoke and Kylo Ren. Throughout this monologue, cavernous piano notes spell out a simple minor key melody. Yet, just as Snoke says there is “something truly special,” and Kylo picks up his lightsaber, we cut to Rey, who is the one to turn hers on, rather than Kylo. This is the primary question and conflict explored throughout the trailer — will Rey succumb to the dark side?

At 0:29 we get the Lucasfilm title card and some menacing, staccato low strings that sound suspiciously like the Imperial March — but it’s not. Triplets overlay atop this established beat as a dialogue between Rey and Luke (whom we hear for the first time since Return of the Jedi) ensues. Curiously, the cellos and basses occasionally dip down a fourth and up to the minor third before settling back into the pedal tone, strongly resembling, again, the melodic contour of the Imperial March. At 0:45, Rey’s swings of the lightsaber lock in step with the rhythm, first with two dotted quarters, and then in triplets. Even the bass hum of the lightsaber fits the key.

Shortly afterwards, at 0:48 a choir enters alongside a heroic brass line as we see a montage of the training Rey undergoes with Luke, who sternly warns Rey that he has “seen this raw strength only once before,” as the visuals appear to turn to the scene where Kylo and the Knights of Rea raid Luke’s fledgling Jedi Academy. 

At 1:05, roughly midway through, Kylo’s theme roars on brass as the strings settle on an insistent, pulsing ostinato outlining a minor chord. At 1:28 we get the release date card (“this Christmas”), and a few trademark space scenes, not least including cameos by Chewbacca and the newest addition to the cast, the "porg" — a puffin-like creature native to Ahch-To, the planet where Luke sequestered himself for so long. 

Finally, as a new monologue by Poe Dameron enters, we hear in the musical fray a hint at the classic Binary Suns/ Force theme. At 1:45 the choir returns in truly epic fashion, fairly reminiscent of O Fortuna and the like.  At 1:52 Kylo’s theme returns again with a vengeance; we can hear the complicated struggle amongst the characters, and especially in Rey, through the score; it is abundantly clear now as he finally appear on screen that the narrator at the beginning was in fact Snoke. He compels Rey to “fulfill your destiny”; we can see the intense struggle Rey and Snoke are in, echoing the conflict between Darth Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, and yet it is a new situation all the same. At 2:11, Rey again asks for help — but this time, it is not Luke, but Kylo Ren listening, as a gentle piano plays the force theme, escalating quickly to a fanfare orchestral flourish at the end with the main title card and the release date of December 15th. 

If nothing else, the plot twists already present in this trailer promises to keep audioviewers guessing as the film approaches release. As usual for this campaign, the trailer's as-yet uncredited sound editors take a mix of themes composed by the venerable John Williams, old and new, and interweaves them in a way that sensibly matches the on-screen action. Most importantly, it musically retains the ambiguity and suspense presented by the drama on screen — who is good? Who will remain on the light side of the force? Stay tuned.


 - Curtis Perry

 

Tomb Raider

While the role was once synonymous with Angelina Jolie, this Tomb Raider reboot features instead Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl). The first trailer, put together by Really Slow Motion sets a resolutely no-frills tone that establishes the kind of ebb and flow of unrelenting action and concise dialogue that one might expect of the final film.

Right away, we are in the midst of action, with Croft running through an unknown forest and a firm establishing bass tone and pulsing synth reflect the action. It is revealed at 0:06 that the offscreen voice is from the next scene, wherein we find Croft checking in at what looks like a hotel of her namesake. Already, through the use of this sound bridge, the audioviewer is privy to both sides of Lara’s life – as heir of fortune, and as lone adventurer. 

After a quick series of shots (with accompanying beats) returning to Croft-as-explorer, we already get the studio title card at 0:12, all four studios sharing a single card, their logos bathed in a bloody red hue. After this, a more established, pulsing bass pattern begins in earnest, with flashbacks providing a bit more exposition regarding Lara’s deceased father and his mysterious past.

At 0:22 we get the first of what will be many repetitions of a thematic riff of the subtonic to the tonic (the home note). The riff serves a similar purpose to any hit sound effect, albeit this variation has a rhythmic upbeat. This riff serves to synchronize the visual narrative throughout the trailer. At 0:26 we hear it again, in sync with the turning on of lights in Lara’s father’s secret study. Key lines of dialogue are subsequently punctuated with the aforementioned riff, such as at 0:32 when Lara’s father (through a pre-recorded video) says “If you’re listening to this, then I must be dead,” punctuating that final word. A gradually rising tone in the background complements this sense of foreboding as footage of Lara listening to her father in interspersed with various action shots.

At 0:45 the riff introduces the title card for the date (“next year,”) and then the footage of a book hitting the desk at 0:47. At this point, it returns at a rate of twice per bar, whereas it was only once before.

At about the halfway mark, the trailer editors may have sensed that the audioviewer might come to expect this riff, so the introduction of a storm scene shakes things up, instead focusing on smooth, suspenseful tones, and sharply cutting to silence at several points: at 1:02 (with a black screen to accompany it), at 1:04 (another black screen), and once more at 1:08, which features instead an epic jump made by Lara into the stormy sea – only to cut to silence and black one more time, at 1:10. One could reasonably argue that this is too much starting and stopping to be dramatically effective – on the other hand, this might be entirely the point, in order to keep the audioviewer truly guessing. 

For the last third of this two minute trailer, we get a montage of tag-line title cards and action shots, spelling out word by word “her legend begins.” The thematic riff returns with these title cards as well. At 1:37 we hear the de-rigueur “power down” sound, and after a literal cliff-hanger, Alicia Vikander’s title card arrives. Interestingly, the last thing we hear before the main title card is her yelp as she makes a leap of faith, foregrounding the fact that this film will follow her struggles. 

At 1:52, a small “post title” scene follows, offering a small comedic twist and a bit of the trademark attitude that series fans know Lara Croft for. Unsurprisingly, but fittingly, the last title card (announcing the date, March 2018) offers that thematic riff one more time. 

The riff plays about twenty-two times throughout the two-minute trailer – and while that might be a bit much for some, repetition can definitely make for a memorable experience.

 - Curtis Perry

 

Murder on the Orient Express

Too often, subtlety and nuance are the collateral damage of trailer houses seeking to instantly connect with their audiences. Character reveals, plot twists, and CGI-laden action-spectacles typify trailers of the 21st century. These trailers are usually accompanied by pop music with some vague connection to the onscreen rollout. In short, these trailers, inadvertently or otherwise, tip their hand. The new trailer for Murder on the Orient Express is invested in maintaining an air of mystery while simultaneously amping up suspense and a sense of wonder. It is a classic whodunit story based on the revered Agatha Christie’s eponymous novel. The trailer masterfully highlights the suspects, shining doubt on each without spoiling the surprise. The trailer is so subtle that you may not have even noticed Imagine Dragons’ song “Believer” lurking in the shadows.

Like a song, the trailer is counted in at the beginning as title cards flash across the screen before the rhythmic sounds of a train start to click along its tracks. The audio is tightly synched with the video as workers prepare the train for its journey. At 0:11, the train’s whistle sounds and the passengers’ doomed voyage begins. Beneath dialogue, the steady beat of “Believer” plays, disguised as train sounds. At 0:27, the music cuts out and is replaced by frenzy as a man screams, the breaks screech, and a gunshot rings.

At 0:31, the detective explains to his fellow passengers onboard, “A passenger has died. He was murdered. The murderer is on the train with us now, and every one of you is a suspect. So let us catch our killer.” Accompanying the monologue, an electric guitar picks a simple chord progression. The camera focuses on each passenger and neon captions appear onscreen, identifying each suspect, as it did in the teaser trailer. 0:47 marks the first instance of “Believer’s” recognizable vocals. However, instead of the hook from the catchy chorus or a recognizable lyric from a verse, a smooth falsetto swell from the song’s harmonies echoes in the valley on which the train is perched.

At 0:48, the guitar begins to repeat the same note over and over as the detective begins interrogating passengers. At 0:57, “Believer’s” melody begins, bowed on the violin. Finally, at 1:06, the familiar percussion from earlier in the trailer resumes, no longer disguised as sounds of the train as it is no longer in motion. From here, the chorus of the song plays out, minus the vocals, as passengers defend themselves and point the finger at each other. As the trailer reaches its climax, the music cuts out for two key lines. The first is spoken at 1:16 by a concerned woman who declares, “I’m sleeping here, where everyone can see me and I can see everyone.” Then, getting in the last word at 1:25, the gangster ironically says, “Do not trust no one. No one.” The title card lands with the downbeat as Imagine Dragons finishes its trailerized song, naked without its vocals, but no less effective.

– Andrew Sproule

Coco

Released September 13th, this longer trailer for Disney Pixar’s Thanksgiving season animated film, Coco, takes a fairly comedic tack throughout, albeit not without some morbid undertones. The animated feature explores the music and culture of Mexico and the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) mythology.

At the outset, we are greeted from the very first moment with a clear acoustic guitar sound, strumming a major chord. We find a boy, Miguel, snooping around in what looks like his family’s attic. In a moment of sync between the nondiegetic guitar and the visual, when his dog, Dante, interrupts him, Miguel gets startled – clearly, he knows he isn’t meant to be there. At 0:12 it is revealed Miguel does in fact have a guitar, and we hear him tuning it up. The sound of the guitar moved fluidly between the sound world of the film and outside of it, and a chord pattern begins at 0:17. At this point, it’s reasonable to say that very few people would be able to readily identify what song is being played. A member of his family asserts “no music,” in juxtaposition against the steady stream of guitar chords in the soundtrack, effectively emphasizing this major plot point in the movie.

At 0:28, after a small pause, strings swell into the foreground and it is possible that the audioviewer could identify the cover song in this trailer. At 0:35, it’s undeniable – the strings play that instantly recognizable melody from The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.” Does the tune fit the movie’s Dia de Muertos theme? Not particularly. Does it matter? That’s up for debate, at least. Granted, the cover is adorned with many flourishes of Spanish style guitar in acknowledgement of this issue, such as the trill of a nylon string guitar at 0:39.

At 0:49, roughly a third of the way through the trailer, we hear a bass-driven sound effect that signals a key moment in the film, plot-wise. At 1;00 we get the title card and the complete arrangement of the song enters, tubular bells, grooving drums and all. Notably, the Spanish guitar often leads the re-entry of the music after it cuts out for stints of dramatic and comedic dialogue, such as at 1:49. Subtle additions of accordion and hand drums further add to the sense of the track as more of a melange of styles, if anything, compared to the firmly 90s Brit pop original.

Near the end of the trailer, perhaps its most comedic moment follows its most dramatic. After Miguel falls from a great height into a pool of water, his hands turned skeletal as a side effect of residing in the world of the dead, we see a clerk hand-waving the fact that he can sneeze despite not having a nose. At 2:17 we are pulled from the repeated chord structure into an energetic, well-differentiated original coda for a short but sweet four seconds.

Rather than assiduously following a firm template for a comedy trailer or an action trailer, this Coco trailer focuses on spectacle, with a soaring soundtrack to complement Pixar's exquisitely advanced, beautiful animation. The music’s repetitiveness is ameliorated through the use of a variety of instrumental additions and adornments. Whether “Bittersweet Symphony” was the best choice for a film about Mexican culture remains a question, but it was used very creatively, weaving its guitar sounds into the plot and introduced very gradually, not unlike the reveal of the world of the dead itself midway through the trailer.

 

– Curtis Perry

 

 

Westeros

Following a flood of reports that HBO will be developing an array of spinoff TV series extending the Game of Thrones universe, a trailer for a new show called Westeros dropped and subsequently went viral. Of course, Westeros is the name of the continent on which the majority of the Game of Thrones story takes place. Yet the Westeros that we’ve become accustomed to is not the Westeros in the trailer; winter has apparently come and gone and in that time cities have cropped up where castles once stood, cars have since replaced horseback, and soldiers have traded in their swords for guns. Indeed, this reimagined Westeros is of the 21st century. However, just as the show’s tagline states, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This trailer is rife with sex, violence, and political turmoil as well as all of the grit and intensity that enamoured audiences to the parent series. There is only one problem: the trailer is complete artifice.

This trailer is actually promotional material for a new season of a Dutch satire called Zondag met Lubach. The strategy here is as genius as it is simple: in the wake of the season 7 finale of Game of Thrones and amidst the anticipation for an official announcement regarding a spinoff, generate over 2.5 million views on an apparent trailer and then release a second video with a comical explanation that they were promoting the wrong show and that wrong show premieres September 10th. This level of scheming is typically reserved for the likes of Tywin Lannister. But how did this trailer pull off the ruse? By perfectly capturing the style of Game of Thrones through picture and sound.

The trailer opens with an Inception-like braaam sound, produced by a bowed cello and a percussive strike. A blonde man with a British accent who looks suspiciously like a Lannister says to a cheering audience, “Trust me, fear cuts deeper than swords.” The cello continues, outlining a more defined musical idea, one that is dramatic and severe. The screen cuts to a birdseye view of a busy city intersection and the narrator says, “Look at this prodigious world… it has changed.” The scene pans to a large decrepit statue, which Game of Thrones fans will recognize as the once mighty Titan of Braavos. The scene changes to an enormous wall of ice that runs parallel to a highway. The scene shifts again to the Iron Throne preserved in a glass enclosure. With each fleeting reference to the Game of Thrones universe, sharp snare drums accentuate the reveal.

At 0:29 the percussion begins to roll across the toms and a faint marimba teases a familiar theme. A girl’s voice whispers, “I’m scared” and a sign reads “Targaryen Square,” cuing another percussive strike. The British man reappears, this time over a broadcast with a caption that reads “Prime Minister Lannister,” confirming earlier inklings. He continues, “But I can assure you, there is nothing to fear.” The percussion continues to ramp up as high heels step out of a car, followed by Direwolf paws. At 0:46 an ominous voice says, “The long night is coming and the dead will come with it.” Prime Minister Lannister responds emphatically, “There is nothing behind the wall.” His voice echoes across the auditorium and the music cuts out.

At 0:54, the cello returns and finally plays the Game of Thrones theme we’ve all been waiting for. Heavily armed men, a wintery storm, and a sex scene flash across the screen before an elderly man asks a hooded figure, “Are you prepared to ignite?” A dragon casts a dark shadow overtop a cityscape and drums beat a steady rhythm before the title card appears on the screen.

The Game of Thrones spinoff that will never be.

 

– Andrew Sproule

It

Due in theaters next Friday, Warner Bros.’ remake of It is based on a 1990 TV mini series that aired on ABC, and of course before that on the original novel by Stephen King, first published in 1986.

The first teaser trailer, released this past March, features the track “Believe”, composed by Joe Bauer of Hi-Finesse Sound. We can already tell from the dark stormy weather and the mysteriously foreboding, slowly arpeggiated piano that something unfortunate will befall our on-screen characters. Sure enough, at 0:23 the boy running down the street gets smacked by a municipal construction barricade, cutting short a swelling string chord. We are sonically teased into believing he is safe. A single piano note and another swelling mass of sound follows as the toy boat eventually falls down the storm sewer, and the sound is cut again at 0:33. It takes a full eight seconds – until 0:41, an eternity in trailer shots – before we are suddenly hit with a wall of cacophonous, thundering sound and the faintest glimpse of what must be the eponymous It, otherwise known as Pennywise the clown.

This is arguably the essence of horror trailer music and sound editing: suspenseful quiet and sudden, shocking sound to jump scare the audioviewer. In a way, it is the inverse of the comedic trailer, where music often drops out so that a punch line or particularly dialogue receives maximum attention, and the music starts again in a way that is fairly smooth and anticipated.

After this initial sequence we get our first title cards at 0:44, which unsurprisingly brings up Stephen King first and foremost. At 0:51 we hear some truly ominous, low tones, and synthesizers that gradually bend downwards in pitch in sinister fashion. It is already apparent through this aural cue that the boy’s life can no longer be the same after his first encounter with It. The strings in the background never quite settle; they are almost microtonally abrasive. At 1:06 we merely hear a child’s voice saying “we all float down here,” with a pitch black background. This is a key moment in the trailer, as the movie It, and its effectiveness of its horror, can be traced back to a fear of the unknown, where our imaginations can get the best of us.

At 1:10 a pulsing synthesizer and a strange synthesized motif consisting of a repeated sequence of three half steps on top begin to overwhelm the audio track, playing louder than the actors’ voices. At 1:33 we hear another percussive hit in the sound, but the music doesn’t end as we might expect it to at this point, playing further with the audioviewer’s expectations. Instead, as the kids go through the old slideshow, accented hits in the lower strings slowly begin to get louder and faster, in tandem with the slideviewer which itself begins to get faster and out of control, its ticking eventually becoming part of the offscreen sonic tapestry of the scene. Finally, a single tick accompanies the date card (“this September”) and we see a new sequence of distorted camera angles and what sounds like someone’s laughing edited to resemble the three-note motif mentioned earlier, with yet another slowly building crescendo. It’s here that we see a montage of what might be some of the film’s most disturbing scenes.

For the last major scene, we see the boy from the first scene chanting “you’ll float too,” and the clearest shot up to that point of Pennywise, screaming and running, presumably towards one of the kids. This opposition of child and killer clown builds on the stock loss-of-innocence motif that haunts horror films (and trailers). The final title cards offers some credits and a promotional social media hashtag, with one last clicking sound from the slideshow viewer.

Constantly playing with aural expectations while providing a sense of narrative cohesion is a challenge that is particularly true for trailers for horror films. The first teaser trailer for It deftly manages this by offering a wide variety of sounds and sound editing techniques within a short time frame.

 

-  Curtis Perry

 

Mindhunter

It only takes a couple of seconds listening to the trailer for the upcoming Netflix series Mindhunter to know unequivocally that this is connected to David Fincher. The trailer lands somewhere between Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007), lifting his signature doom and gloom visual style from his infamous ventures into serial killer psychology and marrying it to his more recently developed musical aesthetic, largely characterized by his frequent collaborations with Trent Reznor. Indeed, it doesn’t take a musicologist to hear Reznor’s influence even in the trailer; its soundtrack is heavily processed darkness, mixing conventional and unconventional instrumentation with electronic sounds and clever layering and sparse spaces to elicit a sense of dread while simultaneously telling a story with a full spectrum of emotion through sound.

The audience need not wait long for unconventional instrumentation – the trailer opens with what sounds like a stuttering monotone synth, but is really the diegetic sounds of a sputtering black and white printer as it prints out a photograph of a dead woman. The first instance of dialogue is of an incarcerated man being interviewed by an FBI agent. The inmate explains: “It’s not easy butchering people. It’s hard work. Physically and mentally, I don’t think people realize, you need to vent.” A synth this time plays a long sustained chord, accompanied by noise. He continues, “You know, there’s a lot more like me,” prompting a single thin sounding violin to scratch out a short melodic figure beginning at 0:19. The FBI agent replies, “Do you think so?”

The scene changes and sets up the premise: the series takes place in the late 70s, centered around two FBI agents who are tasked with interviewing inmates to learn about the psyche of serial killers, which we know today as profiling. The lonely violin repeats at 0:34, this time carrying on, elaborating on the motif lazily, ascending and then descending. The timbre has become increasingly shrill and resonates with a dark ring, accentuating gruesome images of murder victims.  At 1:07 the violin repeats again. The dialogue becomes increasingly grave, amping up the nervous energy with narration like “I’m trying to warn you, your attitude is going to bite you in the ass” and “So young to be ruining peoples lives.” At 1:33 deep stuttering synth subtly joins the fray, adding intensity as the screen cuts quickly between scenes and the action continues to ramp up. The music cuts abruptly when a barred prison door shuts at 1:38, echoing with the remnants of the ringing violin and cryptic turn-line narration, “You want truffles? You gotta get in the dirt with the pigs.” The trailer ends with a natural sounding solo violin playing a contrapuntal phrase that becomes engulfed in an intense reverb.

The use of vaguely classical music in creepy contexts is not novel. However, the relentless solo violin becomes analogous to the madness in the narrative, which the audience internalizes. David Fincher makes a case for a directorial style so embedded in the aural that it colours the cinematic experience.

 

– Andrew Sproule

Geostorm

This week, audioviewing the trailer campaign for what is Warner Bros.’ perhaps most risk-laden big-budget cinematic endeavor of the year, Geostorm. Possibly related to its extended and difficult post-production period, the campaign takes almost directly opposite approaches in its first (teaser) and second trailers, and this is reflected by the approach each trailer takes to its music selection.

The teaser trailer for Geostorm, released March 8th this year, aurally places a cover of “What a Wonderful World” (the perennial Louis Armstrong classic), sung and arranged by Sharon Van Etten and Juggernaut Kid. In this cover, the whole tune is slowed down to a creepy crawl, atmospherics taking centre stage. While the vocals are tonally still in a jazz style, the swinging rhythm is replaced by an insistent, straight pulse.

In the first twenty or so seconds of this first trailer, we only hear a few sound effects to convey the action on screen regarding the weather satellites (granted, there wouldn’t be sound in space, but let’s suspend that fact). After the caption card (“controls the world,” at 0:24), we expect to hear a sound to match the tornadoes forming on the ground, but our expectations are subverted as we are greeted with silence. This is a key moment in the trailer: this is when the audioviewer understands that something not only wrong, but catastrophic is about to happen.

Further, the lyrics of ‘What a Wonderful World” are synchronized with the on-screen action to further emphasize the counterpoint between the audio and visual narratives: Van Etten’s serene crooning of “clouds of white” is heard in stark contrast to the white mists of a tumultuously rising tide on a beach, sweeping away hundreds of people.

Cards are judiciously placed between the lyrical phrases, touting first-time director Dean Devlin’s work on Independence Day. A rise in sound takes us from about the thirty second mark onwards, culminating in the explosion of a satellite at 0:58, synching up the word “world” with a shot of the world in question. In the last twenty seconds, the song gives way to alarming tones and the sound of an ever-quickening heartbeat, showing off ever-escalating scenes of destruction, culminating in a frozen plane falling out of the sky. The trailer cuts to black and silence, finishing with the main title card and a vocal reprise of that signature line, “what a wonderful world.”

The ironic, slow-tempo cover song has become, at this point, a somewhat old trick in trailer music production – just look at trailers for The Social Network or the Avengers for a couple of well-known examples. However, it would be remiss to say it doesn’t work for Geostorm in arresting our attention.

Geostorm’s second trailer, dropped roughly a month ago, gives off a very different tone, as we might expect from a second trailer, here walking a fine line between action and comedy. A few bars from the 1967 hit “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers kicks off a spate of narrative at 0:22, explaining that the US government has taken to geoengineering through the use of sophisticated weather satellites. However, this quickly turns to SFX as the audioviewer is made to understand that the satellites have begun to malfunction – unintentionally or not. A subtle, ongoing ticking sound—think of the final trailer to Dunkirk—continues in the background, suggesting grave danger if action isn’t taken swiftly to mitigate the threat.

Around 0:45 we hear orchestral swells as the main character, a father, must go to space to investigate the weather satellite issue, assuring his daughter that he will be fine. The established dramatic tone, however, oddly turns on a dime at 0:44 as “Time Has Come Today” comes roaring back -- for a moment.

The audio editing gets more creative at this point, as I am fairly sure the just the word “time” from the Chambers Brothers song is interjected amidst an original ticking clock sound against the on-screen audio from various action scenes. At 1:33 the release date card arrives at roughly mid-trailer, and “Time Has Come Again” comes (again), this time with bass and percussion featuring much higher in the mix. It seems that some instruments have been overlaid or re-recorded, as the guitar seems to be much heavier and more distorted than in the original, at least.

By the two minute mark, it becomes clear that the vocals are just shouting “time” over and over -- perhaps a sample from, or a recreation of, the original song’s vocals. Some one-liners occasionally interrupt the tune, but it comes back to finish off the rise before the turn line.

Coincidentally, this second trailer seems to reflect the fact that Geostorm has seen three years of filming and another director brought in entirely (Danny Cannon, Judge Dredd) for upwards of $15 million worth of re-shoots. The trailer turns on a dime between trailer editing tropes associated with action, comedy, and drama, in roughly that order. A real storm, indeed.

 

-  Curtis Perry

Ready Player One

2017’s nostalgia train keeps on chugging along as we take a look and a listen to the trailer for Ready Player One. With Spielberg at the helm of the self-proclaimed holy grail of pop culture by Ernest Cline, expectations for the film are decidedly high. And the trailer has all the telltale signs of a blockbuster: popular culture references, extraordinary CGI, exciting action sequences, loud sound FX, and a few noteworthy actors… The only thing absent from the trailer is an attempt at a plot. In fact, there is so much going on in this trailer besides a discernible narrative that you’d think you were watching a collaboration between Michael Bay and Zack Snyder. Somehow, amidst the chaos, the music finds a way to ground the trailer.

Though the film is indeed directed by Steven Spielberg, the audience will have to adjust to a Williams-less score—the composer was too busy working on another Spielberg film. Nevertheless, the audience’s ears will be in the capable hands of Alan Silvestri, who is known for his work on films including the Back to the Future franchise and the Avengers films.

The trailer opens with strings, followed by silence as protagonist Wade Watts narrates, setting the scene for a dystopian Ohio in 2045. Watts climbs through a stack of cars as percussion takes over the score, cuing an intense string progression that begins to brew at 0:12. Watts starts to don virtual reality gear as he narrates, “They called our generation the missing millions, missing not because we went anywhere, there’s nowhere left to go, nowhere, except the Oasis.” Hopeful strings and faint choral sounds materialize at first mention of the Oasis, immediately colouring the virtual world as a utopia. The movement is equal parts hopeful and dramatic.

The symphonic strings punctuated by deep bass drum accompany a fury of popular culture references as the trailer reveals some of the fictional characters that exist within Oasis, including the Iron Giant, Harley Quinn, Duke Nukem, and Freddy Kruger. At 0:58, the video shifts into slow motion and the music slows, descending by scale degree to a halt at 1:06. A title card that reads “Are You Ready?” appears and as each individual word shimmers a filtered piano plays a note.

This would have been a satisfying ending to the trailer, but at 1:10 the trailer revs up for a second act with Tom Sawyer by Rush. The trailer is cut in such a way that all of the motion is synched perfectly with the music, creating the illusion of choreography. The music cuts abruptly at 1:49 when Watts takes off the virtual reality glasses, robbing the audience of the final note of the chorus and leaving the music unresolved. The trailer ends with the same title card as before, this time reading “Ready Player One” and the filtered piano lingers ominously.

– Andrew Sproule

Black Panther

With San Diego Comic Con well past us, and theatrical trailers are now focusing on Christmas films and 2018 features, now comes the opportunity to check back and catch up on recent trailer releases. Today, we’re audioviewing the first teaser trailer for Black Panther, originally released on June 10th.

For a film directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed, 2015; Fruitville Station, 2013) and set for release in 2018, this trailer is almost as notable for its music as it is for its subject matter. Indeed, just looking at the top two comments at the top of the YouTube comments section for the above embedded video at the time of writing (“some people just don’t understand how long we’ve wanted this”; “who else is loving the soundtrack?”) reveals much, even before seeing and hearing it.

The teaser is comprised of two parts. In the first minute, we see an interrogation scene where a man is explaining the mysterious land of Wakanda, the home of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, as The Black Panther). It’s likely no accident that the first scene of a trailer all about Marvel’s first black superhero, a hero with fifty years of lore to draw on for this film, is introduced with a conversation between white characters; moreover, we’ve seen both of them in previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. Still, T’Challa’s point of view/audition provides our first glimpse/audition of Wakanda. It’s a utopian scene, effortlessly melding both traditional culture and futuristic flourishes. While this trailer was released far before Wonder Woman’s run in theatres,  we are hard pressed not to compare this origin story -- as presented so far -- with her film. (For example, actress Florence Kasumba plays both Amazon Senator Acantha in Wonder Woman and Ayo, a member of Black Panther’s royal guard.)

Although the music begins with some standard epic orchestral percussion intercut with dialogue, this gives way to some pretty unique synthesized sound effects, to convey mystery and rhen danger/action. In retrospect, the music is preparing the listener for a full clip from hip-hop duo Run the Jewels’ “Legend Has It,” a cut from Run the Jewels 3 of 2016 and, judging from the title, a song of obvious thematic resonance to the notion of T’Challa-as-legendary figure.

At 1:02, the mid-point, we leave the interrogation room and the presentation of story information, encountering the Marvel Studios card with Run the Jewels’ track playing in full force: there’s no mistaking its intro. A scene with Panther’s spaceship-looking Royal Talon Fighter is presented alongside more traditional, agrarian-looking scenes, highlighting the uniqueness of Wakanda’s high tech society.

Around 1:20, the narrator’s voice imploring Black Panther to be careful (“you are a good man with a good heart”) is juxtaposed between lines by Run the Jewels’ lyrics (“step into the spotlight”). At 1:35 extra sound effects are employed to accentuate Black Panthers’ leap from car to car, where we get one quick look at him in full costume.

The title card for the film is presented at 1:44, slowly emerging and thus effectively conveying the emphasis on stealth for this superhero. Exquisitely deep bass and rattling, sonorous upper percussion complement the high contrast and stark image of the title card.

In all, it's an excellent start to Black Panther's trailer campaign. It will be interesting to see whether follow-up trailers commit as completely to using Run the Jewels’ music, or whether this is a one-off like other music licensed for trailers but not for the associated films.

 

 - Curtis

 

Stranger Things Season Two

The trailer for season 2 of Stranger Things is an ode to all things nostalgia. The first season of the Netflix hit delved deep into science fiction lore, consistently drawing on elements from the classics (including some not-so-subtle allusions to ET which escaped no one). If the new trailer is any indication, the show’s affinity for the vintage sci-fi style pioneered by the likes of Steven King and Steven Spielberg has only grown. Through quintessential 80’s imagery and music, the trailer effortlessly establishes Stranger Things as a period piece.

The trailer begins with a lone violin holding a quivering high note as the three boys roll up to the arcade on bicycles. An ominous orchestral swell becomes a crescendo and then cuts abruptly to nothing. The soundscape quickly goes to work to remind the audience we are indeed in the 80’s with the familiar sweeping chimes and sound design of the 1983 arcade classic Dragon’s Lair. As a rousing game ends at 0:22, dread fills the room, signaled by a cut to black and a deep growling bass synth beneath a reverb laden whisper of a disembodied guttural voice. Will appears to have been temporarily transported to another dimension, known as the Upside Down. The acousmetre disappears when Mike runs outside to meet Will, sensing that something is wrong. It appears the Upside Down is permeating into their world.

 A familiar progression starts at 0:51, first on strings, and then joined by a rapid synth playing even 16th notes. At 1:21, the unforgettable voice of Vincent Price says, “Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand, creatures crawling search of blood, to terrorize y’awl’s neighbourhood.” Out of context, the voiceover is difficult to place, only becoming more obvious at 1:35 when Michael Jackson sings “I’m gonna thrill you tonight.” Jackson’s voice brings everything the audience has heard until this point into focus; Jackson’s revered 1982 hit “Thriller” provides the material for both the familiar progression, as well as Price’s monologue.

By the time the title card announcing the Halloween premiere appears at 1:52, Thriller is in full swing. From here, the trailer rides the momentum of the pop song until the trailer seemingly ends with the final note of the song at 2:25. Cut to black, Mike’s voice echoes “If you’re out there just, please, give me a sign.” This cues a last minute twist, revealing that Eleven survived the end of season 1 and is trapped in the Upside Down. A pulsing bass synth underlines a messy orchestral crescendo as strings slide higher and higher, intensifying as Eleven finds a way to escape the Upside Down through an ooze reminiscent of the Alien sega. The trailer ends with the Stranger Things title card at 2:43 and the show’s theme music underpinning Price’s maniacal laugh.

Watching and listening to the trailer for Stranger Things season 2, you can’t help but feel transported to the 80’s. After all, where else do you find a band of misfit kids dressed in full Ghostbusters attire fighting monsters straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons game on Halloween to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Thriller?

 

– Andrew Sproule

A Wrinkle in Time

Scored by composer Mark Hadley (part of Modern Family’s music department) and featuring the vocals of Keeley Bumford (perhaps best known as the vocalist for the main theme for the video game Bayonetta 2), the just-released teaser trailer for Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time leverages the well-known tune “Sweet Dreams,” originally written by Annie Lennox and originally performed by 80s group the Eurythmics.

It’s not until 0:20 into the trailer that we hear Bumford sing “sweet dreams are made of these,” and immediately the song is identifiable, just with that combination of lyrics and that classic minor third and minor second melody. Bumford’s solo lines act like a Greek chorus of sorts, commenting between the characters’ lines, which are in diegesis. At 0:44 we hear just a snippet of the original, classic synth line from the Eurythmics’ version of the song (a wrinkle in time, indeed). At the same time and in between we recognize the mellifluous voice of Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which) narrating the story of the missing Alex Murry to his daughter.

At 0:55 we finally hear the song in full force, a version of “Sweet Dreams” not too dissimilar from the original, with added epic percussion and other effects to underscore the promise of the film’s grandiosity and scale. At 1:14 we hear a clever bit of sound design as the basketballs doubly act as a keeper of the beat, transitioning seamlessly from the previous music.

At 1:24 we get the actors’ title cards and the last third of the trailer, with an epic coda forestalling the resolution of the tune. With the arrival of the main title card and release date, we hear a ticking of a clock, which obviously plays into the theme of a film about time travel. That the trailer lets the “Sweet Dreams” vocal theme echo out at the end is a departure for the preview genre that prefers to close with a spectacular orchestral resonance (Harry Potter trailers)  or a prominent sound effect (LOTR trailers).

The song has been covered several times in the past, including a now-classic version by Marilyn Manson, as well as by Emily Browning on the soundtrack of 2011 film Sucker Punch, a film that features its own brand of surrealism. As such, it was perhaps only a matter of, well, time before this song would appear again. This version by Mark Hadley veers between the gentle and the epic, assiduously conveying the fantasy world illustrated in this teaser trailer.  The song none-too-subtly alludes to the notion that we are witnessing a dreamworld of sorts, which commentators on the teaser have picked up on when they refer to the “haunting” cover.

In all, Sweet Dreams is an appropriate choice that balances the familiar and the fantastic to help introduce audiences to the world of A Wrinkle in Time.

 

 - Curtis Perry

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This week on the blog, we take an excursion to the jungle with the redux of the 1995 classic, Jumanji. While the original film was best remembered as a generally dark film carried by the inimitable late actor Robin Williams, this reboot leads with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and is much lighter in feel, causing quite a bit of debate in the comments section on YouTube and other sites.

The trailer opens with some nondescript handclaps and a few light acoustic guitar notes, conjuring an atmosphere that befits the high school setting we’re introduced to. Immediately, it’s understood that this definitely isn’t the Jumanji of the mid-90s.

Subtly, once the teens find the game – now a video game, no longer a board game in this iteration – the hand claps turn into ticking sounds, and we get that now-classic “brwaaaap” sound that now seems to be the international sonic short hand for “stuff is about to go down.”

As the teens select their avatars for the game, each selection is sync’d to the music, ramping up musical and dramatic tension as they get closer to completing the selection process. Then, as you knew would happen if you were familiar with the original film, they are physically sucked into the world of the game.

At 0:57 we hear heavier, orchestral, rampant percussion as the tracking shot reveals Dwayne Johnson as the new avatar for one of the teens. At 1:09 we get our first title cards and the introduction of the second, more comedic third of the trailer. We hear the first few strums of a heavily processed electric guitar, which builds as the characters discover their new avatars they inhabit. The music cuts out as Johnson consoles himself, telling himself he won’t cry, employing a classic visual sight gag as his words contrast sharply with his physical build.

By 1:46, we get the first clearly identifiable music track employed in the trailer, which is perhaps a little too on the nose: Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” Of course. In fact, the track is introduced exactly at the point singer Axl Rose rings the lyric from which the song’s title is derived, which kicks off the final third of the trailer with a montage of action shots, still stopping at one point to deliver another comedic line courtesy of Jack Black. The main title card arrives at 2:16 with a strong final chord from the guitar, only to add one last comedic sequence, finally ending for real at 2:30 with the title card announcing its Christmas release window.

Somewhat like the Spiderman reboot we covered recently, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle presents an unabashed reimagining of the core conceptual universe and tone of the original 1995 film, creating a film that stands on its own. Sony is inarguably taking the original 90s concept in a new direction, for a new generation – albeit, not without the astute use of some classic 90s music.

– Curtis Perry

Death Note

This week we venture off the beaten path of Hollywood blockbusters and take a listen to the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming feature length film: Death Note. The movie is based on the Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba, which has amassed a passionate fandom who, rightfully, have high expectations. At least from what we see and hear from the trailer, the adaptation’s blend of dark music and surreal colours flavours the unique cinematic aesthetic required to pull off the enigmatic Death Note.

The trailer opens with pathetic fallacy. Grey textures accompany the pitter-patter of steady rainfall as protagonist Light Turner is knocked unconscious in an effort to stop a mugging. Piano breaks the misery at 0:24 when a leather-bound journal falls from the sky. Here, the music is not to be mistaken as hopeful, but rather, as a break in the cycle of hopelessness, replaced instead with ominous potential. As the piano slowly plays through its four-chord progression, Turner opens the book and discovers that it gives him the power to warrant the death of whomever he chooses.

Emerging from the music, a distorted female voice sings “’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life.” From the characters’ perspectives, truer words have never been spoken. The song is a slowed down cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” though the name of the performing artist remains a mystery. The singer’s heavily filtered voice comes in at 0:31, complementing the first appearance of Ryuk, a death god. The omnipotent evil presence is voice-acted by the imminently recognizable Willem Dafoe, whose performance is reminiscent of his Green Goblin days. Ryuk’s sinister laugh serves as the character’s leitmotif, reoccurring three times throughout trailer.

The music immediately ramps up in dynamics and instrumentation. Epic strings, synths, and percussion highjack the music, playing disjunct instrumental excerpts so sharp in their attack that they feel as though they have been cut from a more complete recording. The music cuts abruptly and is replaced with a delicate high-pitched piano melody, which digresses into ringing sounds processed through a reverse effect. The lyrics, though faint and almost indistinguishable, sing “million different people from one day to the next, I can’t change.” The trailer sets splashes of neon fluorescents to darkness overtop a modern remixing of a classic song with unexpected intensity and thematic resonance.

 

– Andrew Sproule

Spider-Man: Homecoming

It’s June 30th; we’re knocking on July’s door, and with it a cadre of summer blockbuster film releases. Leading the pack is Marvel’s latest cinematic universe entry, the long-awaited reboot of Spiderman on the silver screen.

Following the first official trailer released this past December and the second in late March, the third pulls out all the stops with equals parts action and comedy, likely giving the audioviewer a good idea of what to expect in terms of a shift in tone compared to previous instalments in the Spider-Man film franchise.

At 0:26 we hear the first clear musical number alongside the studio title cards and the sound of a school bell. Hoodie Allen’s “Act My Age” is a recent song (2014) that perfectly encapsulates the tone and direction of Peter Parker’s character. The song represents a step away from the more mature character portrayed by Tobey Maguire in the early 2000s or of Andrew Garfield earlier this decade, and towards the high school-aged, teenage persona we see in Homecoming, with slightly obnoxious “na na na” vocals and cheerleader-style stomps and claps. Similarly, none of the dramatic string music of earlier Spider-Man films is to be found here. It’s a fresh start, bolstered by the charm of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, who takes on a mentorship role and has received ample screen time throughout the trailer campaign.

This tune weaves in and out as various scenes and dialogue are presented to show how increasingly difficult it is for Parker to lead a double life as a web slinger and high school student. Of course, Spider-Man’s trademark wry banter remains intact; as is in keeping with the comedy trailer as a genre, the music often abruptly stops to make way for whatever punchline occurs in the dialogue.

However, it’s not all laughs. At 1:15 the audioviewer is treated to a taste of the action one can expect from the film, as long-time villain Vulture lifts Spider-Man far up into the sky. By 1:20 some epic percussion comes in to amplify the tension of the scene, cutting at its climax to the title card for the date – July 7th. Demi Lovato’s 2015 song “Confident” underpins the action sequences that follow in this second half of the trailer, interspersed with the suggestion that Parker’s classmates may be homing in on his secret identity. With pulverizing percussion, blaring brass triplets, and an epic descending bass line in a natural minor key, it’s almost surprising that it isn’t the work of a trailer music studio.

An endearing comedic exchange between Parker a high school friend reminds the audioviewer of the essential focus of this film on lighthearted antics, only to be quickly juxtaposed one last time with an epic scene involving Spider-Man keeping a jet plane in the air after suffering a blow to its wing. A large, brassy minor chord plays the trailer out with the final title card.

After a, er, string of lesser-received films produced by Sony in Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it looks like Marvel’s putting a spin on the series that will put it on better footing – and the choices in music for its trailer suit this goal admirably.

 

– Curtis Perry

NHL 18

How do you market what is essentially the very same video game you released the previous year to the same audience as an entirely new experience? EA Sports masterfully maneuvered its Zamboni-shaped hype machine through this year’s NHL Awards show, dropping the trailer for the forthcoming NHL 18 in front of hockey’s greatest players, broadcast to its biggest fans. The trailer for this year’s edition of the hockey-simulation game marks a notable shift away from the old guard (the Crosbys and Ovechkins) and towards the future of hockey: the kids. This theme is the focus of the trailer at every level, from real and in-game video footage, to narration and title cards, all the way to musical content.

The trailer opens with the unmistakable sounds of the rink: skates cutting through the ice, sticks clashing, and the unintelligible sounds of players calling out to their teammates for the puck. 4 seconds into the trailer, a simple bass riff and clapping sounds begin a vamp. The narrator says, “Hey kid, let me give you some advice…” speaking to both the rookies on the ice, and the kid with the game controller in their hand. For those in-the-know, each piece of ensuing advice is a hockey cliché: work hard, keep it simple, get the puck deep, finish your checks, etc. With each hockey-ism, the trailer shows the future greats ignoring that advice and deking their way to glory. The message? This game is about having fun.

The bass riff continues to build until the break at 0:25 and at 0:29 new music comes in as the footage changes to in-game material. The song is appropriately named “Opposite of Adults” by Chiddy Bang and samples the distinct synth melody from MGMT’s “Kids.” The music is upbeat and poppy, featuring male rap vocals overtop of an electronic beat. The lyrics sing, “Once was a kid all I had was a dream” as Leafs’ phenom Mitch Marner cuts through the defence and dangles his way to a goal and Bruins’ revelation David Pastrnak snipes a goal top shelf. Big body checks add rhythmic accents throughout the trailer and the cheers from the audience up the excitement. Chiddy Bang sings, “Tell mommy I’m sorry, this life is a party, I’m never growing up,” as Jets’ winger Patrick Laine celebrates his goal and Oilers’ superstar Connor McDavid receives a bank pass in the offensive zone and does a trick shot past Canucks’ goaltender Ryan Miller. The trailer ends with the blasting goal horn that every hockey fan knows and loves.

Successful trailers target their audiences. For EA Sports, that means kids who live and breathe the sport and hockey enthusiasts living vicariously through their Playstations. The trailer uses music to complement the highlight reel footage and marks a passing of the torch from the veterans to the youth. Indeed, the kids are alright. 

– Andrew Sproule

 

 

Cuphead

It’s mid-June, and that means the Electronic Entertainment Expo (more popularly known as E3) has come and gone, and left behind an embarrassment of riches in the form of game trailers and other videos featuring the gameplay Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and their ilk promise to deliver into the hands of gamers over the next year and beyond.

From the perspective of a musicologist, perhaps no trailer at E3 this year has been as interesting as the release trailer for the upcoming cartoon shooter Cuphead. First introduced at E4 2014, the game aggressively asserts a quasi-nostalgic, 1930s Americana style (quasi, as most players will not have experienced this style in its heyday). Each of the trailers features original music in the style of 1920s and 30s American jazz recorded live and composed by Kristofer Maddigan, a percussionist and composer based in Toronto.

In the first trailer, from E3 2014, the audioviewer is initially introduced to an animated trailer format from the 1920s, before  the widespread adoption of recorded sound, instead using title cards to convey speech and what sounds like live music. The first reads, “By golly! Cuphead and Mugman are in trouble!” amidst the pounding, Krupa-style drums of hot American jazz and rapid keyboard flourishes. While short, at a scant thirty-five seconds, the trailer nonetheless manages to capture all of the essential tropes of silent film era cinematic animated trailers.

 

The trailer featured at E3 2015 ups the ante, more than doubling the trailer’s length, increasing the tempo of the frenetic percussion, and offering a touch more by the way of plot, stating that “Cuphead and Mugman gambled with the Devil…. and lost!!!” A subtle bit of sync between the sound image occurs at 0:15 as a solitary, high piano chord hits at the same time we see the protagonists in shock over losing to the devil in a game of dice. A grooving ostinato in the double bass (plucked, of course) and trumpets with snarling mutes underscore the plot as Cuphead and Mugman are made to serve the devil to pay off their lost bets. Throughout, animations that strongly evoke the days of late 1920s Disney (think Steamboat Willie) match perfectly with the visceral jazz music. At 0:53 we are treated to a somewhat unexpected sync point, with the wail of the brass matching the mermaid’s attempt to blow Cuphead away. The title cards and final titles at 0:57 onward further hammer home the nostalgia act, stating “Coming 1936. (Plus eighty years)”; however, that number would eventually end up being eighty one. Ragtime piano plays it out.

 

Fast forward to this year, and the game is finally nearly ready for release. Animated typography in the style of old movie trailers promises a “thrilling game” as brass and woodwinds gradually ascend a diminished chord by tritones and minor thirds, eventually resolving to a glorious major chord and alternating tom-toms that heavily emulate the sound of timpani, showing off the main title card. It gives way to a parallel minor chord at 0:26 and woodwinds change hands as they steady escalate a series of alternating half steps down and minor thirds up, with some deviances in the pattern for good measure, with no particular reference to a steady rhythmic measure. Despite the series of heavy action sequences showcasing gameplay, we only hear this musical arrangement. At 0:38 we get the final release date – September 29th – as the brass and winds coalesce on a triumphant cadential 6/4 with a Picardy third, ending with a faint bit of the static one would hear at the end of a film reel.

The whole musical arrangement for Cuphead’s E3 2017 release trailer appears to be, to some extent, a riff on Also sprach Zarathrustra, Op. 30, the Richard Strauss tone poem made famous by Kubrick’s selection for it to represent the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, one might say this piece is a 19th century work popularized to represent the (since-surpassed) near future of 2001, and since rearranged in the style of the early 20th century to appeal to the ears of 2017. Whatever the case, the Cuphead trailers make for a joyful celebration and reminder of the most charismatic qualities of early American cartoons and cinema, replete with the musical stylings of the era – something in part afforded by the novelty of revisiting such media in the form of a video game.

In an era of gaming where the number of polygons a console can push doesn’t appear to be so impressive anymore, the most eye-catching and immersive games are arguably the ones that turn back to the art of cinema and lean heavily on artistry to engross the gamer-as-audioviewer. In this respect, it’s no surprise that Cuphead’s heavy aesthetic borrowings from the 1930s would resonate with such fresh appeal.

 

 – Curtis Perry

Dunkirk

 

There is something severe about the Dunkirk trailer. For 2 minutes and 18 seconds, audiences bear witness to the plight of the allied forces trapped on the beaches awaiting evacuation under heavy enemy fire from the air, land, and sea. The shots are tastefully dramatized without the indulgences we have come to expect of depictions of war. The bleak tones of grey that characterize the state of desperation are all consuming. However, it is the music that generates the profound intensity of the trailer – the sparse dialogue and action sequences merely accompany the sounds of Dunkirk.

The film is directed by Christopher Nolan, ergo, the film is scored by Hans Zimmer. Unlike most blockbusters, which opt to use popular music or cover songs in their trailers to connect with the audience, Hans Zimmer’s instantly recognizable style and cultural capital caries enough clout to all but guarantee the film’s success. A partnership like no other, these two creatives have built a bonafide genre of film together, largely defined by their penchant for the epic. Evidence of the duo’s influence in film trailers is ubiquitous. Look no farther than their 2010 collaboration, Inception, which gave birth to one of the most recognizable (and co-opted) sounds in cinema, so infamous that the internet refers to it as the onomatopoeic “BRAAM.”  In the Dunkirk trailer, Zimmer resists the impulse to use the sound he is credited with creating in favour of finding new ones.

The Dunkirk trailer opens with a ringing tone moving in and out of focus and then steady percussive ticking, like a clock in perfect 4/4 time accenting the first beat. At 0:17 a guttural bass tone slowly wobbles in, joined by a mid-range horn before dissipating. At 0:26, the bass bows deeply and the ticking finally relents, sounding only the first beat of each bar. Much like a piece of music, this break in the trailer leaves the audience in suspense, listening, waiting for the inevitable climax, or “drop.” The drop comes as a hail of gunfire. Serene, unmoving strings and choral sounds emerge from the chaos at 0:40, disturbing in their stark juxtaposition of on-screen tragedy. Again, at 0:57 the music is interrupted by the sounds of war. A heartbeat sound enters at 1:06, becoming the ostensible pulse of the music for the remainder of the trailer. Unfiltered piano and a dirty synthesizer appear at 1:28, providing a much needed harmonic progression, though offering little resolution. The music moves in crescendo, gaining momentum as the heartbeat morphs into a steadier beat and additional synthesizers join, rife with distortion. The music cuts abruptly at 1:58, recalling the serene voices and slow heart beat, lingering for the last few seconds.

Nolan and Zimmer are back.

 

–Andrew Sproule

Wonder Woman

This week on Trailaurality we are looking at the trailer campaign for Wonder Woman, opening in theatres worldwide today. With a Thursday box office opening pegged at $11 million in the U.S. alone, the film's opening gross lands it in the vicinity of 2014’s original Guardians of the Galaxy. Additionally, the Warner Bros. and DC Films box office foray into superheroine antics has been “certified fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, standing tall at an approval rating of 93% by critics and audience alike as of this writing. In fact, this is higher than most of DC or Mavel’s superhero movies; in fact, it is the best reviewed film since Christopher Nolan’s seminal 2005 film The Dark Knight, and is only bested by the first Iron Man foray in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In light of the exceptional success Wonder Woman is currently enjoying, it’s especially worth delving into its trailer campaign to see if one can glean any hints of the praise it would come to receive.

Sitting at five and a quarter million views on YouTube, the official final trailer, released May 7th during the MTV Movie & TV Awards, starts with a seven second micro-teaser with lyrics that immediately scream “we are the warriors.” The moment, which appear later in the actual trailer, tips the listener off immediately that it uses Warriors, a track by Imagine Dragons. While an appropriate choice in itself, the fact that the track was also used to promote theLeague of Legends video game makes for a neat intertextual tie-in as well as a ploy for long-term musical brand awareness.

Having presumably captured the attention the of audioviewer, we are whisked away to the world of the film with a more gentle track and various voiceovers off screen which are revealed to take place as an on-screen conversation between Diana Prince, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) as a child with her mother. The music, Francoid-Paul Aïche’s Aria, continuously builds, ending as her mother says “be careful of mankind… they do not deserve you.”

Next, the title cards appear at 0:40 alongside an adult Diana and a frenetic, strings-driven track. We see Steve Travor (Chris Pine, best known as Captain Kirk in the most recent Star Trek films) warning Diana of the horrors of World World I underway in the film’s universe between thunderous triplet arrays of drumming courtesy of original trailer music track Catapult, by Position Music. These triplets give way to a sprightly, galloping 6/8 compound meter of lower strings and piano as we see Diana making the decision to leave the island where she grew up.

At 1:12, these elements of percussion and strings come together along with a strong male voice, tightly synced to the action of Wonder Woman, in costume, scaling a wall. At 1:25 the trailer takes a lightly comedic turn as Travor (Pine) deadpans, “the war’s that way, but we have to go this way first.” This presages a turn in musical aesthetics at 1:28 as we hear a groovy electric bass. At 1:38 we get a brillaint sequence as an older man asks Travor who Wonder Woman is. Between Travor’s consternations (e.g. “she’s my, ah”; “and er, uh”), we see and hear blasts of action by Wonder Woman set to heavy metal riffs. Those substitutions of what would normally be descriptive language after these filled pauses are both funny and dramatically effective; by implication, Wonder Woman is “beyond words” in a way that only music can attempt to describe. At 1:51 the lyrics and full track come in full, largely uninterrupted force for the last third of the trailer, incessant right to the end at 2:42.

We’re looking forward to the trailer campaign for the inevitable sequel – as there’s little, er, wonder at at this point that there will be one.

 

– Curtis Perry

Game of Thrones: Season 7

 

This past Wednesday, the whole world stopped and was beholden to the new Game of Thrones season 7 trailer. According to HBO, the trailer was watched 61 million times across digital platforms. For those of you keeping score at home, that is a new world record. However, as one of the most highly regarded series on television, Game of Thrones is held to a higher standard than most, and so too are the trailers. Fans of the show wait for months for their first peek at the upcoming season, and when it finally arrives, these trailers are deconstructed and analyzed religiously in an effort to glean tiny insights into what the new season has in store.

Revered as works of art in their own right, Game of Thrones trailers are famous for their thoughtfully selected musical accompaniment, which typically feature potent lyrics that audiences in the know recognize as apropos. However, season 7’s trailer broke this pattern, instead opting to make characters the narrators and use music more subtly. The trailer features an orchestral arrangement that begins with violins lingering over a high note before making way for the primary motif: an ascending two-note figure played arco on the double bass, evoking a Jaws-like sound. From here, the trailer music only builds. With each break, a new layer of percussion and strings is overlaid over the previous, adding to the intensity as the trailer ramps up towards a syncopated climax. As always, the trailer masterfully interweaves sounds of marching, church bells, and the clashing of swords into the musical progression. Still, despite the effective use of orchestral music, the trailer lacks some of the punch that allusions to the narrative through lyrics so readily bring.

This week on Trailaurality, as we look forward to the seventh season of Game of Thrones, we listen back to a couple of the series’ most memorable trailers, and the songs that make them great.

 

 

The trailer for the second season of Game of Thrones immediately cemented the series into trailer enthusiasts’ hearts with its use of Florence and the Machine’s “Seven Devils.” In addition to being a powerful song featuring ethereal choral sections and a haunting yet simple piano motif, the lyrics resonate with both the onscreen action and the overall themes of the series. “Seven devils all around you! Seven devils in my house! See they were there when I woke up this morning, I’ll be dead before the day is done.” Game of Thrones is rife with betrayal as factions from opposite ends of the world clash as their leaders work towards ultimate conquest. For fans in the know, the number seven is of particular significance in Westeros, as there are seven Kingdoms, seven Gods, and seven Hells.

 After an emotionally traumatic end to the fifth season of Game of Thrones, the trailer for the show’s sixth season continued to play on fans’ heart strings. A beautifully covered version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” by James Vincent McGrow carries all of the weight of the series and offers little hope for its characters, nor its fans. The familiar lyrics ring: “The world was on fire and no one could save me but you. It’s strange what desire can make foolish people do.” These lyrics, powerful on their own, had added significance after a fan-favourite character was infamously killed off in what the audience perceived to be an impulsive and short-sighted series of events. For the makers of the show, systematically murdering fan-favourites has become a twisted, wicked game.

Indeed, the wicked game undoubtedly continues this summer. Winter is coming July 16th, 2017.

 

– Andrew Sproule