Mass Effect: Andromeda

The latest installment in the popular Mass Effect series is upon us, and the highly cinematic style of the launch trailer makes it easy to forget that it is promoting a video game. And while this aesthetic has quickly become commonplace in the video game trailer world, in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda the cinematic style of the trailer is more than a demarcation of the current trend in the medium, but a reflection of the in-game experience itself. Gamers familiar with the series know that Mass Effect games rely heavily on the use of cut scenes as a storytelling mechanism. However, unlike most games, these cut scenes vary dramatically because the trajectory of the narrative itself is contingent on the choices the player makes throughout the game. Just as the title of the series suggests, Mass Effect is about the stakes and consequences of said choices, and for those who are in the know, this theme is coded in the trailer music.


The trailer begins with the delicate sounds of strings, filling the void of outer space as the camera zooms out in quiet contemplation. Before long however, the orchestration fills out and the music shifts with earnest and intensity as the narration outlines a dire situation and the need for a leader. At :19, the music cuts and the strings hang in anticipation, interrupted by the sound of the protagonist cocking his gun, cuing Rag’n’BoneMan’s song Human. The all-too-familiar story of the inexperienced leader, reluctantly taking the helm rings true as the lyrics sing, “Maybe I’m foolish, maybe I’m blind, thinking I can see through this, see what’s behind, got no way to prove it, so maybe I’m blind…” The footage is synchronised in perfect time with the music, cutting from scene to scene on the downbeat.


The lyrics cut away and are replaced with the voice of the protagonist, accompanied by the prominent thumping of the drums as the keys and strings maintain the momentum of the harmonic progression of the song. When the lyrics enter again, it becomes imminently apparent why the trailer house chose this specific song to accompany the game’s launch trailer. Rag’n’Bone sings, “I’m only human after all, I’m only human after all, don’t put the blame on me, don’t put the blame on me.” The Mass Effect games are intergalactic stories about the struggle for power across species, with humankind caught in the middle. As such, it is up to the protagonist to make choices throughout the game that seal the fate of entire colonies and to navigate ethical dilemmas not dissimilar to those we grapple with in the real world. The song echoes the sympathetic plight of the player. The song later reiterates, “I’m only human I make mistakes, I’m only human that’s all it takes to put the blame on me, don’t put the blame on me.”


At the time of this writing, the launch trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda has amassed over 2.6 million views on YouTube in two short weeks. The makers of Mass Effect recognize the importance of the franchise’s salient themes to their audience, as made evident by their prominence in Andromeda’s trailer music. For fans, immersion in this “choose your own adventure” series relies on the game’s ability to recreate an experience that is inherently human.


- Andrew Sproule

Baby Driver


After a brief hiatus, director Edgar Wright returns wit the debut trailer for Baby Driver at this past week’s South by Southwest Film Festival. In interviews, the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Shaun of the Dead director promised us a film powered by music. In the Baby Driver teaser trailer, we are introduced to the protagonist, Baby, who suffers from tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears). As such, he relies on music to help him focus and drown out this aural hypersensitivity. This plot device translates well to a trailer that uses some clever sound effects editing.

Despite previewing a film with a musical focus, this trailer is framed by the subtle but brilliant use of sound effects. Right away, we’re treated to a unique studio card sequence as the logos adorn a stack of 45s bearing studio names are passed through inside a jukebox. Cleverly, we see the jukebox selecting the song which will extend the length of the trailer – a cover of by BOGA of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Nowhere to Run." Some clever layering of sound allows us to imagine the revving engine at 0:20 as an supradiegetic effect that expresses the character’s sudden attention before it is matched up in the next scene with the car. (To paraphrase musicologist Rick Altman, his term, “supradiegetic,” means a sound that seems to belong to characters’ actions, appearing to be diegetic in nature, but simultaneously clearly belonging to the extradiegetic musical track, outside the sound world of the film.) From a film theory perspective, this is a sound bridge – a classic editing technique in the continuity editing style. At 1:02 we hear the still-in-vogue “power station shutting down” sound effect (see here for more on this industry trend) as Baby steers his car dangerously to park, leading into the second part of the trailer’s dramatic arc. At 1:21 through 1:29 we hear the rhythmic pulse sound of a car’s warning signal, originating at a point and volume that sounds appropriate, but quickly increasing in volume as the scene changes and Baby is threatened, somewhere in the middle crossing over into nondiegetic sound space.

As the release date card is revealed at 1:34, we enter the last third of trailer as the song vocals finally enter in. However, again, sound effects are oversized. For instance, we hear a car revving, whirring helicopter blades, and even a girl blowing bubbles with corresponding sound effects mixed distinctly above the music from 1:35-1:41, before the music drops out entirely for two seconds for a few more car-related sounds, and cutting back in without missing a beat. At 1:45 we again see and hear a supradiegetic moment when the girl lip syncs to the lyric “baby” in the music. Clearly, the trailer is using a wide array of sound editing techniques both to engage the viewer, and perhaps also to emphasize the sensitivity that the film’s protagonist has to sound.

The trailer only takes a break from its insistent soundscape at 2:02, when it stops for a quick scene to show off a bit of that trademark Wright-esque comedic dialogue, before wrapping up at 2:12 and ending with -- of course -- a revving engine, with additional reverb and bass to make it sound appropriately epic as the final “note”.


– Curtis Perry

Ghost in the Shell

Now only a couple of short weeks away from its release, the trailer for the much anticipated live-action adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell manga comic book series is in high rotation. The trailer has received much praise for its impressive special effects and dazzling action sequences, but it is the expertly crafted and positioned music that adds the depth and intrigue that makes this trailer stand out from the rest.


From the very first moment, the trailer blurs the often nebulous line where sound design transcends FX and takes on a musical role. The synthesized chords set the ominous tone of the opening scene. The music quickly devolves as the on-screen action suddenly begins to unfold. The music effectively augments the frenzied onset of violence, abandoning the previous stagnant aural space for one filled with rapid dynamic swells, wobbling bass, and percussion.

The sharp attack and subsequent lingering echo of a single gunshot demarcates the end of the action as the audience is transported to a new scene. Here, relative silence accompanies key plot dialogue. A cymbal roll serves as a transition into a rendition of Depeche Mode’s "Enjoy the Silence” by Ki Theory. The cover represents a significant stylistic departure from the original, embracing an alternative rock/electronic affect, featuring remix-esque breaks and rhythmic embellishment throughout. Though Ki Theory’s interpretation of the piece is instantly recognizable, the grittier and more futuristic tone of the song resonates with the film’s cybernetic aesthetic.

The lyrics mirror the on-screen action. “Words like violence break the silence” echo as Scarlett Johansson’s character punches a man who subsequently falls to the ground as the instruments cut to silence before the inevitable crescendo back into the fray. The trailer is cut in perfect time with the song, emphatically punctuating each shot, further highlighting the rhythmic remix elements. The trailer ends with a suddenly stripped-down coda as the synthesizers quote a final melodic phrase, leaving the audience sufficiently unsettled and simultaneously wanting more.

The choice to include a cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 hit single is not insignificant—the publication of the original manga comic book series closely coincided with the song’s release, running from May 1989 to November 1990. Indeed, trailers using the previous generation’s popular music as a way of capitalizing on nostalgia is an all too common trend in Hollywood (à la Guardians of the Galaxy). Here, the futuristic cover of “Enjoy the Silence” breathes fresh air into two old classics.


– Andrew Sproule

Breath of the Wild

Trailers, themselves a medium that is part-promotional, part-artistic creation, also serve as a meeting point for video games as objects of play and objects of cinema. The launch trailer for the latest entry in the Legend of Zelda series, "Breath of the Wild," offers a classic case in point.

At well over 9 million views as of this writing, the Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 trailer for the game is remarkable in many ways. For reference, the launch trailer for Metal Gear Solid V, the latest in a similarly storied series of video games, has garnered less than half of the Zelda trailer’s viewership.

Video games as a medium have only been around for roughly fifty years, with the first game arriving in 1958 and commercialization as well as the availability of technologies to produce "video games" as we recognize them today not arriving until decades later (the Atari 2600, in 1977). While text-based adventure games and vide-based media have been available throughout the 1970s, it was only in the 8-bit era that developers and artists were able to co-create imaginative worlds with a sense of depth and cohesiveness that would foreshadow the cinematic heights that “AAA” games enjoy today. With a budget and labour force rivalling any major studio, todays games are easily (re-)presentable as a cinematic experience, in tandem with the base experience of play that they provide.

At nearly four minutes in length, the Zelda launch trailer is unusually expansive, befitting of a game that promises an essentially limitless, open-ended experience. As part of a particular tradition in this video game series of rigorously-executed musical motivic development, the main, five-note motif for the theme of this game is first heard on the upper register of the piano at twenty-three seconds in, preceded by plaintive ocean waves juxtaposed by ominous bells and strings.

At the :50 mark, the intimate shot of the forest accompanied by oboe gives way to a mélange of percussion, strings, and epic choir that almost sounds cliché within the milieu of epic trailer music, albeit entirely appropriate for the high fantasy setting of the game. It is an introduction for a lengthy score that expertly interweaves themes old and new and permeates nearly the entirety of the trailer.

At 1:15, we hear the first of many voice-overs that hint at the story without necessarily giving away any real sense of the plot. At1:46 there occurs a boisterous battle-theme montage of gameplay shots, switching perspectives from the cinematic to one that diegetically positions the viewer as imagined player with agency in the world of the game. This is suggested by the camera angles which are predominantly shown behind the protagonist of the game, Link. 

However, a brief interlude in the music breaks the pace, leading to a second section of this theme now laden with heavy brass and a series of cinematic moments, presumably from the game’s cut scenes. A second interlude at approximately 2:50 introduces dialogue overlaid on the music, which adds further orchestration and introduces the three-decade-old theme familiar to Zelda fans everywhere, calling upon previous experiences with the franchise as effectively as the recent Star Wars trailers.

The trailer ends with a title card and a short epilogue, followed by a silent presentation of the release date and subsequently logos for its game consoles, and finally the Nintendo logo, bathed in its instantly recognizable tone of red.

Taken together, the actual gameplay is deeply embedded in the trailer, confined mainly to a couple of segments that portray the gameplay experience, but this is effectively blended seamlessly with the more cinematic shots thanks to a relentlessly building epic score. This trailer may be remembered as a particularly convincing promotion for one of the key markers in the ongoing evolution of video games as an art form and as a medium for storytelling. 

- Curtis Perry

The 2017 Oscars

The omnipresent chatter in anticipation of the 2017 Oscars is undeniable. For those of you planning on tuning in for the doling out of the highest honours in cinema, you may be preparing for your annual Oscar-nominated movie binge. However, in the face of this monumental and somewhat daunting task, many of us simply opt for the CliffsNotes version – the trailers. To make things simple, there is now a one-stop trailer shop, served with a twist.

Screen Junkies has become notorious for its “Honest Trailers,” an Emmy-nominated parody series that satirizes film and television in mock-trailer style. Premiering on YouTube in 2012, Screen Junkies has become an unofficial third party trailer house, developing a distinct aesthetic largely characterized by their use of music and sound. 

The Honest Trailer for the 2017 Oscars begins as all Honest Trailers do: with a montage of YouTube commenters’ requests for the Honest Trailer in question promptly appearing on the screen, punctuated by cheesy sound design, and followed by the sounds of celluloid-film spinning on a reel before breaking down. Cue cliché trailer narration by Jon Bailey, the infamous acousmetre so closely associated to the emerging trailer genre that it is hard to imagine his voice anywhere else. Next, the Honest Trailer pokes fun at the Oscars, accompanied by music evocative of the academy’s own musical theme.

The trailer proceeds to give a tongue-in-cheek précis of each of the nominees for Best Picture, using music to make a statement about the tone of the films while simultaneously contradicting it with comedic narration. Screen Junkies begins with Arrival, using Hans Zimmer-esque string motifs and brass swells to underscore the intensity of the film. Next, the Honest Trailer takes aim at Lion, pairing the film to a sitar riff, making a general musical connection to the India-centred story. Hell or High Water is illustrated as the outlier in the Best Picture crop, connoted by a shift in tone to blues-rock guitar. Hidden Figures is treated to music that serves to approximate the historical era of the film. Manchester by the Sea is accompanied by delicate, sad piano and light strings that emphasize the tragic theme. The Honest Trailer continues with Moonlight, shifting to darker, more resonant piano playing interrupted by dinging as Screen Junkies checks off the boxes to what makes this film Oscar worthy. The smooth musical transition into Fences replaces piano for orchestral strings, keeping with the dramatic tone from the previous trailer. The penultimate Hacksaw Ridge begins with the beating of a single bass drum and changes pace to over the top dramatic strings, underplaying the excessive violence of the film in tandem with narration. Finally, enter La La Land; the contemporary jazz musical swings with full brass, smooth saxophone, and tasty percussion. Bailey’s voice is replaced by that of Brock Baker, who impersonates Donald Trump as he imagines what the President of the United States might tweet during Sunday’s award ceremony – some compulsory political satire that doubles as commentary on the intensely politicized academy.

The Honest Trailer on the 2017 Oscars is a poignant, fun take on an awards ceremony that is often criticized for taking itself too seriously. This particular trailer is the epitome of the Honest Trailer aesthetic, taking full advantage of abrupt musical cuts and transitions, peppered with sound effects, and narrated with witty cynicism. The music in the trailer is intentionally hyperbolic, and highlights the trailer tropes we have come to expect from Hollywood.

Screen Junkies has cultivated an impressive following on YouTube. The pop culture relevance of the Honest Trailers series is irrefutable. At the time of this publication, the 2017 Oscars Honest Trailer has amassed over 2 million views, easily dwarfing the 43,000 views of the 2017 Oscars official trailer. The academy-sanctioned trailer is musically much simpler than the Screen Junkies equivalent, lazily underscored by “Good Time Good Life” by Banzai featuring Erin Bowman.

The Honest Trailers series have achieved critical and mainstream success, perhaps reflecting a trend in digital media consumption away from the consecrated content of the academy towards something more, well, honest.


- Andrew Sproule


Given the deluge of superhero movies in recent years, it was only a matter of time before the Marvel Universe would offer a different take on the genre. Something away from the goofy shenanigans of Guardians of the Galaxy, capable of more levity than the high school backstory of Spiderman could possibly muster. Indeed, in retrospect, a movie starring our beloved Canadian Wolverine with more serious, down-to-earth undertones seems obvious.

Trailer 1:


The shift in cinematic tone presented by the eponymously-titled Logan is perfectly encapsulated in the choice of trailer music for its first promotional outing.

“Charles, the world is not the same as it was,” Logan cautiously intones to Professor X as the languid acoustic guitar tones of Johnny Cash’s famous cover of Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails) wash over turgid shots of a forest and cemetery. With the hit of Cash’s first line, “I hurt myself today,” added timpani-like strokes add impact to the first full shot of our antihero, ravaged by scars and blood.
About midway through the trailer, we are introduced to Logan’s protégé, a young girl whose name we don’t yet know.

As the title card appears, we see a montage of action shots in sync with the chorus, played in double time thanks to the introduction of a piano playing a steady, insistent tone in the upper register. More low drums and rising-tone sound effects lead to a cut of the song to the end of the lyrics where Cash asserts, “I will find a way,” and the opening guitar riff continues, offering some semblance of hope despite the sense of despair that underscores so much of this first trailer.


Trailer 2:

The second trailer offers a directly contrasting perspective of the film. We enter with in medias resith some generic diegetic background music playing. This relatively low-fi aesthetic serves as an effective contrast to our first SFX hit roughly twenty seconds in, a now-quite-common “power station shutting down” sort of sound that signals a key moment in the trailer’s narrative, in this case the girl’s supernatural display of physical strength. 

This mini-prologue gives way at 27 seconds to our studio title card and the main song for this trailer, Kaleo’s “Way Down We Go.” The laid-back atmosphere of this track serves as a counterpoint to Logan’s tense speech. At 0:50-0:56 the trailer offers an intradiegetic moment, as the SFX for the punches and gun fire sync perfectly with the beat. 

The studio title card at 1:18 adds vocals with a clear intertextual meaning for the lyrics, “way down we go.” Way down we go, indeed, as Wolverine’s protégé engages in extreme violence, and it becomes clear that the film portends to be as much about Logan as it is about the next generation of superheroes and heroines.

Taken as a whole, the second trailer is quite different from the first, exploring very different aspects of this film. Between these two promotional exercises it is clear that the film promises to be just as engaging as a drama as it will be as an action movie; it was likely very intentional that Marvel would begin on a more down-to-earth note to effectively market the departure of this superhero from the usual cavalcade of Marvel Universe antics. This being said, the second trailer signals that Marvel hasn’t forgotten its core fans, either.


– Curtis Perry

The Lego Batman Movie

If the trailer campaign for The Lego Batman Movie is any indication, audiences will be treated to music full of subtle nods and on-the-nose allusions when the film hits theatres this week. Following in the wake of The Lego Movie (2014), The Lego Batman Movie has big shoes to fill. Much of The Lego Movie’s success is no doubt due to its effective use of music, and in particular the infectiously catchy original song “Everything is Awesome.” However, the trailer campaign for the franchise’s second film has opted for a different tack, using popular music in lieu of original material, recoding the music’s meaning as a means for achieving its comedic ends.

Trailer 1

Right from the beginning of the first trailer, the music sets the tone of the film as the audience is treated to a beatboxing Batman voiced by Will Arnett, who is casually laying down what he calls “some dope tracks.” Cut to the Warner Brothers title card, the music shifts tone to over-the-top epic trailer music, synched with flying title cards listing the Batman films in sequential order, finally ending on The Lego Movie. The stark juxtaposition between the serious tone of the cliché trailer music with the amateur beatboxing is enough of a parodic musical statement to prepare the audience for the shenanigans that are all but guaranteed. The trailer makes effective use of silence, often cutting the music entirely to deliver hilarious punchlines. Wiz Khalifa’s hit “Black and Yellow” accompanies the remainder of the trailer, a clever nod to the cape crusader’s iconic costume and logo.

Trailer 2

After Batman breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, Mozart’s Requiem dramatically underpins the next scene of the second trailer, which features a lonely Batman speaking to his deceased parents while looking at a family photo. The music cuts abruptly when Alfred interrupts his quiet contemplation and Batman accidentally kicks his unsuspecting butler into the piano. When Alfred prompts Batman to talk about his feelings, Batman says “no” repeatedly until it transforms into song, with the classic Batman theme song that further digresses into impromptu beatboxing. The trailer ends with a contemporary hip-hop version of the theme song.

Trailer 3

The Comic-Con trailer for the film begins with synthesized bass pedalling accented by percussion shots, only to be interrupted by the theatrical dun-dun-dun cliché. More percussive shots and strings play through an intense motif, which is interrupted by a brief musical interlude featuring a heavily filtered bass guitar when Batman’s sidekick Robin ignores Batman’s advice and inevitably presses the big red button. Kalifa’s “Black and Yellow” again closes out the trailer.

Trailer 4

The audience is again treated to Kalifa’s mantra for the fourth and final trailer of the film’s campaign, this time at the beginning of the preview. Upon arriving home to his solitary Batcave, Batman embarks on various solo-endeavors accompanied by Three Dog Night’s “One is the Loneliest Number.” Batman’s seclusion is however short-lived when Robin appears, cuing the final number. Leaving all presumption of subtlety at the door, a pop remix of Starship’s “We Built This City” plays out the remainder of the trailer.


- Andrew Sproule

ThrowbackThursday // Vol. 8: Doom – Yeah, Yeah – Doom

Hello friends, family, and foes,

Welcome back to the wacky and wonderful world of time travel. I am your host Artesian House, in for Artful, who stepped in for Artimus, who replaced Artie, the original substitute for Arthur, some three weeks ago.

I was having a late night chicken wing with my friend Danny Mac last Thursday (no relation), when he told me that there was a new trailer for a new Doom game that I just had to see (I told him, “and hear!”). Seeing as it was near the end of the billing month, and I was approaching my mobile data limit (where 1 GB is not nearly enough to watch trailers in a selfless pub), I had to wait until I got home (where the Wi-Fi is) to connect to the old Bell310 Network.

While he fired up the iMac and got our NBA streams going, I found this new trailer on my cell-phone:

 [Warning!!! This trailer contains extremely disgusting and violent sights and sounds that will most certainly trigger some visceral reaction!!!]

I have to start with the obvious – the sound of whatever it is that cued me to think of mushing brains and their juices (maybe the foley artists squished a pineapple) - this measured sound-tool occupies a unique space in this game’s futurescape-hellsphere where comedy and horror co-exist without a tongue in cheek. For example, with a bagful of the new Doritos Roulette at your side, playing this game will not keep you refrained from eating the surprising snack, but every once in a while when you score a particularly gruesome kill, you might say (with a mouthful of that delicious Dorito mush), “ahhhhh!” or “groossss!” or, and depending on what type of person you really are, “awesome!”

It horrors me, however, to think of some of the language I have heard playing multiplayer games online. You wonder if these kids know what they are saying, or if they just know what words they are not supposed to say and then string them together into slightly coherent sentences – like some of those upbeat poems in Bob Dylan’s Tarantula. Meaning is imposed over the string of words after-the-fact and only because we care that it is Dylan or that a string of words should carry meaning. I swear, that guy could have said anything, actually anything, “penny-zip elephant cheese” and people would find what they were looking for.

Anyway, back to the sound of squishing brains. I couldn’t help but think that maybe I have heard those sounds before and I had to ask, where?  Danny said "Casino," and the scene popped into my head (pun intended). Listen again, to the gruesome sounds of a skull being crushed and again, a proper warning is due – this scene is of obscenely graphic nature, and I only feel comfortable sharing it with you, dear reader, because I know that it is “movie magic” and some foley artist recorded the sound of something other than a cracking skull with bubbly brains (unlike the popular case of that famous Italian cannibal film, where the effects were so real, a judge called the director in for murder):


To thankfully change the pace of this entry, the new trailer for the campaign mode takes a different approach and uses a cinematic touch that is reflected in the soundtrack. The kill-zone of a multiplayer mode is sounded out by hyper-space-marine-industrial-rock and the story mode has music to guide the…story...for a few seconds before it goes back to that micro-music culture that I just invented: 


You know what else is fun? Take a listen to all of the trailers for every other Doom game all the way from 1992, up until 2015 in one long trailer-of-trailers that, again, is the result of fan-art and a dedication to the series:


All of those pre-orders for Doom II – exactly like the Vitaphone system we wrote about not too long ago – selling the image of popularity is just as important as actual popularity, just like selling the image of having money is more important than actually having it – right 50 Cent?!

I am going to pretend then, that I am on a beach!

Take care and I will be back in time,