A Quiet Place

In what may be both a first and only occurrence for Trailaurality, this week we are looking at and listening to a trailer that is arguably most notable for its complete absence of music – or, at least, what we typically identify as music. The track, "Silent Killer," comes courtesy of composer Alec Johnson, of Hybrid Core Music + Sound.

An American supernatural horror film directed by John Krasinski, A Quiet Place stars Krasinski and spouse Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), and is set to premiere in a few short weeks at the upcoming South by Southwest festival.

In the first seven seconds the audioviewer is bombarded with a multitude of media sounds, including tuning radio dials, television white noise, and the like.

After the Paramount title card, we do get a few synthesizer notes, but literally only a few: a dissonant gesture fades away, revealing a steady and unsettling heart beat beneath. This is repeated for the first cue card (“those who have survived”), and again at 0:27 (“live by one rule”). Most notably, there is zero presence of any diegetic sound or music in any of the shots thus far.

By 0:35 we hear something we rarely hear in today’s world of bombast and epic music – practically nothing at all. Then, at 0:42 we hear the child’s toy space shuttle, with its low-fi escalating tones; a child has transgressed the new Golden Rule: will he have to pay? The onscreen sound smoothly transitions to a more sweeping wash of noise, finally punctuated by a percussive hit in tandem with the release title card (April 6).

From here, the tension ramps up considerably; waves of synthesizer wash over the film as the action intensifies, with occasional sound, such as the car window breaking, piercing the veil of the non-diegetic aural narrative.

Finally, after an arresting scrape of a waterphone, we return to the heartbeats of earlier. A few precious moments of quietude pass, following by a jump scare at 1:12 in tandem with the return of the menacing synth.

After the most visceral round of percussion yet, it’s jarring to hear the first line of dialogue at 1:26, sounding weak, pleading, and at the total mercy of whatever it is that haunts them. Here the turn line sounds earlier than usual in trailers and has narrative significance, even in her hushed voice.

The last few shots before the title card at 1:44 feature a full-bore aural kaleidoscope of horror tropes – jittery, escalating strings, creeping synths, and the like, punctuated by, of course, a scream.

While the trailer A Quiet Place leans on some well-tested techniques for eliciting a sense of horror, that which makes it unusual, or at least novel, among horror films is its unwavering belief in accomplishing more with less. A single jump scare and a single scream suffice, as the trailer wisely spends its time building up to these moments with enormous dynamic range. Coming from the sound of practically nothing to moments that more typically fit the sonic profile of a modern horror trailer, it speaks to the power of absence to unnerve us, especially in an age of unceasing sensory stimulation.

 

– Curtis Perry

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Continuing a recent trend in Marvel cinematic universe trailers, Ant-Man and the Wasp draws upon an all-original score by series composer Christophe Beck. While not quite as catchy as the rollicking 7/4 (irregular time) beat of the main theme from the original, Beck’s score is clearly made-to-spec for the frenetic action of this sequel. Tonally, Beck is clearly aiming for a super-hero theme in a classic sense, comfortable in its own slightly ridiculous plot circumstances, with (ahem) smaller stakes, and more notable humour.

The trailer begins, as so many action trailers do, with a thundering percussive strike, revealing a steady cam shot of the city skyline; shortly after, bits of dialogue alluding to the broader Avengers story arc alternate between continuing epic percussion in a slightly off-beat manner, just enough to keep the audioviewer guessing. At the ten second mark we’re introduced to the eponymous Wasp (Hope van Dyne), and the percussion quickens and climaxes.

At 0:17 we see the Marvel Studios card in a vaguely insect-like, honeycomb motif, and a wailing electric guitar brings the theme: a fairly repetitive melody riff featuring a bluesy flat-five scale degree. One interesting facet of this trailer’s music is the fact that there is effectively only one minor chord played throughout — the rest is covered by melodic embellishment and percussion elements.

At 0:22 we hear a return to the dialogue and percussion dynamic, and then the electric guitar enters without warning at 0:27, not unlike the accompanying sudden drawing of weapons by what looks like an FBI SWAT team. At 0:32 we get our first sight gag as an entire building in shrunk to the size of a suitcase, and a man accordingly, in non-sequitur fashion, pulls out a handle and wheels it away. The fact that the music doesn’t shift in tone at this point provides an effective dramatic counterpoint to what we see, effectively intensifying the comedic relief.

At 0:48, a third of the way through the trailer, we get the card for the release date (July), and the percussion moves to a steadier, pulsing rhythm. At 0:45 the guitar enters again and it is now obvious that the music has settled into a 6/8 compound meter groove. At 0:52 it stops only to use a flying car’s horn as a sort of accent for the music. Around 1:04 we experience an action sequence with hits cued to the beat; likewise, at 1:08 a particularly arresting sequence feature a miniature Wasp dodging thrown knives in a bullet time sequence; the sound of the knives slicing through the air is almost palpable.

At 1:17 the music finally stops for a punchline, more in line with a typical comedic trailer, and does so again between brief snippets of action and high energy music featuring Wasp.

At 1:26 the main title comes into view, accented by the same electric guitar motif described earlier. There is one more sight gag, though that shouldn’t be spoiled, but it does again lean on a disconnect between the comedic visuals and the more serious, action-oriented music.

This first trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, then, is an interesting study in musically blending action and comedy trailer conventions such that one complements the other. Allowing the action music to stand in counterpoint to the sight gags makes the comedy more effective, and likewise, the consistency of the tone of the music helps give a sort of emotional grounding to the zany world of Ant-Man.

– Curtis Perry

Seven Seconds

 

One of the more acoustically visceral trailers released this past week, Netflix’s upcoming series Seven Seconds is a crime anthology focusing on the death of black teenager at the hands of a white cop. Produced by Veena Sud (The Killing), the trailer promises a nuanced and dramatic study of racial tensions that continue to grip the United States, with the series taking place in Jersey City.

A nighttime aerial shot of an urban landscape accompanies an immediate hit of epic percussion and bass, leaving in its wake a single, insistent piano note in the mid-register — a musical trope that just won’t die, likely because its effectiveness as a musical “unique selling point” outweighs the risk of sounding tired and cliché.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the vocals for the song ("Everywhere Ghosts Hide" by Erin McCarley, released on January 25) begin at the seven second mark. After the first line (“pull me under”), a quick Netflix title card is followed by an array of U.S. flags, which turn out to be the opening shot for the funeral — at this point there is much emotional layering, between the vocals, the off-screen narrator (Regina King, as the mother of the deceased), and the stark visuals of the funeral in progress. The narrator then appears on screen for a brief second at 0:26, only for the shot to change again upon the lyric “thunder,” where we see, perhaps, the murderer walking free. This passage, albeit only a few seconds long, is meticulously set up, with multiple visual and aural threads overlapping and intersecting at key points such that the audioviewer gets a sense of, foremost, the feel of the series, as opposed to the think of it, as Kubrick once said.

It is at this point that we see a second title card for Netflix touting the production as an original series, and after a brief bridge we hear a section resembling perhaps the chorus of the song. Between glimpses of graffiti, photo evidence, and other shots in a montage highlighting the escalating conflict, the dialogue continues, this time focusing on conversation between the guilty party and his confidantes.

At 0:52 there is a brief interruption in the music in favour of sound effects, to emphasize a shift in dialogue as the narrator delivers in pointed language a statement regarding the injustice that “his life does not factor into the equation of the city.” At 0:58 the percussion ramps up, the dialogue and action likewise.

Finally, at 1:29 we hear a symphonic flourish, and the strings almost overpower the vocals as we see glimpses of what looks to be some climactic moments (police in riot gear, etc.) flash across the screen. At 1:48 the song, which has been steadily building since the beginning of the trailer, stops as the mother asserts that “a man did that,” and that the murder is not some mystery that only God might be privy to, as was suggested moments earlier in the trailer.

For the last scene, after a heavy bass drop the piano returns, unadorned, roughly in sync with the clicks of a spinning bicycle wheel on the ground, perhaps at the scene of the crime. We see the main title cards, and then the Netflix logo once more with a quick release date (all episodes available February 23rd).

In terms of form, this trailer for Seven Seconds is as first blush formulaic, with a clear three-part structure, steady rising action and drama between the music and the visuals, and the use of a few tried-and-tested musical tropes. This being said, the key to a well-edited trailer is not in the givens, but in the details, and in this sense Seven Seconds shines. Whether considering the movement from contrapuntal audiovisual storytelling in the first third of the trailer towards the assault-on-the-senses that prevails in the latter third, or the fact that the trailer does not rely so heavily on a trailerized song or cover version, this trailer rightly directs the music as a framing and supporting device for the dialogue. Bearing these creative decisions in mind, it is quite successful. 

 

– Curtis Perry

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the aptly-named sequel to the 2008 ABBA-infused film, itself based on a 1999 musical of the same name. Somewhat like the revival of the Ocean’s franchise also set for release later this year, the trailer for Here We Go Again leans heavily on past musical favourites, and thus memory (if not nostalgia), immediately beginning with “I Have a Dream,” a signature song from the original musical. At 0:25 we see and hear a clever analogy for the flashback about to occur plot-wise, as we prominently hear a cassette tape being rewound — the cassette itself serves as a piece of retro symbolism, like in Guardians of the Galaxy, in addition to the fact that it is being rewound, .

Cue what else than “Dancing Queen,” the quintessential ABBA hit and a centrepiece of Mamma Mia, alongside the title card for the date (“next summer”). The track is interspersed by dialogue from Lily James (playing a young Donna Sheridan with mother Meryl Streep), delivering some vague but curiosity-inducing lines such as “you don’t really know me at all, do you?” The question as much for the audience as it is for the person on-screen, with the title cards promising to tell the story of “how it all began” in greater detail.

The mood of the trailer takes a turn from celebratory to somber as a young Donna sings the verse of the title track on-screen with off-screen piano accompaniment (sitting in between being in and out of the sonic universe of the film, as music in musicals does). The track carries on beyond the scene and we see a montage of more introspective moments in her life, only to pick up again as the track does with the song’s chorus, highlighting her drive to continue despite any setbacks real or perceived.

At 2:10, after the title card, we hear a deep bass sound as Sophie’s grandmother (Cher) arrives unannounced to a party hosted by Sophie; she leaves on a note of additional intrigue and a talking point for outlets to focus on.

Clearly, this trailer uses music in a wholly expected and straightforward way, leaning rather heavily on the past as cover songs do. Using two tracks in equal measure to deliver equal doses of action and drama, as well as using equal parts music and dialogue (leaning towards music, as is appropriate for a musical adaptation), this trailer for Here We Go Again is nothing if not even-keeled. In that regard, there’s something to be said for the way it achieves a sense of emotional and sensory balance. The literal, “un-trailerized” covers in the trailer soundtrack both identify the franchise and draw upon audience memories for the original song and the film.

 

– Curtis Perry

 

Ocean's 8

Well past the holiday season at this point, today’s trailers are beginning to target the summer action/ blockbuster season. Chief among these is the preview for Ocean’s 8, the somewhat-confusingly named spinoff following the Ocean’s Eleven (2001), itself a remake of the namesake 1960 film, which was followed by Ocean’s Twelve (2004), and, perhaps predictably, Ocean’s Thirteen (2007).

Following just over a decade when the series left off, then, and scheduled for release on June 8, 2018, the film is set to follow the misdeeds of Danny Ocean’s sister (Sandra Bullock), in “business” with an all-star cast of colleagues, including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna.

The 1966 version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra, the original version of this song that has been heavily covered, features prominently throughout this trailer, stopping at regular intervals to feature snippets of the film’s deadpan dialogue, much in the style of other trailers that generally fall into the comedy genre. The audio is noticeably spruced up (re-recorded), and it also incorporates added percussion and sound effects to match the dynamic range of a typical modern trailer. In other words, the song has been (subtly) trailerized. That being said, this mix falls closer to the end of being faithful to the original song.

The trailer begins with a shot of Sandra Bullock’s character in confessional mode and orange prison garb, with the soundtrack equally stark, a simple tambourine, kick drum, and hand claps – quickly becoming cliche – not yet giving away the choice of song for the trailer, but still sounding decidedly contemporary.

At the 0:35 mark, the Sinatra version of “Boots” enters as the original recording does with its slowly descending bass and jangly guitar alongside the studio logos, immediately giving the sense that what Ocean’s 8 is going for is not a reinvention per se, but rather, something unapologetically classic, picking up to some extent exactly where the series left off a decade prior. Nearly each line of Sinatra’s is contrasted with a snippet of dialogue, delivered in a generally upbeat, deadpan, swaggeringly defiant style, much in the vein of the song. Moreover, it is lifted by thundering percussion and additional rhythmic flushing that really modernize the style while not sounding out of place in the context of the original recording. It’s a fine balance, and the trailer music succeeds in it.

The song then speeds up with a clever title card listing off the stars in sync with the repeated descending bass at about the halfway mark. At first, it seems like a second song has entered, with funkier percussion and an equally funky guitar riff. But then, Sinatra’s voice re-enters for the chorus of “Boots.” This subtle, gradual contemporizing song works in tandem with the trailer’s goal of reminding and reintroducing the audioviewer into the franchise, which doesn’t have the immediate mindshare of something like, say, Star Wars, but certainly has a cachet to its name of its own.

By the two minute mark, we hear new vocals and it’s clear the trailer has musically reached another place. The final drum roll at the 2:10 mark, synced with a final action montage, is far more reminiscent of a live rock concert than anything from the Sinatra original. The title card uses the same (very effective) sync between the descending bass and the card’s presentation as a final, memorable shot to end the trailer.

With the Ocean’s 8 trailer’s rendition of “Boots” comes a reminder that the cover song is not always the answer, and what’s older in the pantheon of popular music can be new again – especially for a song that has been covered so extensively, simply presenting the original (mostly) unadorned can be refreshing in and of itself. It’s also a great example of progressively disclosing and blending the original song with its trailerized elements, threading the audioviewer along from the original to the recomposed version in an effective and engaging manner.

 

– Curtis Perry

 

Guest Post: An Introduction to Epic Trailer Music Production

by Manu Malik


What started as music specifically composed for Hollywood blockbuster movies has now become its own genre. Epic trailer music can be described as modern orchestral music that incorporates sound design, synth sounds and booming percussion to stimulate emotions.  There are numerous companies that produce high quality virtual sound libraries that can be used by composers to bring their compositions to life. The companies that create orchestral sound libraries meticulously record world-class orchestras in studios that are acoustically built to capture the audio characteristics of the instruments. This provides composers with the ability to create authentic cinematic music within a digital audio workstation environment.

The basic structure of a trailer music cue has three main sections (acts) of roughly equal length followed by a conclusion (tail), which is approximately half as long as one of the main sections.  Following this formula, a cue with main sections each having a length of forty seconds and a twenty second tail, totals two minutes twenty seconds in length, the maximum allowed theatrical trailers. Each of the sections in a trailer music cue have defining characteristics – it should be very obvious to the listener when one section ends and the next one begins.

In Section 1, the mood of the cue is established (and may be extended and even have its own intro). This can be achieved by having the lead instrument, such as a solo violin, play the main melody, or by using an ambient synth to play the main chord structure, or by introducing the theme of the cue in a strategic manner that will allow for it to be further developed in subsequent sections. In this first section, the percussion and bass sounds are either very minimal or not present at all. Rhythmic phrases, such as string ostinatos, should be used carefully because using them in this section can cause the energy of the cue to plateau prematurely. This is definitely the section of the cue that has the least amount of energy and it often contains mid-frequency sounds which peak around the 500Hz range.

As the music transitions into Section 2, there should be an immediate increase in energy and some tension or anticipation should start to build. Introducing elements such as low-end percussion or a rhythmic chord phrase would be a good start. Some layering of sounds can also provide texture. This will result in an RMS (root mean square) level increase of approximately ten percent. An RMS meter is critical for measuring the overall loudness and energy level.

The cue will then proceed to drastically increase in energy as Section 3 begins. This is where nothing is held back and all of the elements which were presented in the first two sections are fully developed. All of the percussion, orchestral and synth sounds (possibly with added choir) should culminate with as much energy as possible. This is also the section where there should be different patterns of movement, such as counter melodies, within each of the frequency ranges.  Act 3 should end with a grand finale which dissolves into the tail, which frequently trails off.

After all three sections and the tail have been recorded, there should be some additional sound design work done to add definition to the section transitions along with some additional energy.  The cue then enters the mixing and mastering process to increase the overall loudness by decreasing the dynamic range while preserving the sound quality of the music. This should be done very carefully because decreasing the dynamic range excessively to increase loudness can result in a squashed sound which will significantly decrease the expressive quality of the orchestral instruments.


Stay tuned! Trailaurality will feature further blog posts on production, including orchestrating and arranging as well as mixing and mastering. Hear Manu Malik's trailer music demos here

The 2017 Trailaurality Awards

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This week on the blog, we’re doing something a bit different. As we look back on a year full of trailers from thrilling to sombre and everywhere in between, we at Trailaurality wanted to tip the proverbial hat towards a variety of trailer soundtracks that we thought stood out among the rest in particular ways.

 

Best Throwback: Cuphead

It’s no accident that Cuphead has been received warmly upon release, having been hotly anticipated in the years up to its release. By way of a near-annual pace of trailers, indie developer StudioMDHR parlayed its labour of love (and, eventually, well-deserved profit) by pairing its artfully rendered faux-thirties cartoon style with quintessentially matched music by Toronto composer Kristofer Maddigan.

Read our full writeup on Cuphead here.
Listen to the Cuphead soundtrack on Spotify.
 

Best Use of Franchise Music: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

While most trailers use music that ultimately has little to do with the movie to come out, once in a while there are franchises for which there is music that can and indeed ought to be used for a coming sequel. As such, this award is almost unfairly favoured towards the storied franchise that is Star Wars. Propelled by the massively successful sequel/reboot The Force Awakens by J. J. Abrams in 2015, and bolstered by last year’s Rogue One, this year’s entry fared no worse for wear; Disney may yet be right to expect to be able to crank out sequels and side stories for the next eight or so years, much in the vein of its handling of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Production company Pusher Music handles the audio in Disney’s first official trailer for the film with aplomb, judiciously balancing the Wagnerian thematic material that musically interlinks Luke, Rey, and Kylo. The force is with this one.

Read our full writeup on The Last Jedi here.
 

Best Epic Music: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo had a phenomenal year: sales of its new Switch console have, in ten months, already exceeded the five-year sales of its preceding console, the relative flop that was the Wii U. Heading the charge was this trailer, released after an online company presentation on January 12th, 2017. A nearly four-minute affair, the martial percussion and sweeping strings – not to mention a deft allusion to the thirty-year-old theme (inspired in part by Ravel’s Bolero) in its closing moments – stand toe-to-toe with any piece of epic music one could think of. While video games will by their nature never surpass the narrative cohesion and depth of cinema, this trailer betrays that expectation, thanks in large part to its bespoke soundtrack.

Read our full writeup on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild here.
 

Best Use of Contemporary Pop: Spiderman: Homecoming

After a steady decline in critical acclaim for Sony’s Spiderman film franchise, bottoming out with the lacklustre Amazing Spiderman 2, it was time for a very different approach in 2017, with Homecoming putting on offer a stylistic approach much more in tune with the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. By infusing the third trailer for Spiderman: Homecoming with fairly contemporary Billboard pop songs like Hoodie Allen’s 2014 hit “Act My Age,” that fresh look and feel that Spiderman so sorely needed was delivered in spades. No other trailer this year has leveraged contemporary pop so viscerally well.

Read our full writeup on Spiderman: Homecoming here.

 

Best Use of Nostalgia: Stranger Things Season Two

Not only was Vincent Price’s inimitable dialogue cleverly repurposed for Stranger Things’ 2017 outing, but we also hear the late Michael Jackson arise again – as if, one could say, from the grave – to thrill us once more with the 1982 hit Thriller. As an unabashed nostalgia play more broadly speaking, it was an impeccable creative decision to pair the borderline-whimsical, 1980s paperback horror world of Stranger Things with perhaps the most emblematic song carrying the very same aesthetic.

Read our full writeup on Stranger Things Season Two here.

 

Best Use of an Artist Cover: Logan

In the first official trailer for Logan, Johnny Cash’s famous cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt is absolutely front and center, playing through the entire 1:47 span of the video uninterrupted. The dialogue between Professor X and Wolverine is secondary to the expertly cut and abbreviated track, which allows for one full verse and chorus, plus a brief coda. The intertextual associations are obvious: as Cash performed this cover near the end of his life, so too are we witnessing in Logan a chronicle of the end of Logan’s days.

Read our full writeup on Logan here.

 

Best Trailer-ized Cover: A Wrinkle in Time

One noticeable trend in trailer music over the past few years has been the use of the “trailer-ized” song – creatively reimagined covers that leverage many conventions of trailer music, such as epic percussion and sweeping strings, concocted as a response to the need for trailers to both reach a target demographic while also providing something fresh and interesting. This year, the teaser for A Wrinkle in Time caught our ears thanks to the sonorous voice of Keeley Bumford singing the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” atop an arrangement by composer Mark Hadley.

Read our full writeup on A Wrinkle in Time here.

 

Best Use of Library Music: Blade Runner 2049

Last and not least, sometimes projects are so multifaceted and dynamic in terms of personnel that musical choices can come down to the use of a library selection. The first official trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is interesting in this regard in that, while one may reasonably assume musical excerpts by Vangelis from the original Blade Runner have been repurposed here, instead a track by Cieran Birch entitled “Decay” and published by Elephant Music is used in its place. While Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was at first tapped to compose the score for 2049, eventually Hans Zimmer replaced him, with director Denis Villeneuve citing the need for an artistic direction closer to Vangelis. Despite the creative turbulence roiling beneath the veneer, the trailer holds its own by providing a musical atmosphere satisfyingly similar to the 1980s original, without coming across as stale – again, achieving all this with a library track.

Read our full writeup on Blade Runner 2019 here.

 

Coming Soon…

Suffice to say, 2017 was another great year for trailer music aficionados. Whether revelling in the sounds of the past, delighting in new arrangements and variations on past works, or going full bore into uncharted musical territory, today’s trailer soundscape is rife with fine examples of persuasive art, in myriad ways fully leveraging the role that music plays in its effectiveness. Bring on 2018.

– Curtis Perry

 

The Disaster Artist

As we look back on the year that was, it is also a time to look forward to the year ahead and to dream up one’s list of goals, big and small, that make our ambitions real. As far as recent film releases with heart and ambition go, The Disaster Artist seemingly doesn’t fit. However, as any purveyor of movies by James Franco, Seth Rogen, et al. knows, at the heart of their comedy machine is a storytelling with heart, and in this sense, Disaster is no different.

The story of Tommy Wiseau and how he made The Room, infamously known as the “best worst movie of all time,” is still shrouded in some mystery. Although it is fairly well established that Wiseau came to the US from Eastern Europe (despite at first claiming to hail from New Orleans) and he claimed to have been 19 at the time of filming The Room (he was in his late 40s and is currently 62), no one is still quite sure of how he was able to back the film with $6 million out of his own pocket. It is these mysteries big and small, such as his undeterminable accent, that make him and his art so interesting, despite (or, more accurately, because of) its lack of basic understanding of drama.

These ingredients and this backstory make for both a quintessentially humorous undertaking from Franco and co., in addition to providing levity for the subtext that this is also, in a roundabout way, a story about the success of a newcomer to the US, which given the current political climate in the US is decidedly topical.

The extended version of the second trailer focuses on this dynamic: over top a plaintive piano, Franco as Wiseau opines that “Los Angeles; everyone want to be [sic] star. You have to be the best. And never give up!”

Wiseau’s nigh-inimitable accent and various stage antics provide a comedic contrast to the piano, which continues on unabated. We see Wiseau rejected by Judd Apatow (as himself?) and others, and we see the relationship between Greg Sestero and Wiseau blossom, with Sestero in awe of Wiseau’s self-assured demeanor and his unassailable confidence.  In 2013, Sestero published the tell-all about making The Room that inspired Franco to approach Wiseau about an adaption of the book in the first place.

At 0:43 we get the second part of this trailer, with a title card underlining its almost unbelievable status as a “true story.” What sounds like an 80s tune is in fact a contemporary throwback by Ace Marino from the record Cocaine Flamingo, titled “Communication.” The track (and album) is published and used by the trailer house Position Music. At 0:58 we see Rogen for the first time, as the director Sandy; the music kicks up a notch. At 1:06 we get our first drop out of the music as Wiseau argues with Sandy about re-creating an alleyway unnecessarily. This is a standard use of music and silence in the comedic trailer, so as to emphasize the punch line. At 1:28 we hear a single lyric from the music track – “communication” – just as we see Wiseau break down, both acting on set as well as off of it, as he argues with Sestero and other with regards to his artistic vision and whether it is being respected.

When Franco was on The Tonight Show to discuss the film with Jimmy Fallon, he argued that these basic desire – to make it in Hollywood; for one’s artistic vision to be accepted, respected, and to be met with success – are universal, both amongst those vying for stardom, as well as a basic human desire. These facts help the one to empathize with Wiseau, however ridiculous his acting may be; as bad as The Room admittedly clearly is, there’s a passion that went into it that, in its own way, did not go unnoticed. Indeed, The Room still plays in theatres across North America on a regular basis, fourteen years after its release.

After another stop in the music for a second punch line, at 1:57 the music really ramps up and we see the title card for the film. A couple of sight gags later, the trailer ends rather softly (the first trailer follows it in the embedded video above).

Musically speaking, the 80s soundtrack isn’t necessarily pointing to the popular music landscape at the time The Room was filmed (in the early 2000s); yet, it feels right. As a comedy that is both based on a true story and certainly stranger than fiction, the laid-back sounds that Position Music has opted for here aims to gently support what’s there, rather than actively vie for one’s attention.  It’s the sensibility of the musical selection that allows the zaniness of Wiseau to breathe in this trailer, while also helping to humanize him, which appears to be a correlate goal of this film as a comedy, but also in some sense as a documentary.

Happy holidays, Tommy Wiseau.

– Curtis Perry

 

 

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

Building from the success of 2015’s reboot/sequel Jurassic World, the second instalment, Fallen Kingdom, has made its trailer debut last week to the tune of 40M views. This trailer interests us from an aural perspective for the way it deftly performs a fake-out on two levels within this trailer: from horror motifs to action, and simultaneously, from the use of a commercially licensed track to something more piercing in terms of musical motive.

The trailer starts with an ominous sound that turns out to be a closely-mic’d vinyl record being mounted. Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” plays in the background of a bar as a bit of expository dialogue occurs, only to be cut off by the volcanic explosion on the fictional Central American island of Isla Nublar, off Costa Rica. The rumbling of the explosion carries over a brief montage, effectively presiding over a marked shift in dramatic tone.

At 0:35 we get a rather unexpected shrill, staccato string attack, alongside the first title card, vaunting Spielberg (of course) reprising as Executive Producer.  It is at 0:39 where we get the “real” trailer, arguably: one could start the video at this point, and it would work. The previous exposition was used as a contextual backdrop, and to underscore the shift in tone that follows.

Alongside a stirring monologue about the nature of dinosaurs – and of nature itself – we hear that classic John Williams theme… or at least, a deliberate tease of it. Although the motif in full arguably comprises five notes – do-ti-do-so-fa, if you know solfege –that initial half-step do-ti-do is prevalent throughout the full theme. The fact is that the trailer editor(s) are making a bet that the average listener will recognize it sufficiency in triggering, to allude to Proust, a musical madeleine of sorts – a motif that calls up a deep well of associations, to the extent that, at least in the context of the whole trailer, fulfills its role with a plomb.

The fact that by 0:56 in this trailer, that third note in the motif is simply held as scenes of instability mount and epic percussion permeates the audio channels instills a unique sense of uncertainty. This moment suggests that that everything we know about Jurassic Park, and the way its narrative is woven, is once again up for grabs, as any good sequel does.

At 1:05 the music cuts out and we see a moment of intimacy between human and dinosaur, only to have that expectation again subverted with another jump scare at 1:13. This leads smoothly into an action sequence for the trailer’s third “act,” where thunderous, insistent percussion and roaring, percussive guitars only stop for a moment for the kind of wonder that Jurassic Park has built its brand upon. At 1:38, one dinosaur appears to be saving the rescue crew by attacking the other, suggesting a kind of complexity and emotional intelligence to the species rarely, if ever, alluded to. The three-note Williams motif resurges once more, and the T-Rex’s deafening roar—a visual and aural reminiscence of the first “Jurassic” film—meets the consistent fortissimo of the strings in a synergistic moment of rawness and beauty before fading to black.

With about forty seconds to go, off-screen narrator Jeff Goldblum (previously seen at :50-:51 and heard until 1:00) opines again against a black screen, “life cannot be contained.” Following this, the epic percussion roars back in a faster triple time for a thrilling action montage, perhaps revealing some of the most action-oriented moments of the film in the trailer. In a sort of counterpoint, the screen fades to black once more as Goldblum comments that “life breaks free” and “life finds a way,” alternating between the serenity of his speech and the pandemonium of the action montage that is its interstitial. The roars of dinosaurs become part of the music by the end. One last surge of the strings on that three-note motif close out the trailer with its main title card, with a standard sub-bass tone presenting its release date of June 22nd.

Although this trailer takes its chances with conventions borrowed from other genres of trailers (such as jump scares for horror), it rests comfortably on a solid three-part structure. Moreover, the blend of musical styles (commercially licensed song to open; epic percussion; romantic orchestral theme music) work together to underscore the component purposes of each shot and scene. Taken together, the Fallen Kingdom makes a bold move and arguably succeeds: three notes now suffice in communicating its artistic and commercial proposition.

 

– Curtis Perry

Black Mirror – Season Four

As the holidays fast approach, one thinks to oneself – what a wonderful world. As is Netflix, which recently posted an series trailer (in addition to seven shorter promotional reels) for season four of its dystopian delight, Black Mirror.

On cue in the tradition of the creepy cover song, Louis Armstrong’s classic “What a Wonderful Worldserves as the aural counterpoint to the hellish visions this trailer presents in its second half. Interestingly, not only has this particular song already been used for this purpose, it was done in this year, as part of Geostorm’s campaign. Moreover, the latter with its theme of environmental catastrophe arguably has greater reason for the song’s use, given Armstrong’s musing of “skies of blue” and “clouds of white.”

But, back to Black: It’s a snappy, two-part, two-minute affair, opening first with an original track by an unknown composer. A more conventional, expected piece for Black Mirror aficionados, the dulcet bell tones of an arpeggiated minor chord immediately spells intrigue for the audioviewer as the off-screen narrator laments a world of “injustice, intolerance, and huge environmental challenges” – immediately reminding us of the oft-disconcerting plausibility of happenstances between the series’ world and our own.

A modal change in the music with the entrance of the piano accompanies a custom Netflix studio logo; a skittish rhythm leaves you guessing as to where the down beat exactly is, in contrast to the assertions of the voiceover that the on-screen character is “going to be fine.”

At 0:40 we get a buildup and a rhetorical question: “How long can the happiness last, anyhow?” At 0:43, cue the cover.

It’s yet to be determined whether the featured cover/licensed song is at the tail end of its current moment in trailers: “What a Wonderful World” works best for this Black Mirror trailer when held in consideration of its release date; on December 29th, most viewers will be in the throes of the holidays. Foregrounding that contrast in mood between the holidays and everything that is Black Mirror is nothing if not a clever move, even if the way it does so comes across as somewhat shoehorned in. 

 

– Curtis Perry

 

Infinity War

 

Marvel’s hotly-anticipated Infinity War trailer is finally here, racking up 31 million views on YouTube on Marvel’s channel alone in the fifteen hours since its initial release (with this statistic already sure to be laughably outdated by the time you’re reading this).

That being said, the most mainstream trailer of the year within the most mainstream genre and cinematic universe in cinema offers a special kind of opportunity to answer a hypothetical question: what does the audiovisual editing for such a trailer sound a look like? Does it look like what one might expect, given the various analyses on this blog or a passing familiarity with the modern tropes of trailer editing?

On cue, at 0:05 we get the nigh-requisite single, reverb-laden piano note against a shot of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) looking stricken with grief. The piano continues in a minor key; brooding drone synth enters at 0:22 for a brief moment, only for the piano to pick up again and continue. It enters again in full force around 0:30 as the now-class Marvel title card, with its flipping pages, hits.

At 0:38 brass enters, trumpeting a heroic fanfare against the Marvel Studios card. At 0:45 we are clearly into the second third of this classically 2:24-length trailer, with staccato strings cranking out minor thirds in a steady pulse. At 0:58 the epic drums and brass come in. An occasionally thump from a synthesizer in the bass sticks out as somewhat novel in what is otherwise standard epic music fare. From 1:28-1:30 we are given a (very brief) respite from the action, only for it to pick up again in sync with Iron Man’s landing.

As we audioview the montage unfolding over the various superheroes we’ve come to know over the past ten years of the Marvel cinematic universe, we hear a monologue by this fim’s big baddie, Thanos (Josh Brolin), mirroring to some extent the monologue by various Avengers in the first third. ­

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this trailer’s music is that there no cover to be found here: instead Alan Silvestri, who penned the original Avengers theme, is back to score this film, and this theme is front and centre in this trailer. It first appears with a sombre twist, alluding in some way to the broken-up state of the team following Civil War; by the end, however, things have come full circle, with the classic theme given full billing.

In some sense, then, this trailer plays it very safe with respect to musical choices: it’s the Avengers theme for an Avengers movie. On the other hand, it goes very much against the popular move that is trailerizing a well-known tune for nostalgic leverage. Perhaps Marvel knew that the Avengers theme does, at this point, carry a certain amount of leverage all its own, and that it serves as a musical counterbalance of sorts to the massively cross-over visual narrative.

 - Curtis Perry

 

Breaking Bad

It’s been four long years since the world stood witness to the transformation of Walter White from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Ahead of its final season, Breaking Bad released a thoughtful, cryptic trailer that teased the inevitable black hole of destruction that the series all but promised in its inception. The trailer features Bryan Cranston’s character Walter White—once a chemistry teacher, now the mastermind behind a drug empire—reciting Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias as time lapses of the series’ most recognizable settings rush by. The sonnet serves as lyrics, underpinned by subtle synthesizers that feel more textural than harmonic. The trailer is both a prophecy, heralded by the maker of his own demise, and an epitaph.

The trailer begins with the sun rising over desolate fields outside of Albuquerque. Cranston’s voice cuts through the nothingness, “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…” There is a distinct element of omnipotence in hearing Walter White, disembodied, surveying familiar landscapes as he monologues. His tone is calm and sombre. Beneath beats a slow but steady pulse. The beat sounds like a bass drum picked up by a muffled or perhaps damaged microphone. The sounds of winds emerge, exposed, filtered and subtly manipulated.

“Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.”

Here, Cranston’s voice becomes increasingly menacing. His inflection on the phrase “sneer of cold demand” has a hint of distain. His tone becomes darker still, practically spitting “the hand that mocked them.” A low bassy synthesizer fills out the bottom end, playing a subtle two note pattern. The understated layering combined with Cranston’s soothing yet disconcerting tone captures the audience’s ear as the time lapses continue to wash over.

“And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!’”

Cranston summons the wrath that characterized Walter White. The wind sounds have decayed into white noise, growing louder as Cranston’s performance grows more powerful.

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The noise cuts away dramatically as Cranston’s voice returns to its sombre tenor. The camera pans in the desert as the sun sets. Heisenberg’s fedora lay alone in the stretch of sand.

The metaphor for Walter White’s narrative comes full circle.

 

– Andrew Sproule

The X-Files: Season 11

First premiering at New York Comic Con about a month ago, Fox debuted its first look trailer for The X-Files’ eleventh season, and the second since its initial reprise in 2016 following some fourteen years’ absence on the small screen.

Following a somewhat clever title card where the “F” and “O” in “FOX” dissolve, we immediately hear the classic X-Files theme, meandering synth, whistling and all, and a general release date of “2018” is presented. This is a bit notable in itself as the trailer seems to rush to get to its own point (release window and theme song) before continuing.

The trailer proper, then, begins at 0:23 in as we hear the sotto voce voice of Scully (Gillian Anderson) calling out to her colleague and series partner, Mulder (David Duchovny) beneath a single, sombre string tone. The first piano notes ring out at the black screen gives way to a bird’s eye view of a highway.

“I’m here to offer you a deal… civilisation is in its final stages,” intones an unknown, off-screen voice, as we see various slow-motion shots of Mulder and Scully investigating here and there. A tilt-shift effect at 0:50 emphasizes the sense of scale and gravitas of the situation, painting the whole of humanity as though it were a mass of ants.

At 1:01, the proverbial half-way rule in trailer editing kicks in and we are privy to a breakneck montage of scenes that, presumably, offer a tantalizing preview of the season to come. Huge synths crash in and at 1:17 we hear a lyric sung that probably wouldn’t be immediately recognizable to most: Bardi Johannssohn sings “in your head,” backed by The Void, against symphonic arco strings and blaring, deep washes of synth, repeating it over and over against various dialogue amongst the cast.

At 1:39 things seem to come to a head as a synth tone escapes the sonic fray, rising higher and higher, leaving Scully in a hospital bed, speaking again to Mulder in a whisper, providing a satisfying sense of return to the way the trailer began. The trailer ends with final sequences of action shots, set against an almost contrapuntally plaintive piano, and finally a reprise of the title, studio, and release date cards.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this trailer is the way it emphatically does not hit the audioviewer over the head with its choice of cover song. It is reasonable to believe that most people could not identify the use of the song Zombie by The Cranberries (an appropriately quintessentially 90’s track for a quintessentially 90’s TV series) in this trailer, but there it is being used – arguably, very tastefully and effectively so.

 

– Curtis Perry

Castle Rock

This is Stephen King’s dilapidated world, and we’re all just living in it – or rather, witnessing it from the comfort of our living rooms. It seems every new release as of late is attached to the omnipotent author of psychological horror. The teaser trailer for Hulu’s upcoming collaboration with master of mystery J. J. Abrams titled “Castle Rock” reveals exceptionally little about the plot, instead choosing to deal exclusively in themes and subtle nods to King’s body of work. The series is named after a fictional town in Maine which serves as the backdrop for some of King’s most revered novels and is frequently referenced in his canon; the town serves as foundation for the multiverse in which his stories inhabit. With only one line of dialogue in the trailer, the music does all the talking.

The downbeat cues the familiar Bad Robot title card, immediately signalling to the audience to expect the obscuring of plot that has become eponymous with the J. J. Abrams brand. The music begins with two synthesizers played an octave apart, the lower claims the slow moving melody while the higher sustains its note for the duration of the entire trailer, serving as a drone. The percussion beat evokes the second hand on a ticking clock, accompanied by a bassy heartbeat. Together, combined with imagery of capital punishment by lethal injection at 0:05, a hearse at 0:33, and an autopsy 0:58, the music conjures themes of death and the shortness of time.

The trailer cuts between scenes to the beat of the music, slowly at first, gradually becoming more frequent as the music intensifies and the imagery grows more violent and intense, increasing the suspense exponentially. 0:16 marks the first shift in the music, subtly turning up the gain on the synthesizers, leaving the clean sound behind in favour of a distorted more granular sound. At 0:20, an old missing child poster appears, a likely nod to the posters that littered the walls of the recent 2017 adaptation of King’s “It.” At 0:23, a close shot of a finger presses a key on a decrepit piano covered in dust and cobwebs, cuing a faint cymbal.

0:30 marks the second shift in music as J. J. Abrams names appears on the screen. Strings soar as the percussion picks up, maintaining the tempo with a steady pulse like literal clockwork. At 0:48, a sound like a jet engine begins revving up, quietly at first, and then faster and faster – you can picture the audio engineer manually sliding the faders on the mixer board. At 0:53, a prisoner played by Bill Skarsgard peers out a slot in his prison cell – you might recognize him from your dreams, as he has been haunting them since his portrayal of Pennywise the Clown in “It.”

At 0:58, the music cuts and the screen goes black. The nothingness is penetrated by Skarsgard’s voice, “You have no idea what’s happening here, do you?” A guttural rolling synth sound emerges as a car submerges under dark waters, labeled “Shawshank Department of Corrections.” The Shawshank Redemption is of course based on a short story penned by King. And to answer your question, Mr. Skarsgard: No, we truly have no idea what’s happening here.

Castle Rock premieres in 2018.

 

– Andrew Sproule

X-Men: The New Mutants

As we begin to enter the holiday release window for some of 2017’s biggest films, trailers have naturally begun to focus on 2018’s slate. In some ways extending on the premise presented in this year’s Logan, X-Men: The New Mutants extends the X-Men franchise in yet another direction, this time promising something more akin to what one would expect from a horror film. 

Right away, the tone is bleak, grim, and downright spooky: as the camera slowly opens from black to a pan down a decrepit hallway in a non-descript, abandoned building, a cascade of atonal, buzzing synth tones slowly creeps upward in pitch as yet more layers in the bass are added. As an additional shot fades in on a graveyard, the swollen pitch then subsides. At 0:23, as the 20th Century Fox studio card enter, the musical premise is revealed: a children’s choir intones, “we don’t need no education,” an immediately recognizable lyrics and melodic line from Pink Floyd’s seminal classic, “Another Brick in the Wall.” At 0:32 we get the classic, sharp sound of what may be a waterphone, another acoustic marker germane to the horror genre. 

At 0:35 the next line enters, now with added bass synth: “we don’t need no thought control,” the choir sings, as we see a massive control room where children (mutants, presumably) appear to be held in secure lockdown. From 0:38 to 0:44 we hear a classic, sharp ascent and crescendo in all of the instruments as the narrator asks an unnamed, off-screen character, “one last question.” At 0:44, just a menacing, claustrophobic rumble in the bass remains, only for the Marvel title card to provide a jump scare of sorts at 0:45 alongside a huge aural hit to announce the second half of the trailer.

From 0:46 onwards we hear a more pulsing pattern in the bass as the narrator’s voice switches to the voice of one of the children. The bass alternates up and down a minor third while the strings jarringly remain on the high end of their range, and the choir continues chanting the /lyrics of “Another Brick in the Wall.”

After another massive build-up from 1:02-1:10 as the narrator tells the mutants that “all of [them] are dangerous,” we are introduced to what appears to be a diegetic banging sound coming from an old washing machine, with other sound effects that are unclear as to whether they originate from the sound-world of the visual. At 1:22 we get another jump scare, opening from there to a montage with a classic “heartbeat” rhythm pulsing underneath the proceedings. As the interspersed titles promise “something new to fear,” the choir returns, chanting “leave those kids alone,” alongside many other instruments and frenetic action, almost drowned out by the greater spectacle. The “we don’t need no education” line returns once more for the main title card, which notably uses a font similar to the one on the album cover of The Wall, not too subtly leaning in on the artistic and emotional cachet of the cover song.

The use of Pink Floyd’s lyrics and the iconic melody they accompany are part of a larger, current trend in trailers that could be deemed the “trailerization” of a song. It’s easy to see why this technique appear to be so in vogue and attractive to trailer music editors: one can leverage the nostalgic power and recognisability of any particular popular song, while editing it in a convincing way so as to best fit the demands of a trailer’s visual narrative. Only time will tell if and when this trend exits the mainstream, or how it may yet evolve.

 – Curtis Perry

Hangman

If it wasn’t for the October 2017 timestamp below the YouTube video player, I would have put money on Hangman being a forgotten ‘90s classic. Stop me if this sounds familiar: a thriller about a senior detective and a criminal profiler who are dragged into an investigation when a serial killer leaves cryptic clues that indicate that his recent murder spree is somehow tied to the detective himself. The detective in question is played by none other than Al Pacino. Oh, and for good measure, the trailer is set to “House of the Rising Sun,” a traditional song popularized by The Animals, and here performed by Geordie.

Hangman pulls from the playbooks of the crime films that defined the genre to deliver a film that feels like it was plucked from a different era, shamelessly pandering to an audience who cites David Fincher’s Se7en as their favourite film and have seen Silence of the Lambs more times than they’d care to admit. Full disclosure: I’m in that camp. Beyond its nostalgic value, House of the Rising Sun is used to colour Pacino’s character as complicated and grey, painting a silhouette of a man who is not without his regrets.

The trailer begins with the two detectives staking out a dive bar. The music features prominent male vocals humming the chord progression for House of the Rising Sun. The music is so loud here that it is difficult to make out the dialogue – a stylistic choice that is true of the entire trailer. At 0:15, as Pacino’s character is informed that his badge number was etched into a desk at the scene of the serial killer’s most recent murder, the lyrics sing, “It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy.” At 0:20, the music cuts out for the first and only time in the trailer, just long enough for the criminal profiler to declare, “We got a serial killer.”

When the music returns two seconds later, it is fleshed out with drums and guitars. The detectives discover that the killer is toying with them, playing a game of hangman written with the blood of his victims. Again, the music dominates the sonic space, putting as much if not more weight on the lyrics of the song. At 0:37 it becomes clear that Pacino’s character is encumbered by the weight of the murders. The trailer communicates this to the audience simultaneously through dialogue and the music. Exasperated, Pacino exclaims, “Because of me, this whole game is taking place.” At the same time, the lyrics of the song echo, “Spend your lives in sin and misery, in the house of the rising sun.”

At 0:49, Vic Malcolm's electric guitar takes over and solos as action flies across the screen. At 1:02, the singing has taken to new decibel heights, totally overshadowing the dialogue. Geordie’s rendition of the song is rife with emotion. Frontman Brian Johnson, who later went on to front AC/DC after Bon Scott died, sings powerfully, “There is a house in New Orleans, that they call the rising sun. And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God I know I’m one.” The climax of the song is thunderous (insert Thunderstruck pun here), syncing the music with the onscreen action, ending with a fiery explosion, as trailers often do.

 

– Andrew Sproule

 

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