The Secret Garden (2020)

A reimagining of the 1993 Francis Ford Coppola film based on Frances Hudgson Burnett’s 1911 novel, the music in this trailer for The Secret Garden (2020) enlists an inventive and evocative harmonic move to spur the audience’s sense of wonder.

After the 5-second trailer for itself, the soundtrack opens with a majestic change from a G minor chord to its relative E flat major chord, moving to and from these chords. Shortly after the trailer proudly presents a title card stating the film is by the producer of the Harry Potter series, the music breaks into a compound meter evocative of the music of said series.

It’s only around the 0:42 mark, however, that we hear a harmonic move that is distinctly modern. It’s a move from the Eb major down to a C major chord. Usually, in G minor, the ear expects a C minor sound. However, the composer clearly opts to subvert this expectation. It produces a sound that is somewhat heroic or dramatic in flavour—you hear it in the main Avengers theme (as an E minor — C major — A major movement). It’s also appeared in last year’s Westworld Season 2 trailer, with its orchestral cover version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” (G# major — E minor — C# major). 

In all cases, it’s the raised sixth scale degree—that note that makes the last chord in the sequence major, instead of the expected minor—that gives the progression its distinctiveness. 

Back to the Secret Garden trailer, then, at 0:50 we hear the hallmark martial drums played in epic triplets, only to quiet for some dialogue. One wonders if these conventions of epic music have become overplayed, and whether trailers from the mid to late 2010s will become a bit dated for having done so.

As if to underline that concern of epic music conventions bleeding into the rest of the aural arrangement, we hear a tubular bell overlaid with some birds at the end, at 1:34 of this relatively brief teaser trailer. It could be this is exactly as intended, but the juxtaposition of these mellow and martial tones sounds more like a world that deserves a more soothing representation, but is beholden to the conventions in the modern trailer score.

Regardless, it’s clear that the trailer’s music leans into the distinctiveness of its harmony as a motivic device, and it’s an effective unifier for the music, which must change swiftly and with as much cohesion as possible within the confines of its minute-and-a-half lifespan. In this regard, it does well, bringing to mind the aforementioned successful trailers (AvengersWestworld S2), among others.

— Curtis Perry