Apr 15 2014

Dear Marvel, Please Start Caring About Your Soundtracks

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Movies

capandshield

Dear Marvel,

Things are going pretty well for you guys now. Audience reception to The Winter Soldier represents another strong vote of confidence for your ongoing cinematic universe. Guardians of the Galaxy looks like the second or third awesomely weirdest movie of the year (hat tip to Noah and Jupiter Ascending). You’ve officially redefined the comic book movie.

A lot of this has to do with your canny ability to put the right people in the right roles. Joss Whedon is the most obvious recent win for you guys, but Branagh, Favreau and Black were all inspired choices. Ditto Joe Johnston.

And extra ditto Robert Downey, Jr. These are bold choices, made for the right reasons, that give your movies an edge in the crowded superhero market.

Now, can you please, please, PLEASE start putting that amount of thought and confidence into the music behind these movies?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s musical score is just flat-out bad. I’m sure you could justify the thought process behind its design, but there’s nothing original about it, and most of the cues range from boring to — literally — physically uncomfortable.

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The carry-over from the last movie, or even from The Avengers, was minimal. Cap’s theme was conspicuously absent, and one would think that Falcon, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Widow, or SOMEBODY present in the movie deserved a recognizable motif or musical signature.

Admittedly, I noticed a vague attempt at giving the Winter Soldier himself a recognizable score cue, but it falls flat. I mean, the noise certainly gets associated with him in the same way that a fart would if that was what was played over each of his appearances, but it doesn’t really DO anything. When compared to the Joker theme from The Dark Knight — probably its closest superhero cousin — the Winter Soldier motif sounds significantly less dynamic. The Joker’s dissonant string chords swell and mutate whenever he appears. Winter Soldier’s… sound… just sort of appears.

The Joker cue also aids in the actual storytelling. Remember that helicopter shot of the convoy just before the truck chase starts ramping up? The soundtrack fades out; the edgy strings start their slow build. By this point in the movie, that’s all the audience needs need — our nerves are on edge before Joker even appears. No use of the Winter Soldier sound had this sort of effect.

And in all seriousness, stuff like this just sounds like library tracks:

(track is “Fury,” if they take it down and you feel like listening along)

Know the really painful thing? The best score that came out of Phase One was without question the score for the first Captain America. Alan Silvestri — a composer who doesn’t get to strut his stuff nearly enough — gave Cap an honest-to-goodness theme that highlighted his old-fashioned brand of American heroism. As an audience member, I can testify that the score had something to do with how well that movie landed its approach to the character.

That’s what a score should do. Just like cinematography, editing, sound design, or anything else, a score should act as a storytelling tool. Sadly, modern filmmakers often opt for a sort of audio wallpaper; giving us music that idles in the background, generally accentuates the tone or provides a basic sense of propulsion. (Or they just rip off Inception.)

Thing is, The Winter Soldier’s disappointment isn’t unique for a Marvel superhero score. It’s certainly the worst one to date, but the first two Iron Man scores, and the one for The Incredible Hulk  are all pretty forgettable affairs. Brian Tyler’s recent efforts livened things up a lot, but truthfully it’s more of a novelty for a you guys to release a really good score than a mediocre one.

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More stuff like this.

This totally hurting your movies. These characters are pop culture giants– literally, super-human. You guys have got to start making them sound like it, because a killer score, or heck, even just a really good one, can be the thing that elevates a good movie to classic status.

It’s a cliche example, but look at Star Wars. A lot of what makes Lucas’s busy, paradigm-shattering serial epic actually work is the strong thematic backbone given to it by John Williams. Heck, Williams’s music is probably 75% of the reason the audience even buys the concept of “The Force.” The seven-note motif that plays every time that mystical energy field intervenes lets us, the audience, follow what the hell is even going on. Such is the power of music.

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Or we can talk Lord of the Rings. Remember that moment in Return of the King, when Frodo’s collapsed and Sam makes the heroic choice to drag him up the mountain himself? How much does that moment gain from the iconic score provided by Howard Shore? How much does it bolster the meme potential of “You shall not pass?” Again, this isn’t just mood music; this is a sonic story told through the manipulation and composition of themes. It doesn’t just underline what the movie is doing; it makes the movie better.

Titanic was an earth-shattering hit with an iconic theme song. Frozen’s been absolutely destroying my Facebook feed since it came out… guess what people are talking about the most?

I could go on and on and on about the value of a great score — Halloween! Tim Burton’s Batman! — but the point is simply this: a good score can do just as much (if not more) for a movie as a great performance or groundbreaking visual effects.

jaws

Duuuuhhhh dum…

Just imagine if, when your heroes teamed up in the Avengers movies, their themes came along with them. Imagine hearing the Captain America theme grow and evolve to reflect the character’s changing place in the world. Imagine a Hulk theme that could evoke awe and terror when it needed to, like the themes from Jaws or The Thing.

Unfortunately, so far pretty much all we can do is imagine.

Please give these heroes the music they deserve. It would be better for everybody.

Very Sincerely,

David

(Note: I’m not the best music reviewer in the world, so if you want a better analysis of the Winter Soldier score itself, this one addresses the issues with it pretty accurately) 





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7 responses so far

  • Steve

    BRAAAHMMM!!!!

    BRAAHHHMMM!!!!!

    BRAAAHMMM!!!!!

  • jandhyde

    “…. and Black were all inspired choices.” Got there, realized how much I would disagree with you on the rest of the article. Stopped reading. It sucks that I hate IM3 that much.

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    I guess I’m lucky because a bad score to me is like it doesn’t even exist so it doesn’t detract much from the experience. Unless they open with a moronic novelty pop song or use Christmas music in weird ways (hello, IM3!) or something equally obnoxious it doesn’t really bother me. I found Cap 2′s score to be pretty invisible.

  • Deaddogseye81

    Wasn’t Cap’s theme faintly played as he was lapping Falcon in the beginning of the film?

    • David R

      Was it? My memory was that there was just some anonymous low-key stuff that just sounded like it was in the same “Americana” family (like the stuff in the Smithsonian), but I suppose I could be wrong. If that’s the only example of his theme, then its absence in the rest of the movie is even more bizarre.

  • Rob

    Soundtrack for GOTG sounds pretty good so far.

  • Fug Duggler

    I suppose I could understand Cap’s theme being absent for the whole first part of the movie when he’s working closely with shield, but it might’ve been pretty cool to introduce the theme the first time we see him back in his old uniform.
    PS I’ll never understand all the IM3 hate. Some things I’d do differently, but nothing worthy of the hate I see.

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