Monday I warned you about the impending pandemic of Giant Slimy Black Cricket Things that Burrow Into Your Belly Button. Well, today I have an even more important Public Safety topic: Our Rapidly Vanishing Supply of Heroic Movie Themes.
While this crisis has been steadily building since the last Lord of the Rings film, my most recent cause for concern comes in the form of the new Star Trek trailer. Erika posted about the trailer last month, and you can read my take on the very first Trek trailer from late last fall.
In the past decade or so I've carefully developed a strong resistance to overblown summer movie expectations. These days I hold my emotions in check; I proceed with cautious optimism, not wild-eyed fanboy drooling. But lately that third Star Trek trailer, released almost two months ago and still dominating the cineplex previews, has got me in full stupidly hopeful, blindly geeked out mode. Against all my better judgment, I am giddy with foolish anticipation.
(Just in case you somehow still haven't seen it, check it out here. And yes, I'm talking about the theatrical trailer, not the Extreme Trek TV ads focusing on the fist fights, sex, and high-altitude sky diving instead of space battles in order to attract a new generation of energy-drink chugging, tattooed, X-gamers. "This is not your father's Trek." Bah.)
Some of my growing adoration of the trailer is from that All-time Great Trailer Moment when McCoy says "We've got no captain and no first officer to replace him," and Kirk steps up and says "Yeah, we do," and takes his rightful place in the Naugahyde seat of destiny. Yep, that's a full-blown 30-years-in-the-making, James T.-worshiping, galactic goose-bumpy, geek-gasm moment right there.
Plus, we finally get to see much more of the fully functional Enterprise in action. I'm not sure non-fans understand just how pure and perfect and beautiful that classic Enterprise shape is to us lifers. Star Trek may be all about Gene Roddenberry's hopeful, humanist view of the future; and about the lifelong friendship and philosophical balance between Spock (the brain), McCoy (the heart), and Kirk (the fists and, um… other parts). But it's also in large part a sea-going adventure story, Horatio Hornblower in Space, as it's often called–and at its heart is that beloved ship.
But all that aside, what really hooked me into the trailer–and the new film–is the music. Finally we get some truly stirring, inspiring, up-on-your-feet feeling it heroic music, and… it's not in the movie. In fact, unlike the trailer-friendly Children of Dune musical cues from Brian Taylor, the epic music in the Star Trek trailer is not from any movie.
Instead it's a piece called "Freedom Fighters" from the trailer-music production company Two Steps from Hell. TSFH consists of two composers–Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen–who create whole albums of this time of somewhat generic, multi-purpose instrumental music that is never made available to the general public. Like other production houses, they then hope studio marketing departments will pick up their tracks and use them to fill out trailer soundtracks.
You're hearing production-house trailer music all the time–you usually don't notice it because it's designed to sound like everything else you've heard. It's meant to create a mood without drawing attention away from the stars and the clips, so it just goes in one ear and out the other. Which is why it was surprising this spring that TSFH and "Freedom Fighters" suddenly grabbed so much attention for this Trek trailer–it's like a minor-league call-up player coming off the bench in the ninth to hit a game-winning grand slam.
(The identity of the music was also the subject of much initial fanboy confusion and controversy upon the trailer's release, as there were conflicting reports that it was in fact from Brian Taylor's rightfully ubiquitous Children of Dune score. I won't go into all the convoluted time-line details, but you can get the full story at AICN's post, here. Warning: It's really just for us obsessive movie music geeks who really, really care about this sort of minutia. But you'd think all the attention being focused on this trailer and the
praise for its music would mean that TSFH or its component composers
would have a better shot now at scoring a full-length feature film in
the near future.)
All this brings us back to my question. What's happened to the art of heroic movie themes when the music for a trailer is, by all early accounts, much more gripping, exciting, and memorable than the score that ends up in the actual film?
I can't help but feel we're in a Heroic Movie Theme Drought. I'm not saying every action/adventure/fantasy film has to have an instantly classic John Williams Raiders, Superman, or Star Wars score, but if you're making films specially about heroes and heroism, shouldn't they have something on the soundtrack to send us out of the theater with a song in our heart?
Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings music was suitably rousing and lasting, but that was five years ago. Since then have there been any great heroic soundtracks? I like most of the new superhero movies, but can anyone hum me the main themes from the X-men or Spider-Man franchises? Or from last year's Iron Man? Quick, how does the Transformers music go? (No, the film score, not the "More Than Meets the Eye" jingle…) And I dearly love Christopher Nolan's Batman films–they are a distinct improvement over even the Tim Burton versions. But they do lack Danny Elfman's distinctive, inspiring tunes. And we all know James Bond's iconic theme, but what about Jason Bourne's?
Maybe it's just me. In the years since Return of the King my own taste in scores has grown a bit darker, more moody and existential. (My personal favorite scores of recent years were John Murphy's for Danny Boyle's Sunshine and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' for The Assassination of Jesse James, so I've definitely gone more anti-hero lately.) Maybe running around humming Grand Themes is a young geek's game, and I'm just not hearing and remembering the newer music the way other fans do. Perhaps I'm forgetting or ignoring a really terrific, obvious recent example.
Or it could just be a cultural, stylistic trend–aiming for younger, hipper audiences (as Star Trek, Iron Man, and Transformers so clearly do) means reaching more often for catchy, driving pop songs than orchestral sweep. These things tend to go in cycles, and perhaps in the next couple years the pendulum will swing back to Big Themes–the kind you hear a few bars and not only instantly know what hero is on his or her way, but feel just a bit more heroic and uplifted yourself.
In the meantime, could the producers of Star Trek just slip a bit of that TSFH trailer music into the final film? Just for me?