Tuesday, March 3, 2009
When trailer music sets impossible standards
When I first started this blog way back in January, and was flooded with ideas, one of the things I'd wanted to write was a post called "The impossibility of Pineapple Express ever being good enough." It would have begun this way:
In the past year, I believe I've listened to the song "Paper Planes" by M.I.A. between 50 and 75 times. Because it's a really, really good song, I still haven't gotten sick of it. And because it's a really, really good song, I had ten times higher expectations for Pineapple Express than I should have.
Okay, back to the post that's actually being written right now. I'm not sure if you had the same experience I did, though I know some of you did, because we've discussed it. The original trailer for Pineapple Express was going along compellingly enough, looking like a fun and probably hilarious blending of the stoner and action genres. But then M.I.A.'s enthralling anthem -- with its gunshots, cocked hammers and cash registers providing crucial instrumentation -- kicked in. After that, Pineapple Express became The Awesomest Movie Ever.
Or so I was hoping. When months of anticipation finally culminated for me in a screening on opening weekend last August, the word that came to mind was "disappointment." Not only does the movie's tone turn too violent toward the end, resulting in a bunch of gory deaths that are out of synch with what you want from a comedy, but most crucially, "Paper Planes" never makes an appearance. And I'm sorry, but Huey Lewis' eponymous theme song just didn't satisfy me as a substitute.
It's a phenomenon we've seen numerous times before. A really well made trailer is distinguished by its choice of music far more often than we may consciously acknowledge. Sure, the editing has to be good, and it has to give more of a sense of what to expect, rather than a miniature synopsis of the entire plot. We remember those things. What we may not remember as consciously is how the music can also whip us up into a fervor. Whether it was the stirring Mozart score to the trailer for the Sly Stallone actioner Cliffhanger, or Wyclef Jean covering "Stayin' Alive" for The Big Hit (another sub-par action movie), I remember the way the combination of the perfect music and the perfect images jazzes me up exponentially.
Just think back to that M.I.A. song and the Pineapple Express trailer. "I fly like paper, get high like planes ..." Meanwhile, in the background, James Franco is doing the worm, Seth Rogen is doing some kind of upper-body breakdancing move, James Franco kicks his foot through the windshield of the police car he's driving, Seth Rogen jumps off a balcony onto a baddie below. Awesome stuff, right?
If it weren't for this trailer, I think I probably would have liked Pineapple Express a lot better. After all, the main thing it's guilty of is not being quite as good as it should have been. And I blame the trailer for giving me my notion of how good it should have been. But I wouldn't trade it. I'll always consider that a perfectly executed trailer, and I get chills even now when I watch it, even knowing I was ultimately disappointed.
So how does this all relate to Watchmen? Well, it's happening to me all over again. Watchmen -- based on what's widely considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time -- has lots of much more significant reasons it's being anticipated than good trailer music. However, most of those reasons belong to the comic book geeks. And though I like a good comic book, I am far from a comic book geek. In fact, when I first saw the cast of Watchmen on the cover of Entertainment Weekly last summer, timed with Comic-Con, I thought, "Who're these fucking guys?" (Thank you, Major League, for the quotation.)
But as soon as I saw the first trailer, it was all over for me. The music got me again.
It's Smashing Pumpkins doing the honors this time. And even though I haven't been a regular listener of Smashing Pumpkins for ten years, there's something about the way "The End is the Beginning is the End" just pushes this trailer over the top. As the music really kicks in, a giant amphibious flying machine bursts through the surface of a river next to a major American city. Then the beats are timed up again for a man being thrown backwards through a plate-glass window. Then again for a masked man using an aerosol can as a flamethrower. The goose bumps are coming out on my skin.
As the music continues to pulse forward, a number of wondrous sites hit our eyes -- a hairless blue dude making people explode by shooting rays from his hands, a Molotov cocktail smashing into a truck, and what's that crazy-ass contraption rising out of the desert? Sure, the images themselves are doing a lot of the work here. But you'd be lying if you didn't acknowledge how well the music brings you to that place.
Will Watchmen live up to the hype? I'll be able to answer that question for you this weekend. You better bet I'm seeing it no later than Sunday, and I'll be opting for IMAX to heighten the experience.
Comic book fans will be trying to see how it measures up to the graphic novel. Me? I'll be wondering if and when that Smashing Pumpkins song will appear.