Many many moons ago, during her heyday as a mid ’90s smartass, Janeane Garofalo, standing on stage with her written jokes on a nearby stool, dryly noted how every movie trailer begins with a narrator menacingly stating, “In a world …” It was the first time I ever noticed cliches in movie trailers. There are a few modern day versions of movie trailer cliches. Ever since Hans Zimmer scored Christopher Nolan’s Inception with that low end heavy bwooooong, you’d be hard pressed to find a trailer that does not feature a bwoooooong at some point. Almost every horror movie trailer ends with a split second skivvy-ruining jump scare. Or that cliche where the orchestral score slowly builds louder and louder and louder until an abrupt crescendo, then silence and some ominous piece of dialogue cutting through the quiet.
It was during the final bummer moments of Donnie Darko, that I first noticed the somber cover songs used in film. Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ somewhat sadder version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” started hauntingly playing underneath, giving the film a creepier, bleaker tone than it already possessed. Back then and for a while after that, it was pretty cool stuff. Was is the keyword. Since then, the somber cover song has been featured in many a movie and, most noticeably, in many a movie trailer.
While I had been acutely aware of the trend, it wasn’t until a recent visit to a cineplex that I noticed how prevalent it is. This particular visit was fraught with four consecutive examples. As long as audiences remain undemanding of their shitty movie trailers for even shittier movies, I’d like to suggest a couple morose song covers: how about a glum version of Captain And Tennille’s “Muskrat Love” or maybe a haunting take on Elmo And Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” for that upcoming family drama and/or horror film. They’re pretty interchangeable. Anyway, here are three really real examples of morose movie trailer music stuff. Below are a few examples of where it worked and quite a few more where it just, like, didn’t.
“Creep” — The Social Network
A long long time ago, the country was still reeling from melodramatic Bella and moody Edward moping for a third go around in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and the oh-so-sad news that Saw VII might truly be the last Saw movie ever …until last year. It’s very possible you saw the trailer for David Fincher’s Facebook drama The Social Network. The slowed down, even more maudlin choir-driven version of the Radiohead hit by The Scala and Kolacny Brothers lent a tense vibe to the footage that unspooled before us. It was unsettling, unique, and effective.
“Black Hole Sun” — A Walk Among the Tombstones
It was 2014, way back when. Remember those days? The world had been begging — on hands and knees no less — for a film based on Legos and once again the movie gods blessed us with the cleverly titled The Lego Movie. The movie gods even listened to that lone voice that was begging for a much not-needed prequel called 300: Rise Of An Empire. Somewhere, someone in Universal Pictures’ marketing department said to their fictional boss, “Ya know JT, we got this dour crime mystery starring Liam Neeson. Let’s really hammer home the dourness of A Walk Among The Tombstones by playing a slowed down achingly beautiful slowly crescendoing version of an already dour song by Soundgarden. The kids’ll eat it up like hotcakes …whatever those are.”
The Exceptionally Ugly
“Do You Realize?” — Transformers: The Last Knight
In early January 2017, the whole country was happier than a clam. No major political events or big time scandals were dividing the country near as I could tell. That super maximum joy was readily apparent in our theaters. We walked out of a film like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story secure in the knowledge that a beloved franchise was safe in the hands of the Empire-esque Disney corporation while parents gritted their teeth through all one hundred and five minutes of an animated film about monster trucks called Monster Trucks. As further evidence that Hollywood is far from creatively bankrupt, Paramount Pictures released a trailer for their fifth sequel to a film based on an ’80s toy line, Transformers: The Last Knight. In lieu of plinking piano keys or melodramatic vocals, we were treated to Ursine Vulpine’s emotionless cyborg voice singing the lyrics of the popular Flaming Lips anthem. The cover was exactly like the original except it lacked any of the happy-happy-joy-joy. Even better was that the antiseptic cover played underneath footage of stuff blowing up real good. It was cool because we’d never heard low key dour cover songs play in trailers over the past six or seven years that preceded it.