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Epic, film music is becoming

Jon Chapple 12 November 2015
Erica Basnicki

I am not a Star Wars fan. There, I’ve said it. I blame being born after the first film came out, and therefore missing out on the cinema experience. The confession is important so that you understand I have not been eagerly anticipating Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, or bothering to look up anything related to its release.

I ended up watching a music-only trailer for the film mainly because – like so many YouTube videos – someone I know on Facebook shared it along with a token reference to it being “epic”. That word is literally overused, but as this particular friend of mine is more of a grammar pedant than I am, I had reason to believe this claim. So I clicked.

He was right. John Williams’s score is an absolute masterpiece. It was a truly epic two-minute trailer, after which I actually felt sorry for director JJ Abrams. Williams’s music, like so many good film scores do, presses all the right emotional buttons so perfectly well that even I am sold on seeing it in cinema. If the other elements don’t hold up, Abrams will probably have to shut down his Twitter account.

After the Star Wars trailer, YouTube suggested another video: Inception Music Makes Everything Epic (literally: overused). There’s more than one, as the title has become a meme in its own right, but they all do the same thing: pair ridiculously uninteresting video clips with clips from Hans Zimmer’s score. And yes, the emotional impact of a man pulling his hoodie tight over his head, or a cat jumping up on a table, does trigger a much stronger response than it ought to.

I think it’s fair to assume that these videos, along with the music-only Star Wars trailer, indicate a growing appreciation for film music. Especially of the orchestral variety, which has always been tougher to sell than soundtracks composed by mainstream producers (think Trent Reznor and The Social Network).

It really doesn’t matter what kind of film score it is – the fact that casual film fans are more aware of the music is good for the pro-audio business at large. An increased awareness means filmmakers will need to allocate bigger budgets to deliver a higher degree of musical quality and originality.

This translates to anything from more studio time, more people time, more kit (better kit!)… Just more. Of everything. (If we’re very lucky, maybe even more voices calling out in support of Air Studios, still under threat of closure from a proposed ‘super-basement’ planned by the owners of a neighbouring residence.)

However they achieve it, filmmakers need to start thinking bigger or risk a poor soundtrack taking away from the overall cinematic experience. After all, will film fans care if the music isn’t anything but epic?

Erica Basnicki is a writer and sound designer.

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