This post originally appeared in my Sunday newsletter where I talk about trailers. If you like these posts, please subscribe!
I'm starting a new category for my newsletter called "Trailer Trends" where I'll discuss common trends in trailer editing, and why I think they're popular. I count the Inception Braaaaaaam Sound as one of these trends, so I re-titled that post accordingly.
A brief but notable trend was piano covers of theme music for reboots or sequels of beloved film franchises. The most prominent ones were for the new Ghostbusters film, Jurassic World and Star Wars: Rogue One.
Discussion of this trend with some friends on Twitter resulted in me making this very silly mashup video in which I swapped out the piano music from each film's trailer, and recut them as if that was the music intended for each trailer.
What was going on in the heads of the trailer producers? I can't know for sure, but here are my thoughts.
I mean that's why Hollywood is inundated with sequels, reboots, and remakes, right? I'll say it until I'm blue in the face, but music is the most important part of a trailer. All of these film franchises have incredibly hummable theme music, so naturally they're going to leverage that for the new films. Trailers need to excite, and connect with the audience emotionally as quickly and effectively as possible. If the trailer can play just a few notes to hook the audience, then of course they're going to do it.
Make the old new again
As much as we're nostalgic about these themes, hearing the original versions won't make us think that there's something new coming; it's very likely that our brain will just think that the old thing is coming back as a re-release. That's why it's necessary to make a new version of the theme.
A couple film franchises with theme music that get new versions with each film are James Bond and the Mission: Impossible films. When Mission: Impossible 2 came out, there was a lot of buzz about how Limp Bizkit was making their own version of the theme. Similarly, Moby made his own version of the James Bond theme for Tomorrow Never Dies. The theme music for these films have for better or for worse become more modern and epic. I can easily see these themes getting something similar to a plinky piano cover in the future because...
Minimalist classical instruments sound classy
Whether or not this is true in execution is debatable. Jurassic Park and Star Wars are both iconic classical John Williams scores, but as excellent as they are, I think the films are still largely viewed as popcorn films through and through.
I feel like blockbuster films can get a chip on their shoulder about being considered junk food, low brow or disposable forms of entertainment. So I think the minimalist covers of these theme songs with slow plinky piano music is a way of them saying: "Look how elegant, classy and high art we are! These films are capital 'I' IMPORTANT!"
I liken this approach to John Woo cutting one of the big shootouts in Face/Off to Olivia Newton-John singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The music in that scene was both diegetic and non-diegetic since it's playing in the headphones of the kid caught in the crossfire (I assume they're equipped with some sort of gunshot noise canceling technology), but I remember when I first saw that scene at the age of 16, I thought to myself "THIS IS ART!" I think that trailers frequently operate at this level of thinking.
It's a fun to cut action to slow music, and it still excites me to see even though I know it's kind of cliche and silly to think that will immediately make something seem more "important." Another good example is in the trailer for Drive. I even cut the ending of my fan trailer for the game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West this way because I found it so appealing.
I don't know how to gauge the efficacy of this plinky piano covers, but I'm pretty sure these reasons were roughly what drove the decision making behind them. Since music is so important to trailers, you can be sure that there will be plenty more musically driven trends in trailer editing in the future.
Another one I'll discuss in the future is the use of cover versions of pop songs which as of the writing of this post is definitely a trend that doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.