The Temp Soundtrack - Why MCU music sucks

I’m a huge fan of Every Frame a Painting. This is probably one of the best videos I’ve seen explaining why blockbuster soundtracks all sound alike.

And yeah. The only MCU ditty I can hum is the one from Avengers, but that’s mostly because I’ve heard it a bajillion times now.

Supplemental video here:

The music samples in that first piece are stark in how obviously they ape the temp pieces. I am musically disinclined, so I never would have noticed any of these without having them pointed out to me.

Meanwhile I simply don’t watch enough to catch quite how… disposable they are.

However Tony is, as always, quite observant and clear about the topic. There is literally about 20 seconds of original scoring from the MCU that I can think of off hand, that of the Avengers theme. Meanwhile I could hum hours of John Willaims compositions. To continue the theme, can you hum any song from the following:

Jaws
Jurassic Park
Indiana Jones
the original Superman
E.T.
the already mentioned Star Wars and Harry Potter series

You get the idea. Granted it is hardly fair to contrast Williams to the MCU music, Williams has a long established reputation, and has composed for some of the most memorable films of all time. Being Speilberg’s favorite tends to do that for you.

But it is somewhat disappointing. There is nothing approaching William’s best work, or The Lord of the Rings. Which is a shame, because outside a few select composers I can not honestly say that any film scoring has stuck with me the last 15 years. I never knew the reason why, but when laid out like this the pieces do fall into place. Temp music delenda est.

Rey’s theme, I feel, does hold up as a standalone work that informs us about the character.

Reason #4,146 The Winter Soldier is the best of the MCU movies. It’s the only one they have anything sorta nice to say about here.

Okay, damning with faint praise, but still, it’s the only one I could remember any music from besides the main Avengers theme. Specifically, I remember Bucky’s theme, which isn’t very melodic, but it stuck with me.

Oh, and I remember “The Star Spangled Man” from the first Captain America, but that’s obviously not the same thing.

Aww, I’m bummed to hear that, because I think the Force Awakens score was the best thing John Williams has done in a long time. A lot of “retexturing” of classic Star Wars stuff – sort of the movie in a nutshell, actually – but also some really good new stuff. Rey’s Theme in specific is one of the best things he’s ever done. The motif when Po Damron and the X-Wings rescue everyone from that ruined tavern place is also wonderful. It’s from March of the Resistance:

As someone who has little patience with the average blockbuster’s safe bland music, I really liked what Williams did in Force Awakens.

-Tom

Not that I’m aware of, but maybe there’s a friendly Star Wars nerd here who might know otherwise. I wonder if you’re thinking of its similarity to what I think is the absolute best – no hyperbole – piece of music John Williams has composed: the music from Jaws when everyone is building the cage, desperate for something that will save them, finally working together for the first and only time.

Structurally, I think it’s similar to March of the Resistance. I don’t know music terminology much, but I think you could describe both of them as fugues.

-Tom

Aside from the Winter Soldier’s theme, the only memorable piece of music is reused from Alan Silvestri’s First Avenger score. Post-Avengers, only movie I’d point to as having a decent original score is Iron Man 3:

Given how ‘safe’ Marvel films are in general, it’s no surprise that their soundtracks are equally safe.

I don’t like most modern movie music. The reason why was mentioned in the youtube video – that these days musical soundtracks are supposed to simply score the movie and provide feeling whilst being unnoticed, whereas I prefer a nice tune.

As a consequence, I don’t like AAA game music, as most AAA games are simply trying to be movies with playable section and include a “cinematic” soundtrack. I think Halo is a good example of such a generic and “cinematic” soundtrack, so I’m always surprised when people remember, and even profess to love, the Halo soundtrack.

ps: With something like Hans Zimmer “You’re So Cool” from True Romance (1993) – do you think they used Gassenhauer for temp music here and liked enough to copy it, or they just wanted that exact theme but modern?

Here’s what it pings for me, and I’ll forgive you all for not getting the same impression. It is from objectively the worst film in the series.

Say what you will about the prequels, especially this one, but Williams was on point. Some of his best soundtrack work effectively wasted on such sub par films. But the music hold up quite nicely, so there is that.

When I first saw the Force Awakens in theaters, the Resistance March most reminded me of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW36qWZ2JZk

And I’m certainly not going to begrudge Williams some similar themes. How many scores has the guy done? Plus. there’s a very recognizable “Williams Style”.

I was slightly underwhelmed with my first listen or two of TFA, but it’s grown on me. There’s a lot of texture there. It’s silly to expect Williams to top 70’s-80’s era Williams. He’s still awesome. Williams forever, yo.

As for MCU, I’ve been bemoaning their scores since the beginning. Imagine if they had some really strong themes that could be woven through movies. There’s a couple of nice bits in Avengers 1, but that’s about it. Everything is just action cue #134529. As noted in the video up-thread, it’s completely stock and unmemorable.

It gave me a slight sad face to see Fury Road included in the temp-track inspired scores in that video, but I still think that score is awesome-sauce. It’s intrinsic to the presentation, which is what you want in a score.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjoDwrsx8go&t=1m40s

There’s tons of examples of temp track lifts, even going back a ways. In Glory, they temped ‘O Fortuna’ in the fort attack scene, and they apparently grew so attatched to it that Horner had to do a bit of a pastiche.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz3sZiVAO0k&t=1m15s

The use of a temp track isn’t inherently awful. It’s been used for decades. The negative effects occur when the director or producers get too attached to the temp track and insist on the composer hitting all the same beats because the music has to match the cuts.

Marvel movies and many blockbusters don’t allow composers the time to do anything beyond cranking out a weak copy of the temp track. That’s where you get stuck with every summer movie sounding like they came out of a factory.

Oh absolutely! A look at his IMDB suggests around 180. And not all arememorable, and more than a few are simply him listed when they use a track from another of his classics.

But the guy won more than a few awards for a reason. Even though his style, which is most distinct in his application of triplets in fanfares and his stacatto marches, is apparent it is also something he works into the films in distinct ways. While not every track is a standout, he has many that are.

It is the difference between him and the MCU. The MCU music accompanies the film, Williams scores typically have a few tracks that elevate them.

My personal opinion is that Bear McCreary is one of the younger composers capable of doing the same. Though his best work is on TV, and thus less prone to the repeated viewings of a movie composer. But the music for Agents of Shield is better, and more unique, than what the MCU does in films.

Battlestar Galactica is amazing. Some of the best composing for TV ever. I love the show, but the score is better than the show deserves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmC39vxowYw

That’s a great track, Tom. I am completely unbiased.

It was brilliant of Williams to score the latter half of the movie as a nautical adventure, instead of a horror movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9J-C38IHSRU

The Hollywood Reporter composers roundtable (2012 Academy Award nominees) linked/excerpted in the video was also surprisingly interesting.

That said, I’d rather have an unobtrusive (and ignorable) score than the licensed song desperation jamboree that made up Suicide Squad’s soundtrack.

This whole thing is fascinating. Thanks for sharing, @Telefrog.

I used to collect soundtracks with aveng… er, a vengeance. I hardly have anything from the last decade, and now i might know why. Thanks!

There are still gems in unexpected places. Listened to the score to “How to Train Your Dragon” today. Good stuff there. Come to think of it, some of the more memorable scores lately have come from animated films…

(Goes digging through the archives)