Musings About Music In Film

Trailer Tunes: 13 Hours

I'm not going to go on about Michael Bay as a filmmaker, but the trailer for new flick 13 Hours - based on the Benghazi attack when a US diplomatic compound in the Libyan city was targeted by Islamic militants - is about what you'd expect. The music is actually about the same. It begins with echoing percussion and rising strings as title cards and images tell us about the attack. The strings are a bit like the Ligeti cue from 2001 that was used in the Godzilla trailer and subsequent film; the strings are like a time code, underlining the fact that something has to be done at that specific moment or the characters won't survive (all echoed by the dialogue). Thundering drums tell us this is an intense firefight, and there's no room for melody here amongst the explosions.

It goes into some kind of dub step for a little as we see "civilians" approaching with bombs, and then it all goes quiet, save for the piano. A generic solo piano melody plays over scenes of warring chaos and sweaty Americans, and it's oh so emotional - WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!? The piano is augmented by melodramatic strings and inevitably someone gets access to Hans Zimmer's brass sample library and all bets are off.

The final third is pretty effective, and it shows how simplicity is sometimes the way to go. It's as manipulative as you can get, but manipulation is the name of the game when it comes to getting this kind of emotional response in such a short time frame. Unfortunately, the cynical side also has an opinion, and his opinion is "you should really stop falling for this generic rubbish". The rest of the trailer has no musical personality and it's hard to set this aside from any other expensive glossy war movie, and in the context, even the final third has to be compared with the others, so you have the tried and tested formula of juxtaposing the horror of war with the beauty of the piano.

So it generally works, but it all feels a bit cut and paste. It's not surprising, it's been a long time since any Michael Bay movie wasn't a musical shithouse, but it'll get the audience it's going for in seats. So in that case, job done. -CB

Watch the trailer below.