Friday, October 17, 2014

The Superhero Theme Project: The Hulk Makes Her Think

Marvel characters are generally more complex than DC characters, none more so than the Hulk. He's big, he's scary, he's angry, but somehow, he is still a “good guy,”  This is not easy to get across to a 3 year old.  He is, however, an iconic Marvel character, I felt with some conviction that he should be represented alongside Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man in the newly expanded Superhero Theme Playlist.

In my mind, the music that defines the Hulk is the Lonely Man Theme from the 70s series.  I was 6 when this series premiered, but the image of Bill Bixby walking away with his back to the camera still floats into my mind's eye when I hear this piece.

The Lonely Man Theme by Joe Harnell on Grooveshark

The Lonely Man Theme made such an impression on me back then that my mother used to play a rather dynamic version of Moonlight Sonata on the piano when I went to sleep at night and called it "the Hulk." These two songs are forever woven together in my subconscious as representations of the character, a fact that has I openly admit influenced my conception of the Superhero Theme Project

Without the reference of the TV show, though, this beautifully melancholic piece of music doesn’t have an obvious connection to the Hulk.  It's just too conceptually complex to get across, especially in Hulk's current hypermuscular renderings, and to be honest, it also doesn't fit the orchestral scope of the rest of the playlist.  As much as this song touches me personally, I decided not to use it.

There have been other Hulk films, however, and my desire to stick with franchise music revealed examples that ran in extremes: either incredibly intense and scary or incomprehensibly atmospheric and brooding.  I eventually became fascinated with Craig Armstrong's soundtrack to the woefully underrated Incredible Hulk film that featured Ed Norton as Bruce Banner.  This soundtrack featured a cameo appearance of the Lonely Man Theme, so I felt confident that Armstrong could connect with the character in a way that honors the Hulk's history.  Although the track with this melody was too short and soft to be usable, I was soon drawn to the pensive menace in The Hulk Theme.  

This track still contrasts very strongly with the other pieces on the playlist.  It is easily the most atmospheric, and boasts the most overtly electronic soundscape.  It is identifiably orchestral, however, and it still manages to capture a complex, dynamic snapshot of the Hulk.  More importantly, its melodic unity allows it to stand as an independent musical entity that doesn’t need the action of the film to provide a narrative.  After what happened with The Martian Manhunter and the music from the Matrix, this is a necessary prerequisite when I search for new themes.

Eventually, The Hulk came up in the car, and halfway through the track, the little one flatly stated, for the first time ever, “I don’t like it."  I was quietly crushed.  Reluctantly, she listened to the whole thing, and I did not say anything else.  I guess she just needed a little time to think about it, though, because about fifteen minutes later, about half way through current favorite  "Thor" (AKA Space Battleship Yamato), she said "The Hulk makes different sounds than Thor."  I was taken a bit off-guard, but I emphatically agreed with her.  As soon as Thor was over, she asked to listen to The Hulk again.  It is currently her first-call track and the one that she most often talks about.

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