Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Superhero Theme Project: Thor and Captain America

Several months ago, I set my sights on adding Captain America and Thor to the Little One's Superhero Theme playlist.  When I added graphics to the songs on the playlist, it seemed like an opportune time to subtly expand it to include more Marvel characters. The dissatisfaction I had with my initial Martian Manhunter choice last year, however, taught me to be careful.   I certainly wanted to use franchise music if at all possible, but to be honest, despite being a devoted fan of the recent Marvel movies, I think the area in which these films could use some improvement is in their soundtracks.

The Iron Man 3 theme was already a favorite on the playlist, though, so earlier this year I proactively got Bryan Tyler’s soundtrack to Thor: the Dark World. I spent some time with it and finally watched the movie. After getting to know it, I will say the music is quite good, and certainly serves its purpose. In a side-by-side comparison, however, it seemed an awful lot like Iron Man 3 with less electronics and more choir. As a result, despite having existing music in the franchise, I decided to outsource Thor’s theme.

I appropriated the opening track from Space Battleship Yamato. The timing was off for me to use this outstanding soundtrack for the previous run of heroes earlier this year, so I was enthusiastic about getting it in the playlist. I think it is an absolutely perfect theme for Thor. Like a lot of the Marvel heroes, Thor is a bit complicated for the Little One to understand. Most current depictions of him are brooding and grim, so she often interprets him as a “bad guy.” It’s true that in the comics, Thor is the Thunderer, a warrior-god whose affection for humanity is often strained by their own ignorance. He is also noble and majestic, though, and this track allows both of these aspects of his character to shine through in its contrasting battle themes and flowing cosmic vocalizations.

Still, the clincher, especially in this phase of the project, is to get a picture that isn’t “scary” for her to look at while this track is playing. When it finally came up in the shuffle, she still took the stance that he wasn’t a very nice guy. I explained to her that Thor was a friend of Iron Man’s. A few minutes later, she was grinning and striking poses with an imaginary hammer.

Of all of the current Marvel heroes with big theatrical releases, the Captain America movies have been my favorites. I really wanted to adopt something from the first film, because it told the Captain America backstory so well. It emphasized the fact that Captain America is a soldier, but one that is driven more by personal convictions than blind adherence to chain of command. After listening to the soundtrack to The First Avenger several times, however, I didn’t latch on to any stand out moments that fit the 2-4 minute time requirement. I toyed with the idea of using a patriotic march, but that seemed too clich√©. He is more than a mere soldier, he is an ideal. Rendering him with something as obvious as a march seemed inappropriate.

So I waited until I watched the Winter Soldier. Although this might be my favorite Avengers-related movie to date, the soundtrack seems to capitalize the on movie’s overtones of espionage and betrayal. The movie plays up the fact that Captain America is a patriot from a bygone era, which keeps his commentary on contemporary society relevant. I wanted to capture this idealized patriotism without selling it out.  I decided on Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.

It just made sense: Copland endeavored to create a distinctively American style of orchestral music. While many of his pieces attempt to capture the flavor of the old west, Fanfare for the Common Man can’t be beat for its majestic nobility. Additionally, from the perspective of character continuity, with a 1942 composition date, it could conceivably be a song that Steve Rogers might have found inspiring. Plus, it is a personal, long-time favorite of mine. I seriously doubt that any film composer would ever be able to come up with a more effective theme.

The first time she heard Fanfare for the Common Man was through the phone’s speaker while she was playing upstairs. The audio quality was laughable, but still, the song stopped her in her tracks. I did not have to explain who it was at all. With the graphic up, she told me who it was. Then she sat down and listened to the entire thing….twice.

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