6 Movie Soundtracks With Secrets You Totally Missed
From the days of pianos accompanying silent films to the "wah-ki-chacka" guitars that somehow made you feel cool for watching sleazy pornos, music has always been an important component of movies. Sometimes, though, there's more than meets the ear with these things. So in case you were too distracted by the sounds of teenagers making out in the darkness all around you to pay attention, let's review some of the most brain-exploding secret messages ever hidden on movie soundtracks:
The Star Wars Prequel Scores Have So Many Clever Clues That They Almost Make Up For Jar Jar
The Star Wars prequels have been crapped on so much that society has demoted George Lucas from cinematic visionary to the sad guy in a food court you feel sorry for. Fortunately for fans, iconic composer John Williams didn't follow a track similar to Lucas and decide to replace his orchestra with a Casio and a bunch of casual racism. No, Williams did some stellar work on those scores -- and like American history in the mind of Nicolas Cage, it's chock-full of clues. Take the triumphant march at the end of The Phantom Menace:
Even the characters are happy this movie is over.
See that old dude standing next to the frog-man with the cosmic bowling ball? That's a younger Emperor Palpatine, before his face got all evil and scrotum-y. So despite the happy ending, the events of the movie have in fact been playing right into his hands, paving the way for the evil Empire and some movies people actually like. Well, Williams hints at all that with the score. If you take this happy march music and play it in a minor key, you get the Emperor's creepy-ass theme from Return Of The Jedi:
Then there's Anakin's theme from the same movie, which you might recall as that chipper tune underscoring the whimsy of child slavery. What you may have missed is that Williams foreshadowed this little kid's future Vader-ness by cramming part of the Imperial March into the melody:
And remember Anakin and Padme's love theme from Episode II? You really should, because the first three notes are A, F, and D, while the Imperial March is B flat, F, and D -- only a semitone different. That's right, Williams is using musical notation to tell us that these two boning will eventually lead to galactic genocide.
It's pretty damn brilliant. Had some ballsy engineer decided to crank the track high enough to drown out the dialogue, it would have been perfect.
The Singing In Get Out Is The Ghosts Of Slaves Warning The Protagonist
Apart from some big questions about modern American race relations and how the hell brain surgery works, you might come away from Get Out wondering about the score. The ominous opening music features some creep-tastic whisper chants which at first seem like your fellow moviegoers are muttering a mysterious incantation between fistfuls of popcorn.
The piece, "Minor Trouble -- Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga," is in Swahili. Considering that most of the audience probably doesn't speak the language, you might have assumed that the composer simply filled the movie with Swahili fuck-yous to former bosses and exes. Instead, the Get Out score went down a more meaningful path. The lyrics are addressing the protagonist, Chris, warning him: "Brother, listen to the elders. Run! Brother, listen to the truth. Run, run far away! Save yourself." That's definitely advice the protagonist will wish he could have heard, though it's probably for the best that it wasn't in English and sung by Will Smith.
The reason it's in Swahili (when Esperanto would have been equally as mysterious) is that, per the request of director Jordan Peele, the voices are supposed to "represent the African souls lost from slavery, lynchings and other social injustices." That's right, those are ghosts singing. And while it's definitely a spooky touch to have dead spirits on the soundtrack -- imagine finding out that The Shining was scored by that bear costume ghost jamming on a synthesizer between blowjobs -- it's also a culturally important theme. As one writer at Medium.com argued, the voices are an embodiment of black history, "a haunting reminder to stay awake and attuned to the ways white supremacy reinvents itself everyday." Sure, they could have had a character look at the camera and say "BE WARY OF FROG MEMES," but this works, too.
The Iconic Friday The 13th Music Gives Away The Movie's Twist
Long before Jason Voorhees went apeshit on the Holodeck, there was the original Friday The 13th. The movie was highly influential, inspiring a multitude of copycat slashers and presumably a generation of parents who never let their kids anywhere near a summer camp. One particularly influential element was its music, that echoey "chi-chi-chi, cha-cha-cha" we all hear in our heads whenever we're alone in the woods.
Well, it turns out that it's not "cha-cha-cha," which makes sense. After all, why would a horror movie make its score sound like an obscene phone call from a dance instructor? According to the film's composer, Henry Manfredini, the line is "Ki Ki Ki Ma Ma Ma," and it directly points to the twist ending.
Manfredini wanted to give the killer, who remains unseen for most of the movie, a distinct musical personality. You know, like how in Jaws we don't get to see the shark, but we all now associate the sound of a tuba with bloody aquatic murders. So where did "Ki" and "Ma" come from? At the end of the movie, it turns out that Mrs. Voorhees is the killer, avenging her son Jason's death. In the climax, she is either possessed by her dead son, completely nuts, or a peanut-butter-and-chocolate-like mix of both. As she stalks the final counselor, Alice, she speaks in a childlike voice, reciting "Kill her, mommy."
She should have carried around a tank of helium for a better effect.
The composer took that line -- or evil mantra, if you will -- and abbreviated "Kill, Mommy" to "Ki Ma." He then recorded himself saying the lines with a crazy amount of reverb, creating the signature sound we all know. So the score is basically Jason urging his mom to off promiscuous teens, but for some reason, his voice is filtered through some experimental sound techniques, as if Mrs. Voorhees' deranged brain was produced by Brian Eno.
The Music In Lost Was Partly Played On Bits Of The Crashed Airplane
Michael Giacchino has become one of the most successful composers in Hollywood, even winning an Oscar for his score for Up. And deservedly so. After all, would anyone have cried their eyes out in the first ten minutes of that movie if Pixar had cued up a Smash Mouth song instead?
Anyway, Giacchino cut his teeth working on a little show called Lost, and his dynamic score contains a secret. No, it doesn't answer the mystery of the numbers, or the haunted cabin, or where that one immortal guy was getting a lifetime supply of eyeliner on a remote island. Perhaps because this was one of his first major gigs, Giacchino went the extra mile to make the music special. He wanted a sound in his orchestra to have a direct connection to the show itself. And since Matthew Fox apparently wasn't up for taking clarinet lessons, they ended up using pieces of this as percussion:
This also foreshadows the wreck of a finale.
Yup, the remains of Oceanic Flight 815, the plane responsible for bringing Lost's gang of misfits to their wacky island of adventure, were recycled into the music itself. Giacchino wanted his "different sound" for the show to be plucked directly from the set. So at the end of filming the pilot, the producer schlepped around the Hawaiian beach gathering pieces of plane wreckage. He then shipped a crate full of twisted metal back to LA, where a musician strung up the best pieces and wailed on them like some kind of post-apocalyptic Ringo.
If you look carefully, you might see tiny bits of the guy who got sucked into the turbine.
Sadly, it doesn't seem like this trend extended into the show -- they never repurposed the polar bear cages as a xylophone, or used Locke's coffin to store some cold beers for the orchestra. Also, Giacchino hasn't followed suit in his movie work; the Star Trek theme doesn't utilize any wreckage from the Enterprise, even though there's probably enough to form a thousand orchestras by now.
The Twin Peaks Music In MIDI Forms An Image Of ... Twin Peaks
At this point, we'd almost believe that unnerving synthesizer music follows David Lynch around like Pig Pen's filth clouds. One of the greatest uses of music in a Lynch project is Angelo Badalamenti's score for the beloved TV series Twin Peaks -- aka that show that's now mostly about sweeping.
But like the evil demons that are apparently hiding fucking everywhere, there are some secrets lurking beneath the surface of the music of Twin Peaks. According to music supervisor Dean Hurley, when looking at the MIDI notation (the information used by electronic instruments) for "Laura Palmer's Theme," one of the most prevalent pieces of music on the show, he saw ... actual twin peaks.
Whoa, it's just like that David Lynch show, Pointy Boobs As Seen From Above!
Naturally, Lynch didn't shrug this off. When Hurley showed him the image and told him what it was, Lynch (seriously) began shouting "It's cosmic! It's cosmic! It's cosmic!" and then added that it would make for a sweet T-shirt. Badalamenti was surprised too, as he didn't mean to do this at all, replying that it was "scary" but "very cool" -- which seems like an understatement. Imagine if the Batman theme accidentally formed the shape of the bat logo, or if the score from Transformers created an image of Michael Bay screaming at women like a goddamn maniac.
And speaking of Batman and unintelligible gibberish ...
The Dark Knight Rises Chant Was Made Up Of Batman Fans' Voices
Hans Zimmer is certainly known for using lots of different types of sounds in his scores; from Wonder Woman's theme, played on a blistering electric guitar, to the Joker's theme from The Dark Knight, which was apparently played on a broken air conditioner from a dental office. So for Christopher Nolan's final bat-flick, Zimmer tried to out-Zimmer himself. You may remember the standout bit of music was a rhythmic chant, at one point literally chanted by a group of prisoners:
When Zimmer first started working on the chant, he used a few friends, but that didn't sound quite as big as he wanted. So he decided to outsource the project to the entire goddamn world. Using the website Ujam, Zimmer invited fans to submit recordings of themselves performing the chant:
That glamour shot is more than enough payment.
According to Zimmer, the chant "Deshi Basara" means "rise up" in some mysterious language he wants to keep "secret." This adds a nice metatextual element to the whole thing -- in the movie, the chant is urging Batman to get his shit together and be Batman again. Knowing that the music is comprised of a legion of Batfans singing in unison, it's as if Batman is channeling his energy from enthusiastic fans, like a vigilante Bruce Springsteen.
On the other hand, while we don't know exactly how much it would cost to record a chorus for the day, someone might want to double-check to see if Hans Zimmer bought, say, a speedboat for the same amount that year. Part of that could be yours.
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