Earlier this fall, we speculated as to why Marvel film scores are generally forgettable and similar-sounding, with the help of Tony Zhou’s famous video essay through his YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting. As Zhou explained in his essay, “The Marvel Symphonic Universe”, modern film scoring practices demand referentiality, with directors often becoming attached to the way preexisting film scores sound underneath their images before a composer is even brought in to work on the picture. This often means the composer is under pressure to emulate another composer’s music, and the cycle of similar-sounding action scores continues on.
After Tony Zhou posted his essay, Dan Golding posted a rebuttal that argues that the issue is not referential film scoring — as that practice has been around since the Hollywood Western — but financial pressure and technological development. Because most studios don’t want to pay an entire orchestra for a month of scoring and digital technology makes manufacturing sounds readily available, Golding argues, most composers are actually working from computers to generate scores. This leads to more mood-based scoring that a.) follows the tone of the film in unimaginative ways and b.) can be easily replicated by other composers. But what if this issue of unoriginal scoring is so chronic that a composer took unoriginality to an entirely new level — and referenced himself?
Since Doctor Strange premiered in theaters, some sci-fi superfans (including us, in our podcast about the movie) have noticed something strange indeed: the Doctor Strange theme is eerily similar to that of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Both feature sweeping strings and booming percussion to an overall otherworldly effect — and both are composed by Michael Giacchino. A recent video by YouTube user “Jinca Prime” lays these similarities bare, and even argues that the soundtracks would work seamlessly in tandem. Check it out, below:
This revelation is pretty concerning, given Giacchino’s wildly prolific resume, which includes the last three Star Trek movies as well as upcoming tentpoles Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s also odd to note that Giacchino has produced plenty of memorable work, most notably for such Disney films as The Incredibles and Up. If this issue of all action sci-fi/superhero film scores sounding the same has become so ingrained that the same composer is regurgitating his own melodies seven years apart, though, how might this affect otherwise exciting titles like Rogue One and Spider-Man?
The most perplexing thing about this discovery is that Giacchino scored both films. It makes sense that other composers would feel pressured to replicate music they did not write if said music, a.k.a. “temp music,” was already used as a benchmark for the score. However, it seems rather unlikely that Marvel would have had to coerce Giacchino into “copying” himself. That said, we’re loath to blame an individual artist for what has been proven to be a systemic Hollywood issue for decades (even though this particular case stands out by comparison).
In most cases of unoriginal scoring, the composers aren’t so much to blame as is a broken, money-motivated system of filmmaking. In this case, however, we just don’t know what to think. If you noticed the similarities between the two scores when you saw Doctor Strange, or have any other theories, definitely let us know in the comments.