Maddd Science

If you're going to study the tropes of modern storytelling, movie trailers are a great place to start: They're about a hundred times shorter than films, and since their only purpose is to sell an audience on the film they're signing up for, they operate on an even more codified series of tropes.

I could focus on a lot about trailers, from their famous reliance on dark, gritty covers of pop songs to their recent uptick in desperation as seen in the Murder on the Orient Express trailer's over-reliance on Johnny Depp and the Godless trailer's attempt to make it look subversive. I'll get to those sometime. For now, let's talk braaam.

This first article actually covers braaams' relationship with film and soundtracks, barely touching on how it has infested movie trailers everywhere. As a result, it's a more balanced explanation that doesn't wind up just sniping about how formulaic trailers are (cf. my use of the word "infested" one sentence ago). Anyway, if you're going to read one article, check it out.

“BRAAAM!”: The Sound that Invaded the Hollywood Soundtrack
Adrian Daub, Longreads

To see how BRAAAM puts to bed the established sound of 1970s blockbusters, consider the first thing we hear as the lights go down for a screening of Jaws (1975). I don’t mean the iconic half-step motif, the alternating F/F sharp that has people scared of bodies of water to this day. The film opens with the Universal Pictures logo, and the soundtrack consists of underwater sounds, distant waves, and echolocation blips — things we might actually hear while in the ocean. The screen fades to black, and after a few more seconds we hear the famous theme. As the opening credits start rolling, still against a black background, the theme coexists with the ambient underwater noise. These gurgles stop only at the moment we get our first filmic image: the moment we actually are in the ocean, we no longer hear the ocean. We hear John Williams.

[...] By keeping sound design and score separate, Jaws tells us everything is going to be alright, no matter how scary the images. BRAAAM means to freak us out.

Really, I think I like this subject because of how fun it is to read articles casually relying on the term "braaams."

'Braaams' for Beginners: How a Horn Sound Ate Hollywood

Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter

Whatever they are, Hemsey's braaams feel bigger, more satisfying and ultimately more dramatic — like the climax of a Carl Orff cantata — than any braaams that came before. As a result, there is a faction of passionate fanboys who credit Hemsey with being the true creator of the braaam.

Also, I'm going to smuggle in a few Christmas articles, including this one that should appeal to my core audience of 70s sci-fi art lovers. Anyone who's followed my art blog during a December has seen one or two of the 60s Soviet space age postcards mentioned here.

Christmas in the Space Age: looking back at the wild, weird designs of mid-20th-century holidays
Todd VanDerWerff/Sarah Archer, Vox

Christmas is always a litmus test for how we feel about buying stuff. It comes at the same time every year. If you look at what the thinking around Christmas is in 1838 and 1912 and 1950, you always get a slightly different pulse of what Americans are thinking.

I started playing around in my head with Scrooge versus the Grinch. In the middle of the 19th century, you have a hero figure who is stingy and greedy and doesn't care about other people. When he has his epiphany, the answer is material abundance. It's the Oprah effect. Everybody gets stuff.

Then, about a century later, the Grinch is similarly mean and stingy of heart, but his epiphany is the exact opposite. [Dr. Seuss] was writing this book at the height of the postwar boom, and the message is: You don't need all this stuff.

Even as an established curmudgeon, I cannot fully condone the following article. Still, try to keep an open mind as you listen to this side of the "is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" debate. This is not a Christmas article
Mike Donachie, The Courier

The monsters come from a Christmas gift and even get tangled in a Christmas tree but I submit that the tinsel is irrelevant. Gremlins is a monster movie. Otherwise, you might as well suggest Alien is an Easter movie because it has an egg in it.

Alien might not be an Easter movie, but The Shining and Poltergeist are Thanksgiving movies:

Thanksgiving: The Shining (1980) & Poltergeist (1982)
Sady Doyle, Tiny Monsters

You have no idea how hard it is to find non-horrible mothers in horror fiction. This is a genre obsessed with parental failures and female sexuality, and Mom, God help her, is the point where both obsessions collide. Mothers in horror tend to be devouring and demonic (Psycho, Carrie), helpless and overwhelmed (The Shining, The Exorcist), or eight-foot-tall killer slime-vaginas (Aliens, any movie related to or resembling Aliens).

Why Arrival Sets the Tone for the Next Four Years of Film
Emily Yoshida,

Arrival is a film is about human smallness. Not anything so romantic as human weakness or human frailty—relatable staples of drama since the Greeks—but the existential, shared drama of how tiny our patch of awareness is in the scheme of things. Human smallness is somewhat antithetical to Hollywood filmmaking, but it makes for an invaluable film in our current global climate, where the focus and magnification of the self at the expense of everything else (at an individual and national level) has contributed to xenophobic policies and crippled diplomacy.

Wow, I really focus on movies too much in this newsletter, given that it's supposed to be about any type of fiction. Anyway, here's something about movies.

Explore Seattle’s romantic — and vanishing — historic moviehouses
Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

The downtown Banana Republic store was a moviehouse — the Coliseum Theater — from 1916 until its closure in 1990. (Every newcomer to the city I tell this to says “No way!” Way.)

A years-long timeline of how a viral image took off and how much money it made as a result. It's the sort of nuts-and-bolts of creative life that I wish I could find more easily.

The Financial Realities of Going Viral
Lucy Bellwood, Patreon

Of the (probably) millions of people who have now seen this piece of art, 85 have actually made the jump to buying the physical object. Now we could look at that and get really depressed about conversion figures and feel like we’re never going to be able to convert online traffic into sustainable revenue, but here's the thing: this is all part of the plan.

Next Week, on Maddd Science: Jurassic Park, in honor of the Jurassic World 2 trailer that should be coming out soon. Told you I like trailers.

Header image: "parathinker" by Daniel Williams and my headcanon for what the typical lover of a "deep" blockbuster looks like.