Not so epic, is it?

Music has a way of affecting the listener’s mood. Thus, a movie’s soundtrack is one of its most important manipulating features. Epic films like Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean are just as well-known for their scores as for their visual effects and storytelling. The music captures the viewer’s attention and emotions, causing one to feel as though he is a part of the action. Watching one of these films without sound causes it to lose much of its power.

A screenshot of a battle scene from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The visual effects are still enthralling, but the scene is not as emotionally engaging without its soundtrack.

In fact, anyone who watches movies recognizes the existence of typical background music for a given genre. Horror films have creeping low notes that crescendo as the protagonist approaches the dark hallway or ventures further into the woods. Romance movies play their lilting melodies as the man of the heroine’s dreams carries her off into the sunset. To the untrained movie viewer, a movie’s soundtrack (paired with visuals) can help to make up for gaps in the plot (such is the case with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies).

Fortunately, this form of media manipulation is well-understood by most viewers. Because of this, many have experimented with muting movies and playing different soundtracks over them. “Dark Side of Oz” viewings are quite popular (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album is played over The Wizard of Oz and shock ensues). Others have changed popular Disney films into trailers for horror movies, such as this YouTube video which replaces the background music of “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins with stereotypical horror film sounds. I even have firsthand experience with these kinds of experiments. Once, a friend and I rented Child’s Play, a campy 1980’s horror film about a doll named Chucky that comes to life and kills people. It turned out to be much scarier than we expected, so we muted the movie and played the VeggieTales theme song over the action. The result was so absurdly funny that we laughed through an entire killing scene.

While manipulative movie soundtracks are almost always effective, it is rare to find viewers who are completely unaware of them. Most of the time, the music sets the mood of the film and actually enhances it. Audience members can immunize themselves against this technique simply by paying attention. Though it may seem to be a quality film because of the soundtrack, the soundtrack is only a part of the art as a whole. Viewers should analyze other aspects of the film as well before making judgments on its artistic merit or viewing appeal.

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