The Theme Song Lives: “Main Title Design” in 2009-10
April 19th, 2010
There’s a lot of news posts out there today which are viewing the elimination of the “Outstanding Main Title Theme Music” Emmy Award as a long overdue decision, a logical move to reflect the “death” of the theme song in modern television. I understand this impulse, and certainly think that there is an element of lament and loss to this particular development.
However, my immediate thought upon hearing this news was that it was perfectly logical: however, it is perfectly logical not because the theme song is irrelevant, but rather because the theme song is no longer a distinct element of a show’s identity. Just look at the winners over the past three years: two went to theme songs to anthology series (Masters of Horror in 2007 and Great Performances in 2009), and the other went to CBS’ Pirate Master (which was a complete and total bomb). The fact of the matter is that these are probably very impressive compositions which have had absolutely no staying power as pieces of music due to their lack of connection with the role of the Main Titles, as I discussed in earnest a few months back.
Really, the award for “Main Title Theme Music” is now wrapped up in the “Outstanding Main Title Design” category – I would personally consider theme song to be part of the opening credits design, and I’m presuming that a good theme has played a role in past winners like Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and Dexter taking the award. While I don’t know if the Academy would go so far as to include composers within this category as a way to honour them for their work (for the record, I support such a motion), I do hope that the role of the theme song within these openings becomes more important. It’s always one of my favourites to predict in each given year, and I think that this almost makes that category more interesting as we see whether a quality theme song plays an even more substantial role in this year’s winners and nominees.
And so out of respect to the composers who continue to write main title themes, and due to my love for both main title sequences and Emmy predictions, I figured I’d run down the contenders for this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design (all of which feature effective use of music, albeit some using pre-existing musical soundtrack).
By cleverly combining the most buzz-worthy (the sex) and the most subtle (post-recession America) qualities of the series into a single set of images, the opening very clearly lays out both the tone and the premise of the show in an iconic fashion.
HBO’s The Pacific
I will be honest: I’m not a huge fan of this credits sequence. As impressive as the style of the piece is, and as strong as the theme may be in its own right, I think it’s honestly too long and has absolutely no sense of narrative or function beyond the stylistic flourishes of the charcoal. They’re guaranteed a nomination based on the strong technical work, but I haven’t watched them since the premiere.
FOX’s Human Target
While these credits deserve to be here stylistically, I think that the thematic value of these credits is perhaps their most important role: they very clearly place the series within the area of James Bond through the aesthetic choices, and the great main theme song from Bear McCreary informs us that this will in some ways be a throwback to something familiar and that some would consider to be old-fashioned. It really captures the tone of the series, which is something that any Main Title should strive towards.
The motto of the Stark family is that “Winter is Coming,” which in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is inevitable but unknown: seasons can last for years, even generations, but eventually they will turn, and a winter that lasts that long can be absolutely devastating. Accordingly, the Starks live by a motto that places them in a state of constant anxiety, aware that the flowers may bloom right now but there is still the potential for darkness around the corner. It is prudent, perhaps, but also limiting in how it places fear and concern over the ability to enjoy one’s situation.
Was there ever any doubt that HBO would take Game of Thrones, the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, to series? Not really. Sure, there was always the chance that the pilot wouldn’t turn out well, but with an established director (Tom McCarthy) at the helm, and with an ever-expanding cast with considerable name recognition, the chances of HBO not ordering a season of the show were pretty slim.
So, one would think, fans of the series can now breathe a sigh of relief: the series’ rich fantasy tapestry will be committed to film, and their favourite characters will come to life, so the anxiety is over. However, for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, the anxiety has become a way of life not dissimilar from the wariness of the Stark family motto: it’s been almost five years since the last entry in the series, and it’s come to the point where some fans fear that Martin might die before he finishes his epic story. Some readers, like the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, have actually put off reading the latest book until the next one has a clear release date, afraid of creating a state of heightened anxiety knowing that the next installment could still be years away. And so the anxiety surrounding the pickup, even when everyone was predicting that the show would make it to series, was normal for the fans who could potentially make the series a smash success.
However, as Jeremy Mongeau pointed out on Twitter, I wonder if that anxiety will make this series even more problematic for fans in life than it would have in death; the show will be full of potential for new viewers who have no idea where this story is headed, but fans may be tripped up by some of their foreknowledge. Just to be clear, I’m not characterizing ASoIaF fans as those who will complain about small changes (although I’m sure there will inevitably be some of that), but rather that they know where this story is going, and they know an important fact about the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones) which will heighten their anxiety surrounding the show’s long-term potential at the network who has given it a chance.
The pickup is a sign that Winter has been delayed for at least a season, but one can’t help but realize that Winter is still coming, and the anxiety surrounding that could well dominate fan behaviour.
Methinks that Ronald D. Moore has placed a red line right down the ranks of the Galactica faithful, which is something that he seems to revel in – it is not that the beginning of “Daybreak” is inherently a bad episode, but rather that it represents a very cautious approach that is treating this three-hour finale as an episode in and of itself as opposed to an extension of the episodes that came before it. The result is another in a long line of setup episodes, weaving in and out from his main character’s past lives in Caprica City in a way that makes thematic sense to the show as a whole, but doesn’t actually feel like it connects with the mutiny, or the rest of the fourth season thus far.
There’s something to be said for this kind of approach: with a cast this large and with a timeline this varied in terms of both action and reaction, it’s easy to see why returning to who these people were before “the Fall” would be of some value. And yet, at the same time, I left the episode not pondering how much these characters have changed but rather how much they’ve remained the same. Something about the way the episode was structured made it a bit too easy, the parallels between their former lives and their current predicament too simply stated, for us to forget some of what has happened to them, to remove the context of forward momentum and replace it with a potent nostalgia.
The result is something different, not something wrong: when Adama has his heroic speech, we are properly on the edge of our seat, properly considering the gravity of this situation, and properly realizing just how epic this is going to eventually be. But we’ve been waiting for something epic for a long time now, and by layering that suspense with the catharsis of the flashbacks we’re taken out of the season and placed into a series perspective perhaps too disconnected from the season thus far.
I’m left wondering not whether Moore is steering this ship in the right direction for the finale, which has the right kind of epic qualities as we need it to have coupled with a strong connection to these characters and their past lives, but rather whether this finale remains unchanged from the plan originally designed for when the second season was to be only 13 episodes – I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been any different. As a result, while it feels like we’re heading in the right direction for a series finale, I don’t quite know if it feels like an ideal capoff to the season in and of itself.
Last weekend, still stewing in frustration over “Deadlock,” [my review] the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I tweeted the following to my twitter followers:
Pretty sure I could write five blog posts this week delving into points of contention on last night’s BSG. I must resist this.
As you can see, I lasted until this morning, as I have in weeks past, before needing to delve back into episodes that frustrated me, trends which concerned me, and that voice in my head that for all of my enjoyment of BSG’s four seasons is extremely cynical about the show’s direction when the show ends in three weeks. The last three episodes of the show have all felt “off” for me, and I’m at a point where I need to see something in tonight’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that convinces me less of Katee Sackhoff’s talent or Bear McCreary’s musical genius and more of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s vision for completing this thing in only 4 more hours of television.
I am aware, of course, that these hours are really only 43 minutes, and that in that amount of time the show only has time to do so much. In fact, on numerous occasions this year, there have been moments where I’ve wondered what was left off the cutting room floor, and how some content seemed ill-fitting for particular scenarios. And after reconsidering “Deadlock,” and reading some of the interviews with the show’s writers regarding episodes like aforementioned Deadlock and No Exit, I’ve come to a conclusion that somewhere, in those minutes of uncut footage and those ideas not followed through on, there might have been a way to quell my cynicism.