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Why the Thor: Ragnarok score sounds unique to other Marvel films

12.12.2017

In September of 2016, the folks over at Every Frame a Painting examined why film scores, particularly the ones heard in the Marvel Universe, don't particularly stand out. The group explored this notion, and brought their findings to the masses by way of an informative video that you can watch here. To be honest, the thought that Marvel's film scores are less than memorable never really occurred to me until today, and perhaps that's part of the problem?

Thankfully, the video went viral, racking up more than 5.5 million views. With that said, perhaps the crowning achievement of Every Frame a Painting's study is that it left a lasting impression on Devo founder (and THOR: RAGNAROK composer) Mark Mothersbaugh

"We were looking at that, going 'Wow, OK.' That helps explain some things that I kind of felt myself," Mothersbaugh told Heat Vision of watching the video. Soon after viewing the presentation, and taking its findings to heart, Mothersbaugh began scoring Ragnarok - all while exploring the boundaries of Marvel scores in general. Rather than tap into Marvel's typical orchestral fair, Mothersbaugh paired a bit of '80s flair with hints of traditional superhero anthems, thereby creating a unique marriage of atmospheric sound.

In talking about some of the theories from the video, Mothersbaugh commented that part of the reason for the auditory redundancy in film is due to the change in nature of filmmaking itself. He points out that movies today are becoming more dependent on visual effects, which causes the project to take longer to complete in post. For a composer, this gives them less time to do their work.

"The composer has been getting squeezed over the last few decades. I guess sometimes maybe it works. A lot of times, and especially in the cases of the films they were pointing to in this YouTube thing, it started sounding like musical wallpaper," says Mothersbaugh. "I think that's what people were reacting to. It didn't sound like the music was written for that scene in particular. It sounded like somebody was just spraying the wall with some color. It was the right color for a specific moment but had no nuances to it." 

Mothersbaugh also mentioned that he enjoyed working for Marvel, immensely, and hopes to do so again.

"Marvel is so successful, and it seems like it's because the people that are at the top of the food chain are very integrated into the creative process, which I hadn't expected," he says. "You don't always see that. A lot of the executives, their big concerns are marketing, and investments, they don't have time — music is way down at the bottom of the list.  Even the directors, sometimes, you are working with them and they are like, 'Cobbler, cobble me some music.' And you are kind of treated like that."

Aye, but not Marvel.

"I'm sitting there with their in-house music editor and playing music for him and Taika. This guy walks in and it's Kevin [Feige, studio head] and he sits down with me, he's just listening in. He's checking it out to see what we're doing," recalls Mothersbaugh.

Man, I've been meaning to see THOR: RAGNAROK, again, and now I've got even more incentive to do so. If I'm being completely honest, I wasn't really paying attention to the score of Ragnarok when I saw it. I was far too busy staring at all of the gorgeous colors and laughing my ass off at the clever dialogue. One thing's for certain, I will definitely be listening for Mothersbaugh's inspired score during my second watch of the film.

THOR: RAGNAROK is in theaters now

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