The music of “Watchmen”
As some reviews of “Watchmen” have noted, the opening montage is one of the best things about the film — but as we follow the ups and downs of the Watchmen from decade to decade, the use of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” is about as subtle as a blow to the head from the Comedian.
“Watchmen” is peppered with musical cliches, including “The Sounds of Silence” (at a funeral, no less — though there is a connection between the character who has died and the Paul Simon song, which was written after JFK’s death), Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” Leonard Cohen’s beautiful but overused “Hallelujah” and “All Along the Watchtower” (the Hendrix version).
But this is the thing: In choosing the music, director Zach Snyder was often being faithful to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which contains snippets of lyrics and references to many of the songs that now appear on the film’s soundtrack. For example, as an article in Billboard pointed out, the Hollis Mason character in the book refers to “Ride of the Valkyries” as “the saddest thing I can think of.” And the first chapter has lyrics from Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”
Then there’s Snyder’s use of “I’m Your Boogie Man” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band during a violent confrontation between Watchmen and protesters. Zany, but effective.
To my mind “Sounds of Silence” forever belongs to “The Graduate,” just as “Ride of the Valkyries” will forever be associated with “Apocalypse Now” (and to some extent “Birth of a Nation”). It’s nearly impossible to wedge these songs into another movie, even if in some cases you’re being faithful to the source material.
In my less-than-bestselling book 10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed, I listed a number of pop songs that have been done to death in the movies, including:
“I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown
“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
“Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood and the Destroyers
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
“All Star” by Smash Mouth
Then there’s “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, which has been featured in at least 20 movies. Filmmakers just can’t resist that unmistakable opening riff, which shouts, “PSYCHEDELIC MAN!” Even if you were filming “The Norman Greenbaum Story,” you might want to think twice about using it in your movie.
Can you think of any other songs that have been overused on movie soundtracks? If so, drop me a note.