Wednesday, September 2, 2015
TMFW 104 - The Teen Heartthrob That Inspired a Dystopian Movie Soundtrack
[NOTE: Happy 2d Birthday to TMFW! I can't really believe that.]
Judge Dredd is a comic book character. He inhabits a dystopian future where people live in mega-cities and are ruled by a police force of "judges" that instantly arrest, try, convict, sentence, and (occasionally) execute alleged bad guys right on the spot. Dredd works in Mega-City One, which covers the entire eastern seaboard of the former United States and some parts of the former Canada. The rest of North America has become a radioactive wasteland after a series of nuclear wars. Dredd is a good guy, and uses his power to fight for justice, even for mutants.
You could see how that story would make for a pretty cool movie, and in 1995 Hollywood tried just that with Judge Dredd. The movie starred Sylvester Stallone, and had a big production budget, but it suffered from "creative differences" between Stallone and the director and the story veered away from the comic in some significant ways. Ultimately, the movie flopped: it earned only an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it brought in less than $35 million on a production budget of $90 million.
Despite that failure, in 2012 Hollywood came back to Judge Dredd and made a completely different adaptation of the comic. Called just Dredd, the movie did much better with critics, earning a 78% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Unfortunately, it flopped at the box office just as hard as the 1995 film did, taking in less than $14 million domestically versus a $50 million budget.
Okay, now that I've padded my word count enough for the week, let's get to the heart of this TMFW. Dredd is a film about a future dystopian world that has been annihilated by nuclear war, and its soundtrack matches that mood with a mostly electronic, heavily distorted score. But one song in particular - called "Ma Ma's Requiem" - sticks out from the rest. That track, which accompanies a scene where the action happens in dramatic slow motion, is a more mellow, trippy, almost choral soundscape. In a way, it's quite pretty.
So it will come as no surprise that it was inspired by...Justin Bieber.
In 2010, someone took the Justin Bieber song "U Smile" and slowed it down 800%. The result was surprisingly good, and the song spread across the internet. (The video has over 2.8M views!) One of the people who heard and appreciated the track was the English musician Geoff Barrow, who is part of the group Portishead and more importantly who is a big Judge Dredd fan.
When a rough cut of Dredd was finished, the writer and producer Alex Garland showed it to his friend Barrow. Barrow sent Garland the Bieber song as an idea for the slow motion scene, and Garland passed it on to the film's composer Paul Leonard-Morgan. Leonard-Morgan loved the idea, and so he recreated the sound by recording his own pop music track and slowing it down dramatically. The result was "Ma Ma's Requiem." In fact, Bieber's track was so directly influential to the process that, like Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug" in Ghostbusters (explained in TMFW 59), it was initially used as a placeholder in some of the early edits of the film until the soundtrack song was ready.
So there's your TMFW for today: J u s t i n B i e b e r made some surprisingly pretty music and inspired a movie soundtrack.
BONUS FACT: I've had this TMFW in my drafts folder for several months, without a suitable bonus fact to finish it off. Then last week, a story came along that fits perfectly. "Where are Ü Now" is a song by Skrillex and Diplo that features Justin Bieber on vocals. It is a big-song-of-the-moment: the video has over 132 million views so far, in less than 10 weeks. The song's hook, which is repeated over and over throughout the refrain, is a very catchy synth-pop riff that sounds like a flute or the high notes of a keyboard.
But in a fun New York Times piece about the song, it was revealed that the hook is actually Mr. Bieber's voice "pitched two octaves above the original, run through various distortion and equalization effects and given a very short tail of reverb, creating a digital sound with a human core." Bieber, it turns out, inspires songs when he is both slowed down and sped up. Respect to him.