The Sounds of Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming

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After a disappointing 2016, 2017 has restored the summer movie season to its former glory.  Audiences have piled in for hits both likely and unlikely; Baby Driver, Wonder Woman, and The Emoji Movie (totally kidding about that last one) have all captivated viewers.  Captivation often relies on more than just picture, though, and that’s why the best movies are often accompanied by the best soundtracks or scores.  This is clear when speaking about two of the summer’s biggest blockbusters – Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s epic World War II thriller, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the reboot we didn’t think we needed but absolutely deserved.  While their use of music is almost incomparably different, both films utilize it perfectly to enhance the story at hand.  Looking at the former, music was central to the film before anyone knew what they were going to hear.  The marketing for Spider-Man: Homecoming relied on music from the start, with posters and magazine covers featuring our brand shiny new Spider-Man lounging in front of the NYC skyline, headphones on (SONY brand, by the way, in case you missed my mention of marketing).  Besides using music as an excuse to sell their own products, SONY has used it to shape the new, aggressively teenage image of Peter Parker.  Before we even saw Tom Holland’s beautiful baby face in Captain America: Civil War, we heard Alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” blasting through the earbuds of a kid walking back to his apartment in Queens.  It was a perfect, and possibly the best, use of a song in a Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy, I mean no disrespect), because it did exactly what it needed to do: introduce us to who our new Peter Parker was.  Between the posters, “Left Hand Free,” and the trailers featuring MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” along with various shots of an earbud-clad Peter Parker, I couldn’t wait to see what indie dream boy Peter Parker was listening to in Homecoming.  It’s a question I will never know the answer to, evidently, as it’s something we’re never shown.  As disappointing as that was, it was made up for by director Jon Watts solid execution of his desire for Spider-Man: Homecoming to be a modern-day John Hughes movie, soundtrack and all.  The signature jangly 80s numbers coming in the form of The Beat’s “Save it for Later” as Aunt May helps Peter get ready for the homecoming dance and A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song” as he walks onto the dance floor.  These two scenes may be the John Hughes-iest of the whole film, and the addition of these songs is the perfect nod to their inspiration.  Other notable tracks include The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” the first song we hear in the film that establishes Vulture as the baddie as well establishing the generational gap between he and his soon-to-be nemesis and Peter’s commute jam, Spoon’s “The Underdog,” which is both the most indie and most aptly-titled song on the soundtrack.  The film’s biggest music moment, however, is The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” featured both in Peter’s post-school Spider-Man scene and in the end credits.  The Ramones, like Peter Parker, hail from Queens, so it’s no surprise that a high-energy, over-confident song from the same borough was chosen to represent the newest Spider-Man.  People are already starting to declare Tom Holland’s Peter Parker the best of the three, and it’s because of moments like “Left Hand Free,” little things that make him so teenaged and real, perfect to project your indie dreams onto.
Speaking of projection, the experience of seeing Dunkirk in 70mm can only be described by the eloquent Jimmy Fallon, when he told star Harry Styles on his show, “you could hear the projector going like [projector noise]… and I was going [labor breathing].”  This is the only sound you hear in the theater (minus the labor breathing) besides anxious popcorn-snacking and Hans Zimmer’s ticking score, which creates a sense of tension I didn’t think possible from just watching a movie.  Nolan and Zimmer went for this effect, stating in interviews that they wanted the suspense to start rising and never stop throughout the film.  Little dialogue is spoken throughout, which in the same Jimmy Fallon interview actor Harry Styles says, “means when you’re watching, you’re kind of projecting your fear onto them” (yes, that was another projection pun on my part.)  He’s right, and your fear is only enhanced by the droning score that you may not even notice at times.  There are maybe two things in life I love that make me want to throw up.  One is cheesecake, the other is the Dunkirk score.  While Spider-Man: Homecoming uses music to define a character’s personality, Dunkirk uses it to diminish theirs’.  So while the use of music in each film may be incomparably different, the soundtrack and score both fulfill their purpose perfectly.

Written by:  Hannah Zwick

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