Revisiting Mad World

Watching the trailer for the 2010 release The Crazies didn’t spark my interest in the film itself, but it did bring to mind a particular song that is worth revisiting every once in a while. It also taught me a valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of music. But let’s start at the beginning.

The film’s plot is generic (peaceful townsfolk turning into zombie-like creatures), the actors/actresses are B-List (Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell) and generally a great part of me felt entirely indifferent towards the film (did I mention it’s a remake?) However, another part of me became quite engaged with the second half of the trailer which was somehow different from its beginning.

The trailer starts with a slow build-up, reaches a temporary climax and then changes quite drastically. A slow song sets in over a montage of explosions, people running and general chaos. I suddenly caught myself enjoying a trailer to a film I was quite sure I didn’t want to see. The reason for that was not the quality of the footage but rather the quality of the song it uses to complement it. That song is Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ version of Mad World, originally written by Tears for Fears.

“But hang on,” you might think, “hasn’t that song been used before in a much more fitting and original way? That’s right, now I remember! It was used at the end of Richard Kelly’s film Donnie Darko when it summed up the characters’ lives and emotions oh-so beautifully!” Probably one of the most poignant moments of recent independent film history, few people will claim to remain entirely untouched when Mad World starts playing at the end of the film.

In Donnie Darko the song has a purpose and its tactful placement by Kelly is nothing short of a cinematic masterstroke. In the trailer for The Crazies, however, its unique emotional persuasiveness is shamelessly exploited in a desperate attempt to add some depth to a presumably brainless film. It felt wrong and cheap: if you can’t picture it, think Bitter Sweet Symphony played over the Transformers trailer.

In any case, I feel that Mad World is so powerful and manipulative that it can only be used in cinema once. To me, Andrews and Jules’ song belongs to Donnie Darko in the same way that Mrs Robinson belongs to The Graduate or Don’t You Forget About Me to The Breakfast Club. A great song for a great film and an even greater scene; truly inspiring.

In contrast, judging by its trailer, The Crazies won’t offer anything groundbreaking and its lack of inspiration already becomes evident in its selection of music. Playing a melancholic song over an action montage is an old trick; if that song is Mad World, it’s simply unimaginative and lazy. I believe the original ’80s Tears for Fears synthesiser version is still up for grabs though; not only would that have been truly original but also genuinely eerie.


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