(NOTE: To make the reading of this article more entertaining, open a separate window and load in this link. Every time I mention the onomatopoetic word BRAAAAAHMM, just hit the big red button. Enjoy.)
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hans Zimmer must be blushing so hard his head is liable to explode.
You might know Hans Zimmer from the dozens of classic film scores he’s composed, like The Lion King, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and most notably Cool Runnings. In 2010, he was the guy who hammered the now famous BRAAAAHMMMM from Inception into your head, which then got hammered into the van in the second level of your head, and then into the third level where it got too confusing and you stopped paying attention. With only just the trailer, that sound reached iconic status, probably because it’s as catchy as a nuclear meltdown warning alarm. It had the perfect pacing for the strobing images of modern action movie trailers and it heightened the suspense.
And then it was ripped off by every other movie trailer.
The Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon trailer BRAAAAHMMMM’d loudly, and the trailer for Prometheus BRAAAAHMMMM’d and added the classic AH-ah-AHHHHHHhh from the original Alien trailer to throw you off the scent. It was in the trailer for The Avengers, and it even showed up in the launch trailer and score of the videogame Mass Effect 3. Most recently, you watched the trailer for Star Trek: Into Darkness fully expecting to hear at least a couple hints of the classic theme from the TV series, but instead you got some increasingly escalating BRAAAAHMMMM’ing as an British man monologued with malicious intent.
We all know Hollywood is a cynical land filled with people waiting to steal someone else’s well executed idea the way a dog gobbles up a dropped French fry. That’s how trends start. But Hans Zimmer did a lot more than just create a unique, appropriately used sound. With the BRAAAAHMMMM, Hans Zimmer created a cheat code for movie trailers.
All you have to do is add the BRAAAAHMMMM, pair it with vague, pulsating flashes from the movie, and you’ve got an intriguing trailer. Any old piece of crap can be polished-up to look marginally entertaining when you have this sound adding artificial drama. It’s a musical meme that comes pre-packed with meaning, and all your ears need to do is take in a tiny snippet and most of the trailer’s work is already done. Think of it in terms of the iconic score played over Norman Bates murdering Marion Crane in the shower scene in Psycho. After that iconic moment, with the orchestral strings sounding like the knife’s blade itself, that sound became an instant go-to for anyone in a movie or TV or in real life to signify something shocking, horrible, and surprising. The sound was referenced dozens of times since, but either as a sly wink and a nod to the original score or as a blatant joke. Hans Zimmer’s BRAAAAHMMMM went the other way – instead of being an homage, it’s a case of people seeing (or hearing, in this case) something work so well once, and wondering if they do the musical equivalent of downloading a picture someone else made, adding their own watermark, and calling it their own original creation.
More than that, the BRAAAAHMMMM created an entire genre of music that’s exclusive to movie trailers. It’s like when some electronic music DJ one day decided to make his bleeps and bloops go WUB-WUB-WUB. Dozens of others imitated it and Dubstep was born. In a fun, twisty movie about idea thieves Hans Zimmer made his musicians go BRAAAAHMMMM, and just like that a style of music was born after it was recreated in the trailers of a ton of other movies.
Because of Hans Zimmer, there is now a style of music we can call BRAAAAHMMMM, and we’ll probably being hearing it in movies for a long time to come.
But…wait a second. Very rarely are original creations truly original. There’s always some inspiration that came from somewhere. Even Einstein said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Could it be that the oft ripped-off Hans Zimmer BRAAAAHMMMM actually originated in a different movie trailer from 30 years earlier?
Yes. Yes it did. Just ask the trailer for the classic 1980 sci-fi thriller Altered States, which coincidentally is a movie about exploring the deepest recesses of the human mind and finding some trippy stuff nestled in there.
Altered States started it, Hans Zimmer perfected it, and now everyone else is trying to imitate the well-executed imitation. In other words, it’s Hollywood doing what they do best.