'The Dark Tower' Trailer Music Steals From The Best To Sell The Worst

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Idris Elba as Roland Deschain in 'The Dark Tower.' Columbia Pictures

The first trailer for The Dark Tower reappropriates one of the most haunting music cues in Western history: the musical pocket watch from For a Few Dollars More.

The second in legendary spaghetti western director Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, For a Few Dollars More sees Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood team up to collect the bounty on the outlaw gang led by El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè of A Bullet for the General and Le Cercle Rouge). But for Cleef’s Colonel Douglas Mortimer killing El Indio isn’t just about the money, the outlaw murdered his sister and uses her pocketwatch as a grisly prop in duels — when the music stops, guns blaze.

The melody, titled “Carillon,” was written by composer Ennio Morricone. (He’s best known for westerns, but he composed music for The Thing, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Battle of Algiers too!) The music for the final duel in For a Few Dollars More — contrasting life and death stakes with fairy tale chimes — proved so powerful that Morricone and Leone redid nearly the same thing three years later in Once Upon a Time in the West, replacing the pocket watch with a harmonica (shivers!).

“Carillon” is used to far less effective ends in the first trailer for The Dark Tower. A trailer is just an ad, so there’s not much reason to go all in on just how bad this looks, but there’s no longer good reason to hope that director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) might have saved the notoriously troubled production from its apparent nosedive (even if Arcel did rewrite the first script from one of the world’s worst screenwriters: Akiva Goldsman). Unless you really like devil ninjas. And being bored.

The legacy orchestration has fallen out of favor in movie trailers. Today every trailer features a cover song, counting on viewers to carry their emotional baggage from a popular song over to a new film. But in the first decade of the 2000s you were practically guaranteed to hear Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna,” from Requiem for a Dream. It reappeared most memorably in the first trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but also Sunshine, Troy, Zathura and King Arthur. This was movies speaking in a language of movies. Unlike reappropriated pop songs, replaying “Lux Aeterna” wasn’t counting on your familiarity with the track, but instead reaching for the emotional wallop that made it so powerful in the first place.

So while it makes complete sense for The Dark Tower to hijack the powerful ending to For a Few Dollars More, aligning it with a long Western legacy, “Carillon” loses a lot of its power played over a boring boy’s boring therapy session.

Maybe The Dark Tower will nab some other Morricone music for the actual movie. We’ll find out Aug. 4.

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