Christen Crumpler

Where’s Mario in the 2023 Mario Bros. Movie?

By Christen Crumpler

No, the iconic video game character is not actually missing from the film. However, the personality that’s associated with him musically seems to be scarce. 

I’m an avid gamer who has played some titles from the Mario franchise,  and is familiar with the kind of music in different Mario games. And I’ve noted that the soundtrack for the Super Mario Bros. movie does not characteristically sound like Mario. 

What’s the Mario Aesthetic

The soundtrack is credited to Brian Tyler–not Koji Kondo, who I was expecting. For those who don’t know, Koji Kondo is the composer with Nintendo who’s famously known for creating the iconic themes and tunes to the games Super Mario and Legend of Zelda. The Mario games’ sound is a reflection of the creative and musical decisions of Kondo.

Not being familiar with Brian Tyler, I looked at what other projects he’s composed for. Understanding Tyler’s sound helps to identify the character he adds to music.

Tyler’s work includes games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed—even composing for some of the Marvel movies! These examples naturally lend themselves to a style of action music that is more suspenseful and serious, using a large orchestra to sound cinematic. While it is an appropriate style for the projects mentioned above, it’s very different from Kondo’s musical style in the Mario games.

Kirsten Carey’s article at The Mary Sue shares similar thoughts about the musical qualities of the Mario games. The games’ soundtracks have a distinctive “childlike playfulness” to them.  There’s still complexity and lively motion in the music while being simple, even with the limitations of early game consoles. The music is able to meet a diverse audience where they are without compromising the substance of its message.

These characteristics are present across the different Mario games’ soundtracks, establishing a cohesive musical concept for the game’s world. However, when hearing the movie’s take on Mario, these elements appear left behind. The soundtrack for the new Mario movie has a standard box-office movie score with a hint of what’s connected to the Mario game soundtracks–thanks to the formulas used to create film music. 

Movie vs. Gaming Experience

Super Mario
Super Mario/MovieStillsDB

Think about any movie you’ve watched in the past five years. It probably  included ambient sounds and effects, with musical writing that easily conveys a basic emotion. These are examples of cues in film music that get you to recognize what’s happening in the movie. 

Since many films continue to use these musical cues, it over-saturates the genre and becomes predictable. This makes it extremely easy to distinguish it from the musical character that comes with Mario.

For example, the movie frequently uses recognizable and overused songs like “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler or “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by Beastie Boys to describe the moments happening on-screen. With such a creative and imaginative intellectual property as Mario, the music team should have seized the opportunity to find a new musical way to demonstrate what’s happening—using an unique unpredictable melody and sound.

The movie also misses opportunities to bridge the experience players have while playing Mario to an on-screen format. To give you an idea, the concept of dynamic music is used throughout different Mario games and has existing themes to go along with that experience.

Dynamic music in video games is music that adapts to and is affected by the events in your gameplay.

It’s the concept of the music and atmosphere changing when Mario goes in and out of water, or when Mario Kart 8 changes its sounds and effects based on your environment. Yet, the movie went with film cues like using popular songs outside of the Mario franchise to describe what is happening—rather than available Mario themes that those who play Mario games would recognize.

The movie uses montages—which poses the question: “What would be the music for a montage sequence in a video game?” And that’s the thing; there typically aren’t any. That time a movie montage or timelapse skips would be spent with actual gameplay in a video game. Understandably, the medium of a movie can’t fully capture the journey experienced through gameplay. Maybe it would be more beneficial for the Mario movie team to show the characters going from point A then immediately to point B.

Video games don’t generally timelapse or montage you through areas. They expect you to make that trek yourself. So when you talk about the purpose of music in video games, these scores and iconic themes add grandeur and keep the excitement through your gameplay. As a player, if you are spending a lot of time doing a repetitive activity or task that brings you across the same locations with their specific themes several times, you’d want it to be a good, memorable theme that doesn’t turn into an annoying tune.

When recognizable themes and tunes are added to the movie, they are incorporated through medleys. Though, they bring these themes in so quickly—one after another—that it’s extremely jarring. The experience leaves you confused, wondering what was the narrative purpose for bringing in certain Mario themes. It certainly feels like they wait until the end to cram in all of those musical references, which is a lot pushed onto the viewer.

A Take on Adaptations

All of these decisions left me, as a viewer, feeling that the team for this movie was afraid to take risks. Afraid to bet on the elements of Mario that have already made it an acclaimed video game franchise. From a film viewpoint, the artistic decisions for this movie felt very safe and within a realm of familiarity, which made the movie an average Illumination Studios animation that happened to look like Mario.

It’s okay to try something new or take a new direction when making art based on something. It’s acceptable to encourage that idea because that’s part of the nature and cycle of creativity. But—for movie adaptations—it does not benefit anyone when you apply cinematic  formulas to the reputation a franchise has already built for itself. Ultimately, what’s important is that what you make pays proper homage and respect to the source material—while also achieving authenticity.

2023 GRAMMY Awards: 5 Nominees to Look Out for in the New Video Game Division

By Christen Crumpler

The 2023 GRAMMYs is this February and there’s a new sub-category  that’s being introduced–video game music. Video game music is finally being recognized under the Music for Visual Media category. Here are some highlights about this new sub-category’s nominees:

Aliens: Fireteam Elite by Austin Wintory, composer

Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s playstyle is similar to the game World War Z and the Gears of War titles–but you’re in outer space fighting the alien creatures from the franchise Aliens. Its music can be described as having a modern, militaristic sound with a gritty character that shows off its grungy aspects. The game’s composer, Austin Wintory, explains this best by sharing his approach to combine the action and sci-fi/horror scores from the previous composers of the franchise’s films. You can find more in-depth details about the composition process within the videos on Wintory’s YouTube channel.

Video: How I Wrote 2 Minutes of Aliens Fireteam Elite Music

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn Of Ragnarok by Stephanie Economou, composer

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok is the final downloadable content (DLC) expansion for the title Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. You’re met with an atmospheric soundtrack that uses Norse music styles with elements of heavily distorted guitars and fast tempos from the black metal genre. In a Games hub article, composer Stephanie Economou says,

“One of the reasons it’s so rewarding to compose music for Assassin’s Creed is that you have these historically-driven narratives, and the music can echo the sounds of that time while still being hyper-modern and edgy and rule-breaking.”

Economou speaks more about how she made the soundtrack in the full article. If you want to listen to the full soundtrack of the DLC, click the video below.

Video/Audio: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök (Original Game Soundtrack) [FULL ALBUM]

Call Of Duty®: Vanguard by Bear McCreary, composer

Set during World War II, players join a special team of Allied soldiers to take down the last efforts of the Third Reich in Call Of Duty®: Vanguard. The game’s soundtrack takes a cinematic approach with orchestral and rock elements that put you right in the action. In order to match the personal perspective of the storyline, the musical foundation is laid with improvised melodies and then built outwards with the orchestral aspects. You can find more information on the creation of the soundtrack in a video with the composer, Bear McCreary. To listen to the full soundtrack, click here.

Video: Music Behind The Scenes | Call of Duty: Vanguard

Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy by Richard Jacques, composer

Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy has you protecting the cosmos as Star-Lord with the other Guardians. Its music brings the heroism from the Marvel films straight into the game. There are various musical themes used throughout the soundtrack–embracing the decision-making gameplay to enhance the player’s experience. The game’s composer, Richard Jacques, goes into detail about the different themes used in this video here and the creation of the score here.

Video: Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy: Scoring The Soundtrack

Old World by Christopher Tin, composer

Players are nation leaders preserving their legacy in the historical strategy game Old World–where each turn is a year of your dynasty. The soundtrack pays homage to the styles used within Arabic music. One way is through the music’s improvised nature–where the performers play a key part in the musical composition process. In a podcast episode, composer Christopher Tin mentions,

“The fundamental way that a lot of these musical forms are presented in Arabic music is actually more improvised–and its actually one that feeds off of a live performance where you get energy back from the audience, right? You sorta whip them into the state of like ecstatic-frenzy through your performance and they applaud and, you know, there’s a very interactive element to it. But if you take that idea–that authentic Arabic idea of a performance being the composition–where does that leave room for an outside composer like myself, if the performer is in fact the composer, right?”

Tin talks more about the process with the Lead Designer of Old World and the CEO of Mohawk Games in the full podcast episode here. You can find more about the game’s soundtrack on Tin’s Youtube Channel.

You can tune-in to the GRAMMYs on Sunday, February 5th, to see who wins. To see the full list of nominees, click here.

Pictured: Video game controller; Photo by Javier Martínez on Unsplash.

Q & A with Christen Crumpler: WDAV Announcer, Podcast Producer, and Video Game Enthusiast

Earlier this year, Christen Crumpler, host and producer of WDAV’s Power Play podcast, made the leap onto the airwaves as the host of Sunday Night Music. Last month, Christen traded in her night owl wings for a move to Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. 

A native of Charlotte, Christen studied violin and piano at Northwest School of the Arts and continued her studies in college, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music. In addition to her hosting and producing duties at WDAV, Christen is an aspiring songwriter. Now that she has settled into her new time slot, it’s time for a little Q&A to help listeners get to know her better. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of learning to host a radio show?

Figuring out what I want to say and how to shape it for a particular medium. College writing is very different from writing for a format like radio. So, keeping those things in mind, and still making sure that I’m able to translate my authentic self well.

Have there been any surprises along the way? 

I think finding out that I have a knack for radio hosting/voice work! When I began as an intern, my mindset was initially focused on the audio editing portion of production – since I was confident in doing that. I’m continuing to learn that my capabilities are much wider than I’ve allowed myself to previously think.

Give us the name of a composer who we should all give more attention to.   

Please delve into the musical world of Joe Hisaishi! He’s a Japanese composer who’s responsible for a large portion of the film scores to Hayao Miyazaki’s animations. Musically, Hisaishi’s able to enhance and bring to life the worlds Miyazki creates. And Joe Hisaishi’s music (within those films) was a key inspiration of mine when it came to orchestral music growing up.

What should listeners expect to hear when they tune in?

You can expect every now and then, in my shift, a look into how I experience music. Also offering space for you to think about how you interact with music too! A person’s musical experience can be enhanced by connecting with others – and so I try to do that as much as I can when I’m on the air.

When you’re not busy announcing for WDAV or working on producing the next episode of Power Play, what interests do you pursue? 

Well, these days, you can catch me playing video games on my Nintendo Switch! I’m no pro, but I do have my fair share of achievements and hours across different games and consoles. Also, I’m always working on writing songs and creating instrumentals for my own music that I want to release at some point. 

What advice would you give to others who – like you – are new to hosting in the Classical Music/Radio space?

Be kind to yourself. There’s not a lot of us noobs out here at the moment – and so, at times, it can feel like you’re not hitting the marks you think you should be meeting. It’s a growing journey. You’ll be able to reach the goals you’re wanting if you keep at it – like the hosts that have 20/30+ years in this space eventually did. Make sure you’re eager to learn and curious about how you can approach things differently.

You can catch Christen hosting on WDAV every Sunday between 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Listen closely – she might even mention her gamer tag. The latest episode of the Power Play, Spirituals: The Power of Community and Music, is out now and available at all major podcast platforms including Apple, Google, and Spotify.