For a quarter of a century, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor has added shine to the silver screen, whether through standalone tracks or full-blown film scores. To celebrate his original film score for David Fincher’s 2011 remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (SBS, Friday 8 September at 8.40 pm), here’s a look at why Reznor and cinema go hand in hand.
Nine Inch Nails’ sound is inherently dramatic
Throughout the '90s, Reznor’s feverish industrial band, Nine Inch Nails, established themselves as a unique musical force with which to be reckoned – and the giants of cinema quickly cottoned onto that fact. The result? A bunch of films from that decade were elevated thanks to their use of NIN tracks.
1994 saw their crunchy cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” included on the much-touted The Crow soundtrack. It’s also the year their gorgeous instrumental track “A Warm Place” from sophomore album The Downward Spiral added emotional heft to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
A year later, one of NIN’s most famous compositions, “Closer”, was reworked for Fincher’s Se7en, a film which boasts one of the most effective opening credit scenes of all time. The squelchy remix, laid underneath the sickly montage of serial killer John Doe’s personal obsessions, conjured up images of crawling skin and bubbling blood, and expertly set the stage for the unrelenting nightmare to come.
To round out the decade, David Lynch enlisted NIN to contribute the industrial epic “The Perfect Drug” (as well as one of Reznor’s only individually credited offerings, “Driver Down”) to another nightmare of a feature: Lost Highway (1997). Not bad for a band that’d had only released a pair of albums.
A natural progression
Surprisingly, Reznor’s first foray into the world of scoring, as opposed to contributing, also came in the '90s, through his rousing soundtrack to legendary video game Quake. As if the first-person shooter wasn’t already grim enough, Reznor’s score sounded as if it’d been imagined somewhere within the fiery centre of hell.
It wasn’t until 14 years later, along with long-time collaborator Atticus Ross, that Reznor wrote and produced his first feature-length film score. It was for another Fincher marvel, 2010's The Social Network. Its main musical theme was pure Reznor – catchy yet unpredictable, haunting yet heartening, and marked by a sparse, cyclical piano melody that sat atop a foreboding bed of synth.
As the film wasn’t exactly Fincher’s most visual, and was mostly comprised of characters engaged in verbal spars, it needed Reznor and Ross’s score in order to sell the significance of the action, and boy did it succeed. The pair won a well-deserved Oscar for their efforts.
One of cinema’s most sought-after music men
After the Academy Award, Reznor was no longer that bandleader who dabbled in original scores, and had discovered a deep appreciation for the process.
NIN tracks continued to appear in a wide variety of films, including Tony Scott’s Man On Fire (2004), the Angelina Jolie-helmed Wanted (2008), and in the trailers for both 300 (2006) and Terminator: Salvation (2009), the latter of which used “The Day The Whole World Went Away” from 1999's The Fragile to sublime effect. Meanwhile, Reznor and Ross settled into their roles as Fincher’s right-hand men, composing the scores for both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl (2014).
The original score for TGWTDT is one of the most elaborate musical collaborations in the history of cinema, and that’s not an overstatement. The final release spread over three discs, with each disc containing 13 tracks. That’s 39 pieces of music for a two-and-a-half hour film. Reznor and Ross cleared an entire year of their schedules in order to give the work the attention it deserved, knowing the job would end up far more involved than their previous collaboration with Fincher.
With The Social Network, Reznor and Ross began composing music after the edit was all but complete, whereas they came on board with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while the film was still being shot, and therefore had to rewrite and refine as the film took shape. Stylistically, the pair opted to veer away from the orchestral in favour of ambience and dissonance – a choice they felt better complimented the stark Swedish landscapes. This unique and equally grand work ended up nabbing a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. It’s not hard to hear why.
Watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on SBS Australia, Friday September 8 at 8.40pm.