If you go to the movies a lot, the music used in the latest trailer advertising First Knight might seem awfully familiar: a grandiose, brass-and-string-heavy bit of orchestration that rises in urgency and pitch until it resolves with a hopeful C major chord.

This short snippet, referred to by filmmakers as a "cue," comes from David Newman's score for the 1992 labor epic Hoffa, released by 20th Century Fox.

"That's one of the most popular cues for trailers in the last few years," says Kathy Meranda, manager of music publishing administration for Fox Music Publishing in Los Angeles, which licenses out portions of soundtracks composed for 20th Century Fox pictures. She says that Hoffa has been used in at least four other trailers: Forrest Gump, Carlito's Way, Heaven and Earth, and Quiz Show.

As Meranda explains it, the recurrence of familiar cues is probably the result of film editors who shape trailers to convey a certain mood--often a mood suggested by a particular classical music piece or orchestral soundtrack they happen to like. Studio marketing people expect them to cut together brilliantly-evocative coming attractions reels for motion pictures which usually are months away from being finished. And because the score is one of the last major items to be included, trailer editors frequently have to improvise. "These guys sit in their little cubicles, and around them are stacks of all the movie score CDs that various film companies put out," Meranda says. Some cues, she adds, seem to bring out the best in almost every trailer they're paired with. "There are certain cues that just work."

One is a blaring, pounding, hysterically macho section of James Horner's score for the 1986 sci-fi thriller Aliens. Repeat viewers will recognize it as the music accompanying the drop ship's climactic escape from the mining colony just before it explodes. It's been used in trailers for Timecop, Blown Away, The Good Son, Man on Fire, Alien 3 and, intriguingly, the TV commercial heralding the video release of Hoffa.

The most popular cue in Fox's library is Randy Edelman's score for Alan Parker's 1990 Japanese internment melodrama Come See the Paradise. Titled "Fire in a Brooklyn Theater," it's a harmonically simple but rhythmically relentless piece in 3/4 time with a repetitious, rising-and-falling four-part melody. You've heard it in trailers for The Joy Luck Club, Philadelphia, A Few Good Men, A Clear and Present Danger, Blown Away, and Rob Roy, among others, and the TV tabloid show "Hard Copy" has used it in segments dealing with Tonya Harding, Michael Jackson, and other objects of controversy.

"It's a magnificent piece of music," Meranda says appreciatively. "It comes from a little movie that didn't do much business. But the score lives on forever."

--Matt Zoller Seitz (

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