How I Watch Sports Movies
The Replacements is on TV when I walk into the living room. I suffer through the last ten minutes, not because I’m particularly interested in character development (if you can call it that), but because of the score.
Not the scoreboard—the musical score.
It’s the fourth quarter of the game that could send the orange team to the playoffs, but they’re down 17-0. After a scolding from the coach and several tiffs among teammates, a pulsing bass line kicks in at 121 beats per minute, accompanied by a moaning electric guitar. The players storm the field with renewed faith in the football gods. The music volume skyrockets as the camera pans to a screaming crowd, then flashes to the booth where Madden is rambling some useless commentary. The referee’s voice thunders through the stadium.
Then the song changes. Still 121 beats per minute, but it sounds faster because the high hats crescendo and the snares decrescendo. An atonal synthesizer creeps in, competing for the melody, but it lasts only a few seconds before an abrupt break. Turns out #34 has taken a hit and broken his knee. Predictably, a hush falls upon the fans that just seconds before were frantic. After a thoughtless speech by #34 to Keanu Reeves—which ended with an uninspiring “Finish what you started, Shane”—the music resumes at 118 beats per minute.
It’s an intense sound. The drums are dominant, but a siren-like chorus of strings takes over just a few measures into the new motif—syncopated against the boom of the reverberated snares, and changing chromatically from a D-sharp to an E to signify heightened drama. The cheerleaders’ routine matches the new movement perfectly. In the lower register, the brass section sneaks in and becomes more prominent with every fall, every fumble, every profanity from the coach’s mouth, until the last staccato G-sharp resounds and the cheerleaders freeze in their final pose.
Something happened. I missed it, but it was dramatic. I know because the music has changed. It speeds up to about 129. The only instrumentation is an a cappella tribal drum meant to signify war-like rivalry between teams. It lasts only five or six seconds before more measures of rest.
A winded Keanu huddles so he can give another stale speech that ends with “Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.” I roll my eyes. Electric guitars slow the beat to 93—less rushed, more intense—undoubtedly an indicator of slow-motion scenes to come. Drums drop out when the moment’s meant to be a nail-biter, but the bass line and synthesizers remain, thumping steadily beneath terribly written, terribly acted dialogue. The crowd’s chant contrasts rhythmically with the score to heighten the suspense and create an air of chaos and disorder.
After a slow-mo tackle, the score returns to 120 BPM with electric guitars on melody and high hats driving the rhythm. The musical interlude lasts only eight to ten seconds, until yet another sudden break brought on by a reverberated snare.
I think the orange team is winning.
After another half-dozen breaks in the score, the fast-paced music returns. An 80s-esque synthesizer howls under a triumphant brass melody in B minor. A second synthesizer—a cross between a bumblebee and an alarm clock—takes precedence, with a three-note accompaniment on strings.
When #86 makes the winning touchdown, the music increases several decibels, as does the volume of the crowd. The synthesizer drops out and electric guitars take over, bringing back a major key—a happier sound. An old man screams, “I knew you could do it, you beautiful son of a bitch!” Then the orange team dowses the coach with ice. I guess the orange team is going to the playoffs.
Vocals come in about eight measures into the new piece—a baritone voice. Sounds like the lead singer from Collective Soul. Keanu kisses his busty cheerleader girlfriend as the vocals soar above the crowd. The camera does the typical spin-around-the-happy-couple shot, then pans to players congratulating each other in various forms—smiles, finger points, butt slaps. All in slow motion.
From nowhere, Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive” resounds. We watch the orange team celebrate their underdog victory by dancing an uncoordinated version of the electric slide. The coach smiles, the crowd roars, the couples kiss, the credits roll.
Ah yes, nothing like a sports movie.