What I’m about to discuss is quite possibly the nitpickiest of nitpicks I’ve ever indulged in. By all means, I should be directing this energy into something more productive. I apologize in advance for wasting both your time and mine.
Insomniac Games recently teamed up with Machinima to put out a music video for the upcoming Ratchet & Clank movie. The song in the video, which is titled Bad News Travels Fast, is the only lyrical piece in the entire soundtrack. And it’s fucking awful.
It’s rare that I find myself giving this much of a shit about the soundtrack for a Ratchet & Clank game these days, let alone a movie soundtrack. At this point, when you’ve heard one of those soundtracks, you’ve heard them all. But this is one of the rare occurrences where I simply can’t ignore this. As someone who spent a good chunk of his life learning how to write music well with dreams of being a composer some day, as well as someone who’s a fairly big Ratchet & Clank fan since at least Going Commando, this is something I will not ignore.
The song itself starts out somewhat decently. The instrumentation and vocal style is very similar to the songs you’d find in the Borderlands introduction sequences. Given the series’ propensity for outlandish weapons and a large arsenal, I guess it wouldn’t be too out of place. But then we get the main chorus, which is the only part of the song that’s actually, you know, sung. The lyrics are somewhat distorted, so it’s admittedly a bit difficult to make some of it out. From what I could gather, the lyrics are as follows:
"Bad news travels fast
You’re just to good to last,
You’re rollin’ like thunder
Bro, take cover
Bad news, I said bad news, travels fast"
That chorus is repeated throughout the entire song with no variation. No different lyrics, no different melodies, not even a simple key change. Nothing. And the main verses? Just some dude rapping about how awesome he is, namedropping other rap artists, using pop culture references, etc. Yup! Because when I think about the lighthearted, intergalactic exploits of Ratchet & Clank, I think of fucking rap music! I wouldn’t have minded so much if any of the lyrics had anything to do with the events of the movie/game. But almost all of the lyrics are just random nonsense that don’t connect to anything.
The title Bad News Travels Fast makes me think of a situation where one of the characters was either framed for something or had one of their darkest secrets exposed to the masses. I haven’t played the new game or seen the movie yet, but I know that Qwark was exposed as a fraud in the original. Maybe it has something to do with that? Maybe Ratchet got framed for something in the new game/movie? I have absolutely no idea. It doesn't matter because in either scenario, the lyrics don’t really mesh well because of how all over the place they are. It plays out like something that was just placed into there with little regards to the pacing or structure. Which is precisely what this song is.
Bad News Travels Fast was not written for the movie. The song was written by a rap artist called Jelly Roll for an EP called Whiskey Sessions about a year ago. This is not an unusual practice for films or games. Hell, I don’t even mind it most of the time unless they botch it up royally, like what Sony did here. I dunno, maybe I’ve been spoiled by some really good instances of using licensed music in stuff, both in games and in movies. By itself, the song is just kind of obnoxious and forgettable. But as a licensed track for the Ratchet & Clank movie, in comparison to some really good examples of licensed music, it just really irritates me.
Let’s start with games. Borderlands is probably a good series to talk about. Say what you will about the games themselves, of Gearbox software, or of 2K games. I certainly have. But you can’t deny that the songs used for each of the intro sequences are brilliantly chosen. The first game had Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked, which helped establish the idea that the world of Pandora was one filled with not-so-righteous people. The second game had Short Change Hero, which re-enforces the theme of people pretending to be heroes when they’re clearly not. Finally, What Makes a Good Man echoes the blurred lines between good and evil that Jack and the player characters contend with throughout the game. All the songs that were chosen for this series weren't chosen just because they were really good songs (although, it didn't hurt). They were chosen because each of them strengthened the overall themes of their respective games.
If you want to go with a game that uses nothing but licensed music, look no further than Brutal Legend. That game is a fucking master class in how to use licensed music in your game. There are two sequences that stick out in my mind the most. The first is the intro sequence where Eddie first picks up the battleaxe, backed by Children of the Grave by Black Sabbath. Not only is the instrumentation great to listen to, but the lyrics of the song also reflect the humans’ fight to rebel against Doviculus’ empire. The second is when you have to drive through a storm of flaming meteors raining down everywhere caused by Doviculus, backed by DragonForce’s Through the Fire and Flames. Need I say more about that piece?
As for movies? Well, I’m not a huge moviegoer anymore, but Deadpool’s use of Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning was pretty well done, even if it was used ironically. And while I haven’t seen Hardcore Henry yet, the trailer’s use of Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen is a pretty good representation of the movie’s overall tone. Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so take that judgment with a bit of salt. Feel free to correct me on this if you have seen it.
So what am I trying to get at here? Why did I just spend several paragraphs picking apart and critiquing one stupid song and listing examples of licensed music done right? I mean it’s just for another movie based on a video game, right? But that’s just it. It’s not just another movie based on a video game. As I said before, Ratchet & Clank is one of my favorite game series of all time. If this was just for the new Ratchet & Clank game, I probably wouldn’t give as much of a shit. But this series is getting an actual movie now. Not only that, but the movie actually looks like a good movie. The visuals look exactly like the Ratchet & Clank games, the cast is largely the same as the source material, and Insomniac’s writing and trademark sense of humor is present. It seems like everything I’ve ever dreamed of for a Ratchet & Clank movie. Hell, it’s what I’ve dreamed of for a movie adaptation of any video game franchise, period! I don’t want this to be just a good movie. I want it to help give a gaming series I love the exposure it badly deserves, while also doing for games what Iron Man did for comic book movies: to walk up to audiences and say “Hey, movies based on this stuff don’t have to suck! In fact, they can be really fucking awesome!”
However, the way Sony’s been advertising the movie, it just comes across as your standard, obnoxious CG animated spectacle, and songs like Bad News Travels Fast aren’t helping its case. Between the bland chorus, the nonsensical rapping and the truly bizarre choice of songs for this movie, it speaks volumes to Sony’s attitude towards it. The marketing department really is indifferent to the essence of what Ratchet & Clank is compared to pandering to a young demographic as much as possible. I’m sure the movie itself will be fine, but the more I think of it, the more it really annoys me. I should probably stop talking about it now before I blow a gasket.
In fact, you know what? Fuck it. Getting all worked up about this isn’t going to solve anything. You know what I’m going to do? After I watch this, I’m going to write my own damn song for the movie. And yes, I’ve written my own music before. I haven’t used my music writing skills in a while, but I promise you that my shit will be better than the song they chose for the game/movie.
Until then, enjoy one of my favorite tracks from the first Ratchet & Clank games. It’s a hell of a lot more memorable than most Ratchet & Clank tracks these days.