Quote of the Week: Lost’s Theme-Less Theme Song

It’s Comic-Con this week, down in San Diego. Once upon a time, Comic-Con was a mix of professional business conference and geek art fair for fans of serial storytelling told in cheap pamphlets and sold in several thousand mom’n’pop stores around the U.S.

These days it’s primarily an opportunity for Hollywood to pitch its wares to fully suspecting pop-culture fetishists, and for the IT ninja at Twitter to test the fortitude of its servers.

While Comic-Con has not taken a tip from the Tribeca Film Festival and offered a long-distance pass for those who want to watch the panel discussions and other events from the comfort of their own laptops, there’s plenty of reporting from the con online, among it the tireless work by Alan Sepinwall, of the TV blog hitfix.com/blogs/whats-alan-watching.

In a post this past week, Sepinwall made note of the following comment from the panel for the upcoming Hawaii Five-0-remake series by the actor Daniel Dae Kim, best known as the tragic Korean corporate bagman from the series Lost:

“I’m happy to be on a show that has a theme song.”

What Kim’s referring to is the opening theme to Lost, which was little more than a drone that slowly contorted, as the logo for the show came into focus against a black screen, rotating as it moved, and then slipped out of view. (This is the U.S. theme — as with other shows, it varied when adapted for other countries.) But what that Lost theme lacked in whistle-along-ness it made up for with pitch-perfect, story-appropriate ambiguity. No hummable song would so well match the narrative fluidity and genre switcheroos of Lost — and more to the point, no other opening song would prepare listeners for what is one of the most sonically expressive series ever on television. Forget the proper score by Michael Giacchino (which got a lot of press coverage as the series reached its recent, and to me unsatisfying, conclusion), whose swelling strings and heart-racing beats were a red herring, while the real audio ingenuity was at work on screen: from the dastardly rattle of the smoke monster, to the nostalgia symbolism of the occasional turntable, to the thundering alarm of the Dharma clock, and on and on.

Not that the folks behind Hawaii Five-0 version 2.0 don’t have the courage of their own convictions. According to that post at hitfix.com/blogs/whats-alan-watching, the producers originally recorded a new version of the song, then realized what a bone-headed idea that was, and brought in many of the original musicians to re-record the quasi-surf-rock classic. Click through to that story for a link to video footage of the recording session.

4 thoughts on “Quote of the Week: Lost’s Theme-Less Theme Song

  1. Hi Marc, the interesting story about the main title of “Lost” is that it is based on a preset sound of Spectrasonics “Atmosphere” named “Armenian Sun”. It seems as if J. J. Abrams, the creator of the series, just pressed a key on the keyboard to generate his theme song, though on a closer look it appears that the sound has more elements than the preset sound of “Atmosphere”, there is some higher tension-jingle-jangle going on, so there must be a bit more of sound design involved than only firing the preset sound. I had to admit that I still liked the signation sound of “Lost” even after 6 seasons – I agree with you that the drone-like quality of the sound is much more appropriate for the series than a musical theme. It is reduction in its best sense. Theme songs can easily get boring after a couple of episodes. But that probably applies to people who like to watch chunks of episodes in one session… Best wishes, Andreas

  2. Thanks for the information on the sound source. It feels like there’s a torque to the drone that parallels the twisting of the Lost logo. I haven’t heard the original preset. I’ll try to track it down for comparison.

    I read up on some forums about the theme and the preset; amazing how some people seem to think the theme is lazy — as if the Fringe and Alias themes don’t make it clear that Abrams is capable of proper tunes when he thinks they’re necessary, and that the Lost drone was a conscious, considered decision.

  3. Hey, Marc, One small correction–Daniel Dae Kim played a Korean bagman. Very sorry to hear he is an ambient philistine and the sort of actor who “needs a theme song.” Also sorry to hear that our friends in Hollywood haven’t run out of old boomer TV shows to ruin (not that the Jack Lord version was that great)–I really thought we were done with that process! On the topic of Lost music–I really loved the eerie, five-note gamelan theme you occasionally heard in the first couple of seasons, say, when a group of people were walking through the jungle and about to discover something. That theme recurred in later years but was never again played with the gamelan (or whatever detuned preset the composer used). Some of the suspense of the show for me – in the weekly Tsunami of suspense – was whether those tones would come back, and in what form.

    1. I don’t think we’ll ever see Hollywood stop taking old shows and making them new-ish again. Thanks for the correction. I had it in my mind that Hawaii Five-O wouldn’t be the first time he was playing someone from another country of origin. Of course he was Korean in Lost — he spoke Korean most of the time. Brain melt.

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