That makes sense and obviously shows. In the first one the focus was on the characters themselves and not the fact that they were playable, and it seems that trend has continued with The Next Level. I’m kind of curious. When you were talking about Winter Soldier, you told me that it was such a different movie from First Avenger, you were working carte blanche, creating a completely different score from Alan Silvestri’s.
With Jumanji: the Next Level, the setting is very reminiscent of Welcome to the Jungle in that both have forestry and foliage and the same characters from before. I’m wondering- what is the line between wanting to reuse music or cues from the previous movie versus wanting to create new music to fit the sequel? Cause I know that other artists have struggled with this, like Hans Zimmer and Pirates of the Caribbean- that is, how much music to keep intact from the original compared to making brand new tracks.
That’s an interesting question. Well of course, Hans is endlessly creating music. Once you get to four or five it is tricky I guess: I wonder how I would answer that question if there were five of them, it’d be more challenging!
But basically the good news for me is, first of all, the situation is everything went up a gear in this movie. So those themes that I did take and move over from Welcome to the Jungle like the adventure theme and fanfare and various other themes that I had, they all got re-harmonized and re-orchestrated and pushed into different contexts probably because the geography is different. I mean, the adventure theme took on a more Lawrence of Arabia-type vibe, on top of which you’ve got a brand new completely very colorful character as an adversary called Jurgen the Brutal, I had a great time with coming up with a sort of Germanic, a lot of classical, half bad-ass, half-barbarian classical theme that had nothing to do with the first movie.
And you know there was a lot of slightly sneaky ocean music that was appropriate as the team splits up into doing a million things at once and slightly stealthy rock kicks in. There were new strands that fitted what was happening in the new movie. In terms of reusing music, in terms of pieces rare to the first movie, out of an 85-minute score, I think it was about 3 minutes. And all of the rest of it was completely new music, new permutations from the first one.
That’s a testament to your skill as a composer, that you’re able to treat a sequel as a completely different film.
I learned that from Hans! And it’s funny you mentioned Matthew Vaughn. When I was working on Kingsman 2, Matthew Vaughn went “before I start Kingsman 2, I thought this would be one of the easier movies to make” as with Kingsman we know what we’re doing, we’ve got the vibe, the capitulations of the film and the characters and we’ve established the music. So you would think that Kingsman 2 would be easier. But he goes “I think this might be the toughest film I’ve ever made.”
And I remember talking to Hans about this, and he said you can’t just redo the music from the first one. The best way to think about it is as a completely new film. It’s amazing. It can almost be more musical, the fact that you have the candies from the first film. You can almost think of it as an entirely independent and new work and approach it as you would every new movie.
That shows with each project feeling completely different from your prior movies, as Civil War did from Winter Soldier. And I expect that to be the case when I listen to Jumanji: the Next Level.
I have to ask, you mentioned James Horner earlier as one of your influences. He was of course one the greats- Titanic, Braveheart, Star Trek II…his discography speaks for itself. And he also did the original Jumanji! Before his tragic death, did you ever have a chance to meet him, or was it something that never happened?
I actually did meet him! He wouldn’t know, it’s the funniest thing, but I met him incredibly briefly. Where was I? I was in London, and it was the funniest episode. He was outside the Soho Hotel, looking very elegant as he always did, with a scarf and lovely coat, and he was wandering around very close to the Soho Hotel looking up at the apartments. And Hans I think lived somewhere around there, I can’t remember exactly where. So I put two and two together and went “I know what’s happening here. He’s looking for an address! I’ll step in and introduce myself and go, ‘I’m probably putting two and two together, but if you’re meeting up with Hans I can promptly show you where he is.’” And I was completely wrong, he was actually just admiring the aspect of the rivers.
I mean I remember, just as a young teenager, being able to go to London on my own, I might have been 15, and I went to go see Willow at this massive screen at Madison Square, it might have been the Empire, and I was educated in music at a very early age and so you know I enjoyed the movie very much and I remember really liking the music. I may even have gone back the next day and seen it again [laughs].
And the original, I don’t take any themes from it or anything, but it goes back to that conversation that what James Horner did in that first Jumanji film is definitely in that slightly mysterious, use of the harmony, and mysterioso aspects. There’s a certain how you use harmony that betokens you to another world and props up in scores like Predator where it’s more scary. But there’s a fantasy element to the harmonic language in those kinds of films. It’s slightly less well-known, but Spiderwick Chronicles is another very elegantly-orchestrated, unique approach to harmony.
But yes, those scores are wandering around in me. I don’t know if there’s any specific melody, but that kind of approach where the orchestration and symphonic-style definitely takes a cue from 20th-century concert music is something that A) I really like, and B) James Horner was great at. Those kind of things rumble around in the back of my head somewhere as an influence.
That’s wonderful to hear. I expected his work to have an influence on you, but it’s nice to know that there was a personal experience as well. And I do feel you were the best person to take on Jumanji from James Horner, because you take the best aspects of the past and helped define modern blockbuster.
I have two last questions sir. I noticed you composed Uncharted 4, and I have to say you did an amazing job on it. I’m a big gamer, and I didn’t think anyone could match Greg Edmonson’s score for the first three, but you managed to live up to that legacy while adding to the emotional gravitas of the final entry.
I’m curious, would you ever consider doing more video games, or are you too busy with movies to venture into this realm again?
Yeah, I probably would. It’s such a different process, but in a really good way. One of the things that I liked about Uncharted was, the way a movie works is you say yes, and there is a target date which is always worryingly too close and you’ve got to start writing like crazy [laughs]. You’re over in three months and it’s a giant process, you need a kind of strategy to get it all done like a battle and by the time you get to the last two weeks you’re scoring, you’re firing on all cylinders, all heading for the top of the hill kind of thing.
With video games, it can take a long period to get integrated into the game and a lot of the music is modular, and it’s a very different approach. I know technology is getting better and better in terms of how stems can be faded in and out as you play. I took it seriously and I put a painting on the screen and wrote a five minute suite about the main character just from that picture.
I remember something I learned from Hans- if you don’t have restrictions of the dynamics of the theme or a particular cue or a particular sequence and you just want to create the sound for a character, then you can write about the mechanics and the crafting of the cues and the indicators. But it’s always a good idea to start on the art end of things and worry about the mechanic end of things later. And so there was a bunch of suite writing at the beginning and yeah, the directors [Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann] were super creative. Uncharted is definitely the glamorous end of video games, so I’m just so busy right now. In the future though, definitely. If the director is as creative as the directors on Uncharted and the project has that kind of depth and scope.
The other thing is it wasn’t that long ago when you could not expect to get the recordings required like you could with a movie. I mean Uncharted was a full symphony orchestra recorded at London AIR Studios, so the process was very similar to a movie. One of the reasons a decade ago or more film composers might have considered not doing video games was because the budgets on there weren’t treated in the same respect and did not allow for having the same musical production value. Of course that’s not true now in video games, it might even be a bigger industry now than the movie industry in terms of members! So there are great creative products out there, really creative directors, and all the resources to explore music without any compromises. So if the opportunity ever comes up again, yeah I’d definitely think about it.
That’s great to hear! As I said, I thought you did a good job with the scoring for Uncharted 4, and thanks for the insight into how video game composing works. It’s really cool that you were able to just sit down and write a suite like that based off of a static picture.
My last question is something I love to ask every composer I speak to, and that’s what are three pieces of music that have had the greatest influence on you as a composer? They can be a band album, film score, or even a video game score. But three pieces.
That’s a really good question. I’ll try and think of ones that are different for different reasons. Probably one of the most profound early experiences, when I was really young, I think I was seven, my rather high-minded parents sort of idealistically took me to a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde”. When I listen to Benjamin Britten now I’m experienced and know about 20th century concert music. Back then, though, I was only seven and it hit me in a completely unthinking visceral way and I somehow knew that what I was listening to was complete genius and was utterly transfixed, which is unusual because normally you track a seven year old to some sort of classical concert and they’re probably going to be going “mom, why are we here?” However, I was just rooted to the score. I could shut my eyes and hear it. I never heard anything like it. It had a profound effect on me here, and it was just amazing.
And you hear people go “oh well, the thing about classical music is you need to be educated about it.” I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know who Benjamin Britten was and I didn’t know he was one of the greatest 20th century English composers. I knew nothing- I was just a kid taken to a concert and it blew me away. So that’s a good example of one [influence].
On a completely different style, I’m trying to think of a specific track….oh you know what, funny enough, this is gonna sound really humorous, it opened a completely different path in me. When I was a teenager, I heard this track by Robbie Nevil called “C’est la Vie” this pop record, and I just found it memorable and classically orchestrated. I listened to it and straight away I could figure out the chords were, A-minus, G-minus, blah blah blah. So I went to the piano and started playing these chords, and went “huh, that’s weird.” Because the record sounds cool but then when I figured out how to do it it sounded flat on the piano. What’s going on?
And so I took my record to a friend named Greg and went “I bought this record by Robbie Nevil and figured out the chords and can hum the melody and here I am on the piano and it sounds so bad on the piano.” Cause, being classically-trained at the time, if I figured out what all the chords were and played them on the piano I basically nailed it right? That should be what the piece of music is. And yet, when I play the record it sounds so different and way cooler. So I went “Greg, how come when I play it on the piano it sounds like crap? And I definitely got the right chords and everything.”
And Greg would say “oh my god, welcome to records right? The reason it sounds different is there are so many reasons that are going to take me so long to explain, the production, it’s to do with the different styles, it’s a synth, it’s engineering, it’s produced by Alan Sadkin who produced other great scores, there’s a whole universe that you don’t know about that has to do with synths and production and output and engineering. I could talk to you forever about how that works, and when you put all that together and people work their asses off for weeks to make a 3 minute 35 second record, that that’s what you’re listening to on the record.”
I said “oh wow, I guess there’s a whole other thing I need to know about that they didn’t teach me.” So that was an important influence on me, not because it’s the greatest piece of music ever, but it was more like “oh, so there’s this whole other world.” It was a window into this whole other side of music a million miles away, from Beethoven to business, which I have been launched into. And it was really that one record that got me thinking about it. So that’s a good example of something wildly different.
For a third one, maybe the score to Predator? I didn’t even get into film scores until my mid-30s, and as a kid in England, of course at Christmas times, there were packages that played Superman and the original Star Wars movies- everyone knew John Williams was a genius, that was almost like common culture, the classic sounds for all those movies. But again, as a teenager, we managed to get a bootleg DHS of Predator, which we probably weren’t supposed to watch.
And I remember, because then I was studying classical music, and I was listening to this score and I was like “wow, the harmony, I thought film music was a modern institution, yet some of these harmonic moods that are going on in this score are orchestral.” That’s supposed to be, not quite a B-movie, the movie Predator is not exactly Shakespeare- it’s really well made by John McTiernan it’s not a high concept movie, it’s a good old-fashioned, people get killed one-by-one by a mysterious creature type-movie.
Meanwhile, the music has got the same harmonic sophistication as some of the classical themes I was studying. I knew nothing about film studies, and I said “I’m going to wait and look at the credits to see who did that,” and on that crappy DHS copy I saw Alan Silvestri and I thought “I’m going to remember that name.” And then cut to 20 years later and I’m hanging out and talking with him and I’m doing music for movies where he did the earlier scores. I mean, you couldn’t make it up. I never ever would have guessed that that would have happened.
The point about Predator is anyone who is interested in composing should check out the scales and the use of harmony in Predator, it’s interesting and quite exploratory and it tickles my fancy because you know if you’re a bit more classically-trained and you get bored with some of the electronic chords you get in pop music, trust me the original Predator is a rich river of unusually sophisticated harmony all based on this scale. And it’s a good example of how, just because a movie isn’t necessarily super sophisticated, it doesn’t mean that the music can’t have this whole otherworldly, mysterioso edge to it because of what Alan did to it. I’m being rude about the movie, I’m not. But what I’m saying is you might think a film with like five muscly guys in the jungle doesn’t warrant or deserve harmonically-sophisticated music, but of course Alan is very imaginative and he figured out that if you want to get the feeling of this unknown creature in the jungle, actually you do have to evoke an unusual fear which you achieve through this extraordinary harmony. So yeah, that’s another influence.
I think your life experiences speak to this idea that music is universal, and these preconceived notions we have are ridiculous. Kids across the world can enjoy classical music like Benjamin Britten. And just because a movie is more of a popcorn flick like Predator or Winter Soldier doesn’t mean they can’t have amazing scores that rival the greats. And I do think in the next 10 years your name will be as memorable as the Hans Zimmers because I genuinely do believe you are pioneering modern film music, and it’s been a privilege to speak to you. Thank you so much!
Oh thanks for the compliment, I’ll try and not let it get to my head! [laughs]
Thank you very much!
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Jackman for sitting down with us.