The legendary Star Wars composer celebrates his 50th Birthday with a revealing Q&A about Rogue One, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, UP and Mission Impossible.
When celebrating a birthday, most of us commit to a gathering of friends and family and adhere to the social intricacies of the traditional party atmosphere. It is a custom found the world over, from culture to culture…
But that’s for normal people, not Michael Giacchino.
The incredible composer of Rogue One, Star Trek, War for the Planet of the Apes, UP, LOST and Spider-Man: Homecoming chose to commit to a series of spectacular events, designed to share the landmark with his legions of adoring fans. The first of which, was a special screening of the Disney/Pixar movie UP, for which he composed an Oscar winning score, followed by a Q&A session with the select few lucky enough to obtain tickets.
The movie itself was breath-taking, a masterpiece of filmmaking by director Pete Docter, and accentuating the stunning tale of Carl Fredricksen and his floating house was the tonal brilliance of Michael Giacchino. Despite owning the movie on Blu-Ray, it was the first time I had watched the film for some time and the heartfelt tale of the aged Fredricksen, coping with the loss of his beloved wife, Ellie, really resonated with me. It was an emotional ride, and as the lights came up to illuminate the room, there were more than a few teary eyes in the room, but we brushed those thoughts aside when the host swiftly announced the arrival of the composer to the stage.
Michael Giacchino arrived.
The man who had been responsible for most of the soundtrack to the last ten years of my musical life took to the stage, and alongside him in a total surprise appearance came the director Pete Docter. As the rapturous applause began to subside, the duo afforded us a customary interview which revealed the extent of his involvement in the creative process of UP. Like myself, the audience were enthralled, but I was eager to explore his experiences following in the footsteps of industry giants like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.
And, when the time came for the host to open the discussion up to questions from the audience, I was ready to pounce. My question was a relatively simple one, how did he approach following in the footsteps of both iconic composers.
His reply was unexpected.
Being a great admirer of Jerry Goldsmith, Giacchino revealed the notion of replacing him as composer for J.J Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was a daunting prospect. In fact, his first attempt at scoring the movie was a homage to the master, whose efforts brought us the Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme that launched the movie franchise in 1979 and closed it out in 2002, with Star Trek: Nemesis. The balance proved difficult to achieve, and script changes altered his thinking many times throughout the creative process, but after producing SEVENTEEN different versions of the original score, both he and director J.J Abrams, decided that a homage to Goldsmith was not part of the vision they shared for their contemporary version of Star Trek.
In the end, Giacchino created an incredibly adept score, reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning symphonies, but added a contemporary, dynamic theme to accompany the movies heroes. It was the relationship between the two main characters, Kirk and Spock, that prompted him to focus primarily on their troubled backgrounds as a source of inspiration. Both characters, shared similar upbringings and had both experienced their fair share of tragedies and prejudices, and it was this bond that served as Giacchino’s inspiration for the score.
His devotion to the Star Trek franchise has yielded three exceptional scores, the latest being Star Trek: Beyond. With the Enterprise, traversing unchartered space and encountering a mysterious swarm of alien craft, Giacchino channelled his inner Jerry Goldsmith and delivered a sensational track reminiscent of the great man himself. The track named “The Dance of the Nebula” was a natural blend of the best of Goldsmith meets the contemporary tones of Giacchino and delivered an eerie theme worthy of the Star Trek astral symphony.
He encountered similar trepidations with his score for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The 1968 classic original soundtrack, composed once again by the incredible Jerry Goldsmith was more of an experience than a score. The blend of primitive sounds accompanied by an eerie “ape like” horn delivered what would become ground breaking avant-garde score mirroring the movies sense of segregation. This originality would ensure a nomination for best motion picture score at the Academy Awards. Giacchino, in his wisdom decided to compose a soundtrack devoid of what we regard as a main theme, thus reflecting the tradition originated by Goldsmith’s masterwork. A trademark he carried through to the sequel, War for the Planet of the Apes.
Scoring Mission Impossible III brought him another obstacle to overcome. With his good friend J.J Abrams, assigned to direct the third entry in the series, Giacchino was uncertain of his approach especially when following in the footsteps of the great Lalo Schifrin, a composer he had looked up to during his years at film school. And, in an audacious move he did the unthinkable. Something many of us wouldn’t dare to. He contacted the great composer, explained the situation and invited him to lunch. Amazingly, Schifrin accepted his offer, and the two met and Giacchino explained his unease at stepping into his shoes.
Schifrin sat opposite him, with an expression akin to that of a man that was about to meet his daughters’ suitor for the first time. But, when Giacchino revealed the motives for their rendezvous, Schifrin was incredibly warm and approachable. In fact, the great composer put his mind and at ease and afforded him a crucial titbit of advice for producing his new Mission Impossible score.
“Have fun and enjoy yourself!”
In that moment, his apprehension had been diffused, and he approached the project with new vigour and produced a soundtrack worthy of the great man himself. A score full of exciting, pulse pounding symphony that easily accentuated Tom Cruise’s adventures on the screen and took the franchise to new heights.
His interpretation of the events on screen proved to be the key to his scoring success moving forward. Scene by scene, he applied his emotional tenderness to the events unfolding on the screen, and when the time came to return to Disney/Pixar to score UP, he brought a whole new dimension of music making to the celebrated symphonies of the Disney empire. His symbolic theme for the relationship between Carl Fredricksen and his beloved wife Ellie, was as deep and emotional as any other body of work in his back catalogue, and at its height was incredibly celebratory, whilst at its lowest took you to the depths of despair.
The sequence titled Married Life, was by design a montage sequence detailing the events of the couples’ life together. From the elation of their wedding day, to the tragedy of losing a child, the sequence is both beautiful, as much as it is painful and was originally conceptualised to have scripted dialogue. However, that all changed when Michael Giacchino turned in his score for the movie.
His composition for Married Life, was so breath taking and emotional that director Pete Docter, removed everything but the sound effects from the sequence to elevate the score, but not even that was enough, and soon after everything but the score was removed. The completed sequence is beautiful as a result, and the score became just as big a character as the ones expertly brought to life on the screen. Even Docter admitted to shedding a tear when the sequence was complete, a feeling that resonated with me during the earlier screening of the movie. Upon witnessing the Married Life sequence, I found myself longing to head home to hug my beautiful wife, Zoe and remind her just how much I love her.
That is the prowess and heart of Michael Giacchino.
The essence of a great composer, is the ability to make you feel, to connect to the images on the screen in an emotional way. In fact, the great John Williams once said that a movies soundtrack is its soul, and who are we to argue with the master. Which brought us nicely onto his scoring of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
With Alexandre Desplat, relieved of his scoring duties just one month before the movie was set to premiere across the world, Giacchino was tasked with the challenge of producing a score. With the four-week deadline taken into account, he was hesitant to take on the challenge, this despite having always harboured dreams of scoring a Star Wars movie. Fortunately, a firm reminder of his boyhood dreams from his family prompted a change of heart and he met with representatives from Lucasfilm. With his time short, Giacchino watched the movie in its entirety just once before attempting to score the project, and despite the arduous battle facing him, he committed to a sequence of ten-hour days scoring one scene at a time until completion.
The result was an incredible score, one that afforded the fans a walk down memory lane with old friends whilst an all new, fresh Giacchino take on the galaxy far, far away launched us into an exciting new adventure. He composed a truly beautiful and elegant theme to accompany our female lead, Jyn Erso which followed her through her abandonment as child, the death of her father and even the climax to her story. The track, affectionately called Star-Dust, is an audacious theme that can, at times be bold, beautiful, tragic and even heroic and its tonal brilliance accentuates Erso’s character perfectly.
Despite his trepidation, Giacchino delivered a stunning score and his reluctance to step out of the masters’ shadow proved to be unfounded. The childhood influences of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Elliot Goldenthal, John Barry and James Horner provided the perfect combination to spark his imagination. Composing music may not have been his first-choice career, but he has demonstrated time and time again that he is more than capable of hanging with the big boys.
Every score he has ever produced has been written from the viewers point of view, and stands as a simple reflection of how each and every scene affects him emotionally. His passion for movies has yielded an amazing back catalogue of material for his fans to adore, and they number in the hundreds of thousands. I am proud to count myself among them, and meeting him at the climax of his interview was a delight.
Whilst posing for a photograph with me, I probed him for information about a deluxe version of his Rogue One: A Star Wars Story score. Traditionally, Giacchino’s incredibly detailed work exceeds the industry standard soundtrack running time, leaving his fans desperate for an extended deluxe version. So far, all three Star Trek movies have been afforded the deluxe treatment and I had hoped similar consideration would be applied to Star Wars. Without a second thought, he confirmed his hopes for a deluxe edition once Disney/Lucasfilm have earned their revenue from the standard edition.
The very suggestion of an expanded Rogue One soundtrack was enough to spark my excitement, and as I said my farewells and headed toward the exit, Giacchino called after me and promised that his sublime score for Rogue One would be performed at the Royal Albert Hall birthday celebration concert, scheduled for a few days later.
Thankfully, the Force was with me. I had pre-booked my ticket months in advance.
It was a sheer delight meeting Michael Giacchino. Of all the modern composers, I regard his work as the finest. His work on both Star Trek and Star Wars has cemented his status amongst his fans, and I’d be delighted to see him return to either franchise. It is my hope that he also returns to compose the score for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. His work on Jurassic World was exceptional, and triggered the nostalgia ride of a lifetime reminiscent of John Williams himself.
Until then, the wait goes on for the Rogue One expanded edition.
But hey, live and let Jedi….
Thank you Michael Giacchino. Sharing your birthday was a pleasure.
May The Force Be With You