A comicbook action-adventure, two animated tales (one of them a musical) and a 9/11 movie: Composer John Powell couldn’t have asked for more diverse projects in one year.
Three of them — “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “Happy Feet” — are among the year’s 10 top-grossing films.
Yet the toughest assignment was undoubtedly “United 93,” Paul Greengrass’ intense chronicle of the hijacked plane on 9/11 that never reached its target, thanks to a passenger revolt.
When discussions began on “United 93,” Powell says, “Paul and I doubted whether we needed any music. I didn’t want to do anything that manipulated you in any way. We ended up using music just to break the reality a little — a hand that comes and holds you for just a second to say, this is a film, the story is moving forward.”
The finale of the score is a musical prayer that uses the voice of his 5-year-old son Oliver.
“I wanted a voice of some kind,” Powell explains, “the voice of humanity. But I didn’t want it to sound too knowing or sophisticated. It was a way of saying, sometimes the simplest things will save us.”
He spent four years on “Happy Feet,” arranging the songs and overseeing all the vocal recordings as well as writing the underscore (which included a 600-voice Australian choir singing for 35,000 penguins in the finale).
Powell’s comedic sense informed the “Ice Age” sequel, while the third “X-Men” movie demanded a darker tone.
“It had to be very, very serious, all the time,” Powell says. “Any lightness in these kinds of films is the destruction of them. It requires total faith.”
Since moving from London to L.A. 10 years ago, Powell has become one of Hollywood’s busiest composers.
Popular animated features (“Chicken Run,” “Shrek”) and live-action thrillers (“The Bourne Identity,” “The Italian Job”) catapulted him to the top of most filmmaker’s lists. He’s now working on one of each: the Dr. Seuss film “Horton Hears a Who” and the next Matt Damon actioner, “The Bourne Ultimatum.”