Eye on the Oscars 2011: Music Preview

Six years ago, composer John Williams tied Alfred Newman’s all-time record of 45 nominations in Oscar’s music categories. This year, he could set a new high with one or even two more nominations.

Williams’ music for “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin” are his first new film scores in three years (since “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull”). Both are high-profile, December-releases from longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg.

The animated “Tintin” and the World War I drama “War Horse” are the 24th and 25th films the two have done together since Spielberg’s feature debut in 1974. (Fourteen of them earned music nominations, either for score or song, and three — “Jaws,” “E.T.” and “Schindler’s List” — went on to win.)

Both are also traditional symphonic scores employing Hollywood orchestras of as many as 100 musicians. Spielberg describes Williams’ “War Horse” music as “a score of beauty and quiet majesty” inspired, in part, by the words of poet William Wordsworth (as the film is set, in part, in the English countryside).

” ‘War Horse’ is quintessential John Williams,” says producer Kathleen Kennedy. “Steven was making an epic historical drama, very much in the spirit of John Ford or David Lean — vast, beautiful imagery, whether it was the landscape, the war or pictures of the horses. It required that sense of size, musically.”

Williams’ music plays a key role in the emotional story being told, she says, “where you have a boy who goes into World War I looking for his horse. I’m always amazed when we go on the scoring stage and John has found a theme that is instantly memorable, and on its own, emotional — and then finding a way that supports what Steven is doing with the imagery. It’s a delicate balance.”

Contrasting with the darker material of “War Horse” is the exuberant music for “Tintin,” which Paramount music president Randy Spendlove calls “a multi-genre score, combining large orchestra with 1940s jazz, always conveying a sense of wonderment.”

Adds Kennedy: “The minute Johnny saw what we were doing with ‘Tintin,’ he knew that he wanted to have fun, and that it would be a departure from what he was used to doing. He wanted to return to his jazz roots.”

Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel happened to visit on the day that Williams was conducting the film’s fast-moving pirate sequence. “He walked onto the scoring stage and John handed him the baton,” Kennedy says. “He just wanted to try it (conducting to picture). After attempting to do the cue, he turned to John and said, ‘Bravo!’ He realized how incredibly difficult that is.”

Kennedy says in more than 30 years of working with Spielberg and Williams, she has never seen them disagree.

“Steven has such enormous respect for what John does, and what he adds to the movie. The one part of moviemaking that Steven looks forward to, more than any other, is walking onto that scoring stage.”

She says Spielberg — who is shooting “Lincoln” in Washington, D.C. — is already thinking about its musical needs, and what he will ask Williams for. Williams is expected to score “Lincoln” late next spring.

Eye on the Oscars 2011: Music Preview:

Silence is golden for ‘Artist’s’ maestro | Jonsi’s music animates Crowe’s ‘Zoo’ | From the Bard to Bean without missing a beat | Shoring up ‘Hugo’s’ ode to Melies | Spielberg and Williams duet for 25th time | Desplat’s impossible pace propelled into higher gear | Pix pulsate with driving electronica

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