Saving Mr. Hanks, Without Fanfare

'Captain Philips' calls for a score that's more verite than sensational

“Very often in film scores,” says composer Henry Jackman, “you’re looking for music to extend and enhance, and if anything, exaggerate. All of those rules of scoring and storytelling go out the window with Paul Greengrass.”

Jackman is talking about his experience on “Captain Phillips,” the story of an American captain (Tom Hanks) whose cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates. Similar to his approach on “United 93,” director Greengrass did not want music to tip the dramatic balance by suggesting that this was a good guys vs. bad guys story.

“His background as a journalist is key,” Jackman says. “He has a scrupulous preoccupation with objectivity and a respect for the audience in allowing ambiguity, not loading movies with too much moral simplicity.”

The challenge, Jackman says, was to “paint a picture in sound but not be invasive by being melodically intrusive … be descriptive in support of the film without coming into the foreground.”

Jackman brought in Austrian-born cellist Tristan Schulze and experimented, “rummaging around in the sonic world,” searching for non-Western sounds that might be useful. Adding in a violinist, bassist and percussionists, he later processed those sounds electronically, resulting in a minimalist score that adds color and texture without being too specific, emotionally or geographically.

The director often requested music to be “stripped down to its essential elements,” then went even farther by asking for “two more levels of deconstruction, where you could still deliver what the piece needed to do, using slightly fewer devices.”

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