Jackman: Maestro assumes characteristics of chameleon

Eye on the Oscars: The Music - Henry Jackman

Composer Henry Jackman sees film scorers as the chameleons of the movie industry, possessing the ability to blend in just about anywhere. And the movies he’s scored this year support that claim: the already-released “X-Men: First Class,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Puss in Boots,” and the upcoming “Man on a Ledge.”

“A cat who thinks he’s Zorro is a millions miles away from a guy teetering on a ledge,” Jackman says. “If you do radically different films, it means you’ve embraced completely different styles and ways of engaging in storytelling. The ultimate compliment would be someone saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s the same composer.’ ”

For Jackman, a protege of Hans Zimmer, it’s all about putting the movie first. “Once you’ve determined your themes and the style of the score, what should unite them is how you’re enhancing the storytelling,” he says. “You’ve got to get that right. You can write good music which steps on the film, so you have to be careful of that. What you really want to be doing is supporting the director.”

As film composers go, the English-born, Oxford-educated Jackman is stereotypically reticent. “I don’t like being in the spotlight,” he says. “The film is the star.

“That’s not to say you can’t do exciting and revolutionary things as a composer. But ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is not the place to do them. I really hoped Winnie didn’t have an iPod and wasn’t Facebooking Piglet, and thankfully the directors didn’t want that, either. That being the case, my score is not a pastiche. It’s in keeping with the book’s naivete. ‘Winnie’ is a world that doesn’t know what Enron or KFC is. And the adventure never gets too scary.

“I wrote my own ‘Winnie the Pooh’ tune in keeping with the Sherman Bros., but also with a bit of Delius and Vaughan Williams, capturing England before the motorways. It kept it in the family.”

The huge orchestrations of “X-Men: First Class” couldn’t have been more different, alternatingly pulsing, lush, sleek, cool and full of menace. The appeal lay in reteaming with director Matthew Vaughn, whose “Kick-Ass” (2010) Jackman also scored.

The composer maintains he wasn’t worried about stepping into the middle of a franchise. “All the ‘X-Men’ films had different composers,” he says. “Besides, it’s a fresh-take reboot. Plus Matthew is such a strong director that there was aesthetic freedom. He created the permission not to worry. The old music didn’t feel super relevant to this project. We didn’t have to use the same music when the X-Jet flew by, for example. This is a different film, and everyone was on board with that.”

“Puss in Boots” was — like “Pooh” — an animated film, albeit a computer-generated one. And like “X-Men,” it could be considered part of a franchise — a spinoff of the “Shreck” films. But its resemblance to Jackman’s other work ends there. “We know the main character,” the composer concedes of Puss, voiced by Antonio Banderas. “But it’s its own movie, and there’s no musical baggage.”

Yet this score needed to connect specific musical themes with its main character. “If you don’t get that Iberian pomposity and machismo across, then you have completely failed,” he says. “Puss demands a heroic Spanish-flavored theme — almost overblown at times. The character demands musical bravado. It’s marrying the Spanish folk idiom with symphony orchestra in the style of Ennio Morricone. But you also have the fantasy element, which is a completely different thing — a rich orchestral sound with celesta thrown in. So it’s a musical smorgasbord from a composer’s point of view.”

Lyrics bring pix to life | Stars tune up plots | John goes Gaga over inanimate romance
From rising stars to Oscar winners, seven composers talk about the method to their musicality:
Henry Jackman | Alberto Iglesias | Dario Marianelli | Michael Giacchino | Abel Korzeniowski | Conrad Pope | Thomas Newman