×

Phantasmagoric ‘Pi’ filling

Eye on the Oscars: Music

There were a plethora of good reasons for Ang Lee to select Mychael Danna to score his adaptation of “Life of Pi,” not least of which are the composer’s knack for nontraditional approaches and history with the director, having scored “The Ice Storm” and “Ride With the Devil” for him previously. Yet the actual decision-making process boiled down to an even simpler rationale.

As Danna recalls: “I essentially got a call from Ang saying, ‘So, it’s a Canadian book; you’re a Canadian. It’s about a boy from India; you’re obsessed with Indian music and you’re married to an Indian woman. This is you.'”

For the phantasmagorical pic, Danna smartly refused to confine himself to any particular approach, believing that, like the film’s titular character, the music should pass smoothly between cultures. Hence, English choirs sing in Sanskrit while Tibetan choirs sing in Latin; lively flurries from an Indonesian gamelan ensemble find woodwind counterpoint from a solitary Persian ney; and bounding scherzos from an 80-piece orchestra coexist easily with the Tamil chamber pop of opening song “Pi’s Lullaby,” which Danna co-wrote with Bombay Jayashri.

Yet the score never comes across as a goulash of influences, with Danna hyper-conscious to avoid cuteness or gimmicks when meshing South Asian and Western styles.

“You need to know where these (non-Western) instruments come from, and who plays them, and why, and in what setting,” Danna explains. “There have to be choices made that go beyond, ‘Oh, let’s put in some cool-sounding thing here.’ … Each culture has its expressive strengths and weaknesses, so if you’re familiar with them, you can draw those out; it’s almost like casting actors.”

Despite the sheer breadth of music in the film — it uses only one source song, and contains a full 78 minutes of Danna’s music in the final cut — the score never comes on too strong, and is at times uncannily well attuned to the delicate emotional seismology of the film. This is hardly a coincidence, as director Lee was an unusually present collaborator in the process, seated in the control booth during scoring sessions and at times even accompanying Danna while he was ostensibly alone composing.

“We’ve talked about pretty much every note — what it is and why it’s there and what it’s saying,” Danna says. “It’s very painstaking, but this is how I work with Ang, and I always have. Every note of the score he knows as well as I do.”

Eye on the Oscars: Music
Soundtracks fuel narrative drive | Elfman’s full deck | Phantasmagoric ‘Pi’ filling | Catastrophic yet sensitive | A ‘Green’ approach to acoustics | Adele’s brush with Bond | Middle-Earth maestro | A bridesmaid’s London calling | Toon tunesmith | Song: In their own words

More Film

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Golden Globes 2016

    Film News Roundup: Oscar Isaac Joins Superhero Movie 'The Great Machine'

    In today’s film news roundup, Oscar Isaac boards “The Great Machine,” Keira Knightley joins “Silent Night” and “The Dog Doc” finds a home. CASTINGS Legendary has closed a deal for Oscar Isaac to star in and produce superhero saga “The Great Machine.” The project is based on Brian K. Vaughan’s comic book series “Ex Machina” [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    U.S. Movie Admissions Plunge 4.6% in 2019 Amid Box Office Decline

    U.S. movie admissions slid 4.6% last year to 1.24 billion, the second lowest admissions number during the current century, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has reported. North American box office for the year declined 4.1% to $11.4 billion, NATO said Friday. That figure was in line with the estimate released at the end [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'National Treasure 3' Moves Ahead From Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer

    Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer are moving ahead with a third “National Treasure” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner tapped to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write a fourth “Bad Boys” for Sony with Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. The “National [...]

  • Mike (WILL SMITH), Marcus (MARTIN LAWRENCE)

    'Bad Boys 4' in the Works at Sony Pictures

    Sony Pictures has launched early development of an untitled fourth “Bad Boys” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner returning to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write “National Treasure 3” for Disney with Jerry Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. Bremner teamed [...]

  • Corsican Summer, Los Conductos

    Belgium's Best Friend Forever Nabs Berlinale-Bound 'Los Conductos,' 'Corsican Summer' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brussels-based company Best Friend Forever acquired two debut features, Camilo Restrepo’s Berlinale-bound “Los Conductos” and Pascal Tagnati’s “Corsican Summer.” Both films are produced by up and coming outfit 5à7 films. Set to premiere at the Berlinale’s new competitive section Encounters, “Los Conductos” is a Spanish-language film set in Medellin (Colombia) and loosely based on the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content