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Composers Add Layer of Drama to Oscar Hopefuls

TRENT REZNOR
Gone Girl” (Fox)

“Disarming” was the watchword for Trent Reznor as he scored “Gone Girl.” The music often lies about what’s really happening, much like the film’s central couple — before the truth eventually erupts like a violent geyser.

The Oscar-winning Nine Inch Nails frontman and his regular collaborator Atticus Ross approached the film with the same unorthodox method as their previous collaborations with director David Fincher, splashing up “swatches” of conceptually divined colors they then painted into place.

The canvas for this tale of murder and suspicion beneath the facade of a happy suburban marriage called for a corresponding musical facade — taking inspiration from the inauthentic Muzak found in clinical settings.

“That translated into something that felt disarming, that felt like a saccharine-sweet false presentation of ‘everything’s going to be OK,’ with an undercurrent of ‘everything’s definitely not OK,’ ” Reznor says.

The New Age stylings of cues like “Sugar Storm” (“a bit wide-eyed and full of wonder,” Reznor says) are ultimately betrayed by the harsh throbbing of the film’s bloody “Consummation.”

“It’s just inhabiting the story and then just groping around to see what feels right,” Reznor says.

JOHANN JOHANNSSON
The Theory of Everything
(Focus Features)

Johann Johannsson’s score for the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything” looks past the cerebral character’s head and into his heart, with neoclassical, melodic sensitivity.

“It’s a strange love story at heart, and the science is there as a background,” says the Icelandic composer. “It’s mainly the story of these relationships, of this strange love triangle, so the key was finding the right temperature to express these emotions.”

Performed by a traditional orchestra (with unique instruments like the Cristal baschet and marxophone), the score runs tender and lyrical — veering occasionally into sadness for the tragic effects of Hawking’s disease.

“There are scenes where we express the wonderment and the unknowability of the universe,” Johannsson says. “I wanted to express the poetry of physics.”

Hawking’s dazzling intellect is represented by quick-tempo piano (“capable of great beauty, but also very precise”). Another piano theme is played onscreen by Charlie Cox’s character, embodying the attraction between him and Jane Hawking.

ALBERTO IGLESIAS
Exodus: Gods and Kings” (Fox)

Ridley Scott knew he needed the score for his “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” about Moses leading 600,000 people out of slavery in Egypt, to have two qualities: epic and ethnic. To that end, he struck up a new collaboration with Spanish composer (and three-time Oscar nominee) Alberto Iglesias.

Scott, who has worked with an impressive roster of composers throughout his career (including Jerry Goldsmith, Vangelis and Hans Zimmer), was impressed with Iglesias’ “catholic” diversity as demonstrated by his work for Pedro Almodovar and his score for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

“I was looking, really, for anthems,” says Scott. “Because after all, it is about the man — yet I didn’t want it to be godlike. The hardest thing was to find out what could fly and be emotionally appropriate. And respectful, actually.”

Iglesias’ score elegantly braids the exotic scales of Egypt with the melancholy quality of the Jewish musical tradition for a large-scale effort that keeps pace with Scott’s biblical vision, never losing touch with modern percussive intensity for action sequences. It’s big, Old Testament music that wouldn’t feel inappropriate in a Cecil B. DeMille epic — ancient without being antiquated.

“Music is like adding blood,” says Scott. “It becomes a mainstream thrust through the film, if you get it right.”

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