×

How Composers Are Using (or Tossing) Classic TV Themes in Film Reboots

There’s no rule about whether or not a movie based on a classic TV show should incorporate the series’ original musical theme.

For example, 1991’s “The Addams Family” and 2010’s “The A-Team” used music from the original series, but 2012’s “Dark Shadows,” 2014’s “The Equalizer” and 1993’s “The Fugitive” did not. Neither did “I Spy” or “Lost in Space,” although “Get Smart,” “Twilight Zone: The Movie” and the recent “Star Trek” reboot all prominently showcased signature tunes from TV. Movies with original themes span box office success and failure, as do movies without them. The decision on which direction to take frequently has to do with audience familiarity with the work.

This year, two releases feature old themes; one does not.

Daniel Pemberton’s score for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” doesn’t reference Jerry Goldsmith’s Emmy-nominated theme. “(Director) Guy Ritchie wanted a fresh take on the whole ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ concept,” says the composer. The film, set in 1963, is an origin story that pre-dates the time frame of the 1964-68 series. Pemberton evokes the 1960s with a score to match the film’s stylish look: a cool, stealthy vibe featuring bass flute, bongos, echoing guitars and such ’60s spy-music instruments as harpsichord and the zither-like Hungarian cimbalom.

He notes, however, that there’s a snippet of Hugo Montenegro’s 1965 recording of the Goldsmith work in one scene — “a really cool little way of saying, here’s the theme.”

“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” took a different direction. Lalo Schifrin’s introduction to the 1966-73 TV series has become iconic as a marketing tool, and is considered indispensable.

“There are certain franchises where the theme is inextricable,” says “Rogue Nation” composer Joe Kraemer, who not only used the main theme, but also incorporated Schifrin’s secondary “Plot” theme from the series, and deconstructed both for musical references throughout the movie.

“I didn’t want it to feel like a needle-drop anytime the theme came in,” he explains. “I tried to sneak it in. I wanted it to feel like a ‘Mission’ movie without plugging in the theme every two seconds.”

“Rogue Nation” director Christopher McQuarrie (for whom Kraemer also scored “The Way of the Gun” and “Jack Reacher”) instructed the composer to watch episodes of the old series.
And star-producer Tom Cruise had asked Kraemer for a “retro” sound with “a ton of percussion.”

The composer decided to create a score that “could have been made in 1966, with no drum loops, no synthesizers, no techno beats, no electronics at all.” He recorded an 86-piece orchestra in London’s Abbey Road studios.

Meanwhile, on “The Peanuts Movie,” due out in November, the final sessions on the Fox scoring stage involved jazz pianist David Benoit re-creating Vince Guaraldi’s classic “Linus and Lucy” and other themes from the “Peanuts” TV specials of the ’60s and ’70s.

Composer Christophe Beck (“Frozen”) says there was never any question about incorporating Guaraldi’s music from the cartoons, dating back to the original 1965 “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “It is impossible to imagine one without the other,” he says. “It’s tuneful, it’s catchy, and he manages to incorporate both sophisticated jazz harmonies and a sense of melancholy.”

Adds Craig Schulz, co-writer and producer, and son of “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz: “We knew there were any number of iconic things that were needed in the movie, that people were going to look forward to. Top of the list was Guaraldi’s ‘Linus and Lucy.’ ”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

  • Lucy in the Sky BTS

    'Lucy in the Sky' DP Shifts Frame to Show Inner Turmoil of Natalie Portman's Astronaut

    What drew cinematographer Polly Morgan to “Lucy in the Sky” was how Noah Hawley’s script so clearly illuminated the emotional breakdown of astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) in a way that felt very insular: The visual cues were on the page — and conveyed an unusual approach to charting the character’s journey. “When things fall [...]

  • NICKI LEDERMAN and JOAQUIN PHOENIX Joker

    How Makeup, Hair and Costume Team Gave 'Joker' a New Look for Origin Story

    “We’re not in the superhero world,” says Nicki Ledermann, makeup head on Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which reimagines the iconic comic book villain’s origin in an acclaimed performance from Joaquin Phoenix. “This story is treated as real life, and that’s what made the project so interesting.” In this most recent take on Batman’s nemesis — a [...]

  • Exceptional Minds VFX Autism Training

    VES Honoree Susan Zwerman Trains People on the Autism Spectrum for Film, TV Jobs

    Most of those who have earned the honor of VES Fellow in the past decade have been recognized by the Visual Effects Society for on-screen innovation. But this year’s honoree, Susan Zwerman, is equally distinguished by her off-screen accomplishments. Zwerman is the studio executive producer for Exceptional Minds, a visual effects and animation school for [...]

  • Bullitt Rexford Metz Cinematographer

    Second-Unit DP Rexford Metz Took to the Sky and Water for Memorable Shots

    King of the second-unit cinematographers, Rexford Metz is second to none when it comes to getting shots on the ground, in water or high in the sky.  He operated the camera during the famed 10-minute chase sequence in “Bullitt” on the streets of San Francisco in 1968, and it was his coverage of muscle cars [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content