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.’ ”

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