“When you’re talking about fantasy, about transporting people to other worlds, there’s no medium greater than music to do that,” says “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay. “Music is so necessary to help inform a heightened reality.”
For this much-anticipated Disney sci-fi film (based on the classic Madeleine L’Engle novel), DuVernay enlisted “Game of Thrones” composer Ramin Djawadi and convinced singer-songwriter Sade to write her first movie song in more than three decades.
Djawadi pulled out all the stops, assembling a 71-piece orchestra, a 40-voice choir and a 24-voice children’s choir, then adding synthesizers and solo instruments from around the world — the sonic equivalent of DuVernay’s multicultural, multiethnic cast.
“There were no boundaries,” Djawadi says. “Those were things that Ava and I discussed right away.” And unlike so many of Djawadi’s previous, often action projects (from “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” to “Pacific Rim” and “Iron Man”), the nature of the story meant he didn’t worry when his 4-year-old twins wandered into the studio to watch Daddy work.
One of the most startling aspects of Djawadi’s “Wrinkle” score is his inspired notion of “bending” notes whenever Meg (Storm Reid) and her fellow astral travelers warp time and space. “The human voice is the most versatile of all instruments,” he reasons, so the choir is often heard sliding up the scale while the orchestra plays in a more traditional fashion.
As might be expected for a film that features a trio of supernatural beings (played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling) as Meg’s guides, as well as an intergalactic search for her missing father (Chris Pine) and a growing evil in the universe, the score demanded multiple themes.
The children’s choir sings Meg’s adventure theme as the characters visit the planet Uriel and go flying across its surface. With the added notes of tabla, hammered dulcimer and vocoder, the larger-than-life beings are variously treated mysteriously, mystically and grandly. The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) gets taiko drums, and nasty, dark sounds are realized both electronically and orchestrally for the dangerous planet Camazotz.
The German-born composer spent five months writing more than 100 minutes of music late last year, collaborating closely with DuVernay. “He was with me through all of the different cuts, as we made major changes,” she says. “We found new storylines in the edit, and he was giving us music as we were cutting.”
The director even admits that her initial impulse was wrong. “At one point I had directed Ramin to be full-tilt fantasy from the top of the film.” But “there was something off about it,” she says. “When I look back at ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ in Depression-era Kansas it’s black-and-white reality. In order to fulfill fantasy, it has to feel like a change, a maturation of narrative. He stripped down full-orchestra themes into more of a simple guitar and piano.”
The sci-fi elements invited the use of electronic sounds, Djawadi notes, “but Ava always talked about keeping it organic. On Uriel, Meg wakes up, looks around and sees all the beautiful flowers, so there is warmth to the score. Even though there are synthesizers, I was trying to keep it grounded.”
DuVernay was also responsible for the score’s most touching cue, a high, ethereal violin solo that comes at a critical moment late in the film. Djawadi’s original concept was to “go big,” but the director “really pushed to do something different,” and the answer was to go in the opposite direction: a single instrument, gently backed by the strings, for maximum emotional impact.
Sade contributes the song “Flower of the Universe,” the lead tune on the Disney Records soundtrack. It’s her first film song since “Killer Blow” for “Absolute Beginners” in 1986. There’s no music supervisor credit on the film, because DuVernay herself interacted with the artists, including Sade.
“Ava was in direct contact on all fronts, and she was the creative force behind the songs,” reports the film’s music consultant, Tracy McKnight. Adds DuVernay, “I reverse-engineered the usual process,” using Sade’s lyrics as dialogue in the film and even asking Djawadi to interpolate the melody at different moments in his score.
“In some places in this film, music takes precedence even over the image, in terms of being able to stir emotion,” DuVernay says. “Music is the magic that connects our everyday human interaction to a higher, elevated place.”