Skyfall is now the first billion dollar Bond and I recently spoke with composer Thomas Newman about making music for the longest-running franchise.
And just as Skyfall is very much a Sam Mendes movie, it certainly contains the Newman musical touch, if a lot more propulsive and percussive in keeping with the Bond tradition.
What was this first-time Bond journey like for you?
There was obviously the DB5, the classic martini glass, things that really harken back to the very classic Bond elements. It was clear they had to be acknowledged. The discussion was how could it not feel like we were lifting from these movies out of the ’60s and plopping them down into 2012 so much as making it integral? Obviously it’s one of the great themes for movies ever and you want to bow down to it and acknowledge it on that level and let people be satisfied they hear it. Whenever people hear it, they just start to move and they smile.
We certainly smiled at the sight of the Aston Martin. And yet you don’t want to overdo it.
That’s right: Certainly if it doesn’t benefit the characters. The ‘Bond Theme’ is a real theme of swagger, and I guess the question is: When is Bond in a swaggering place? There just aren’t that many moments. By the time you hit Macao, we all agreed would be a great place to introduce the Adele song because he’s back in a tuxedo and finally shaved and reminding us of Bond again.
How did you handle the scoring of the action sequences in Istanbul and Shanghai? They’re certainly exotic.
In the case of Bond, it’s more by suggestion than by being indigenous in approach. So you really want to give it exotic flavor but to land in it.
And how daunting was the pre-credit sequence?
It’s 11 minutes of action, it’s out of the gate, I think the expectations from the filmmakers are highest, and probably from the audience. I dare you — show me! That’s the moment when you do feel the legacy of these opening sequences of these Bond movies and how you measure up. My approach was really hitting the demons head on and it ended up being the last thing we accomplished. It was very important from Sam’s point of view as well and it was important for me to do right by him.
And yet it sounded fresh and didn’t remind me of any previous Bond scores.
That’s good to hear. I think that’s where you have to battle filmmakers with expectations as well about what is Bond and what an opening sequence is supposed to sound like. And if it sounds slightly different, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Ultimately, it’s a good thing but along the way there’s friction and tension in trying to branch out a little bit.
And what was the thinking during the Shanghai fight?
I think Sam thought we’d seen Patrice fight Bond before so that when we see them fight again it’s more stylized. Visually it’s much more stylized so Sam wanted that to match in the music.
And with M so crucial to this one, what was your thinking about her theme, which is regal yet bittersweet?
The thing about M is that you can’t sentimentalize her. She is a person full of feeling but that feeling is stoic. So the issue was: How do you give her meaningful feeling that doesn’t demean her character? And I kind of turn it around into mystery motif as well.
What was it like working with Sam on this?
Sam’s ears are so bright and developed, but he is a taskmaster and will stop at nothing until he gets what he wants down to minute details where sometimes you want to say, ‘Sam, really, really?’ At the same time, I found him always cheerful and encouraging. In this movie, in particular, he showed amazing leadership in terms of moving this huge vessel to completion. And you need good leadership. You see how things can get accomplished and how people want to do good work because they know there will be something satisfying in the end product.
Do you have a favorite moment?
I like the drive to Skyfall because I thought that was a surprising choice and somehow compelling and meaningful in an action context, ironically, considering how psychological the music was. And promising… it promises the story to come.