Jan 4, 2012

Thomas Newman to Score SkyFall?

MI6 is reporting that longtime Bond composer David Arnold (who is also the musical director of the London Olympics this year) will not score SkyFall (is the F capital? I'm not sure anymore), and longtime Sam Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman will. Hm. Well, that's... interesting. I'm a big Arnold fan myself, and I'll be sorry and nervous to see him step aside for a film (hopefully he'll return to the series in the future), but after five straight Arnold scores (another and he would have tied John Barry's longest streak, which he's already got beat in terms of years), I'm also curious to hear another take. There are just a lot of composers I would have been far more eager to see try their hand at 007 than Newman. Nothing against him, mind you. He's a great composer who's earned ten well-deserved Oscar nominations. I've just never heard him do anything that made me think he'd be appropriate for Bond. (Though I never thought that about Alexandre Desplat, either, until I heard his extremely Bondian Largo Winch music, so you never know.) But he's certainly got range, so I expect he'll deliver something thrilling and appropriate. He's got a few spy movies under his belt, too, though neither are remotely Bondian. In fact, I found his score for The Debt pretty underwhelming and fairly generic as modern spy music goes:

No, I don't want that sound. But his score for Steven Soderbergh's period spy movie The Good German (review here), while not remotely appropriate for 007, demonstrates clearly that Newman is more than capable of adapting to an existing style. In this case, it's a 1940s style:

And I'll admit I'm not super familiar with his whole oeuvre; he's not a composer I've ever followed that closely. When he's made an impression on me, it's usually been with dramatic scores that tug the heartstrings, like WALL*E or Mendes' American Beauty. But try nine minutes or twelve minutes into this Adjustment Bureau suite for some surprisingly atypical action music. I'm not saying that's what I'd want for Bond, but I am saying that it demonstrates a range not hinted at in some of his more purely romantic scores.

Of course, so far this is just a scoop on MI6 with no source credited. We won't know if he's on board for sure until there's some sort of official announcement. But given his history with the director, I'd say it's highly likely. Overall, as much as I like David Arnold's work, it's exciting to have a fresh take on Bond music again. Usually when John Barry stepped away from his semi-regular duties, the results were more dated scores like Bill Conti's For Your Eyes Only or Marvin Hamlisch's The Spy Who Loved Me, but dated or not, some of those non-Barry outings yielded spectacular results. (I'm particularly partial to George Martin's Live and Let Die, and Conti's music has grown on my over the years.) Other times, they've resulted in Eric Serra's GoldenEye. I'm hoping SkyFall proves to be more of the former... but most of all that it proves to be classic Bond.


Armstrong Sabian said...

"There are just a lot of composers I would have been far more eager to see try their hand at 007 than Newman."

I'd like to see you expand on this.

Christopher said...

I liked Newman's eclectic score for "Road To Perdition" and who can forget his theme for HBO's "Six Feet Under." But his music for "The Green Hornet" was utterly forgettable. Michael Giacchino is the only film composer who stands out these days.

Simes said...

I have rather enjoyed Arnold's Bond scores overall. I do tire of some of the wall to wall action cues, which tend to get a bit noisy. One of my favourite cues of his was the quietly-building "Night at the Opera" of 'Quantum of Solace' -I can listen to this repeatedly, wheras I find the rest of that score a little unremarkable.

Should this news turn out to be true, I will be interested to see what Newman comes up with. He doesn't scream out 'Bond composer' to me, but that's ok. He might be able to freshen the series up a bit. He's done some fine work in the past.

The music is one area where I'd have thought Mendes would have had to bow to the producers and the film and music executives. It seems to me that it is they who have pusged Bond in the direction - musically - that the series has gone in the past. Sometimes the results have been good (George Martin) and sometimes less so (Eric Serra). And sometimes scores have turned out to be not especially Bondian (and very much of their time) - eg Hamlisch and Conti, who I thought produced great scores even though they weren't perhaps 007 scores in the true sense of the phrase.

It looks as if possibly Mendes has got his way, should the rumours be true. Personally I don't think these self-appointed 'auteurs' should have that much power myself. "Hey Sam - you either want to direct Bond or you don't, so don't start dictating to us...!"

But he could be making the best Bond in years. Who knows. And a little risk-taking probably never does any lasting damage.

I think Arnold could do with a rest but I'd hope he returns at some stage, all the better for a break. As for Giacchino, I like a lot of his music but we really don't need more blood and thunder music and 120 piece orchestras to produce loud, wall to wall scoring ala his 'Mission Impossible' scores, which ultimately IMO are totally forgettable no matter how 'big' they sound.

Tanner said...

I agree, Simes, that the directors shouldn't be able to totally take over (although I regret that the old producer-dominated franchise model prevented the likes of Spielberg, Tarantino and Scorsese from doing Bonds in the past). Some people are speculating that Arnold's Olympics commitments may have led him to bow out, though, thus opening the door for Mendes' choice.

I'm with Christopher on Michael Giacchino, though. I really like him. His score for the third M:I was OK, but not great (especially listended to outside the context of the film), but his score for the new one is fantastic, I think. We've already heard his take on a Sixties Bond score in The Incredibles, although I suspect a contemporary Bond score from him would be different, and I'd like to hear it.

Christopher, I don't really remember the Road To Perdition score too well, but Six Feet Under and American Beauty are both great Newman themes for those projects... though I wouldn't want to hear a Bond that sounded like either of those.

Which brings me to Armstrong's question, one that I've often debated with a friend over many a lunch. There are a LOT of people I'd be curious to hear do a Bond score. Besides Giacchino and Desplat (as I mentioned, his Largo Winch music convinced me where I was previously unconvinced), there's a pretty wide spectrum.

Ilan Eshkari (Layer Cake, Strike Back) might do something good, but it would probably be very much in the Arnold vein. I thought his Ninja Assassin score (a good score for a bad movie) was great, but that was largely because it reminded me of Arnold. He did a good contemporary spy score for Johnny English Reborn, though.

Speaking of which, the first Johnny English had a great spy score, too, from Ed Shearmur, who was pretty ubiquitous back then but has kind of faded into lesser films (and TV) these days. His most recent spy score, for Abduction, was unmemorable enough that it didn't make any impression on me. But I do love that first Johnny English score, and that alone serves as a good Bond audition to me. While I'm on the subject of good Bond parody music, I wonder if Ludovic Bource could channel his wonderful OSS 117 music in a more serious, Bondian direction?


Tanner said...

This one's bound to provoke some groans (particularly from Simes, I'm guessing, based on his preference for less is more composers to more is more composers), but I'd be curious to hear John Powell do one Bond score, too. I wouldn't want to hear his sound take over the franchise, but I would like to see what he did with 007. As I wrote in my Fair Game review, I think he's defined the sound of the modern spy movie with his percussion-driven Bourne music as much as John Barry defined the sound of Sixties spy music. Richard Jacques provided a really excellent score for the recent Bond videogame Blood Stone that I feel might give us a sense of what a Powell Bond score might sound like. I was impressed enough with that score, in fact, that I wouldn't mind seeing Jacques himself try a movie. Other Bond videogame composers would might do a good job are Christopher Lennertz (who did some pretty good spy music for Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) and maybe Sean Callery (who did mostly good work on 24, though I'm not convinced he's appropriate for a Bond movie).

I'd REALLY love to hear Joel McNeely do a Bond score, though he's somebody else who's mostly toiling in television and direct-to-DVD Disney movies these days. But I thought his score for the '98 Avengers movie was a standout in a terrible film. Really, that's one of my favorite spy albums, and a go-to for me as action writing music. I love it, and I think it's a real shame that it was probably the taint of that film that banished him to DTV stuff, even though the score was stellar. (His Young Indiana Jones music was great, too.)

As for more prominent current composters, I wouldn't mind seeing Patrick Doyle give it a swing.

My last choice for the moment is one that seems at first brush as ill-fitting as Newman, but I would actually love to hear what Carter Burwell did with Bond. His score for True Grit was my favorite score of last year, and I still can't stop listening to it. It's not Bondian, but it DOES actually recall (oddly, since normally Burwell doesn't) John Barry in that it reminds me in places of Dances With Wolves. But it's more like Barry meets Phillip glass... or Less is More meets More is More. (Can we compromise, Simes?) Burwell's Hamlet score (the Ethan Hawke version) also portends a good Bond score in him.

Tanner said...

A few other composers I'd support would be Craig Armstrong or Clint Mansell. Mansell was my friend's suggestion, on the basis largely of his Sahara score. In the comments on my post about the SkyFall title being announced, Simes suggested that Sahara owes its Bondian sound more to orchestrator Nick Dodd (who arranges Arnold's Bond music) than to Mansell. That may be the case, but since I still haven't heard the Sahara score (freshly, anyway; I saw the movie when it came out but immediately forgot everything about it), I'm actually not basing my support of Mansell on Sahara. I just like his sound, and I think it could work well with Bond as an uncharacteristic choice. Although my favorite piece of his would be the remixed piece from Requiem For A Dream that ended up in the Two Towers trailer, so once again we're talking about his music through the filter of someone else.

As for Arnold, my favorite Bond score of his is absolutely Tomorrow Never Dies. I've enjoyed them all, but I don't listen to TWINE nearly as much. Casino Royale is probably my second favorite, though I did like the music for QOS a lot, too - especially the piece Simes cited, "Night at the Opera."

Simes said...

Well actually, you won't get an argument from me about most of the names you mention Tanner :-) Not really convinced about Giacchino (and I agree that his latest MI score is an improvement on his first....).

I'd certainly like to see what John Powell or Alexandre Desplat could do. Powell's PAYCHECK is one of my favourite scores - his 'Bond' wouldn't necessarily be a re-tread of his Bourne scores, of that I'm sure. And he is capable of producing music that doesn't necessarily require a 120 piece orchestra all playing a massive load of unmemorable notes all at the same time...

And Desplat has done a few Bondian scores already - the LARGO WINCH movies, as you say, and also check out his spoofy Bond-style score L'ENQUETE CORSE. Here's a man who is writing music which actually has a style of it's own, and I'm fast becoming a fan.

Shearmur did a great score for JOHNNY ENGLISH and I'm puzzled as to why he's faded from the film scoring scene somewhat. Yeah, he could do Bond...

With Richard Jacques you have a composer who so far hasn't really broken in to films in a big way and having heard BLOODSTONE I can't really understand why, because a lot of what he wrote is better than the stuff that Arnold has been coming up with. I wish BLOODSTONE would get a proper CD release instead of 'unofficial' downloads....

I liked Burwell's CONSPIRACY THEORY which combined elements of big band jazz into the score, although I suspect he might be a bit 'off the wall' for Bond these days.

Mansell is a I suspect more of a 'hummer' than anything else - he'd need a good arranger behind him for Bond I think, and if he used Nick Dodd we'd getting the same sound as the Arnold scores, and if that's the case, what's the point of changing composers in the first place! :-)

Overall, I have no problem with 'big' in Bond music if there is also some 'spaciousness' as well. And a little melody too; something that you can come away humming or whistling. Barry could do this in spades. People like Giacchino are also capable of this - but not so often in their action scores (SPEED RACER might be one of his best there...M:I certainly isn't!)

Simes said...

Well, its been confirmed today officially that Thomas Newman is the new composer. We'll hope he comes up with something appropriately Bondian whilst perhaps trying to be a little fresh.

Incidentally, David Arnold claims he knew about the decision months ago. Yeah, sure you did David :-)