Music Notes: Captain America Civil War

Henry Jackman // Captain America II scoring sessions, December 19, 2013 Air Studios, London Commissioned by Costa Communications

Captain America: Civil War is nothing short of a triumph. It’s not only a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—it is an amazing film regardless of the genre. The third Captain America film mixes spectacular action, large-scale spectacle and a multidimensional story in a way few comic book films have done prior. Civil War is a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. The performances, script and direction are getting a lot of the credit for the movie’s success. But, its score is an underappreciated aspect of why the movie works so well.

Composer Henry Jackman is one of the most proficient minds in the film score business today. His long list of impressive work includes Captain Phillips, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I talked to film composer Henry Jackman about his work process, his thoughts on Civil War and what makes a superhero film score super!

When during the production of a film you are working on do you typically start putting together the score?

For Civil War, I got the script long before I put pen to paper. You would think that until you see the footage…what would a script do for you? The script is the blue print and it’s like the novel version of the film. Even though you haven’t seen the movie yet, by reading the script you can see what the important themes are. In a movie like Civil War, that is so diverse, what can go wrong is if you have endless themes for all the characters and there is no overall purpose to it. When I read the script I knew that I didn’t want you to get a different theme every time you saw a superhero. The most important theme is the “Civil War” theme. The “Civil War” theme is the narrative abstract theme that all the characters are involved in.

Does a past film score of yours stand out as a personal favorite?

I never listen to anything after I have finished. I move on to the next thing. There are definitely scores I am proud of. Birth of a Nation I am proud of. Civil War I am definitely proud of. I am proud of Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 too.

Henry Jackman_Photo Credit Melinda Lerner

What about film scores put together by other composers? Do you have some favorite movie scores that you didn’t work on?

Recently, I really loved the Sicario score [by Johann Johannsson]. I love the Jerry Goldsmith Alien score…that is a big winner for me. I really like the Predator score. When I told Alan Silvestri (Predator’s composer) how much admiration I had for his score he found it confusing. I was really young when I saw Predator and I wasn’t yet focused on film scores then. At that time I went to a really classical music school that didn’t take film music seriously. I remember being 14 and watching Predator, which isn’t a highbrow film, and thinking it had real music. I waited until the film’s credits to see who did it. I went to my piano teacher at school after seeing Predator, he was a tremendous music snob, and tried to explain to him the score and he had no interest. He was upset I wasn’t practicing my Beethoven.

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Captain America: Civil War is a brilliant film. Does it help your job as a composer when the film is as good as Civil War?

Yes and No. If a movie is really good you have a fantastic opportunity but you can also blow it and get it all wrong. The film has been met with a phenomenal critical reaction and for good reason. It has entertainment value and substance, which is the Holy Grail for a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a privilege as a film composer to work on a film like this but I’m not sure if it’s easier. It’s an ambitious opportunity but I wouldn’t say it makes it easier.

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You have gotten to work on other comic book/superhero projects in the past and there have been a lot of fabulous scores for that genre of film, like John William’s iconic Superman theme. In your mind, what makes a powerful superhero score?

Filmmaking has changed a lot. If you look at Richard Donner’s Superman film and then you jump to Dark Knight Rises you go from a charming and fun time to Christopher Nolan’s film, which is a far more brutal film and it has a different tone. Hans Zimmer’s minimal Dark Knight Rises score is a fantastic score, but it is a completely different style than the score for Tim Burton’s Batman film [composed by Danny Elfman]. If you put Hans Zimmer score into Burton’s Batman film or put Elfman’s Batman score in Rises you would feel that something is off. It’s about marrying the musical aesthetic with the filmmaking aesthetic. It’s tempting to say a great superhero theme will make for a great superhero score—which pertains to the John William’s Superman score. On the other hand, the Superman score would be unsuccessful in a brooding film like the Dark Knight Rises. It’s difficult to say what the ground rules are for a successful superhero score. It totally depends on the film.

Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now!

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