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Composer Michael Giacchino's summer crescendo

'Star Trek,' 'Up' and 'Land of the Lost' all feature his scores. Then there's his work for TV's 'Lost' and 'Fringe.'

June 04, 2009|Jon Burlingame

Everywhere you turn this summer, it seems impossible to miss the music of Hollywood's hottest composer.

Michael Giacchino wrote the music for "Star Trek," which is about to surpass "Monsters vs. Aliens" as the year's biggest-grossing movie to date. He's also written the music for Disney-Pixar's animated "Up," which opened Friday, and for "Land of the Lost," the Will Ferrell-with-dinosaurs comedy that opens this Friday.

Even if you aren't headed to the multiplex, chances are you've been exposed to Giacchino's music. He writes the weekly scores for ABC's "Lost," supervises the music for Fox's "Fringe" and was music director for this year's Academy Awards telecast.

"It's been an incredibly busy couple of years. I feel like I just went through a tornado -- in the best of ways," says the 41-year-old composer in his new, still mostly unfurnished office in Sherman Oaks, where stacks of music from recent projects sit in piles on a desk. "I'm proud of everything I've done. I really only work on things that I know I'm going to be passionate about, that are going to drive me to be creative."

Giacchino was creating music for video games (The Lost World, Medal of Honor) when he was discovered by "Star Trek" director J.J. Abrams -- who's just a bit hot himself -- while he was preparing to launch the ABC spy series "Alias." Abrams liked Giacchino's game music and offered him the job of scoring Jennifer Garner's globe-trotting adventures. "Lost" followed in 2004; then came Abrams' first feature, "Mission: Impossible III," in 2006.

"Michael is not only an exceptional composer, he also has an amazing, acute sense of story," Abrams says. "He is someone who I talk through story with, who I show early scenes to, who I will show a script at a very early stage to. He is as valuable as a producer as he is a musician and composer."

On "Star Trek" -- the biggest minefield of his three summer films, because of the baggage and fan expectations -- Giacchino started composing a year ago and quickly ran into a creative wall trying to write "space adventure music" to match the classic themes of five TV series and 10 movies.

Only when "Star Trek" co-producer (and "Lost" show-runner) Damon Lindelof suggested that Giacchino reset his thinking to the idea that it was "a story about two guys who become best friends" was the composer freed to come up with themes. For Kirk he offered "a sense of building, and of inevitability," says Abrams, and for Spock "something sad," says Giacchino, "with a voice that felt alien, not of our place," that led to the choice of the Chinese stringed erhu as lead instrument.

"Up" -- which Oscar prognosticators are already predicting will garner Giacchino his second Academy Award nomination (after the 2007 Pixar film, "Ratatouille") -- demanded a more forthrightly emotional approach. The music has already been hailed by several major critics.

Carl, the film's 78-year-old protagonist (voiced by Ed Asner), embarks on an unlikely, balloon-driven journey to South America, where he and his wife, Ellie, had always planned to go. Giacchino wrote a nostalgic, wistful and sometimes (depending on the scene) bittersweet waltz for the couple.

"Ellie doesn't last long in the film, but we needed her spirit to last, so that theme is the existence of Carl and Ellie's life, be it physically, spiritually, emotionally, all those things that we needed to tell the story," the composer says. "And it needed to grow into something heroic and brave, because the film is about being brave enough to let go of things."

That memorable waltz is what moviegoers will be humming as they leave the theater. But there are other themes, including one for 1930s-era adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) heard in a faux newsreel at the start of the film and in a period-style song (with lyrics by Giacchino) during the end credits; and another for stowaway Wilderness Explorer Russell, whose counter-melodies represent funny dog Dug and the rare bird Kevin.

The fantasy-comedy "Land of the Lost" -- like "Trek," another big-screen adaptation of a TV series -- was another assignment Giacchino couldn't resist. He and director Brad Silberling are neighbors in the Valley whose children trick-or-treat together every Halloween; when Silberling approached Giacchino about the film, the answer came in three words: "Count me in" -- this despite the fact that it was happening around the same time as "Trek" and "Up."

"My brother and I watched this show religiously," says Giacchino. "Sid and Marty Krofft were these mysterious gods who put out all this weird stuff. We seriously loved 'H.R. Pufnstuf,' 'Lidsville,' 'Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.' We'd be like, who thinks of this?" he says with a laugh. Giacchino's three children, ages 11, 9 and 4, had already seen all the episodes at Dad's insistence even before the film came up.

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