The Chameleon Composer – Michael Giacchino

I’m not sure why I didn’t hear of this sooner (probably because it was so last minute) but Michael Giacchino replaced Alexandre Desplat as composer for Rogue One fairly late in the film’s post-production.I was somewhat disappointed to hear this, as I was looking forward to Desplat (who’s scored hits such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) getting to try his hands on something as huge as Star Wars (since he’s definitely talented enough to give it some real depth).

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I can’t wait!

And that got me thinking about what that meant for Giacchino, who’s had his fair share of mega hits as well, including the Star Trek reboots (as movies, they’re meh, but the scores are fantastic), a number of Pixar hits such as The Incredibles and Inside Out, and Jurassic World (another John Williams dominated franchise that he handled very well). He’s a great composer, but for whatever reason, I don’t know much about him. So I decided to do some research.

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There he is!

Whenever I think of his scores, I can’t really ever pin down a tell that lets me know that it’s obviously done by him. This is a good thing in some regards, since you don’t want to fall into a predictable pattern. Danny Elfman, for example, is a wildly talented favorite of mine who, in recent years, has a tendency to just thematically repeat Edward Scissorhands instead of breaking new ground like he did with Big Fish.

Giacchino has no such pattern. For the most part, every score of his feels completely different. He’s so perpetually original that I experience many moments of “Oh, he did that, too??” when reading the credits of pretty much any movie. In the past few years, he’s gone from “that experimental composer for Lost” to the go-to guy for big budget franchises (Mission Impossible, Planet of the Apes, the MCU, Jurassic World, Star Trek, Pixar, etc.), and his name keeps popping up more and more.

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His score is my favorite part of this movie

I think one of the reasons why he hasn’t entered into my “Favorite Composers Pantheon” just yet is that, so often, he’s either recreating someone else’s style or confined to the stylistic tropes of an established series rather than striking out on his own the way he did with Lost.

His fantastic score for The Incredibles hearkens back to the Sean Connery James Bond era of spy films. Jurassic World is a nostalgia-fueled tribute to John Williams. The Star Trek reboot trilogy takes its cues from James Horner, Alexander Courage, and Cliff Eidelman’s Kirk-era film scores. His score for Doctor Strange is evocative and layered, but it doesn’t stray too far from the generic bombast of Alan Silvestri’s Captain America and Avengers scores. Even Cloverfield (2008), a film with no score because of its found-footage format, has a fantastic end credits composition called “Roar!” by Giacchino that lovingly hearkens back to the Godzilla scores of Akira Ifukube.

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He knows how important the music was to the original Jurassic Park, and he did a fabulous job of summoning up all the nostalgia associated with John Williams’ original score

He’s such a chameleon that it’s difficult to pin down just what makes him tick as a composer. An original film like Jupiter Ascending could have been a great vehicle for him to flex his musical muscles, but the movie was so dreadfully terrible that his score doesn’t stand out in any way, being weighted down by the awful story. That’s not his fault, of course, but it’s still a missed opportunity.

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This could have been so great! What went wrong!?!?

I’m looking forward to his score for Rogue One, but I’m worried it will, like Jurassic World, be a deftly done homage to John Williams rather than a chance to show audiences just how cool he can be when he’s creating his own sound rather than offering tribute to other composers. Now, I completely trust him to do right by John Williams, but I wish he’d be allowed to stray off the beaten path (though I suspect the studio brought him in precisely because Alexandre Desplat wanted to do just that and they wanted to play it safe.)

Giacchino needs a chance to be himself, to be weird and inventive. Unlike so many composers, he’s made a career out of constantly reinventing himself, trying on different masks and styles. I think this gives him the potential to be one of the greatest contemporary composers, if only he’d get more chances to play in a sandbox of his own creation rather than dancing to tunes the studios map out for him. His work on Inside Out is heart-wrenching and colorful, and his scores for Tomorrowland and John Carter (two great Disney films that were sadly not marketed well) are beautifully epic and inspiring.

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If you haven’t heard of this one, you should check it out. It’s waaaaay better than the box office returns led audiences to believe it was

I’d hate for him to be remembered as the dude who picked up where [insert name here] left off, but rather as the composer of a thousand genres who refused to fall into any sort of predictable box.

If studios are confident enough to hand him the reins of so many big franchise names, they should be confident enough to let him create and experiment and push boundaries of his own instead of merely completing drawings began by other composers (even though I wouldn’t trust anyone but him to finish out the Star Wars saga if, for some tragic unforeseen reason, John Williams is not able to score episode IX).

So, basically, I need to start collecting more of his scores and get to know him better. The fact that he does so many different kinds of scores is super impressive.

What’s your favorite Giacchino score? (Mine’s definitely The Incredibles).

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duh da DA da DAAAAAA!

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