Last night, I saw “Up.” It was really, really great. In terms of drama and story, it wasn’t on the same level for me as, say, “The Incredibles” or “Ratatouille,” but the visuals, the artistry of the film… the incredible use of color, framing, and expression to convey the emotional transformations in the story… unforgettable. In 3D particularly – I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that 3D is gonna be the thing that brings people back to the theatres, but it certainly was cool.
All three of those films have something in common – they were all scored by Michael Giacchino. I’ve been aware of the man since hearing (and digging) his jazzy, spy-movieish score for “The Incredibles,” but it wasn’t too long ago that no one had heard of him at all.
After working for several years in the video game world (scoring some movie tie-ins and a few WWII shooters), Giacchino got his first break when he was tapped to do the music for J.J. Abrams’ second show, “Alias.” He clearly did a good job (though my main musical memory of that show is the awesome Abrams-penned opening theme music), because in 2004, Abrams came to him with his second project, a quaint little tropical island romp you may have heard of called “Lost.”
Soon thereafter, Giacchino was dealing out the groaning, keening music for which “Lost” is now famous, a score which I’d say has as much if not more to do with evoking the show’s unmoored, mysterious atmosphere than any other single element of its production.
At the same time, he was brought on to score Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar, “The Incredibles,” and did a fantastic job. Parts of his score actually call to mind Jeff Richmond’s opening credits for 30 Rock, with a little bit of vintage spy-movie string lines. He also slyly used 5/4 time as a way to invoke the Mission Impossible theme without actually quoting it – (well played, Giacchino, very well played). Also fitting, since he would go on to score Abrams’ underrated entry into the MI canon, Mission Impossible III. Anyway, I flipping loved “The Incredibles,” and the music brings it back for me, every time.
So, while “Incredibles” was kicking ass in box offices nationwide, “Lost” was topping the Nielson ratings. By 2006, five years after first starting on “Alias,” Giacchino had gone from working on video-game adaptations of movies to being the composer of choice for Abrams, one of the most happening young producers in Hollywood and being tapped by Brad Bird for his second Pixar film, the wonderful “Ratatouille.” Giacchino’s score for that movie (a film which I dearly love) is just great stuff… listening to it is like being lightly asleep and half-dreaming of Paris, the winding streets and cobblestones, old buildings and tiny cafe tables. Aah! Love. What’s more, his song “Le Festin” went on to be nominated for an Academy Award, further cementing his place as one of the most successful composers in Hollywood.
Giacchino’s work in “Up” is similar to that in “Ratatouille” in that it’s largely in 3/4 time and has a sort of dreamy, European quality. The main theme is absolutely wonderful, the soundtrack to some primordial hot-air balloon dream ingrained on the collective subconscious. His score is, at times, incredibly wrenching; his handling of the opening montage of Carl’s life is is both larger-than-life and incredibly delicate, and never short of beautiful. Actually, I’d describe the whole film that way.
And in addition to all of his work for Pixar, Giacchino has remained J.J. Abrams’ go-to music guy, providing music for “Fringe” (which I really like, particularly the Muse-esque opening credits) as well as the the recent “Star Trek” (a score which, as I remember it, evoked the original while boldly going in its own direction, much like the film itself). His progression has been really fun to watch, from his early work in TV and video games to his ascent to one of the most in-demand cats in Hollywood, simultaneously working for one of the highest-rated shows on TV AND the most consistently exceptional animation house in the world. That’s pretty damn cool.
And yeah, he also did “Land of the Lost,” but hey – a gig’s a gig.