Two-time Academy Award-nominated composer Marco Beltrami (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Hurt Locker”) has written music for superhero movies before, but nothing like his latest, “Logan,” the tenth film in the X-Men film franchise in the last 17 years.
Set in 2029, the film follows James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), AKA Wolverine, who has moved on from his days at the leader of the X-Men and now lives in an abandoned plant near the Mexican border caring for his elderly patriarch Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When Logan and Professor X learn of a new child mutant, who possesses some very familiar abilities, they make it their mission to get her to safety before she is destroyed by the men who created her.
During our interview, Beltrami, 50, who has also scored such films as “Hellboy,” “World War Z” and all four films in the “Scream” franchise during his 23-year career, talked to me about the film references director James Mangold talked to him about as inspiration for the film, and why this “X-Men” film feels different from others. He also explained why he recused himself from voting for this year’s Academy Awards.
Congratulations on “Logan.” I have to say, it’s the best superhero film I have ever seen, especially since it doesn’t feel anything like a conventional superhero film.
It definitely does not fit into the strict superhero genre. It’s a lot of other movies.
Why do you think it was important to give this film a completely different tone than any of the other “X-Men” films before it?
I think [director James Mangold], when he made the previous Wolverine movie (“The Wolverine”), he started to make it a little bit different [than the past films]. It turned out the last act [in “Logan”] was made in the mold of other movies like “Seven Samurai.” I think he really wanted to play [Wolverine] as a real character rather than a superhero. [“Logan”] is a road picture and a father/daughter story. It’s about a man who has lost everything, even his desire to live. I think it has a lot of deeper, darker connotations.
What kind of conversations did you have with James about what you both wanted to achieve with the score?
[James] spoke to me about references and things that inspired him. “Taxi Driver” was a big influence. So was “Paper Moon,” although that film doesn’t have a score. He was talking in terms of the feel of the movie itself. Musically, he wanted to achieve some of the rawness and grittiness of some of those 70s scores. He wanted something not polished. Nowadays, movies are very polished. He wanted something more rough around the edges. Overall, I think the main concern for me as a composer was that the music didn’t get ahead of the picture. In many respects, [“Logan”] doesn’t have a thematic score. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get away with that because it is a big studio superhero movie, but a lot of people seem to be responding to it.
You’ve written scores for a handful of horror movies in your career. Did some of those elements find their way into the “Logan” score? I’m specifically thinking of the tracks “That’s Not A Choo-Choo” and “X-24.”
Oh, yeah. It’s always fun to explore that kind of stuff. I think the most horrific part of the film is the scene at the farmhouse. To me that’s very horrific. The sounds that we created for X-24—there’s some synthetic [sounds] because he is a synthetic character. There is this bending and processed and pitched-down cello sound we use. The sound is organically base, but also manipulated. That’s something I enjoy doing. Even if there’s no grandiose theme to it, hopefully the score has more of a sonic continuity. That was sort of the goal.
Another of my favorite tracks is called “El Limo-nator,” which I found reminiscent of parts of the score from the original “Terminator” film. I know you scored “Terminator 3.” Did you get inspiration from the original for that specific track?
You know, I guess everything is related somehow. It was sort of hard to pass up on the title. It’s always fun titling those things. Yeah, there is that relentless drive which is very similar to “The Terminator” in that respect. There is a sort of unstoppable feel to it.
You’ve worked with many directors in your career—Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow. Are your favorite directors those who are hands-on or hands-off with you as the composer?
It depends on how the director’s work inspires me. I think that’s the main thing. If I have the inspiration, it’s great. I’m into it. [James] is very hands-on. He likes being collaborative. I think it’s a collaborative business. Sometimes a director will hear what I’m doing and send me down another avenue that’s based on something else. That could be very enlightening. It can be challenging and often more work, but you can also come up with things you might not ever have thought of. I think that’s how you grow as a composer or in any field. [James] doesn’t say things just for the hell of it. He was very inspiring to work with on this movie.
Is it more fulfilling when you write the score for a film that becomes a critical success like “The Hurt” and “3:10 to Yuma” than a film that gets critically panned, or is it all work to you?
It’s always nice to have someone recognize the film or the score as an achievement when you put a lot of work into it. There have been films I’ve done that have not been well received that I still put a lot of work into and felt good about the score. It’s just the way it is. You can’t always predict these things. It’s the process that’s important. Everything else afterwards is something beyond your control. But, yeah, when you work your ass, it’s better if the movie does well.
“La La Land” just won the Oscar for Best Score of 2016. I know as a past Oscar nominee, you are part of the branch that votes in that category. What were some of your favorite scores of 2016?
Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t vote this year. I was working on a picture in Russia last year and when I got back at the beginning of November, I was so busy. I immediately started working on [“Logan”]. I only saw like two films. So, I really can’t say what I liked. It’s odd because I usually watch all the movies. I’m very involved in the Academy. I’m in the executive branch. It was tough. I took off Christmas Day, but other than that, I worked straight through the year.