Sunday, 5 February 2017

Michael Giacchino: King of Composers?

If, like me, you're a fan of film, TV or video game soundtracks, then The Soundcast is one of the podcasts you should be listening to. Not just because it's a high quality show, or because I appear on it as a guest from time to time, or because it's one of the not-many soundtrack-related podcasts out there, but because regular hosts Christopher Coleman and Erik Woods frequently do a great job of discussing the state of scores and soundtracks in a broad sense. Their show stands out because they don't just debate whether La La Land is the worst thing ever or the best thing ever (one of the most over-discussed topics of recent months), but also attempt to dive into interesting, original and timely subjects such as is modern Hollywood music "dumbed down"? and what actually makes a popular theme great? They're interested by what it means to be a soundtrack fan, and how that meaning is ever-changing.

In their latest episode Chris and Erik discuss the concept of composer dominance. They cite John Williams and Hans Zimmer as dominant film composers of the past, and note that Michael Giacchino - through the abundance and prominence of his recent projects - is clearly next in line.

Have a listen to the episode for their discussion, including their thoughts on whether composer dominance is a bad thing (spoiler: they decide it probably isn't (sub-spoiler: I agree with them)). Here, I want to briefly jot down some thoughts I have about Michael Giacchino being the latest head honcho in the film music business.

If you had asked me five years ago: hey Thomas, in five years who do you want to be the composer Hollywood uses for like everything?, I probably would have mentioned Giacchino. If you'd asked me who I wanted to score Star Wars (other than Williams of course), same answer. Sure, Giacchino has his fair share of critics, but on the whole he is a champion for many classic film music fans. I mean, his music is clearly Williams-esque (even when he isn't charged with mimicking Williams - which, granted, happens fairly often), and who doesn't love (former Composer King) John Williams?

So it's 2017 and Giacchino has done Star Wars. He did Star Trek three times. He does amazing things at Pixar and he's Marvel's new wonder-boy. Here we are in a world where I got everything I wanted. Luckily, I'm not disappointed. I mean, the guy delivers. His sound is striking. His themes are catchy as hell. Even one of his less-impressive scores, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is regularly stuck in my head. He nailed Rogue One but it doesn't even matter because his best Star Wars score was 2015's Jupiter Ascending (one of my favourite soundtracks ever).

I think 2017 will be Giacchino's most important year of work though, in a "public perception" sense. Until this point his yearly projects have been relatively diverse, and have given him the opportunity to alternate between big, small, serious and playful. But just look at the projects Giacchino has lined up for this year: Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World 2 and The Incredibles 2. If you count Spider-Man as a second Marvel film after Doctor Strange, these are all sequels to films Giacchino scored himself. So over the next year we're going to be getting a lot of Giacchino music in flavours we're already very familiar with. The question is, will we like it? Can his music shine when it's all building on material he has written before? He may have done sequels before, Star Trek being the obvious, but I still don't think he has proven he can excel at it.

Furthermore, thanks to Rogue One, Giacchino is now one of the very few composers who have scored a Star Wars film. And whether you like that score or not (personally I love it), he is now officially a household name because of it. Yes, he's done many high profile films in the past, but Star Wars is next-level. Audiences who usually don't take any notice of film music will now see his name, hear his work, and take note.

Already, in 2016, some fans complained that Giacchino's Doctor Strange sounded too similar to his Star Trek (not me, I couldn't care less if they share a few chords). Will Giacchino suffer the same scrutiny this year, as he is forced to follow-up some of his best material? Time will tell.

Personally, I'm very excited about all this. I find Giacchino, who is a film score fan himself, very easy to be a fan of. He writes fast, sharp, thematic and deeply-emotive music, and I look forward to hearing it in many more films.

All hail the new king.

UPDATE (12/02/2017): Wowzeedooza, Soundcast Stereo did a response to my response. Response-ception.