You want legendary? BAM! POW! ZAP!'s got legendary. First up, film composer Hans Zimmer, who's been redefining the soundtrack to heroic epics for a generation. Then we've got comedy god Mel Brooks looking back on his pioneering – and very profitable - sci-fi spoof Spaceballs.
Hans Zimmer: The Kryptonian Concertos of Man of Steel
Having created memorable scores for a long list of distinguished movies – including Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, the Pirates of the Caribbean and Dark Knight films and his Oscar-winning work on The Lion King – Hans Zimmer is a superhero among film composers. But even he wasn't initially sure his powers were up to the task of reinventing the themes for the most iconic costumed adventurer of all.
Zimmer admits he found the prospect of creating a brand new musical interpretation of Superman for director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel – especially given the unforgettable John Williams theme used in Superman films from 1978 to 2006 – to be more than daunting. "The sheer fear – it never left me until that third trailer came out," he confesses. "It had my music on it and we started to get a really good reaction."
Though Zimmer's take is more deliberately moody and meditative than Williams' stirring, bombastic themes, the elder composer's legacy loomed large, he says, especially because he's a huge fan. "I mean, part of the reason why I'm doing this is because I remember hearing Close Encounters and thinking, wow – this is the future of music. This is one of the great pieces of 20th century concert music. And with Superman, I grew up with the comics, I grew up with the movies, I grew up with the music. And so it does come with an enormous amount of baggage."
What flipped the switch for him, says Zimmer, is when he got past the Super and took a look at the Man, and recognized that beyond Kryptonite there were vulnerabilities that existed within him. "He's a decent man and he has feelings," he says. "Plus, I just want to do something that celebrated a part of America that never seems to get mentioned in the news, never gets celebrated: I was looking at decent people, farms, the Midwest, the endlessness, the hard work, the sweat – people who leave their doors unlocked. You knock on their door, they'll let you in, and they trust you.
"Writing a heroic theme can become a really double-edged sword," he continues. "There's so much ambiguity attached to any hero you have in a movie. There's certainly an enormous amount of ambiguity about the Batman character, especially in The Dark Knight where he really oversteps all moral boundaries, and the same happens when you're working on any other movie. The only time I was ever able to just write purely without guardedness was Backdraft where the heroes are firemen and ambulance men – first responders, people whose sole mission is to help, who put their life on the line. And in Superman's case, of course, it's not the life, but it's the feeling. That's where he's vulnerable. Forget all that Kryptonite stuff, how do you hurt the guy? He has feelings."
While he says he's not afraid to introduce controversial elements into his score, he realized that with Superman he had to tread a bit more carefully. "Forget about the iconic nature of it: it's a beloved character, and with beloved comes dangerous territory," he says. "Number one, you don't want to ruin it for your friends who are working on it, and number two, you just don't want to ruin it for the audience. At the end of the day you have to march by your own drum – literally. It has to be my point of view, and you have to work with people like Chris Nolan, Zack Snyder – all they do is bring out the best in you. Because the job isn't to do what the director tells you to do. The job is to do the stuff he can't imagine."
Mel Brooks: The Schwartz Is Still with Spaceballs
It's the sci-fi comedy version of The Producers: only in the warped world of Mel Brooks would one of his least successful parodies, both critically and at the box office, turn into the biggest moneymaker in his filmography.
Brooks' 1987 spoof Spaceballs – which tweaked the then still relatively new conventions of the sci-fi genre with the writer-director's twisted, tasteless takes on everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Alien and most especially Star Wars – wasn't initially met with the same warm embrace that earlier films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein received. But that was, as they say, a long time ago. Brooks – who just received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award and was paid tribute by, among others, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – tells BAM! POW! ZAP! that Spaceballs, now a cult classic among sci-fi and comedy fans, has ultimately generated more profit than other film he's made.
"For some reason the kids never stopped renting, buying, seeing Spaceballs," Brooks laughs, suggesting that beyond its devoted geek-chic fandom the film has always played well among little girls "because in the end Spaceballs is a fairy tale where a princess gets to marry her prince – so maybe that's the unseen engine."
The filmmaker admits that even though he was used to taking on previously sacred cows with his comedy – everything from a musical number starring Adolph Hitler to sending up the cinematic genius of Alfred Hitchcock – he was more than a little nervous about a fanboy backlash at the time. "I thought they'd kill me, really!" he admits. "I'm thinking ‘My God, the Trekkies and Star Wars fans, the Lucas fans – they're going to burn my house! I'm going to see Ku Klux Klan figures on my lawn!' They take that sci-fi seriously."
One of those devoted fans was Brooks' own son Max, who grew up to write the hit horror books The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which was the basis of the new film starring Brad Pitt. "I'm very proud of him because he wrote it in a very profoundly human way – it wasn't just zombies," says Brooks. "Max wrote a more human, intellectual piece."
With follow-ups to the original Star Wars trilogy now being readied, we had to ask: is the time finally right for a Spaceballs sequel? "Well, John Candy is gone and Rick Moranis doesn't do any movie acting anymore, so I don't know," says Brooks, who's currently working on a Broadway musical version of Young Frankenstein, but then on the other end of the phone it sounds as though a notion just left the spaceport. "But there are new people: Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K., Steve Carell – there's a lot of very talented people that make you laugh, so..."
Someone at the studio level, please put this project into production at "ludicrous speed!"
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