"Captain Phillips," Paul Greengrass' true-life thriller, spends two hours tightening the screws on its title character, played with masterful ease by Tom Hanks, and the audience itself. To accomplish the latter feat, Greengrass enlisted a group of top-flight collaborators, including cinematographer Barry Ackroyd ("The Hurt Locker"), editor Christopher Rouse ("United 93") and composer Henry Jackman ("X-Men: First Class").
"If you were to take a film like 'Harry Potter,' you're expected to unleash all manner of unabashed thematic material. Nothing could be further from that in a Paul Greengrass film," Jackman said in an interview with HuffPost Entertainment. "You have to steer well clear of that. You can't really use themes that much at all. Melodic information is severely repressed. Which is necessary and has a beneficial effect on a movie like 'Captain Phillips,' because the way it's presented is quasi-realistic. Paul Greengrass used to be a journalist and you can feel that in the way he makes films. It's much more a case of taking textual and tonal motifs and elements that are not melodic, and then using them to create the tension. It was almost an exercise with minimalism and how few elements you can use."
Jackman, who admitted that he also has a soft spot for unabashed melodies ("I like unleashing"), spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about the four ways he and Greengrass avoided convention while collaborating on the "Captain Phillips" score. His blueprint is below:
Step 1: "Don't make Captain Phillips too heroic in his struggle against the Somalis."
Step 2: "Don't include too much sentimentality and a sense of pity surrounding the crew of the Alabama and Captain Phillips. If the Somalis were made to be evil and the crew of the Alabama was innocent and preyed upon, then it would ruin everything that Paul was trying to achieve in the film, which is much more objective."
Step 3: "For the Somalis, don't load them with archetypal sense of adversary. Imagine a superhero film: you're going to extend both sides of the coin. If this was a superhero movie, there would be two distinct circles of good and evil that are miles away from each other. Paul, however, merges everything into a more thoughtful middle ground, where you're left wondering what to think. Clearly the Somalis are engaged in illegal and morally awful things, but you get enough background to realize why that might by the case."
Step 4: "The other thing to avoid with the Somalis, which we sort of found an interesting solution for, was ethnicity. Like, 'Oh, look, here's a shot of Somalia, so let's have a lot of ethnic songs.' That would fall into the trap of exoticism so you see them as other people, whereas the whole point Paul is trying to get across is that they're human. From the opening shot, where you see the Somalis resting a little bit, it's not quite the image you might have of piracy. They didn't really want to go out there, there's a guy shooting a gun in the air, telling them to go. The consequences of not delivering are not going to be pleasant. If those guys lived in Sweden, they would probably work for Microsoft. But they don't have that option. In order to have all those understandings and motivations, it would be distracting to have the thing underscored with an ethnic, slightly colonial music. It would just present the Somalis as exotic objects, and they're not; they're people.
"One of the ways that happened was we worked with a cellist, Tristan Schulze, with whom we made some quite ethnic-sounding noises. But we misappropriated on the cello, which is symbol of symphonic Western music. There was some ethnicity going on, but via Western instruments, so you didn't know which side of the coin you were on."
The "Captain Phillips" soundtrack is available now.