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Pop & Hiss goes to the movies: Michael Giacchino on the 'emotional time bomb' of 'Up'

December 8, 2009 |  1:01 pm


In approximately four minutes, composer Michael Giacchino had to reflect a lifetime. Early in Disney-Pixar's computer-animated "Up," the film's main character, Carl, experiences marriage, loss and all the highs and lows of the decades in between.

A sort of mini-movie within a movie, the scenes get specific. Capturing in music, for instance, the emotions of a husband and wife immediately after they find out they won't have children isn't an easy task, especially when one must do so in just a few seconds of a family film.

It was a struggle, Giacchino said, but he ultimately crafted an elegant waltz, letting the violin lead a path around wistful brass notes one instant and a reflective piano the next.

"It was very hard to find a balance," Giacchino said. "When is it OK to be sad? When is it OK to be big and small? There are moments that could have been treated like a big, emotional, overbearing kind of a thing.

"But for me," Giacchino continued, "it was about going in the opposite direction. I looked at it as if, 'If I were in this room at this moment, what would I say to them?' I would probably be as quiet and gentle and as soft as possible.' So that's what I wanted to do with the music, as opposed to grabbing the person and screaming, 'I'm so sorry! This is awful!'"

"Up" has those big moments as well, as the final third of the movie turns into an action-adventure film. But it's the jazzy waltz that Giacchino returns to throughout the film. At times, he gives it a full-on symphonic treatment, and at others, he turns it into something rather sparse, with just a sprinkling of piano notes.

It gives "Up" a uniquely vintage theme, and one that Giacchino said was designed to capture the spirit of Ellie, Carl's wife, who dies at the beginning of the film.

"She was his whole life, and he has much more to look back at than he does to look forward to," Giacchino said. "So everything he did going forward was based on her. How does he change his frame of mind? Musically, there was so much of this film that I was terrified about. It's an emotional time bomb."

--Todd Martens


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The above piece appears in the Dec. 9 issue of The Envelope. Click here for more awards coverage.