Musical maestro Danny Elfman has scored several major superhero movies now, including Batman (1989), Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Justice League (2017) and Marvel’s newest mega-hit, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
But Elfman, the 68-year-old former Oingo Boingo new waver-turned-Oscar-nominated composer, had no better reason for joining any of those than he did for 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
His son really wanted to go to the premiere.
“This is a true story,” Elfman began during a recent virtual interview with Yahoo Entertainment discussing his work in the Doctor Strange sequel (watch above). “I was heading out to the Berlin [International] Film Festival some years ago and trying to get tickets for my son, Oliver, to get him into Ultron. … Tickets to Marvel movies are hard to get, and I get a call from my agent going, ‘So you want tickets to Ultron?’ I go, ‘Yeah, I sure do. What do I have to do to get them?’ He goes, ‘You have to start work tomorrow on it, doing some scoring for it. So unpack your bags.’
“I'm like, ‘Oh damn.’ And I did. I unpacked my bags and I started the next morning, and that's how committed I was to getting into that premiere.”
Elfman was hired to compose additional music for Ultron in February 2015, just two months ahead of its April premiere. He ultimately shared composing credits with Brian Tyler. And of course Elfman attended the premiere with his son Oliver, now 17 (his only child with wife Bridget Fonda), where father and son had a memorable run-in with the late comic book legend Stan Lee. “It was like, ‘The gods are in my corner at this moment,’” Elfman remembered.
The composer didn’t need the lure of premiere tickets to join Multiverse of Madness, which reunited him with longtime friend and collaborator Sam Raimi — and featuring darker themes than most Marvel movies, which allowed Elfman to tap into more haunting orchestral soundscapes. Eflman also loved the challenge of writing music for a more complex Marvel villain than usual: Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, an Avenger-gone-rogue after the traumatic events of Avengers: Infinity War and WandaVision.
“I had a villain that is unlike any villain I’ve ever had,” he says. “Normally when you’re writing a theme for a villain, you’re thinking Thanos, you’re thinking Darth Vader, you know, you’re thinking people who want to control the universe or destroy the planet. You’re not thinking about a mother who desperately wants to find her lost imaginary children that she’s created with magic. … That’s absolutely unique. That my antagonist is someone that also breaks my heart.”
Elfman also loved incorporating Michael Giacchino’s original Doctor Strange theme from the 2016 film, and teases that he left “musical Easter eggs” in the movie.
And then there’s the sequel’s instantly iconic sequence where Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) literally weaponizes musical notes in a battle against a multiverse variant of himself.
“It was really tricky because Sam told me when he was going off to shoot that scene. And I told him, ‘Sam, I don’t know what the hell you're talking about.’” (It was up to Marvel chief Kevin Feige to clarify the set-up to Elfman, explaining they wanted him to imagine a battle between Beethoven and Bach.)
It’s a near-perfect collision of visual and sonic wizardry, which one Twitter user called “Sam Raimi’s apology to Danny Elfman for Spider-Man 3.”
Raimi and Elfman became friends on 1993’s Evil Dead sequel Army of Darkness and worked on four movies together over the next decade; however, they famously fell out after Spider-Man 2. Elfman, in turn, wasn’t enlisted for the 2007 Spidey installment, though they did reunite for the 2013 Wizard of Oz prequel, Oz the Great and Powerful.
“I mean, we we’ve had our moments and things like that, but it doesn’t matter because we’re through them,” Elfman says now. “In a many-decade relationship, you’re gonna have moments where you go off-track, but what matters is that you love each other and you come together again. It’s just like a relationship with family.
“Look, I met my wife on his set of his movie, both of us being Evil Dead fans. And we have a 17-year-old son and we’ve told him his whole life, ‘You are the child of The Evil Dead.’”
He’s a child whose dad will go a long way to get him Avengers premiere tickets.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing.
-Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
Watch Sam Raimi and the cast talk about the movie: