July 23, 2009 / 10:13 AM / 10 years ago

Composer ditches past for "Pelham" hijack remake

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Rather than return to the acclaimed original score when setting the re-make of cult 1970s movie “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” to music, composer Harry Gregson-Williams decided on a clean break.

His decision was welcomed by director Tony Scott, who wanted his version of the subway train hijack thriller starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta to be seen as an entirely different film from the 1974 original.

“Because the original score had such an iconic status, as soon as I knew we would do a remake I went out and rented the movie,” Gregson-Williams, one of Hollywood’s most sought-after composers, said in an interview.

“In my memory it had been one of best films I had seen in my early years, but when I put it on it felt quite dated and I felt it didn’t stand up to the test of time.

“I called up Tony Scott and told him that. He said ‘That puts you in a very good position — leave it behind. All I have done is taken a very good idea for a movie and made a different movie.’”

Gregson-Williams, who has worked with Scott regularly and with his brother Ridley Scott on the 2005 crusade epic “Kingdom of Heaven,” did not ignore the original score entirely, however.

The 1974 version, written by Oscar-winner David Shire, is best remembered for its driving, funky beat and jazz-style brass instrumentation.

“I ... thought, wouldn’t it be cool to remix it as a homage? I set to work on that and some DJ friends helped, and what came out was a cool 1970s retro thing. But it didn’t make sense, it had no bearing, so after a week I threw it aside.”


Gregson-Williams believes a film score should move in and out of the viewer’s consciousness, and reinforce emotions the director is trying to communicate.

“I think it is a mistake to think that music is doing its job if it is not noticed. I always look at the cue sheet and instinctively think about those cues that will poke their heads above the parapet.”

In the case of Pelham 1 2 3, one key scene for both the narrative and music is when Ryder, the leader of the ring of hijackers played by Travolta, forces subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Washington) to confess to taking a bribe.

“Where Garber confesses, we decide where the music comes in, where it fades out, the tone, the level of tension going on and the level of sadness.”

At other times, music should play a supporting role.

“There are huge places in scores I do where the music isn’t necessarily supposed to be perceived at those moments, but is there to cause anxiety, for example.”

Having composed the soundtracks to Pelham 1 2 3 and blockbuster “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” this year, Gregson-Williams is working on “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a film, he says, where “Kingdom of Heaven” meets “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The 47-year-old former music teacher came to film composing relatively late, and learned the trade under the tutelage of Stanley Myers.

Gregson-Williams, whose credits include the first two “Chronicles of Narnia” movies and the hit animation “Shrek” series, has also worked with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer.

Editing by Steve Addison

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