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'Up' composer enjoying great year

By Douglas Hyde, CNN
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'Up' composer's big year
  • Michael Giacchino up for best score Oscar for "Up"
  • Giacchino has had a big year -- he also wrote "Star Trek" score and does "Lost" music
  • Fellow nominee raves about Giacchino's work
  • Academy Awards
  • Movies
  • Music

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- How's this for a vintage year?

You compose the music for one of the summer's biggest blockbusters, "Star Trek," score Pixar's wildly popular animated film "Up," and, oh, by the way, continue writing the music for one of TV's most talked about shows, "Lost."

That's the kind of 2009 composer Michael Giacchino had -- and 2010 is shaping up nicely as well. He's already earned Grammys and a Golden Globe for "Up," and things look pretty good for the Oscar.

Even some of his rivals think it's his to lose.

"Did you see 'Up'? " fellow nominee Hans Zimmer ("Sherlock Holmes") raves. "Let me tell you how great a score 'Up' is. ... I think Michael stands a really good chance. I mean, I think he did beautiful work."

Others nominated for best score include James Horner ("Avatar"), Alexander Desplat ("Fantastic Mr. Fox"), and Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders ("The Hurt Locker").

What is the secret of his success? Talking with Giacchino recently at the scoring stage for "Lost," it was clear the seed was planted in childhood.

"When I was young and I started out I was only thinking of myself," he remembers. "I just really wanted to do things like the films and TV shows I loved as a kid. I loved 'Planet of the Apes' and I loved 'Star Wars' and I loved 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and to me the goal always was to work on something as cool as that. ... I know how those things made me feel when I was a kid, so if I could have any tiny small part in making some other kid feel that way, that would be fantastic."

With so many film directors these days opting to use a score as mere mood music, it's hard to find soundtracks with distinct themes. Giacchino says it's a dying art, one he hopes in some small way to revive.

"There's a lot of filmmakers who prefer to have just mood music and that's fine, it's not to say it's wrong," he says. "But for me, again, I kind of just draw from my childhood, ... really distinct scores like Jerry Goldsmith used to do -- Max Steiner, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein: These guys created these melodies that one by one you listen to and you go, 'Oh my God, that brings me back to [a memory].' They're like the pop songs of their genre."

The key song in "Up" is "Married Life." It scores the short, poignant recap of the marriage of the main character, Carl, and wife Ellie.

"We knew that was going to be one of the most difficult scenes in the film, so we tackled that first, and I was just working really hard to make that scene really work because I knew that was going to inform the rest of the story," Giacchino recalls.

"Even though [Ellie] passes away, she needs to stay with Carl through the rest of the film and the way we do that is through her theme," he continues. "That theme shows itself in many different ways and by the end it keeps getting bigger and bigger. I remember crying just watching it for the very first time [in early storyboard form] because even if you look at it just as the storyboard, you understand it so easily and it's just an emotional event to see someone's life progress like that."

After the series finale of "Lost," Giacchino hopes to focus more on film work. One of the projects will undoubtedly be the sequel to J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek."

Might he be willing to work in a distinct theme or two from the original "Star Trek" series?

"I don't know. It's hard to say," he says. "I guess it would depend on the story, and if the story allowed even for a wink to something like that, sure. There's so much great music that came out of the original series that would be fun for me to play with."

In the meantime, Giacchino will get the tux out again for Oscar night. He was previously nominated for Best Original Score for "Ratatouille," but did not win.

"I've never been one to really kind of worry about the outcome of a situation," he says of Oscar night.

"But I am excited to go just to have fun."