'Doctor Strange 2' composer Danny Elfman talks about sneaking in musical Easter eggs

Doctor Strange 2 composer Danny Elfman talks about reuniting with director Sam Raimi, writing for a unique villain in Wanda Maximoff and the fun of sneaking in musical Marvel Easter eggs.

Video Transcript

[STIRRING ORCHESTRA MUSIC]

[BANGING, RATTLING]

[CRASH]

KEVIN POLOWY: You composed the scores for "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2" before there even was an MCU, then did "Hulk" shortly after and "Avengers-- Age of Ultron" as well in 2015, now "Doctor Strange" too. Those are some big gaps in between. Are you keeping up with the Marvel world in between? Are you a big comic book movie guy?

DANNY ELFMAN: I am a guy that has a young son during this period. So, like, literally, I mean-- this is a true story. I mean, I was heading out to the Berlin Film Festival some years ago and trying to get tickets for my son, Oliver, to get him into "Ultron." And the tickets to the 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? You have to start work tomorrow 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.

It gave me the most amazing moment with my son in my life. I'm sitting there at the opening, and my son goes, (WHISPERING) Dad, look over there. I think that's Stan Lee. (TALKING) And I mean, as if I'd have planned it in my dream, he comes right up to me and he goes, Danny Elfman, so pleased to meet you. So glad to have you on board. And he shakes my hand. And we take a picture with my son. Talk about dad hero moment. It was like, oh, the gods are in my corner at this moment. Thank you, Stan.

DANNY ELFMAN: You've talked about diversifying your sound ever since, I think, Ang Lee challenged you on "Hulk." What would you say most differentiates "Multiverse of Madness" from any other score you've done?

DANNY ELFMAN: The interesting thing about "Multiverse," first off, was that I'm working in something that already existed, but I'm trying to create a fresh approach to it. It's kind of a unique challenge when you're starting with the first time with characters. But I had a villain that is unlike anything I've ever had. Normally, when you're writing a theme for a villain, you're thinking Thanos, you're thinking Darth Vader, you're thinking people who want to control the universe or destroy the planet, and you're not thinking about a mother who desperately wants to find her lost imaginary children that she's created with magic. I said, that's absolutely unique that my antagonist is someone that also breaks my heart and I really like.

And so I had to find something that really played both, that could have a diabolic side to it but that also could play like a nursery rhyme and play really innocently. That's what I love most, is when I can write something and it gets the deconstruct and have a depth of other stuff that it's going to be asked to do, all in the same framework.

I love that kind of musical puzzlery. And "Doctor Strange 2" really had that going for it. Plus the fun of little musical Easter eggs that I got to do-- I found three moments to use Michael Giacchino's original "Doctor Strange" theme, which I really wanted to do. And he, simultaneously, was doing "Spider-Man" and using my original "Spider-Man" theme. It's like, talk about musical multiversing. And at the same time, a little bit of "Captain America" having a "WandaVision" moment. These things are kind of fun. And I-- and I know that fans really love these musical Easter eggs. And I enjoy that.

KEVIN POLOWY: The music battle sequence is so amazing, how Strange weaponizes music notes. It's just so amazing, visually and sonically. It's just-- it's just the perfect moment.

It felt like a nod to you from Sam. Did you get that impression from him? And also, how did you execute that scene?

DANNY ELFMAN: It was really tricky because Sam told me when he was going off to shoot that scene. And I told him, I said, Sam, I don't know what the hell you're talking about. And he was like, you'll see, you'll see, you'll see. So he comes back, and he's got footage, and I go, oh, I get it, you're literally shooting notes off the page. It's not metaphorically or you know, symbolically, it's like--

And so I think I worked three complete versions of it because it was really a lot of experimenting, like, how do we play this? What part is sound design and what part is music? And how do they fit together? It was a lot of experimenting.

And in the end, I had a number of different classical composers that might have music sitting on the piano or on the music stand battling each other. And it was Kevin Feige who came in at the end and said, guys, guys, this scene's great. It's almost there. Simplify it even one step further-- Beethoven versus Bach. And I went back one last time, in the very, very last-- we're talking, like, weeks ago, just before the final day of the dub, and I redid it one last time, simplified that area to just Beethoven's Fifth Symphony versus Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. And that's what's in the movie today.

KEVIN POLOWY: I love that. I saw someone tweet "the music note sequence is Sam Raimi's apology to Danny Elfman for "Spider-Man 3."

DANNY ELFMAN: [LAUGHS].

KEVIN POLOWY: You don't have to comment on that. [LAUGHS]

DANNY ELFMAN: You know, it doesn't matter. I mean, we've had our moments and things like that, but it doesn't matter because we-- we're through them. You know, it's like the case of-- in a many-decade relationship, you're going to have like 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. I met my wife on his set, 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."

It felt so good reconnecting with him. And I love working with him. I really do.

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