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The Incredible Hulk - Dr. Bruce Banner's Hidden Secrets

By Rudy Koppl

It was late at night in Scotland, the second time Iíd briefly talked with Craig Armstrong to set up our interview one week before The Incredible Hulk would be unleashed. It had been five years since the first version of Marvelís superhero hit the big screen. This time it was different; armed with a fresh new French action director Louis Leterrier (Transporter and Transporter 2), The Hulk with a new edgy look, and Scottish composer Craig Armstrong, this is an incredibly different scenario. Just the fact that Marvel released a double CD of Armstrongís score, speaks praises of their faith in the composer and his score. Not since The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King box set, has a studio had the guts to release fifty five tracks of original score on two CDís, ďItís mad isnít it?Ē says Craig as he continues, ďWhen I was recording the score Louis said, ĎI think this should be released on a double CD,í I actually thought he was joking to be honest (laughter). After I returned home and they asked me to compile an album, I put together music for one CD. I thought it was just a passing comment to do two CDís, so Marvel re-contacts me and says, ĎWhat are you doing? We are releasing two CDs,í so I had to go back and make masters for two CDs, I thought they were kidding. In the end Marvel actually said that this was their favorite score of all the films theyíve done.Ē When push came to shove it was the director who felt the double CD release was necessary as Louis explains, ďIím so proud of the score and as a score lover I become frustrated because you always get these choice cuts on the CD and sometimes most of the interesting music is not in the choice cuts or even the orchestrated material. Itís just interesting to hear the complete work by the composer and we never get that, we usually just get a sample of what the score is. Thereís so much music in our movie so I said, ĎFor once, letís put everything on the soundtrack plus a few suites.í I pushed to do this, it was my idea. Itís funny that Craig thought we were kidding; no, weíre not kidding. I donít laugh, Iím not a laugher.Ē The complete score comes in at about one hour and fifty minutes of music; the Ďdouble disc editioní showcases all of it.

As the Marvel dramas continue to hit the big screen the clues to new films and characters continue (See my introduction to Iron Man on this site). As the Main Titles for The Incredible Hulk open the film we see images of the past, how Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk, this is a montage with transparent images of papers, files, and computer screens integrated into the imagery. We see the name ďSgt. Nick FuryĒ typed out, a print out on a computer screen saying RE-AQUISITION STARK INDUSTRIES, and later in the film when Banner sends the data concerning his condition to Mr. Blue via computer, we see the S.H.I.E.L.D. Logo pop up on another computer intercepting his transmission and identifying Mr. Blue as Dr. Samuel Sterns at the receiving end. These are clues leading us to future films with The Avengers, Sgt. Nick Fury, and S.H.I.E.L.D. This is all overshadowed by the very end of the film when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) actually walks into a bar where General Ross is slamming down drink after drink; he has a brief conversation with him that ends by Stark saying, ďWhat if I told you we are putting together a team?Ē Then Ross replies, ďWhoís we?Ē and the scene ends as another clue leads us into The Avengers film.

If youíve ever heard the music for World Trade Center, Moulin Rouge, Ray, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Quiet American, or The Bone Collector, youíll notice a few things, the feelings and emotions defined by the melody are their strengths. ďThe scores I like are very melodic, when you are dealing with different melodies, as the movie progress all the music becomes more complicated and knitted together. Itís almost like a symphony. Once you have established the main characters themes, you can play with all of them weaving them in and out together,Ē explains Armstrong. This is the key to the score for The Incredible Hulk, which is highlighted by a magnificent theme for the main character. The melodic textures from Craigís past scores seem to merge into this very interesting Ďsymphonyí as he puts it. Itís quite a stretch from the genres the composer has written in the past, a new highlight for Armstrongís flexibility that could possibly launch him into scoring many more action adventure films in the future.

Four days had passed; it was Monday June 9th, four days before the opening of the film. Finally at 1PM Los Angeles time I called Craig to talk to him about his excellent score to The Incredible Hulk and working with Louis. ďI knew Louis had worked with director Luc Besson a few times and he was from France and he knew all of my music. In the beginning of the process we had a lot of discussion about how the music should go, but it was pretty easy after that,Ē explains Armstrong, who was at home in Glasgow, Scotland quietly living with his family. The transformation of Craigís music, like from the first film to this one, is as unique as Banner turning into The Hulk. One moment heís a simple scientist with a normal life, the next The Hulk, an explosive, but sensitive, feeling, compassionate childlike beast thatís misunderstood and intimidated time after time for his mere existence. You sense this after the first chaos occurs when General Ross says to Emil Blonsky, ďIt was Banner!Ē emphasizing the word ďIt!Ē What I am about to uncover are the melodic keys to this world of personalities and characters, the inner workings of Craig Armstrong, the musical secrets of Dr. Bruce Banner revealed!

Youíve scored quite a variety of genres in the past, but never a relentless comic book action adventure film. What led you to this project?
Marvel asked Louis to do the movie and he said, ĎI know the composer who can do this score, Craig Armstrong.í Marvel responded, ĎWhy would you ask a composer who has never done an action movie to do this? Itís a strange choice.í Louis really loves melody and heís a big fan of my other film scores. In the end Marvel was really happy with my music and were very encouraging, especially with my theme for The Hulk.

Did you have to deal with any kind of temp music at all?
In the beginning there really wasnít a lot of temp. Pete Myles, the music editor, was the one who got into the temp. Once he started hearing my music he started to temp the film with my score and also with music that was similar to my style of composing. At the end of the day you have to write original music, so to be honest, with The Incredible Hulk I didnít even bother listening to the temp, I just wrote what I thought was right. I spotted the film with Louis, the guys from Marvel, and producer Gale Anne Hurd. Then I had to create very specific demos for my mock-ups. They had to be completely accurate; I did my demos in Scotland and in LA. Then it had to be orchestrated and recorded. We had to work day and night, it was a tough job.

What were the first things you scored, the very first scenes you worked on and did that lead to the development of your score?
The process began when Marvel started sending me different scenes over to Scotland even though they werenít finished. They sent me three sequences, The Hulk in the Grotto (Grotto), the huge action scene at the end, The Abomination and the Hulk (Abomination Alley), and a love scene with Liv Tyler at Stanís restaurant (Bruce and Betty/Reunion). Itís the restaurant scene where Betty is with her new boyfriend and she sees Bruce for the first time in the film. I worked on The Hulk in the Grotto first, and then the love scene for Bruce and Betty, but in the back of his mind, Louis really wanted something iconic for the Hulk. When he finally heard my theme for The Hulk based on those glissandosís he really liked it. These three sequences defined the three main elements of my score that made it diverse. You had the technical part of with Abomination Alley, which was complex because of its choreography, then Bruce and Betty was the romantic element of the score, and The Hulk in the Grotto combines The Hulk Theme and when Hulk and Betty are together, so the Bruce and Betty Theme was totally different than my music for The Hulk and Betty, these were the keys to opening up my score.



How did Louis explain what he wanted from you?

First of all he didnít want the score to be electronic, he wanted it to be very orchestral because he didnít want the work to sound dated so quickly. He was crystal clear right from the beginning how he wanted to do it; my works are primarily orchestral, so he had a vision that the way I worked would suit his needs.

The first cue on the CD is The Arctic. You can actually feel the torment and the sorrow through your music.
I did that cue in LA. Right up until the end of the movie they were editing it. This was written about six weeks into the process and it has this nice chord sequence, these melochordratic fourth chords. The Arctic sequence didnít end up in the film, but you can see part of it in the trailer. The music from the beginning of The Arctic can be heard when General Ross retrieves the formula from a cryogenic container in a refrigerated storage room right before Tim Roth is injected with it. The reason I wanted to score The Hulk was when I was a kid I used buy all the comics; I would always go out and buy the next issue. Yes, there is a lot of despair in it; itís quite a sad story. Bruce Bannerís personality has this extreme conflict; itís that pathos in it. Thereís a little more depth to it than the usual superhero. Heís trapped by this disease and he spends most of his time trying to run away from it or solve it. The Hulk is kind of a sensitive superhero, isnít he? A lot of my composing in The Arctic reflects this personality, Bruce Bannerís dilemma, these dramatic chord shifts. The musical structure of this piece can be heard throughout the film, so itís really Bruce Bannerís Theme.

Did you compose themes for characters and situations or take a different approach?
The Hulk character is composed out of two large themes, heís got this big theme when he turns into The Hulk and then thereís The Lonely Man Theme when heís alone and searching for the cure. The Abomination has two themes, one when Tim Roth hasnít injected himself with the serum yet, but itís very dark, and the other one is when he becomes the monster and the theme becomes much more aggressive. When Roth is fighting The Hulk, I combine The Hulk and The Abomination Themes together, so they can interplay with each other. Also thereís this Scientific Theme, when they are trying to crack the codes of the Hulk. Then thereís The Love Theme for Bruce and Betty, this is one of the main themes heard throughout the whole movie, even when they are together at the end of the film when Bruce has to leave, this showcases my romantic composing. A lot of these themes interplay with each other all the time and they all spread out from here.

How did you deal with the apocalyptic scoring for the beast itself?
It was a bit different for me as a composer, the action scenes had to be really choreographed musically because you had to hit a lot of the points when they are fighting or falling from a helicopter, it was interesting. This was the first time Iíve ever done an animated score or ever composed for an animated film. A lot of the movie is The Hulk, Tim Roth, The Abomination and The Hulk, it has these very elongated action scenes with animated creatures that are very complicated. It was completely choreographed, so I scored it like a dance. Like when The Hulk falls from a helicopter and it can take fifteen seconds for him to land, then we get into a another bit of music, so somehow itís all got to be related. Just when we thought the orchestra couldnít get any louder weíd have to up the ante and change gears.

Tell me about your construction of The Hulk Theme, though extremely effective, it seems to be very simple?
For this score there was a lot of interesting glissandi string work, especially for The Hulk. If you listen to Jaws by John Williams, there are those simple notes that define when the shark enters the film, whenever you hear that you know exactly who the character is. As soon as I found that simple notation to define The Hulk, I realized that Iíd summed up the complete concept. As soon as I defined the character with this glissando I knew I had it. Iíd never heard anything like it in a move before, it really summed up the whole Hulk thing. I just wanted something simple, five or six variations on a note done with the basses, cellos, and the violas, C is the base note and Iím just using glissandos up and down in different octaves. Iím going from C to an octave above that C and then thereís a glissando back down to the original note. I wanted this to be the iconic Hulk Theme. Itís this big strong sounding thing you can hear in The Hulk Suite.

Didnít the sound effects make it hard to score this film or did you emphasize the power of your score with certain instrumentation or percussion?
Louis and I decided that weíd keep the score away from the sound effects. I knew there was going to be millions of sound effects, but we felt if we needed to and it was thematic enough it could keep clear of all the bangs and bells. There was a lot of very hard percussion in the score, but it didnít get in the way or try to compete with the sound effects. It was a good call because the sound effects guys get a bit pissed off when you travel into their territory.

It was interesting that you recorded your score in Seattle, Washington. Could you give me a brief explanation of the details and the people involved?
The score was recorded in four days at Bastyr University Chapel in Kenmore, Washington at the very end of April. I wrote most of the score while I was in Los Angeles with Louis and the producers, Gale and Kevin Feige from Marvel; it took me a couple of weeks. I spent a few weeks writing themes in Glasgow and a few in LA. There were seventy three players in the Northwest Sinfonia, my orchestrator and conductor was Matt Dunkley; while I orchestrated half of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I didnít orchestrate anything for this film. There was just too much music to do, so it wasnít possible. I also integrated a lot of electronics within my orchestral compositions; the programming was done by TJ and Kaz Boyle. For about half of the score Pete Lockett performed on various ethnic instruments, we sent the music to him over to London because I was in LA and heíd send it back to us, so the mixture of instruments are interesting. The orchestra really loved working on this; this meant so much to me. Itís really worth writing the score when the orchestra is having a good time.

What was the musical climax in the film for you?
Itís definitely when they used The Hulk Theme, the theme with those string glissandos. Youíll first hear this embedded inside The Main Title with the deep cellos and basses. Thatís the second track on the album, disc one. In the film we hear this whenever Bruce transforms into The Hulk. That was really important and The Love Theme was very important, this is called Bruce and Betty on the album. This is an extended version, but it was used throughout the movie.




You also credited Joe Harnell in Bruce Goes Home for using his thematic material in ďThe Lonely ManĒ from the original Hulk television series.

I used a little bit of the top melody from ďThe Lonely ManĒ to pay homage to the television series and Joe. On this piece I play piano, and also in other parts of the score as well, but there was another pianist in the orchestra that performed on the score as well.

What was the critical part of the process that made your score work with the film?
I realized down the road that the difficult part for me was when Louis was going to come to Glasgow, but the special effects were so much work he couldnít get away. He really had to be there with the film editor, he had to work on thousands of special effects, so I had to go to Los Angeles to be with the director and work there at Remote Control. However, the toughest part was that the orchestral sessions were very close together. The mornings, afternoons, and evenings, four days of that was very intense. That was the hardest part of it. Doing so much music in such a short period of time was very demanding.

Since the first attempt at creating The Hulk on film was not a total success, were you all aware of this and did it create extra pressure for you and Louis?
Iíve actually never even seen it and I decided not to watch it. I bought it and then thought, ĎNo, Iím not going to watch it,í but I might watch it now (laughter). I bought it for the purposes of research right after Louis asked me if Iíd be interested in scoring his picture, but then all of a sudden I felt that this wasnít a good idea, so I never saw it. Marvel never even brought it up; they were great to us and really supportive, so we just forged ahead with our own ideas.

Do you think it was a bit strange that a Scottish composer was composing the score for an iconic American comic book character?
I think it would have been really weird if I actually hadnít been a Hulk fan. When I was a kid about nine years eight old, just like all of the American kids, Iíd go to the comic book shop and buy the next copy of The Hulk. I really felt quite gratified to be scoring this film because Iíd read and loved those comics so much. Louis was into the comics as well. One film Iíd like to score is The Green Lantern, I donít think its Marvel, it DC Comics. I was a big fan of both The Hulk and The Green Lantern. You know if someone told me when I was eight that Iíd be doing the music for The Incredible Hulk Iíd never have believed it. I also love the television series, which was great.

Did you have any interesting moments with Louis while working on this?
We would have a meeting about the music and then after the meeting was over, Louis would come back into the room and say, ĎCraig, just forget what I said, just do what you want (laughter).íí

Thatís a great director Craig.
Yeah, he is a great director. Heís a real sweetheart and we had a great time working on this.

Where is your career taking you musically?
Iím planning on doing a lot more classical music now. Iíve just released my first classical album on Virgin Classics, itís called Memory Takes my Hand, and itís just out this week and gotten some very good reviews. Iím dedicating myself to concert music, so Iíll be composing less film music because the concert music takes up a lot more of my time. Iím not jaded, Iím very happy. I enjoy the bounds of scoring films with my classical commissions and teaching at The Royal Academy of Music in London.


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