Hans Zimmer says Junkie XL’s ‘Mad Max’ score is ‘mind-blowingly brilliant’

“Interstellar” marks Hans Zimmer's fifth collaboration with director Christopher Nolan. On “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” he and fellow composer James Newton Howard cooked up a new musical identity for the Caped Crusader that Zimmer then took solo into “The Dark Knight Rises” with his own added verve. On “Inception,” for which he received an Academy Award nomination, he brought bombast to new heights, making the sonic experience of the film almost as important as the visuals. Now on “Interstellar,” like many things with this film, he's weighing that largess with intimate strokes for a dual experience the match the movie's themes.

Of course, there is a raging debate going on about what this movie sounds like. Nolan's tendencies with sound mixes don't appear to be mingling too well with proprietary IMAX configurations across the country. As someone whose work lives or dies by that aural experience, surely Zimmer has some thoughts on it. So I asked him about that and a number of other things, including his upcoming work with Junkie XL on the “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” score. Read through the back and forth below for all of that and more.

“Interstellar” is now playing on 35mm, 70mm and 70mm IMAX. It opens everywhere tomorrow.


HitFix: Hey, Hans. How's it going?

Hans Zimmer: Good. Just trying to recover from last night [Nov. 3], but good.

What happened last night?

Well, we had a New York premiere at the IMAX Theater.

Oh, right. Were you here for the LA premiere, right?

I was. I've been living “Interstellar.”

Then let me ask you, just to dive in with a question about that space at the Chinese Theater where they had the LA premiere: what did you think of the sound in there?

I thought it was…OK. I thought it was pretty good. I'm on thin ice here. I thought it was as good as it could be, but seeing it yesterday at the IMAX Theater here in New York all I could think about was how much more refined the sound was. It was really extraordinary and beautiful.

Obviously there is a debate going on about the sound in this movie, and having seen it twice – in 35mm and IMAX – I've had two different experiences. As someone whose work is obviously part of the aural experience of the film I'm just very curious about your take on that.

Well, that was the thing. Yesterday at Lincoln Center it was crystal clear and there was no bleed from one to the other. The areas were incredibly well defined and you could hear every line of dialogue beautifully crystal clear. I think one of the things, which Chris and I and all filmmakers are trying to champion of course, is please, when we put our movies out, go and tweak your cinemas. I mean go and make sure it's all working; go and make sure it really is up to standard. Because all we can do is, when we dub a movie, we can either aim for the lowest common denominator or we can try to aim for the highest thing. And the only thing that makes any sense at the end of the day is you must aim for the highest. And so then, very much, we're hoping that people will respect the work that we've put into this and project it on a sound system or on a screen that is actually beautiful and incredibly well balanced. And no, we're not giving you something easy; it's not an easy movie to go and make sound good.

Well I quite liked you score. I thought it was maybe one of the best ones the two of you have done together.

I'm usually not very enthusiastic about my own scores because I always think they could be better. Listen, all I see are the flaws. I never see the good bits. I think it's the German in me. But this one, because it was so collaborative and it was so personal and the way the two of us worked on it, I feel it's as much Chris' score as it is mine. And because of that I really enjoy the score. I actually think we did good work and I like using the word “we” as opposed to “I” did good work.

I understand he wrote up a little one page thing expressing the intimacy of the story, the thematic ideas, but not really the genre, and then he passed that to you to seed the score. But once you did discover the genre, that it was going to be this big space thing, did your mind start to go away from that intimate germ?

Yes, for a second. Look, the way Chris and I work is we have endless conversations. One idea leads to the other. Getting together is usually fueled by adrenaline of ideas. I mean we just come up with one idea after the other. And once he said the big space thing, which at first of course I went, “Oh my God, I've only written you this tiny, humble tune,” and his answer, “Yes, but I now know what the heart of the movie is.” And then I suddenly realized, and maybe I'm wrong so I'm going to run this hypothesis past you and you tell me if I'm just insane. But I think films about the future, all of them have an inherent nostalgic quality. If you think about “Blade Runner,” incredibly nostalgic. If you think about “2001,” I mean he couldn't get more nostalgic by using the music he did in that film. And the nostalgia somehow becomes very, very personal and I kept thinking the bigger our movie got, the more personal we got. It's not that we got smaller and quieter. I mean, yes, as you know, I am throwing a fair amount of volume at you. But still, the internal workings of the tunes are virtually all based on emotions and really personal feelings.

And I think that theme is evident throughout the movie. I mean there is very much a micro/macro thing going on with this film.

Absolutely. I mean I think it was roughly in the same meeting where Chris said all you have to do in the music is at one point you have to figure out how to consolidate quantum mechanics and gravity and time. And I'm going, “Oh, great.” It took me a couple of months, literally, to get my head around what I was trying to say with that. So I wrote a love theme. I mean there's a really prominent sort of – call it early 20th Century harmonic love theme, of this idea of wonderment. We wanted to celebrate the idea of science. We wanted to celebrate the idea of wonderment. That is actually a really old fashioned concept. Both Chris and I felt what we've done recently is we've kept turning inward. We kept looking inward. Our movies have gotten more psychological and it's all about angst-driven stuff as opposed to this idea, “OK, let's look outward.” I mean I remember the astronauts landing on the moon. I remember looking up at the stars as a kid. I remember sitting on the lawn at night and just looking at the stars and wondering what's out there. We just stopped doing that. And the weird thing is it isolates us more from each other, as opposed to actually bringing us together on some grand adventure that we as humanity should have.

Yeah, and the film at times reminded me of “The Right Stuff,” just in terms of that idea of just a human kind of drive to excel. With that in mind, I'm curious if Bill Conti was in your mind at all?

No. He wasn't in my mind but the movie was in my mind. Because it just so happens to be one of Chris and my favorite movies, literally. I still have arguments with friends. In the past, if they didn't like “The Right Stuff,” I didn't like them that much anymore! It was really personal. But the music for me that stands out in “The Right Stuff” is that there's a bit of Stravinsky that happens in the middle of it. There's also some other music. And one of the great things about “Interstellar” was just having Matthew McConaughey, and he roots the movie in a humanity that let me go and do these sort of huge, crazy, large-scale things. I didn't have to worry about that humanity; I didn't have to worry about being pretentious because he would root it all the time. He was my counterpoint and he allowed me, to use the line from “Inception,” to “dream bigger.”

Absolutely. Just wanted to switch gears here at the end, I saw this news about Junkie XL and the “Batman v Superman” score. That's going to be fun.

It's going to be fun plus it gets me out of a dilemma, and that dilemma is really personal. Because Chris and I, we spent nine years – so don't think of it as three movies, but think of it as nine years of life, as a good chunk of life being very invested in this character. And I just didn't want to betray the character by going, “Oh, well, everything I did before doesn't mean anything. We can just wipe the slate clean and just start completely from scratch.” I thought it would be much more interesting, just like it is a different actor, why not have the music be a different actor? And it just so happens that, number one, I adore working with Junkie. I love him as a human being. And then I have heard of things he's done that you haven't heard yet, or nobody's heard yet, his “Mad Max” score, which is absolutely phenomenal and mind-blowingly brilliant. People don't know him yet. This might not be “a Junkie XL score,” this might be “a Tom Holkenborg score.” He is a bit like Batman, whereby he hides behind a different name.

Yeah. And I'm sure there will be some kind of throwbacks to what you did on “Man of Steel” in that score, but what do you think we can expect out of the music you guys will do for that movie?

Something I don't really know yet. I'm not being coy; this is not one of those where I'm not trying to give anything away. It literally is – let me put it this way: The journey that was “Interstellar” was so personal and so great, I don't quite want to leave it yet. I'm not quite ready to go and think about the other thing yet. Does that make sense?


Because here's the thing I haven't had yet with “Interstellar.” I haven't seen the paying audience. And to me, I couldn't care less about the premieres. I couldn't care less about awards. I mean the only thing I really care about is that we've done a good job and people who work hard for their money see this movie. Because that is who I do the movie for. This is who I work for. I don't work for the studio; I work for the audience. So I haven't had that moment yet. Until I've had that moment I haven't had closure.

Got it. Well good luck with it as it goes into the marketplace and congratulations. And of course, I'm looking forward to “Batman v Superman.”

Thank you so much. Take care.