Composer Don Davis
Welcome to Jurassic Park
"John Williams sets a pretty high standard and I knew that I'd be judged against that, so it was very difficult. " - Don Davis
With only days before the premiere of Jurassic Park III, Tracksounds speaks with composer Don Davis about his experience in continuing the musical franchise of Jurassic Park and his other headline project The Matrix Reloaded! -
CC: What do you think of Jurassic Park III as a film? How does it compare to the first two?
DD: I think it is a really good movie. I think it is a more straight-ahead-popcorn-movie than the other two. It really delivers in the action and suspense and it flows very logically as a motion picture. Of course, there may be some people who don't like dinosaur movies and I hope they notice, as soon as the raptor appears, that they aren't watching a documentary. As far as solid straight-forward entertainment is concerned, I think it is an incredibly good movie. Joe Johnston is a marvelous director and Robert Dalba is an incredible editor. The cast was excellent and when you put all those together you're going to have a movie that is worth seeing.
CC: Now, John Williams hand picked you for this film, which is a pretty high compliment.
DD: That's what I was told. I was deeply flattered...and remain so.
CC: Do you know why John Williams recommended you?
DD: I haven't really inquired as to what led him (Williams) to that decision. I presume that he is very well versed as to what other composers are doing and that he was familiar with The Matrix. We also have a number of mutual friends. I am acquainted with Mr. Williams, but I couldn't say we are "close friends."
CC: With the Jurassic Park franchise being what it is and Williams themes so recognizable, did you find that this was your most challenging project to date?
DD: Well, it sure felt like it at the time - while I was writing. Maybe I was putting more pressure on myself than I really needed to. I felt honored and flattered that John Williams had selected me and so didn't want to disappoint him.
CC: How difficult was it to balance the utilization of not only John Williams theme but his compositional style and putting your own personality into it?
DD: Well, John Williams sets a pretty high standard and I knew that I'd be judged against that, so it was very difficult. Again, I probably made it harder on myself than I should have, because I was always comparing myself to that standard as well. As far as putting my own stamp on the score, I suppose that is inevitable, since I was doing the score, but it wasn't something that I was consciously trying to do. I was just trying to service the picture and keep it stylistically consistent with the other two films.
CC: I have counted about four of Williams' themes or motifs, is that about right?
DD: Yes. That is about right. There are the two main Jurassic Park themes: the fanfare and the more noble, dinosaur theme. Both of these were used extensively. The noble theme I actually used to identify the Sam Neil character. Outside of that there is also a sort of T-Rex motif.
CC: So the T-Rex warrants his own motif in this film?
DD: Let's see. I don't know if I can answer that one without giving away something key to the film.
CC: Proportionally, it seems that there is more action music than the first two scores.
DD: Well, I haven't really compared the three pictures in terms of action versus exposition, but my suspicion is that Jurassic Park III feels a bit more "action." There is certainly less to explain in this movie since the first Jurassic Park explained the subtext of what Hammond was doing with InGen and why these dinosaurs even exist in the first place. By the time you get to the third movie the explanations have been told and so you don't need to spend the time explaining again. Now, you just have big monsters and people running from them! The point of this movie is we know the back-story, so now let's get some action going. This is probably why there is a different proportion of action music in this score.
CC: What about the Randy Newman entry on the soundtrack? What this your idea?
DD: Actually, Joe Johnston came up with it. When I first saw the movie it was already in there, but I certainly couldn't have come up with a better choice. Randy (Newman) wasn't asked to write a political song or commentary about Dinosaurs eating people. It is an existing song from a recent album, Bad Love (which is an incredibly good album that EVERYONE should buy!). It is in the movie, is fairly prominent and is used as source music. The words of the song add something to the subtext of the scene if you're looking for it. As such, I certainly thought it was worthy of inclusion on the soundtrack album.
CC: What do you anticipate fan's of the first two Jurassic Park scores will think of your score?
DD: I have already heard some people who have reacted favorably. As far as negative reactions, it seems that if there is a bandwagon of people who love something, there always seems to be another bandwagon that chooses to hate it... just to hate it. (Yeah, we know... - Ani) I don't know of any film scores that have escaped that fate. As such, you have to just take it as the nature of film music.
CC: So you don't go looking around the internet to see what people are thinking and saying about one of your scores, but you do have an ear to hear comments.
DD: It is pretty hard to escape it! I'm certainly interested in hearing what John Williams would have to say about the score, since he is someone that I respect; however, as far as someone who really isn't involved in film music or music at all, those opinions are often colored by many non-musical factors.
CC: Has John Williams made any comments about your score?
DD: Not that I am aware of. I suspect he'll be invited to the premiere on July 16th. If he has positive comments, I hope I hear them. If he has negative comments, I hope I don't!
CC: Do you think there will be a fourth film?
DD: I haven't been told anything specifically, but I get the feeling that there might just be. I think there are certainly stories to be told. My personal feeling is that they have probably used up this island-thing, but there's no reason these creatures can't leave the island. There was also the subplot of the Wayne Knight character stealing the embryos and placing them into the shaving cream cans. When that character was killed we don't really know what happens to that Barbisol can. I have a feeling that there are some plots along the lines of what happened to that can which can exploited. It's pretty fertile ground.
CC: Can you talk about your work The Matrix Reloaded and the third installment?
DD: Well, I did write some pre-score music (music which is being shot to). I actually completed that before beginning work on Jurassic Park III.
CC: Are you working on both the second and third films' scores?
DD: I'm not actively working on them because there isn't a lot to do other than sorting out thematic material...at least until they have a cut for me to see. That won't occur for about a year, but I have been signed to score both of them.
CC: Will the soundtrack be a mix of your score with electronica pieces once again?
DD: Yes. Jason Bentley produced the song score for The Matrix and is also working on The Matrix 2 and 3.
CC: So it will be the same sort of blend?
DD: Well, there will be a blend, but I can't say if it will be "the same" or not yet. I have been speaking with Jason and there may be more collaboration with me this time. This way they'll be a bit more integration between the score and songs. The concept I'm going on at the moment is that we are going to expand upon what was done in the first Matrix. I think there may be more opportunity for more melodically thematic material in the next two films.
CC: So, what else do you have coming up are you taking a break?
DD: I'm taking a break! You'll find me in Acapulco!
CC: I'm sure you've earned it! All the best to you and your upcoming projects.
DD: Thank you.
Read Tracksounds' 1999 interview with Don Davis "Composing the New Reality".