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Retrofitting ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Soundtrack

Retrofitting 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' Soundtrack

Director Guy Ritchie wanted to avoid any ’60s cliches in his Cold War rendering of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin), and composer Daniel Pemberton was happy to oblige. In fact, there are as many musical twists and turns as you’ll find in the plot to save the world from nuclear war. Pemberton called it a “kaleidoscope of international color” because of its dense, unpredictable blend of styles.

“The ’60s thing is fun from a musical point-of-view because music was such a strong aspect in culture and in films, so you had a lot more license to be very bold, which as a composer, is very enjoyable,” said Pemberton (“The Counselor,” “The Awakening”). “In some ways, it’s my favorite kind of music from film scores back then. They were a lot more striking and unusual. This is a nostalgic, retro kind of score, but, I think, actually very modern. It’s so different from what’s coming out in the cinema.”

Where else would you find such inspired use of cimbalom, harpsichord, bass flute, electric guitars, mandolin and bongos, let alone the Hammond B3 organ and Jennings Univox?

The iconic siege went from a rock number driven by a distorted bass line to a more percussive sound combined with an orchestral tension. A party went from bossa nova to spy theme to Henry Mancini-like.

“The whole thing with this film was to get as many unusual sounds as possible. I like ‘Escape from East Berlin’ with great flute by David Heath that’s a different way of scoring a chase.”

Pemberton also got to play around with the 50-year-old mixing console at the legendary Abbey Road studio, where George Martin and the engineers created the groundbreaking Beatles music. There’s nothing like good old-fashioned reverb combined with the best that digital tech offers today.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the exclusion of Jerry Goldsmith’s popular theme song from the TV series (1964-68) that starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The simplicity of major keys just didn’t fit in with the dense, eclectic musical vibe. Not to worry, though: editor James Herbert inserted three seconds of the Hugo Montenegro version as a clever cameo.

Meanwhile, Pemberton’s frantically finishing “Steve Jobs” in London for Danny Boyle. “There were some tweaks on some very big sequences,” he admitted. “I’m taking the Apple slogan, ‘Think Different,’ and applying that to the idea of how we’re going to do that to the score.”

Aaron Sorkin’s script is structured around three product launches (the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998). “It’s quite an eclectic approach,” according to Pemberton, who was initially skeptical about the casting of Michael Fassbender, but now looks at Jobs and wonders: “Who’s this guy?”

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