“It’s about the story, not about the music.”
That’s the wisdom that Rupert Gregson-Williams received from Hans Zimmer 18 years ago when the composer was cutting his teeth, writing cues for DreamWorks Animation’s The Prince of Egypt. And it’s a rule of thumb that the British composer still abides by, especially in his latest contemporary classical score for Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s account of World War II army medic and Conscientious Objector Desmond T. Doss, who saved over 75 lives during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
“We didn’t want the music to sound like it belonged to a conventional war hero; he was bearing his faith and no gun,” explains Gregson-Williams, who sought to strike an emotional tonal balance between Doss’s spirituality and bravery on the battlefield without being heavy-handed.
For Doss’s main theme, reminiscent of a Gregorian chant, Gregson-Williams chose two bassoons and two cellos for a two-part melody that harkens back to the hero’s simple Virginian roots. Underpinning this cue in later iterations is a love theme. “It’s heard during the war scenes because Doss yearned to return to his wife, Dorothy,” says the composer.
Gibson and Gregson-Williams intentionally left the score out of the first 10-minute-plus battle scene and let the sound take over, to keep the sequence’s intensity intact. But then the music aptly returns during the second battle, where Doss stands atop the ridge, doubting his faith, and pondering whether he should go back and save the men.
“Mel doesn’t hide from emotions when he directs,” says Gregson-Williams, who sought to get into Doss’s head when he wrote the score. “So, I didn’t hold back.”