Composer Spotlight: Alexandre Desplat
Much like the French composers of yesteryear – ala Bizet, Saint-Saens, Ravel and Debussy – Alexandre Desplat has a distinctly lighter and more sensitive musical touch than most of his modern American counterparts. This makes him uniquely suited for portraying the emotional depth and dramatic subtleties required by most of his projects, of which many are Oscar fodder. And while not a household name, Mr. Desplat is highly decorated with accolades from those within the industry. In addition to his 7 Academy Award nominations and a win for The Grand Budapest Hotel, he has earned recognition from just about every award giving body in film. His music is known for its intellectual quality and thematic cohesion that is able to strengthen the story’s dramatic effect while still maintaining musical dexterity.
After a rough patch last year, being ejected at the 11th hour from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (replaced by Michael Giacchino), Alexander almost immediately became attached to Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This may seem like a logical choice due to Besson and Desplat’s mutual French heritage, but it was a surprise considering the conspicuous absence of Besson’s usual musical collaborator Eric Serra, whom he’s used on nearly every other one of his films. Whatever the reason, I think we are in store for an exceptional score from Desplat that will no doubt titillate our senses when combined with Besson’s trademark stunning visuals.
Desplat began his musical education at age 5 with the piano and followed it with studies on the trumpet and flute (which ultimately became his primary instrument). As a child he became an avid cinephile, familiarizing himself with the scores of Maurice Jarre, Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota and Georges Delerue, but ultimately decided he wanted to be a film composer after he heard the music from Star Wars by John Williams. That inspiration came to fruition in 1986 with his first film score for the French film Le souffleur. This is also when he first met the woman who would become his wife and muse, violinist Dominique LeMonnier. He continued to score more than 50 films in Europe before his first film in Hollywood, Peter Webber’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. This earned him award nominations from the Golden Globes, BAFTA & European Film Awards and opened the door for many more Hollywood opportunities.
Taking Over Hollywood
In 2006 he made a bigger splash with The Queen and The Painted Veil, receiving Oscar & BAFTA nominations for the former and a Golden Globe win for the latter. His success grew further with The Golden Compass, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Julie & Julia before he teamed up with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox. Ever since, he has remained Wes’s preferred composer, unseating his predecessor Mark Mothersbaugh. By 2010 Desplat had already racked up 3 Oscar nominations and was tapped to score the second installment of the Twilight saga New Moon by his Golden Compass director Chris Weitz. Once he had breathed in that rarified air of a blockbuster mega-series, Desplat was poised to take over for one of the biggest ever with the final two movies of the Harry Potter franchise. The Deathly Hallows: 1 & 2 brought him even more exposure and proved he could wield the baton of an A-list composer.
Already a prolific composer averaging 6-7 movies per year, Alexandre has sustained a relentless work ethic producing up to 10 quality projects in a single year (2011/2016). Working alone, he has composed more scores than any other active film composer at 174, except for Hans Zimmer (180) who is famous for his use of ghost writers and delegation of cues to other composers, and Ennio Morricone who is a freak of nature with a staggering 523 credits over 57 years in the business. To put this in perspective, John Williams has only 145 credits in his long and illustrious career, while veterans Alan Silvestri and Danny Elfman sit at 120 & 108 respectively thus far into their legacies. This incredible pace has allowed Desplat to explore a wide array of artistic palettes by maintaining his involvement in French film, working the US arthouse scene and cranking out big budget Hollywood flicks. He’ll be turning 56 in August, so we should expect to have at least 2 – 3 more decades of stellar output from him to help solidify his place among the great film composers.