‘Zero Dark Thirty': Composer Alexandre Desplat Talks Musical Suspense

Like the majority of critics groups around the country, we think “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the best films of 2012. And as the movie continues to rack up the accolades (four Golden Globe nominations, ten Best Picture nods from assorted film critics groups thus far), audiences will soon have more opportunities to weigh-in, thanks to its expanded release in the new year.

There are a lot of appealing aspects to Katherine Bigelow’s thriller: the cultural relevance, taking a cinematic peek inside secret government operations, an A-list cast, reactions from ex-government officials and that excellent musical score backing all the action(?).

We know what you’re thinking. What’s so interesting about the movie music that it warrants being mentioned among the items in that list? Well, it’s because this particular film score was composed by the very busy Alexandre Desplat, who is also behind the scores for “Rise of the Guardians,” “Argo” (one of our favorite scores of 2012) “Moonrise Kingdom,” and “Rust and Bone.”

Desplat told MTV News recently that he was delighted to be able to compose music for what he called Bigelow’s “masterpiece.”

“I told her [that] when I saw the film,” Desplat said of praising Bigelow. “The way she filmed this is even better than “The Hurt Locker” and the story is so well-written. The point of view she chose is so right because it’s not taking a side. It just shows the facts through the eyes of this young CIA agent…. I like that there is no self-consciousness about seeing people being dead. There’s none of that in this film. It’s raw and factual.”

The French musician said that in crafting music to complement the raw reality in the film, he had to make use of silence and let the atrocities of war speak for itself.

“There’s less music [in this score] and when it’s there it’s very archaic. There’s an occasion to the sound I wanted to find like it being 2000 years before like an archaic war, two tribes trying to kill each other,” Desplat explained. “But it never plays the violence. It never plays the suspense. It’s always about these desperate, dark feelings you have when you see people being tortured or killed and at the same time the inexorable emotion of this CIA agent going forward to her target, never letting go.”

Speaking to the specific instruments incorporated in the score, Desplat said he stripped things down from a full orchestra in order to create a “dark” and strange sound.

“I just kept the celli, the bass, the violi, the brass and only one trumpet, so that I only had the darker sounding instruments of the orchestra and that creates a strange sound of its own that belongs to this film. On top of that there are a few soloists: an electric cello, a violin, a Duduk. All these sounds are blended, so you can’t say who’s playing what, which makes for a weird sound, an uneasy dimension.”