For composer Mark Mothersbaugh, scoring Thor: Ragnarok was about trying something new while honoring the past. Thanks to strong word-of-mouth and critical buzz, Ragnarok enjoyed a sizable opening at the domestic box office and is on its way to becoming another smash hit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Along with the critical praise the film has received, Thor: Ragnarok‘s financial success is breaking new ground for the cosmic franchise.
Part of Thor: Ragnarok‘s winning formula was the unique comedic and visual talent that director Taika Waititi and his creative team brought to the movie. From the Jack Kirby influence felt in the film’s sets and costume designs to the meta humor that sent up much of the MCU itself, Ragnarok is a film that’s not afraid to stand out. Even the movie’s original soundtrack has its own feel, something Waititi found a way to humorously reference when the Grandmaster tools around with his Devo-esque band – thus paying homage to Mothersbaugh and how he elevated Ragnarok‘s music beyond that for its predecessors.
Screen Rant spoke with Thor: Ragnarok composer Mark Mothersbaugh about his specific process for scoring the film, and it was certainly a complex one. Along with the technical and musical aspects, Mothersbaugh even made sure to keep the spirit of a Marvel soundtrack alive while still bringing something new and fresh to the MCU:
“The thing is, you always have to be careful with something that’s as strong as a Marvel project. There is a sound and there is an expectation from the loyal fans that want that there so there is a 100 piece orchestra that was recorded at Abbey Road, and a 25-piece choir, but there’s also this 50-piece synth band over the top of it. […] Because you’re getting the visuals in so you’re not sure exactly how everything’s going to land and it’s kinda like one of those, like a reverse explosion. The making of a film like this where there’s effects and sound effects and visual effects and new shots and new dialogue and new story and new music all coming in and just keeps getting faster and faster and faster until it all hits. And it lands and you look and you go, oh we did a good job.”
Ragnarok‘s electronic-infused score is certainly unlike anything heard in the MCU before. While Marvel has been criticized for occasionally underwhelming musical choices, they’ve also broken new ground. James Gunn, for instance, has used retro pop music to underpin key scenes and moments rather than using a traditional score. Thor: Ragnarok, on the other hand, relied on the former Devo musician to channel his experience in crafting the aesthetic of the ’70s and ’80s that was such a big part of the movie’s vibe:
“So, what I did to try and protect him [Taika Waititi] is I wrote the score totally as if it was just the strongest, most memorable possible Marvel film you could think of, but then I also in a parallel universe I wrote the score that you could dial back and forth how much electronics and how much human orchestra you wanted and so I gave Taika and Kevin the opportunity to, at their final mix, when they’re seeing everything that I haven’t even seen yet, I gave them the ability to take it further in to a new direction with new electronics, or they could pull it back out and stay in the world that was you know, the world that everyone knows as a Marvel universe. I think they did a good job of giving it a new sound. I think they did a good deal of giving it something new that’s still rooted and it’s got its foundations in the sound of Marvel that everyone expects.”
While Ragnarok might not have worked for every Marvel fans, it’s undeniable that Waititi, Motherbaugh, and everyone involved attempted to do something different with the film. While there are shades of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s latest film still manages to create its own specific visual and aural palette that helps it stand apart from other blockbusters. Given that, it’s no wonder Thor: Ragnarok is resonating so much with moviegoers.
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