Why 'Skyscraper' Composer Didn't Want a Marvel-Style Score

Steve Jablonsky knew Dwayne Johnson's character wasn't a typical action hero: "It needed to be more grounded, like Dwayne's character."
Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures; John Wilson/Universal Pictures
'Skyscraper' (Inset: Steve Jablonsky)

For composer Steve Jablonsky, Skyscraper was an opportunity to help sculpt a different kind of hero, one that might not be seen in superhero movies this summer.

Skyscraper follows former FBI agent and decorated veteran Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) as he rebuilds his life following a nearly fatal hostage rescue that left him missing part of his leg. Will goes to Hong Kong with his wife and children to perform an inspection on the Pearl, the world's tallest building. When things go south and the Pearl is set ablaze by a team of villains, Will must break into the building and save his family from an out-of-control fire and the ruthless people who have taken them hostage.

Jablonsky's score for Skyscraper features electric and acoustic guitars in addition to the orchestral instrumentation. The composer played his early ideas for writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber on the guitar and made the case for a more grounded theme.

"One of the first things I wrote was the theme for the family. It was a simple guitar riff, and Rawson really liked it," Jabblonsky says. "I didn't want to have some heroic French horn theme like you'd hear in a Marvel film. It needed to be more grounded, like Dwayne's character."

Having read the script more than 18 months ago, Jablonsky says that the adaptation from page to screen is virtually identical, save for a minor change to extend the ending.

"They wanted to stretch out the tension for a few more beats, which was a very good idea. Luckily, I hadn't scored that sequence yet, so there wasn't any lost work," he says.

Jablonsky employs a chronological method when scoring, starting at the beginning and working his way to the end. He was attracted to Johnson's atypical action hero, because he's just interested in getting his family out of the building.

"This isn't a guy who's looking to beat up the bad guys and complete a mission; he just wants to get his family to safety. That's not to say he doesn't kick ass, but that isn't his motivation, which is very refreshing," says Jablonsky.

The film's fast pace forced Jablonsky to get in and out of scenes quickly, leaving little room for lengthy themes.

For the film's villain, Botha (Roland Moller), Jablonsky came up with a unique percussion rhythm by running a tom-tom through several distortion pedals and a compressor. This eliminated the high end of the drum and gave it a dirty sound.

"When I played it to Rawson, he said, 'Fuck yeah!'" says Jablonsky. "It reminded him of war drums, and it became the villain's theme. If we'd given the villain an orchestral theme, it would've felt forced. The drum was the perfect answer."

The hardest sequences to score for Jablonsky revolves around Johnson's onscreen wife, Sarah Sawyer (Neve Campbell), who has to walk across a wobbly wooden plank over a massive fire to save their son.

"The scene alternates between high tension and danger. There's the fear that she'll fall, then the swell of emotion as she makes it to her son, then more tension as they walk back across the plank," Jablonsky says. "Neve is walking this tightrope in the film, and I'm doing the same thing because of the musical gear-shifting. It was a real challenge to not make the music distracting or make it seem like it was working too hard. I'm a firm believer that movies are not there to be a concert for my work. I'm just there just help."

Milan Records will release the Skyscraper soundtrack digitally on Friday and on CD on Aug. 3.

Listen to two tracks below.