‘Dune 2’: Hans Zimmer Talks Composing Paul and Chani’s Love Theme, Co-Writing Gurney’s Song With Josh Brolin and Prepping for ‘Messiah’

‘Dune 2’: Hans Zimmer Talks Composing Paul and Chani’s Love Theme, Co-Writing Gurney’s Song With Josh Brolin and Prepping for ‘Messiah’

When “Dune: Part One” wrapped, composer Hans Zimmer continued to write more music for the sci-fi epic. He was told to stop, but Zimmer insisted he would carry on, so much so that director Denis Villeneuve would joke that the composer was locked in the studio.

Except it wasn’t completely a joke. Like many, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel was hugely influential to Zimmer growing up. He never watched David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation, but rather “made this movie in my head,” Zimmer notes.

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So, when Villeneuve approached him to score “Dune: Part One,” Zimmer was more than excited to hop on board, saying that “the first movie is really a preamble.”

Zimmer told Villeneuve, “I’m writing because I know that we will be greenlit for ‘Part Two.’ And secondly, I think it’d be good for me to carry on writing and maybe inspire you with some things.”

That ideology came in handy when Zimmer and “Dune” star Josh Brolin sat down to write Gurney’s song, the baliset-backed tune that fans of Gurney Halleck, war master of House Atreides, hoped to hear in “Dune: Part Two.” According to Zimmer, it wasn’t Villeneuve who approached him and Brolin to collaborate on a song together; it was Herbert’s novel.

“We were just following orders from the book in a way. I knew we needed the song,” Zimmer told Variety at the “Dune: Part Two” premiere in New York City on Feb. 25. “The first ones have gone by the wayside, but this one, it was a great way to introduce the character.”

Turns out, Zimmer and Brolin had written a number of tracks together for 2021’s “Dune.”

“Josh and I actually have probably two or three songs from the first movie that never made it into the movie,” Zimmer revealed on the carpet. “And I think Josh and I need to go and do our unplugged version very soon.”

Villeneuve has shared in the past that there’s already a script in the works for a third installment based on Herbert’s 1969 novel “Dune Messiah.” Asked if he’s started thinking of music for a third “Dune” film, Zimmer said with a smile, “Guess who hasn’t stopped writing?”

A few days later, Zimmer sat down with Variety, still overwhelmed with emotion from the U.S. premiere, to talk about the “Dune: Part Two” score in detail.

How did “Dune: Part One” lay the foundation for “Dune: Part Two”?

The first movie is a preamble. The first movie came out and I just carried on writing, and I got a phone call from Denis. He said, “The movie has been out for six months, you can stop.” And I told him, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, I’m writing because I know that we will be greenlit for “Part Two.” And secondly, I think it’d be good for me to carry on writing and maybe inspire you with some things.”

Here’s the naughty part: The main theme for “Part Two” was written in that period, and I was on a massive European tour. I opened the set with that tune, and the audience didn’t know what it was. I never told them, but I thought it would be cool.

It was like a Chris Nolan movie where you’re playing with time. I’m giving the experience backward. Once they see this movie, they’ll say, “Hang on a second, this reminds me of something. I’m not entirely sure what it is.”

As a precocious 14 or 15-year-old, when I went to see science fiction movies, I could never understand why I’d hear the sound of a European orchestra and strings. I thought we were going to go to galaxies that we had never known before. So, I thought it was very important to build instruments and make a good sonic world and build a musical world that hadn’t been there before.

Building on that, what instruments did you have to create for this film?

There’s so much to talk about, but I’m going to limit it to two things. I have a friend, Chas Smith, who is a brilliant musician and he’s also a welder. He seems to have an unholy alliance with the Boeing Company whereby he gets all the cast metals. So he built these instruments that you could bow or scrape. At the same time, there are instruments made in 1920s France made out of wood which we used.

We had to reinvent the duduk, a pre-Christian Armenian instrument, and Pedro Eustache is a master of this. He’s also a master of recognizing that he’s going to challenge everyone with the unplayable.

What you have to realize is we are a very international bunch. It’s not a normal Hollywood score. It’s played entirely by virtuosos and by people who I think are some of the best players of that instrument in the world, and having them unleashing this power. And the images [from “Dune: Part Two”] inspired us constantly.

So, on one side, there are these instruments we built, and there are a lot of electronic instruments. The other thing that was vital to me was the incredibly important component in the storytelling of the female voice. We felt it was really important to constantly celebrate that. Even as the mother leaves the room, the sound of a female voice still lingers, so you’re constantly reminded where the power lies.

The film packs an emotional punch, especially with Paul and Chani’s theme. How did that come about?

That’s the theme I’ve been playing all across Europe. We’ve secretly been smuggling it across the world without people knowing what it was. It was a daring way to start the show.

So, it’s mainly Pedro playing it on his duduk, and Loire Cotler [the female vocalist from “Dune: Part One”] singing very quietly.

Part of what gives things an emotional punch in a Denis Villeneuve film is to deliver things quietly and subtly, and make the audience lean a little bit forward and not be afraid to open their heart to things. It’s just how Denis is. Years ago, he showed me a movie, and I was sitting in front of my keyboard, and I didn’t know how to put what I saw into words, and I started playing. After a few minutes, he said, “That’s exactly what I heard in my head.”

The film also introduces new characters such as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, who comes in and is on the darker side. What ideas did you have in mind for his sound?

It’s less pure. The whole planet is black. His teeth are black. His heart is black. Everything he does is so incredibly outlandish. It’s a family picture, and that’s Austin’s family. I tried to give him this cold metallic sheen, an industrial brooding sound. As with everything, it felt important not to overdo things. The acting is great. The cinematography, editing and storytelling are beautiful. So, let them do it. My idea was to be there and support them. The problem for composers, maybe it’s just me, is that I love doing evil stuff, and unfortunately, it comes easy for me.

I feel your excitement during that. So, to that, talk about scoring the gladiator arena fight, because it’s very dark.

I have some experience with gladiator fights. I might be one of the few who have scored more than one, and of course, it’s completely different from Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator.” It’s vicious. It’s visceral. Just don’t play it for your children and don’t put it on at night.

Denis allowed us to go and stretch and go beyond. Christopher Nolan, Denis, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott bring a sensibility of courage to go and be bold about the way they tell their stories and the way they let the composer tell the story. The thing that I truly love about my life is that I get to work with Denis. He allows me to have an extraordinary life because I get to go and play in a huge sandbox, and make a hell of a racket, and work with people that I adore. And at the same time, come up with the blackest and darkest music.

What was the key to making it dark in the sandbox?

The last people cast in the movie are the musicians. Tina Guo is my electric cellist. When she grabs her cello, flicks her hair and steps on her fuzz box pedal, she unleashes hell. Guthrie Govan is probably the world’s greatest guitarist, and between the two of them, I told them to unleash hell. Each note in this score is played with true commitment because everybody understood what their role was. Everyone gave their all.

I could tell you liked the darker side because the track “Harkonnen Arena” was five minutes long. It’s one of the longest tracks.

Yes, and you always have two choices when you put the soundtrack album together. Are you going to put the things in, which are just so cinematic and maybe don’t quite make sense if you listen to them? Or might just scare people a little bit too much, or are just too dissonant and too hard to take? Or are you just gonna go for pretty and love themes and stuff like that? I felt we owed it to the audience that we were going to give them the dark stuff. I felt it was important that the music could confront you.

Well, last question, have you stopped writing? Are you still writing music for “Dune”?

Of course. Denis comes in on the second day of shooting, and wordlessly comes in and puts “Dune: Messiah” on my desk, and I know where we’re going and I know we’re not done.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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