It’s a big weekend for composer Pinar Toprak. On Friday, her latest score, for Sandra Bullock’s lighthearted jungle romp “The Lost City,” will be heard by moviegoers; and on Sunday she will be onstage at the Dolby conducting the Oscar orchestra for Billie Eilish’s performance of “No Time to Die.”
Details about Sunday are otherwise under wraps. It’s said to be a new arrangement of the Oscar-nominated James Bond theme, and Eilish’s co-writer and sibling Finneas is expected to be onstage too. Toprak couldn’t comment.
As for “The Lost City,” Toprak’s lively, fun score hearkens back to the earlier era of “Romancing the Stone” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – a fast-moving adventure set in an exotic locale that features a big orchestra, a choir and hummable themes for places and characters.
“There are so many genres and moods,” says the Turkish-born composer of “Captain Marvel” (which, at more than $1.1 billion worldwide, is the highest-grossing movie ever scored by a woman). “A big sweeping score that pays homage to all those types of films that I loved.”
Directors Adam and Aaron Nee insisted on that approach from the start, Toprak says. She was hired even before shooting began, which enabled her not only to demo themes for the directors but to visit the shooting location in the Dominican Republic last June. She was there for five days “to get a sense of the jungle” and watch Bullock (as kidnapped romance novel writer Loretta Sage) and Channing Tatum (as the handsome guy on her book covers who sets out to rescue her) in action.
The structure of the score is also in the classic mold. Toprak wrote a rousing main theme for orchestra, a waltz-time piano motif for Loretta and a heroic theme for Tatum’s character Alan (that, as part of the gag, starts out as an ’80s-style synth-and-electric-guitar intro for the Fabio-haired beefcake guy at a book-convention appearance).
The key to the score, however, is Toprak’s theme for the long-lost red diamond headdress known as the Crown of Fire, desperately sought by the villain (Daniel Radcliffe) who thinks Loretta knows its location in a hidden temple on a mysterious island in the Atlantic. A wordless soprano (L.A. singer Baraka May) voices this eerie siren call to the ancient tomb of a long-forgotten king and queen.
“It’s the treasure they’re after,” Toprak says, “and there’s a lot of connection between that and Loretta’s grief over losing her husband. Throughout the film, when we see the parchment (a clue to the tomb’s location), there is always a callback to this theme.”
And since much of the story takes place in a far-off jungle, Toprak called for “a lot of flutes and a lot of world percussion.” Six percussionists were among the 77 musicians in her L.A. orchestra, including one playing the cuica, a Brazilian friction drum that makes a quirky, high-pitched sound. “It’s funny, goofy and unique,” she says, “owning the ridiculousness of the situation.”
She also added a 30-voice choir for moments of awe such as Loretta and Alan’s discovery of the hidden tomb.
Asked about the musical balance between action, romance and humor, Toprak says “it felt very natural. Once I saw the actual assembly, the comedy and the action parts were pretty straightforward. We have that emotional depth and the humor as well. I’ve done these genres individually but never a film that had them all.”
Still to come from Toprak, later this year: Lionsgate’s romantic comedy “Shotgun Wedding” with Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel, and the Netflix family adventure “Slumberland” with Jason Momoa.