In a film like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, the score doesn’t necessarily get a huge amount of attention. Composer Jongnic Bontemps wanted to make sure that even in the middle of a fight scene between giant robots, the music felt important. That meant finding the character behind the notes and making sure it was so much more than background noise. Bontemps spoke with The Root about adding authenticity to the franchise and getting that ‘90s sound just right.
With a movie as big as Transformers, the music has to match the scale. Bontemps treated it like any other character in the film and focused on the story to find the right arc for the music.
“One of the first questions I ask a filmmaker when we start collaborating is if the music was a character, what would its role be in the film? Because everything in the film is done on purpose,” Bontemps told The Root. “Once we sort of establish that, then we try and understand, what is the journey of the music and the story? And how does it support the character arc and a narrative that we are sharing with our audience? I kind of had a sense of the scale and the epicness of what the music needed to be, and the world it needed to inhabit. Using those two ideas, talking with Steven Caple Jr, about what the purpose of the music is, looking at the footprint, or at least the scale of the music from the past movies, is kind of how I started this journey of writing the score for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.”
Rise of the Beasts is the seventh film in the franchise but that doesn’t mean Bontemps had a set road to follow. In fact, he got to create new themes that will now have a lasting impact on the series. He also got to put in his own stamp on the movie’s vibe by making sure it featured the signature sound of ‘90s hip-hop. In addition to Bontemps’ score, the soundtrack features music from The Notorious B.I.G.; SWV; Digable Planets; Wu-Tang Clan; A Tribe Called Quest and the new song “On My Soul” by Tobe Nwigwe—who co-stars in the film— that features Nas and Jacob Banks.
“Since the movie takes place before the other films, I had a little bit more liberty to create some new stuff for our film. I actually started down the process of creating new themes and also some new characters,” he said. “The Maximals have not been part of this cinematic universe yet, so I had to create a new theme or a new melodic idea for the Maximals. Same thing for the Terracons and Scourge. I wanted to pull in the new thematic ideas and sounds for those characters. That’s how I was able to start my own footprint, my own voice into the franchise. And since it was set in Brooklyn, in the ‘90s, we had to make sure we had that Brooklyn bounce and that we had a little bit of homage to hip-hop in the score. Look, this is not a hip-hop score. I will be the first person to say this is not a hip-hop score, but I definitely wanted the seasoning and the essence of hip-hop to flavor the score. This way you could really feel the authenticity of the music when we’re seeing these characters in these locations. So much of the specific music of the 90s is in the needle drops.”
Bontemps is the first Black composer to score a film in the franchise, and one of a few to work on a project this size. He understands his importance in the film community and how crucial it is that his success leads to similar moments for others.
“Having a very humble beginning, I’m really in awe that this is an opportunity. One of the things that I realized, especially on this journey, is it’s not about just getting the opportunity. It’s about finishing the opportunity and getting to the finish line. It’s also making sure that the experience that everyone has around you is full of professionalism,” he said. “Being on time, on budget, listening and being able to take feedback and turn that around. Those are the things that are super important because I want everyone to not only have a great experience with me making the music, but that experience then translates into giving other people that look like me opportunities. Because it’s not just about the finished product, it was also how we got there. No one’s going to say that I closed the door behind me. I’m trying to keep that door wide open by being as professional as possible and giving people a great experience so that other people can have that same opportunity.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is now playing in theaters.