Danny Boyle never really worked with a composer properly to score any of his films until “28 Days Later” when his mainstay John Murphy (who also scored “Sunshine” with Underworld) entered the picture (although, it should be noted, Bond composer David Arnold did contribute some pieces to “A Life Less Ordinary”). Up until then, his movies were “scored” with just pop tunes and existing source music. But he did try with “The Beach.” During the 92Y conversation, the filmmaker revealed that he had hired a very famous composer, but it was not to be. “I worked with Angelo Badalamenti -- who is a fantastic composer -- on ‘The Beach,’ but I couldn’t really give him the film -- and I’ve apologized to him since,” he admitted. “There was a very important theme in the film where the travellers came across the beach itself. He wrote this very lovely theme for it and I didn’t use it in the end. I used ‘Porcelain’ by Moby and I realize, in retrospect, it was me not surrendering the film to someone else. You’ve got to trust the composer and I’ve learned that and I’ve learned a lot as a filmmaker by doing so.”
While the Moby track is lovely, there are a pair of electronic pieces that add much more punch. The first is a Leftfield song called “Snakeblood” that accompanies the film’s galvanizing first minutes wherein Leonardo DiCaprio becomes acquainted with the sights and sounds (and smells and tastes) of Bangkok. (Sadly it establishes an energy level and weirdness factor that the rest of the film has no hopes of following through on.) The other song is a more placid electronic number by noted Boyle collaborators Underworld, called “Eight Ball.” "It's my favorite, favorite Underworld track," Boyle said. "It's a beautiful, lovely, gentle really peaceful, musical song called 'Eight Ball' and we've kind of continued on like that through different movies."
There are actually two different versions of “Paper Planes” in “Slumdog Millionaire” -- the original version and a DFA remix (produced by LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy) -- and, in our mind, the original version, which scores a montage of the young boys’ youth in India (particularly a sequence where they travel across train cars), is the most effective. What’s interesting is that earlier that same year the song was popularized by another movie (David Gordon Green’s stoner action comedy “Pineapple Express”) that it wasn’t even in. It was just in the trailer. Boyle, of course, made it fly -- it’s the perfect, freewheeling song to capture the unpredictable, pin-balling experience of being a youth in third-world India and, given its early placement in the movie, makes you prepare for wilder, grander musical moments yet to come (like the closing musical dance sequence, which, at SXSW, New York Times reporter and “Trance” 92Y panel host David Carr said was the moment he realized the movie would win the Best Picture statue). The “Jai-Ho” musical number might be the most famous and the one most annoyingly repeated at gimmicky weddings, but it’s Boyle’s strong, subtle use of “Paper Planes” that gets the blood pumping more organically.