By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood May 23, 2014 at 3:24PM
It's hard enough wearing two hats as editor and composer for Bryan Singer, but the trippy, time-traveling "X-Men: Days of Future Past" offered some additional challenges for John Ottman. "I think we both look fondly upon the experience we had on 'X-Men 2' and we wanted to relive that a bit so coming back to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen allowed us to fulfill that and then expand upon the thing and make it more epic," he says.
Amid the usual Marvel mayhem, though, "Days of Future Past" is surprisingly emotional. It not only brings together the two X-Men worlds for the first time but also introduces the dark days of the younger Professor X (James McAvoy), who tries to rekindle the hope that he has lost in 1973 with the help of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). And Magneto (Michael Fassbender) really gets unhinged during the action-packed climax, with simultaneous battles occurring in the past and future. "This was an idea that Bryan came up with while still planning Washington to give it more scope. It was a great idea but it was like throwing a bomb on what we had already planned for Washington."
Not having a completed script was difficult but with time travel you've got an extra level of narrative complexity to finesse.
"It's not apparent until you go out and shoot it and then look at it that it doesn't make too much sense. Now what do we do? We'd better shoot a different scene now. So this was the challenge of this movie and fortunately Fox was very trusting and cooperative because there was a scene, for instance, that we shot that I didn't think made any sense. And so I rallied to shoot a different scene in lieu of it, knowing full well if we didn't do it now while we were shooting we might never get back to do it again," Ottman says.
"We send Logan's consciousness back to the '70s in his younger self and his job is to keep Mystique [Jennifer Lawrence] from doing a [cataclysmic act] that's going to change history and he needs Charles Xavier's help, who he finds out to be a mess in the past. Well, there was a scene where they're looking for her and they realize that she's already come back to the house. And they walk in the kitchen and there she is. And I'm like: well, the movie's over. It bumped on me when I read the script and then we saw it and I realized that we had to shoot something else [where they don't find her so easily]."
Literally, the idea of introducing Quicksilver (Evan Peters) pulling off the flashiest and funniest escapade came late in the game. In fact, it was the last thing they shot but you have to have a plan, especially when there's elaborate VFX (exquisitely slowing down Quicksilver's super speed so we can relish the impact).
"It's like going to war and can be a traumatic experience," Ottman admits. "I had to grab Patrick Stewart for a voice-over back when we were in Montreal. It was so helter-skelter that we went over to the cafeteria, I found a microphone and basically recorded a bunch of his lines for the opening of the movie. And the performance he gave in the cafeteria was always so great compared to the ADR that we did later with him. We kept trying to get him to emulate what he did in the cafeteria [but it wasn't the same].
"And then my other worry is that I've got a friggin' score to write. I like to score traditionally with character themes but Bryan didn't want to feel dated in any way so the challenge was to keep a character-driven film that had a signature that people like but [without the benefit of any continuity because all the 'X-Men' scores are different]. So it became a fusion of traditional scoring with themes along with new testosterone elements."
Even so, Ottman also got to write a lovely theme for Xavier. At the same time, he dug into the past and came up with two of the sweetest ballads from the '70s: Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle." The former serves as a nice bookend for Logan.
In a way, Ottman's musical contribution eases the trauma of being an editorial air traffic controller. It's a wonderful balancing act that parallels the craziness of the "X-Men" franchise, particularly this time out when you're juggling everything.