“If I was to go back in time and say to myself, ‘Tom in 10 years, you will have come off eight years of being incredibly busy working with Robert Rodriguez, Zack Snyder, George Miller, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and Tim Miller,’ I would be like, ‘That sounds crazy.’ Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Tom Holkenborg, otherwise known as Junkie XL, is the man behind the music that soundtracks multiple multimillion-dollar IPs and franchises. The Dutch full contact composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer’s latest high profile project is Zack Snyder’s Justice League, aka Justice League: The Director’s Cut. It’s also known by fans as the ‘Snyder Cut.’
“To be honest, the reason why it’s called the ‘Snyder Cut’ is that there was a Snyder Cut. I knew quite a long time ago that this was in the works and that it existed,” he confirmed. “This was not decided overnight. I had already done a lot of work for this project. It’s so exciting to see this version of the movie finally coming alive. Zack put a lot of time into the original version, I put a lot of time into in the original version, so it is great to have closure and that this is finally coming out.”
“It’s so great to work with Zack. This is like project number five for us. I have also finished Army of the Dead with him this year, and that movie comes out on Netflix NFLX next year. This whole year, it’s been like working with my best friends.”
The original version of Justice League landed in theaters in November 2017. It grossed $657.9 million at the worldwide box office against a production budget of $300 million.
For Holkenborg, being able to revisit the project allowed him to complete his vision.
“Besides the Man of Steel theme for Superman and the theme for Wonder Woman, which I have given a new spin, all the other themes for this movie are brand new,” he revealed. “Some of them I did the groundwork on four years ago, but as you grow as a composer, you look at what you did and maybe have a better way of doing it now or a better idea. It was inspiring. I would get an idea in my downtime and think, ‘Oh, let’s rework this thing. Let’s do that.’ Because I knew for a while that this was coming, I had the time and space to shape it into its best possible form.”
“Different characters have different musical statements to those same characters in the past. Much like their stories in the comics, they change and evolve over the years. So, what was a great theme for Superman in the 70s doesn’t mean that it is the right theme for Superman in 2013. When the director takes on a superhero character, and when a composer takes on the superhero character, they should do what feels right inside them.”
He added, “You should come up with a theme that inspires you for that character. I think that is important in the development of these movies. If Mad Max gets remade in 25 years, I’m not expecting people to do something similar to what I did for Fury Road, you know? Give it your take.”
Mad Max: Fury Road, which grossed $375.2 million at the worldwide box office, is another acclaimed soundtrack on Holkenborg’s resume. Is it one he could return to?
“George Miller, the director, and I talk all the time,” he said. “I know there are a lot of ideas floating around, but I have no idea what the realization of those is in terms of it being greenlit or not.”
While some of his projects happen in a more traditional manner, such as Marvel’s Deadpool, others have been a happy accident.
“A perfect example is the Godzilla vs. Kong movie that is coming out next year,” he enthused. “I’m such a Godzilla freak. I have all the Japanese versions of the movies. At a certain point, just for s**ts and giggles, I wrote something for Godzilla. About two years ago, I met the director because he showed interest in me as a composer. I asked him, ‘Do you know I’m the biggest Godzilla fan on the planet, and, years ago, I wrote some stuff.’ He was like, ‘You’re kidding me?’ So we started communicating, I tweaked what I did, played it for him, and he was totally in love.”
He continues to work on smaller projects and TV projects such as Netflix’s White Lines and tentpole movies. One industry trend Holkenborg is very happy to see significant investment in sound and soundtracks.
“Studios, or at least the studios I’ve been working within my eight-year composer career, really want to help you realize what you’re trying to set out to do,” he explained. “I think it’s a fantastic development, and the result is working for them as a business. It is great to see that people enjoy listening to music from soundtracks. Sometimes the soundtrack goes beyond the movie fans and lands with the general public. I still get messages from people that say they listen to the Mad Max and Deadpool soundtracks when they work out at the gym.”
Holkenborg added, “Sometimes money’s not an issue. I worked with Peter Jackson on Mortal Engines, and I said to him that it would be great if I can make noises with all the props from the film and use that in the music. He got a hanger, threw the props in there plus a couple of trucks, and we went out there for a week. I was banging on all kinds of different props from the movie to create a sound library out of it.”
“On Godzilla vs. Kong, I said, ‘I think we need the biggest bass drum on the planet for this score. I know the guy who can build it, what do you think?’ They just said, ‘Let’s do it.’ So I said I want a bass drum that is at least eight feet in diameter,” he laughed. “The guy called me back, and he asked, ‘Is it okay if it’s only six?’ I said, ‘Could we do eight? Why can’t we do ten?’ The answer was, ‘Well, there’s simply no cow alive that has a skin big enough to cover for a ten-foot bass drum.’ So, we have to scale it down to eight.”
“It was worth the money.”
Justice League: The Director’s Cut will hit HBO Max in 2021.