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'42' music matches magic of movie

The movie "42" has broken out at the box office like Jackie Robinson going from first to second base -- not just the best opening weekend of any baseball film ever but also the weekend's top overall.

If you already enjoyed the experience, or if you are planning to go, you probably will notice that one of the highlights is a musical backdrop that meets the challenge of telling a legendary American story.

There are french horns that rise to the occasion, trumpets and violins that blaze a tempo beyond allegro when Jackie's style must be defined. The original score is from film composer Mark Isham, recorded by a symphony orchestra at London's famous Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded almost all of their albums, origin of some of the best music in entertainment history.

The supervising music editor is Thomas Milano, who grew up in Flatbush near Ebbets Field adoring Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Milano, a music editor on more than 70 films, including baseball movies "Moneyball" and "Major League II," is the father of Alyssa Milano -- the actress, fashion designer for female baseball fans and a longtime Dodgers season-ticket holder.

"The major inspiration for the score was Jackie himself," Isham said. "He was a unique character in history, did a very unique and wonderful thing for American history, for the betterment of American society. To see him on screen and to read about him and you know about him, he himself is all the inspiration you need."

Brian Helgeland, the "42" director who had won a screenplay Oscar for "L.A. Confidential," said Isham had written the first score he ever purchased. Isham said he had known Helgeland's work, and the rest was history. It was off to Abbey Road, Isham with the film to watch and a fair amount of input from the director on what they wanted to accomplish.

"I wanted Jackie to have a voice, musically," Helgeland said. "Mark's solution to that, and he felt the same way, his solution to that was french horns, and then on top of that a trumpet."

"We decided that we would leave the ugly parts of the story -- and there were plenty of them -- alone," Isham added. "It was the example of 'turn the other cheek.' He had to be so strong and so courageous and take such abuse, without losing it, without losing his temper, without striking back."

Helgeland said the true test of any original film score is: "Does it stand on its own as a piece of music?" Then he said, "I think that Mark's score for '42' absolutely stands on its own as a whole, as a music that performs as a symphony, if you will."

When you think of a classic like "The Natural," you think of the french horns as Roy Hobbs hits a long homer into a light tower and circles the bases as the lights explode. There is a defining sound to "42" as well, one that will resonate as the life of this movie expands, now projected by industry insiders to top $100 million.

There is a nice mix of eclectic era music, brushstrokes of soulful jazz amid a hardship of history.

Milano, in an e-mail Monday to, calls "42" "the highlight of my 25-year career." He said he was able to meet Hank Aaron at the premiere party and they talked about New York during that time.

"It was an amazing experience," Milano said of the making of the movie. "It was an honor to contribute in the telling of the story of one of my childhood heroes.

"I feel the music score for '42' is worthy of Academy Award consideration. It had a nobility about it that captured the essence of Jackie."

Spoiler alert: Milano shared a favorite Robinson story, one that he said the movie covered.

"The story depicted in the film about how Ralph Branca talked Jackie into taking a shower with the rest of the team," he said. "It was an important moment told with a wonderful sense of humor."

Isham said "42" is a "very structured score," with themes following all the way through the storytelling. The most challenging part, he said, was the big finish.

"It's a long piece of music that starts seven minutes from the end and goes all the way, nonstop," he said. "It's a long montage that not only wraps up Jackie's ability on the field, but his relationship with his wife, and the acceptance that he has won from the American public about being in baseball."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.