Interview: Behind the Music of The Godfather II @ GameZone


Elite Sage
Oct 12, 2007
We talk with Hollywood composer Christopher Lennertz about his unique 1960s soundtrack for this month’s The Godfather II, and score some exclusive music clips in the process.

It often seems that the best films are the ones with the truly great scores. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the brilliance of the music makes the film better than it should be, or if it’s the film that makes the music so meaningful. Perhaps it’s a little of each, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Whatever the answer, the Godfather films of the 1970s certainly exemplify that pairing of great filmmaking and unforgettable composition. The sweeping, emotional themes from those films have earned a place in the popular consciousness attained by few others of their era.

Clearly, with a musical legacy that includes Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy awards, EA had a lot to live up to when scoring their upcoming The Godfather II game. This was answered in part by acquiring the rights (as in the first Godfather game) to use some of the most important music from the movies, such as the waltz and the main love theme. But for the nearly 30 minutes of new music that was needed for this latest incarnation, the team turned to composer Christopher Lennertz.

Christopher Lennertz

Paradise in America

Early in his career, Lennertz had the opportunity to study and work with a number of film music legends, including the composers behind classic scores like The Magnificent Seven and Conan the Barbarian. This pedigree has left its mark on his subsequent film and television career, but the video game industry is where Lennertz has shined brightest with his own classic scores for titles like Gun, Warhawk, and the Medal of Honor series.

Lennertz was brought aboard The Godfather II early last year, and it was quickly apparent that he was the perfect composer for the game. “The game's audio director is based up at Redwood Shores where they did From Russia with Love and he had heard [my work] from that,” says Lennertz. “He knew I had a huge amount of respect for the classics like Bond and The Godfather, so we chatted. I think that once he realized how much of a fan I was of both the series and Rota's score, he knew I was the right guy for the job.”

Lennertz began writing sketches in February of last year, and work continued steadily until the score’s recording date in the summer. Given this new game’s 1960s setting, much of the early work was spent getting the musical style just right and then seeing how it sounded with the gameplay.

The Studio

“Musically, the score had to put you in both the time and the place of the action,” explains Lennertz. “It needed to feel like it belonged in the world of the Corleone saga, but it is an offshoot with a very distinct feel. Andrew Boyd, the audio director, was interested in trying to set the stage for a more stylish violent, and 60s mod type universe for this game. Once we blended those elements with the settings in New York, Miami, and Havana, we knew we had found our sound.”

“Because I knew we wanted to acknowledge the action music of the era, I did a lot of listening to music of the day by Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, and others,” he continues. “I really tried to not only soak up the musical language, but also develop an instrumental palette that would showcase some of the best and most interesting combinations of that time in history.”

The Mod Mob

The resulting music mixes classic Godfather with that 1960s action sound and a touch of Latin jazz. Lennertz recorded the finished score in July with a roughly fifty-piece orchestra at Skywalker Ranch, along with a traditional rhythm section augmented by electric guitar, Latin percussion, Fender Rhodes, and Hammond B3 organ.

The Orchestra

“We made a distinct choice to use acoustic bass for New York and Havana and electric for Miami,” Lennertz notes. “Obviously, the Miami and Cuba sections are also heavy on the Latin percussion as well, but I think that the actual tempos for those areas are faster while the stuff in New York is a bit more laid back. Ultimately, I think that the grooves created by bass and drums really give the score its personality. The 60s action score sound is so dependent on that combination.”

While the music promises to be memorable throughout, there are a couple cues that are worthy of particular attention – such as the game’s main theme. “The piece uses Rota's theme, but in a new way as the player is introduced to their character,” Lennertz says. “The backstory is explained and this really sets the stage for what is to come. It also functions as an overture of sorts, hinting at the new musical textures that will be introduced in the world.”

Additionally, there are some striking moments when the player is in the “Don's View” mode where the music really sits center stage as the player gets to control an overview of the family's empire. For this section, Lennertz wrote what became his favorite cue for the game. “[The piece] represents all that is cool and gritty about the New York underworld and The Godfather, but it also sits on top of a groove that is really infectious...hopefully in a Mancini-ish sort of way,” he says.

The Family Business

These days Lennertz is still writing music for television’s Supernatural, and is also scheduled to score the sequel to Cats & Dogs that hits theaters this fall. He has some unannounced video game projects on the horizon as well, but the April release of The Godfather II should keep fans happy in the meantime

“I was over the moon when I heard about the opportunity,” says Lennertz, looking back on the project. “[The Godfather] was a series that had really cemented my love of film and film music, so I was so excited to be a part of it. The story is wonderful and the graphics are amazing, but the most inspiring thing about working on the project is, of course, the opportunity to live in the Godfather world. It’s truly an honor.”