We have here at Movie Music International often discussed the loss of the main theme in film scores, it’s something that if you are of a certain generation will automatically associate with the cinema and the films that you went to see there. Sadly, the demise of the opening credits theme was something that happened gradually, and before we knew it had gone altogether. Now I am of the opinion this is nothing whatsoever to do with the composers but is something that the actual filmmakers or studios have initiated over the past decade or so. Because sadly studios are quite insecure when it comes to turning over a finished movie to a composer, to be honest they would rather hand it to a so called music supervisor so they can then decide what hip songs they can secure to be tracked on the films music track.
A sad state of affairs but it is something that happens a great deal in the corridors of Hollywood studios. Music in film is now made up more of soundscape or sound design rather than music as in the thematic scores that we know and love, motifs and nuances being things that are gradually fading out and leaving the film score scene. However, there are still a handful of film music composers that do write melodic and richly haunting themes and let’s hope that they reign supreme in the not too distant future. This kind of thing happened in the 1970’s remember the dreaded song score, yep those were the days when there was very little good film music around, until that is the likes of John Williams and also Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry began to write symphonic soundtracks again and with Williams in particular evoking and resurrecting the sound of the glory days of the golden age of film music in his score for the first STAR WARS movie, since then things have been pretty good, but as with every type of music film music evolves at times improving but more often than not comes up lacking.
I would say in the past ten maybe fifteen years film music has been in a decline, I don’t mean every score but certain soundtracks have appeared and one often thinks really? One composer that invariably comes into the firing line when discussing drone like sounds and the new age film music that is now establishing itself is Hans Zimmer, now I think you all know that in the past I have been vocal about the composer and his leaning towards working with other composers on each score, again invariably it is Zimmer’s name that appears to be displayed prominently on the film poster or on the end credits, with other composers taking second place, with these composes on most occasions providing most of the music with a little guidance from Zimmer, so Zimmer in essence being a music supervisor am I wrong? Well that’s the way I see it anyway. In recent months however I have begun to take in depth listening trips to the works of Zimmer and in many cases I have watched the movie first then listened, and vice versa.
What I discovered on my forays was especially in the BATMAN trilogy from director Christopher Nolan, that Zimmer’s scores are a vital and an integral part of the film, without this action packed and brooding music the BATMAN trilogy of Begins, Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises I am of the opinion would be rather lack lustre. At times the composer manages to hit the heights of a musical excellence that does verge upon the operatic. I know you may be thinking, hang on is this the same guy writing here that hated MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN VS SUPERMAN, yep, it’s me Hi everyone.
I have taken a listen and also a look at his work and decided that yes it is good film music in the context of the movie, maybe not so listenable away from the images, but he is a composer of film music, and film music has a job to do for the movie rather than being written to be listened to as stand-alone music which is something that maybe was the idea back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, provide the film with a score but at the same time write something that maybe just maybe might get played on the radio etc and have a life away from the movie itself. I have also concluded that the reason he gets a lot of bad press from many collector’s is probably due to the way that his fans applaud and praise everything he does, even if it is not particularly good. But, is that his fault, nope, exactly so the problem is not him or his music it’s the supposedly dedicated fans that follow him and wait with baited breath for his next score to roll off the production line. Fans who in the majority of cases have only been collecting soundtracks for a short time and have not been able to savour the wares of other composers.
So if you are one of these fans that idolize and basically worship Zimmer, please read on, this article is not another Zimmer hating piece that we see on so many discussion boards, I hope it will be a fair and honest look at a selection this composers work, from his beginnings assisting to Kill a Video Star, whilst playing keyboards on a Buggles video, or even opening and closing Going for Gold on ITV with a really cheezey theme or better still when he was a student of revered composer Stanley Myers who acted as a mentor for the young Zimmer. We will see what he is about I hope and also maybe discover a few hidden gems along the way too. I am going to begin with BATMAN as this is a trilogy I watched over again recently and also re-discovered the darkness and the heroic undertones of Zimmer’s score, I say Zimmer’s score but of course we must also acknowledge that James Newton Howard had a hand in bringing this score to fruition. What I loved about the music in the series was that it was as shadowy and secretive as the central character, and also it contained a proud and driving musical persona throughout.
The music for the second movie in Nolan’s trio of movies, THE DARK KNIGHT in particular I thought was like a simmering saucepan of water which is on the edge all the time and threatening to boil over at any moment. The highlight cue within the score has to be LIKE A DOG CHASING CARS, it’s a builder, and it enhances the action, gradually gathering momentum until the percussive elements become uncontrollable and usher in the driving strings and the tense sounding brass, it’s a great piece of scoring and has to it an almost Wagnerian sound and style to it, it is bold and grand, operatic and total consuming. The composition taking on more and more instrumentation as it continues to propel headlong all the time adding tension and excitement to the proceedings. James Newton Howard, is credited alongside Zimmer for this but was it a collaboration in the true sense or was it a collaboration when each composer contributed certain cues, its hard to tell, as the style remains pretty constant throughout and it is a sound and a style that I for one associate with Zimmer as opposed to Newton Howard. The entire trilogy of scores are all brooding and unsettlingly dark, but when I have said in the past where are the themes, well, if you listen again like I have, they are there and hit all the right spots with precision timing and are like musical punchlines that are strategically placed to create the most impact and also become an integral component of each and every scene and also are well placed and masterful pieces that lead from one scene into another seamlessly. The score, compliments Nolan’s set piece shots and punctuates the action as well as underlining and making the exciting chases even more frantic and affecting.
The sight of THE BATMAN standing aloft on a tall building surveying his domain is awesome enough, but add to that the musical darkness as conjured by Zimmer and Newton Howard and this is not only the stuff of cinematic memories but something that will live long in the minds of a generation. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the third in the BATMAN series all’a Nolan, and Zimmer scored this on his own it seems as no other composer receives a credit. The final movie in this trilogy, I thought was possible the most action packed, maybe not necessarily the best but that I suppose is a matter of personal taste. Zimmer’s score is superbly mysterious and ominous, but it also contains slithers of emotion that he layers throughout the work. Again the music superbly supports, punctuates and enhances, every scene and every sequence, vibrantly lacing and weaving into the action and into the emotions of the central figures, becoming harsh and jagged but also possessing the sensitivity that is required at key moments within the films storyline.
I love the way that the composer utilises voices within the score, it somehow gives the movie a softer and less aggressive feel, but this is something that many composers do for example when a scene is maybe violent and chaotic they score it in an emotive or serene way, the music being calming which in fact not only supports the sequence but has the ability to make the scene or the act of violence more impacting and thus become more memorable to the audience, because the music literally lulls them into a false sense of security. Zimmer is a master at layering, repeating and building sounds and music to become an imposing force within any movie, TIME from the movie INCEPTION is a perfect example. But in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES the composer seems to take this style of scoring to new levels, slowly building pieces like smouldering embers that gradually are fanned and grow into a ferocious and consuming inferno.
This is displayed perfectly in the cue, DESPAIR, Zimmer ushers in ominous and dark sounding brass that is underpinned with brooding and unsettling electronic support, the horns then become more of a background but remain a force within the composition, the darkness and the swirling synths and strings combine to become a driving and strident sounding piece, in which we hear fragments of a theme raising its head momentarily, and then it subsides until percussive elements take hold and bring both strings, horns and brass underlined by sharp stabs from the percussion alongside choral chanting until he sets a more defined course and brings into play a foreboding and virulent atmosphere, DESPAIR segues into the cue FEAR WILL FIND YOU again Zimmer layering, building and adding textures and predominately dark and sinister sounds. Its, not something that I would listen to on a Sunday afternoon in the garden, but when the images of a Gotham city in turmoil and under attack are combined with Zimmer’s expressive and at the same time atonal shades and colours it is in a word magnificent. FEAR WILL FIND YOU moves into WHY DO WE FALL again forthright, and action led, that mixes into the short but effective DEATH BY EXILE, which is the introduction to IMAGINE THE FIRE, another smouldering and action laced cue that is such an essential piece of the movie, without it the atmosphere and the mood that comes across would not be as taught and edgy. The final cue on the soundtrack release is RISE and it is the music played over what essentially is the end scenes of the film, and it is also an important part of the stories conclusion where everything seems to at last fall into place and we the audience think we know where it is heading, or do we?
This style of scoring has been evident and present in many of Zimmer’s scores, even as far back as 1991 in his epic sounding music for BACKDRAFT, the composer layered musical colours and added textures as he built and formed the themes for the soundtrack. BACKDRAFT I think was the first time I fully took notice of Zimmer, I thought the music worked so well within the film at times taking on the persona of the unpredictable and unforgiving flames, but also adding a more personal and tragic atmosphere to the proceedings. The score however was more of a traditional film score sound in my opinion, it was crammed with themes, and the composer utilised leit-motifs for a number of the characters, there was a kind of family theme and also a waltz inspired piece entitled THE ARSONISTS WALTZ, but the most powerful I would say is the commanding and foreboding composition entitled BURN IT ALL which is a succession of five note sequences performed on strings, that introduce the track, the composer adding percussion, keyboards electronic support and even a sound that mimics the breathing apparatus used by fire fighters, add to this rasping brass, choral effects and other percussive elements and fast paced string stabs with heroic horns and what we have here is a high octane and richly inspiring piece, the use of a lone trumpet depicting sadness and loss is to a masterful touch by Zimmer. With tracks such as SHOW ME YOUR FIRETRUCK this was and I think still maybe one of Zimmer’s best.
From the action and danger of the fighting 17th, we go to a more delicate subject matter, RADIO FLYER was released in 1992, and tells the story of Mike who now in his adult years and a Father remembers his childhood and of a time when he and his Brother moved to a new home with their Mother her new husband and also their family pet a dog called Shane. His younger Brother becomes the object of physical abuse at the hands of the Stepfather, so Mike decides to turn the toy trolley that he and his Brother share into t
It is a score that is not often mentioned, but certainly one that you should check out to hear another side of Zimmer and it is a side that I for one love. Harmonica, boy soprano, piano, brass flourishes, romantic and driving strings they are all here, and are supported by synths sparingly for effect at key points, but overall RADIO FLYER is a surprising and pleasant listen. The music on the soundtrack release is sectioned off into three parts, which are essentially three music suites, plus there is also a song by Shirley Ellis, but it’s the inventive and highly creative score that we are concerned with, Zimmer also enlists the aid of a children’s choir at one point and a beautifully haunting violin solo, that although emotive is at the same time unsettling. The composer was also involved with British TV back in the 1980’s his theme music for the BBC production FIRST BORN (1988) for example is a work that has always stuck with me and showed that even in those early days Zimmer had potential. But it is mainly his music for movies that has grabbed many peoples attention, his work on films such as RAIN MAIN, BROKEN ARROW, GLADIATOR, INTERSTELLAR etc, are all atmospheric and supportive scores that became integral parts of the production adding depth and substance to many of them. And let us not forget BEYOND RANGOON (such an underatted score), POINT OF NO RETURN, THE POWER OF ONE, NINE MONTHS, THE THIN RED LINE, THE LION KING, THE DA VINCI CODE, THE LAST SAMURAI, TRUE ROMANCE, and THELMA AND LOUISE. Zimmer has scored over one hundred and fifty movies and continues his rise to becoming one of the busiest film music composers of all time. Love it or hate it, Zimmer’s music has made its mark, and it is something that is now part of cinema history alongside Williams, Barry, Goldsmith, Morricone etc.
It is a funny thing that with the majority of Zimmer’s scores I am hard pressed to remember them once I am either out of the cinema or I have just finished listening to one, it is more his central or core theme that I recall, which is ironic because I and many others have accused the composer of not writing themes, but here I am thinking of his music and TIME pops into my head form INCEPTION as does THE BATTLE, THE WHEAT or NOW WE ARE FREE from GLADIATOR and anyone of the jaunty and quirky pieces from THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films or even those dancing Marimbas on TRUE ROMANCE so he must be doing something right.
GLADIATOR for many was the score that cemented their awareness in Zimmer, THE BATTLE is a spectacular piece running for nearly twelve minutes and supporting and at times becoming part of the opening battle scene in the movie. There were a few eyebrows raised when collectors first heard this as it did have a striking resemblance to the work of Gustav Holst’s MARS THE BRINGER OF WAR from the PLANETS in places. But I suppose composers are inspired by other pieces of music and was not Mars the Roman God of war after all. I think I am right in saying that the Holst estate or at least lawyers acting on behalf of them and the composer’s music publishers, did lodge a complaint against Zimmer about the copyright infringement. But is it bad for a composer to be influenced by another and in this case a Master such as Holst. Although plagiarism is not really the way to make an original score is it. Its happened before with other scores and other composers, some have thankfully saved face by realising that they have written something that sounds similar to another piece of music, like the time Chris Gunning was having trouble with a score and then suddenly came up with a tune which he thought was brilliant, only to be asked by one of his children are you writing the music for the McDonalds adverts now. My opinion on GLADIATOR is that Zimmer thought of the Roman God of war and decided to write something similar to the Holst composition subconsciously to accompany the Roman legions doing battle with the barbarians, what better way than to utilise a foreboding theme based on such an iconic piece of music, probably should have asked first or at least given credit to Holst. From Romans, Gladiators and Barbarians back to superheroes.
MAN OF STEEL had music by Zimmer, Glennie-Smith, Junkie XL and Atli Orvarrsson, so four composers for the price of one, well maybe. The score for this SUPERMAN adventure was probably not ging to get much praise or positive reaction, not because it is a bad score but we as film music collectors had become conditioned and used to the SUPERMAN theme as penned by John Williams, so I suppose (and yes I was guilty of this) we all were waiting to hear the familiar theme jump out at us as the super hero donned his costume and became the MAN OF STEEL, but nope still waiting. When you think of it would the Williams theme had worked for this incarnation of our beloved Kel-El, probably not, and in all honestly Zimmer and company did a pretty good job to produce a score that worked without that theme. The film itself was darker so a Williams-esque type score would have been somewhat out of place, again it’s a case of the saying horses for courses applying.
This is a foreboding sounding score, and one that works better in the movie than away from it, whereas the Williams scores worked both for the movies and away from them, but that was a different generation and also a film that was a fairly innocent and tongue in cheek adaptation of the SUPERMAN stories. MAN OF STEEL is a tougher and more robust movie, ok maybe not as popular but still a worthy addition to the SUPERMAN series and it has also a inventive and innovative musical score. The track FLIGHT on the soundtrack is filled with hope and also has to it an inspiring sound, but although it is inspiring it is a different sound to what we had become accustomed to, but being different does not mean that it is not good film music.
THE THIN RED LINE is one score that some seem to overlook, the movie was good and Zimmer stepped up with the music, fashioning a soundtrack that is melodic and in places highly emotive, the richness of the compositions are evident as the work progress’s and develops. Zimmer employing a near classical sound at times with strings and subdued woodwind combining on many occasions to create delicate and beautiful tone poems that are affecting, calming and heartrending. Obviously because of the subject matter of the movie, the music does at certain points turn more dramatic, threatening, and darker. But even in the midst of the more action led pieces there are still glimmers of thematic material, the composer scored the movie in the late 1990’s and the style and sound achieved is certainly a more subtle one than we hear in more recent assignments, again the scoring away from the action being a feature that makes this an outstanding work and one that I felt was quite spiritual and haunting. This mood is particularly prevalent within the cues JOURNEY TO THE LINE and LIGHT the latter being a pleasant and affecting composition that seems to wash over the listener and also creates a fragile atmosphere. For a war movie the music is surprisingly calming and has to it a relaxing and graceful air. From the ravages of war and the nightmare that was the battle of Guadalcanal.
I just want to say that I am in no way a fan of Tom Cruise, but I was impressed with his performance in THE LAST SAMURAI as was I with the score that Hans Zimmer penned for the movie. Alongside BACKDRAFT I think it is probably my most returned to score by the composer, maybe it has something to do with the movie rather than the appeal of the actual score, but I have to say that this is an outstanding work again in the context of film and music working together to create special moments on screen. This is Zimmer and his most poignant and also at his most inspiring, the composer fashioning heartrending interludes and alongside these purveying a sense of action and honour via percussion, brass, strings and male chanting. Zimmer’s adagio like composition THE WAY OF THE SWORD and A SMALL MEASURE OF PEACE being highly emotional and wonderfully supportive of the movie.
Hans Florian Zimmer was born in Frankfurt Germany on September 12th 1957, he began his musical career back in the 1970’s playing keyboards and synths for a band called KRAKATOA, and later worked with THE BUGGLES in the UK, where he teamed up with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, if you watch carefully Zimmer can be seen briefly in a video of VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR which was a hit for the band. After working with The Buggles, Zimmer started to work with an Italian band KRISMA which were a new wave band that had originally been formed in 1976 by Maurizio Arcieri. After which he performed in a number of bands during the latter years of the 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s and began to produce records for other bands one of which was a single entitled HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1 for the DAMNED. Whilst he was in London Zimmer began to write jingles for adverts which were commissioned by the AIR EDEL STUDIOS. It was not long after this that he began to work with respected composer Stanley Myers, Zimmer often providing electronic support for Myers symphonic works for film. Films that they collaborated on included MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, MOONLIGHTING and INSIGNIFICANCE. The composers first solo scoring assignment came in 1987, when he wrote the music for Nico Mastorakis’s TERMINAL EXPOSURE a soundtrack he also provided the songs for as well as the actual score. In the same year he produced the score for the movie THE LAST EMPEROR which won an Oscar.
As a young child Zimmer played piano but his lessons for the instrument were short lived as he did not take to the discipline that was required to have formal training. As a teenager he moved to London where he attended HURTWOOD HOUSE school. He has said on many occasions that as a child his interest in film music stemmed from hearing the film scores of Ennio Morricone, and has also said that ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was the score that inspired him to become a film music composer. To discuss all of this composer’s works would be a mammoth task, and what can we say that has not probably already been said, to say that he is an innovator is I suppose the best way to describe him, his music is at times experimental as I he uses instrumentation that a more conventional composer probably would not has now become the inspiration to many young composers. Like it or not, Zimmer is HEAR to stay.