Zimmer: A Chorus of Disapproving Voices
by Jason Comerford
I love a good debate as much as anyone, which is why the ongoing feud
regarding the music of Hans Zimmer has both frustrated and delighted me.
It frustrates me that I can't seem to ever fully explain myself, and delights
me at the same time because that's the fun of film music criticism. Taking
punishment and, hopefully, doling it right back out.
Jeff Bond has pointed out to me that there will be few other topics
between film music enthusiasts that will prove to be as polarizing as the
music of Zimmer. This sort-of covers me, but not really. There were numerous
holes in my original article, "Has
Film Music Innovation Died?" that numerous people have pointed
out to me, most particularly Andrew Carr, in his article "What
Is Film Music Innovation" from November 20. The definition of
innovation that I subscribe to would have to be the one quoted from the
I suppose I asked for it when I stated that Hans Zimmer is ruining film
music. However I don't deny that his style (not his music, mind you) is
unoriginal. Zimmer does indeed have my respect, for bringing a style to
contemporary film music that is indelible. But my argument doesn't have
anything to do with Zimmer's toyings with the latest and greatest synthesizer
instruments. My argument is that Zimmer innovates musically. He does not
innovate dramatically. Yes, Broken Arrow has interesting ideas.
But they go nowhere. When listening to a score, I could care less whether
or not he uses techno beats and "weird noises." I would only
care if the music works for the film. Or if it doesn't.
I suppose my primary argument is that a composer's music doesn't need
to be clever to the extent of obscurity. If the usage of a trombone in
a particular passage in a particular rhythm is some kind of reference to
a ploy that Beethoven used in one of his symphonies, then that's all well
and good that the composer knows how to nod to his teachers. But 99% of
film music followers will likely not pick up on it. It is my idea that
the usage of orchestrations and themes are far more interesting, because
they work for the dynamic of the film for which they are composed. I seriously
doubt that your average filmgoer will be watching this film, suddenly hear
that clever trombone trick, and think the film's composer is the greatest
jokester in the planet because he made a nod to Beethoven.
My contention is that Zimmer plays too much with his toys and forgets
about the task at hand. If the ethnicity of the African percussion for
Power of One is accurate, that's fine, but does it work for the
film? I haven't heard the score or seen the film, so I can't comment on
this one, but I think my point is clear. Yeah, Zimmer may be innovative
with playing with his synths, but if they don't work within the framework
of the film they mean nothing to me.
It's not that I hate Hans Zimmer unconditionally. I heard Radio Flyer
for the first time the other day, and I thought it was absolutely delightful.
In this score, Zimmer uses his synths sparingly, but effectively. The music
doesn't build to a crescendo every few minutes as Broken Arrow and
The Rock seem to do. It's low key, and far more dramatically coherent
than anything in The Peacemaker. It's definitely his distinctive
style, yes, but it's applied with more care and thought than usual.
It's not like I want all film scores to sound alike. If all film music
sounded alike then what would we get out of it? There's so much to discover
in a film score. And it certainly has nothing to do with rock and roll
elements being incorporated into a film score. Sure, it's one thing if
it sounds cool, as Zimmer's stuff often does, but it has nothing to do
with the film. Nothing at all. Other than a gambit to accessorize the film
and make it playable for a mass of rock-crazed teenagers, it doesn't do
anything for the film. What did that banjo effect in parts of Broken
Arrow have to do with the matters at hand? Nothing. This is my point.
Zimmer is wrapped up in trying to be self-congratulating and referential
that he doesn't care about the film. (Just read between the lines of the
recent FSM interview and you can practically taste his poisonous cynicism.)
But the battle lines have always been drawn fairly clearly. Keep in
mind that Zimmer comes from a European background and training. We Western
audiences tend to stick with a classic orchestral setup as far as a film
score. But if Zimmer is considered "innovative" here Stateside,
I wonder if his contemporaries in Europe are of a similar mindset? Granted,
we Americans tend to sniff down our noses when a synth beat starts pounding
away. But that is us. But I think there is a point where we start accepting
it, as an increasingly integral part of the process.
comments from November 11, with regards to the durability of Zimmer's
approach, got me to thinking. What, indeed, will we think about Zimmer's
music in ten years? Will we get gooey with nostalgia, and say, "Yeah,
those were the days?" I have rather fond memories of music from the
eighties. Every time I see something like The Karate Kid or One
Crazy Summer or Ghostbusters, my favorite films from my childhood,
I am absolutely delighted with the music. But I distinctly remember hating
it at the time! That's the kicker. Perhaps our views will change. I heard
an '80s compilation CD that one of my friends had, and I sat through the
whole thing. I loved it. My point here is that views do change. I have
always been an advocate of the traditional orchestral approach to a film
score. Things like Star Wars and Batman and Poltergeist
were the scores that I listened to that got me into film music. And
they still remain my favorite scores. But in the past years, I've discovered
that there is so much else out there. My recent series of articles discussing
lesser-known composers is something that has been ongoing with me. Of late,
I've been getting into Miklos Rozsa, Hugo Friedhofer, and Lalo Schifrin
(yes, I like his funk stuff).
Who knows. Maybe I'll listen to Broken Arrow one day years into
the future again and it will dawn on me that I love it. But not today.
Jason Comerford can be reached at email@example.com.
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