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THE REPLACEMENT COMPOSERS

or, IT CAME FROM SANTA MONICA

By Scott Bettencourt

The replacement of scores and composers on Hollywood films is nothing new -- as long ago as 1948, Bernard Herrmann departed Portrait of Jennie to be replaced by Dimitri Tiomkin, leaving behind one melody, and Alex North's score for the 1951 Western Distant Drums was replaced by a new score by Max Steiner. The speeded-up post-production schedules of contemporary Hollywood are not really a new thing either -- even 1965's epic Doctor Zhivago had to be edited and scored in less than three months, though director David Lean was allowed to recut and rescore the film after its December premiere -- but have been an unfortunate contributor to this trend.

But one factor that has aided filmmakers in finding eager and able replacement composers in recent years is the rise of Hans Zimmer and his Santa Monica-based company Media Ventures, which has been renamed Remote Control Productions, probably due to the legal crossfire between Zimmer and his former partner Jay Rifkin, with whom the composer founded the company in 1989.

Zimmer made a big splash in Hollywood at the end of the 1980s, as he became so far the only composer to score back-to-back Best Picture winners, Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy. At the same time, his score for Ridley Scott's Black Rain, mixing electronics and orchestra, helped to define a predominant new style of action music.

Zimmer had come to prominence in British cinema with the help of his mentor, Stanley Myers, who collaborated with Zimmer on such films as Stephen Frears' Oscar-nominated My Beautiful Laundrette and the arthouse horror film Paperhouse, which was the first project to garner Zimmer major attention. When Zimmer began working regularly in Hollywood, he resolved to help other rising composers the way Myers had helped him (Myers passed on in 1993), and Media Ventures was not only a recording studio but an organization where rising composers were mentored as they helped contribute to Zimmer's scores before getting scoring jobs of their own. This has ultimately led to Zimmer and his collaborators/proteges providing a substantial number of today's replacement scores.

Despite Zimmer's double Best Picture feat, it still took several years for him to attain his current prominence, and early on he was as in danger as any other composer of having his work replaced. He wrote a score to replace Basil Poledouris' work on the Randal Kleiser-directed 1991 version of White Fang, but the studio ended up picking and choosing between the two scores, scene-by-scene, and ultimately keeping the majority of Poledouris' music and giving him the principal credit. For the 1992 film of the mountain climbing play K2, Zimmer wrote and recorded the original score, but for the U.S. prints it was replaced with one by Chaz Jankel, though Varese Sarabande released only Zimmer's work on CD.

Zimmer's first major score replacement was for Mike Nichols' Regarding Henry in 1991, after Georges Delerue's score was thrown out (Zimmer said that he hoped both scores could be released on disc together, but unsurprisingly only Zimmer's was commercially released; Delerue had scored three previous films for Nichols, but the last of the three, Biloxi Blues, ultimately featured little Delerue music). In 1993, Zimmer replaced Gary Chang on Point of No Return, John Badham's Americanized remake of La Femme Nikita; Zimmer had previously worked with Badham on 1990's Bird on a Wire.

In 1994, Mark Mancina became the first Zimmer associate to have a major hit of his own, with his popular score for Speed, and the following year Mancina was hired for rescoring duties on two Joel Silver productions which Silver's usual composer, Michael Kamen, had worked on -- Fair Game and Assassins (Kamen left Fair Game to concentrate on Assassins, but was allegedly dropped from Assassins when star Sylvester Stallone was dissatisfied with the music). Also in 1995, Randy Newman was originally announced for the Julia Roberts vehicle Something to Talk About (previously titled Grace Under Pressure and The Kings of Carolina), but left the Lasse Hallstrom project (many years before Hallstrom would commission replacement scores for Chocolat and An Unfinished Life) to be replaced by Zimmer, who shared the scoring credit with Graham Preskett.

1997 saw the release of John Woo's hit sci-fi action film Face/Off, where originally announced composer Mark Isham was replaced by Media Ventures' John Powell (until then, known to film music fans as "John Who?"), but more importantly that year saw the first films released by DreamWorks SKG, whose first Music Department head was none other than Hans Zimmer. Zimmer scored the first DreamWorks release, The Peacemaker, and MV member Bruce Fowler was signed to score Gore Verbinski's directorial debut, Mouse Hunt, but was ultimately replaced by Alan Silvestri -- a pattern which would soon be reversed for the esteemed Mr. Silvestri.

Though Powell's solo career didn't take off right away, soon he had a specialty in DreamWorks' animated films, collaborating with fellow MV member Harry Gregson-Williams on the Claymation Chicken Run and the CGI Antz and Shrek. (The trend of having two composers collaborate on a score was also a Media Ventures innovation). Meanwhile, Silvestri was announced (on the front page of the trades, no less) to score Disney's animated Tarzan, but when the film was released in 1999 it had a score by Mancina. In 2001, Mancina would fill in when Jerry Goldsmith pulled out of Harold Becker's Domestic Disturbance (Goldsmith had scored Malice and City Hall for Becker), while Trevor Rabin replaced a Marco Beltrami score on the long delayed (but not really that bad) Texas Rangers, and John Powell provided a score to replace Elmer Bernstein's rejected music on Rat Race (which had reunited Bernstein with Airplane! co-director Jerry Zucker, but not for long).

In 2002, John Powell replaced Carter Burwell on the surprise smash The Bourne Identity, and his techno action score helped define the composer's own musical identity in Hollywood, leading to such hits as The Italian Job, The Bourne Supremacy, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The following year, Powell replaced Burwell on the deservedly infamous Gigli, but his score was much less successful than his Bourne work, sounding as if the director desperately needed the music to make everything seem peppy and delightful, but to no avail.

In 2003, Alan Silvestri had two high profile projects with familiar collaborators, and ultimately found himself replaced on both by Zimmer and his collaborators. The blockbuster hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was to be a reteaming of Silvestri and Mouse Hunt director Gore Verbinski (in the interim, Silvestri scored Verbinski's The Mexican, while Zimmer scored the director's The Ring), but producer Jerry Bruckheimer reportedly felt that Silvestri's music lacked the "Jerry Bruckheimer sound," (Zimmer and his associates had scored virtually every Bruckheimer production from Days of Thunder on, including Crimson Tide, Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Remember the Titans and Pearl Harbor, meaning that the Bruckheimer sound was essentially the Media Ventures sound) so Silvestri was replaced by Zimmer protege Klaus Badelt, who provided a score ("over-produced by Hans Zimmer," according to the soundtrack CD) which was largely hated by film music fans (and not just Silvestri devotees) but which England's Classic FM listeners recently voted the18th best film music of all time.

Later that year, Silvestri seemed to be on more secure ground scoring Nancy Myers's less-awful-than-usual romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give; the composer had done four previous projects for Myers, including her other two directorial efforts, The Parent Trap and What Women Want, as well as the Father of the Bride films. Surprisingly, Silvestri left the project at the eleventh hour, to be replaced by Zimmer himself (with additional music by Christopher Young, not a predictable choice for a glossy romantic comedy). That same Christmas season saw the lawsuits between Zimmer and Rifkin, whose resolution (if has been resolved) has not been made public, and ultimately the renaming of Media Ventures.

2004 saw more replacements by Media Ventures/Remote Control composers. Nick Glennie-Smith replaced Shaun Davey at the very last minute on Ella Enchanted(so late that most posters bore Davey's name), while Trevor Rabin scored Exorcist: The Beginning, following the previously announced Michael Kamen and Christopher Young (neither of whom apparently wrote any music for the film). And though Marc Shaiman fans were sorry to see him replaced on Team America: World Police (leaving behind some hysterically funny songs), his replacement by Harry Gregson-Williams (plus collaborators) was an inspired choice, as the film was a hilarious parody of the Bruckheimer oeuvre and the new score (especially for the endless vomiting scene) took the right straight-faced approach, the music sounding indistinguishable from a genuine Bruckheimer effort.

More recently, Klaus Badelt was brought in to rescore parts of Constantine, and most disconcertingly, original composer Brian Tyler reportedly conducted the Badelt cues -- that's what you call a team player. Julian Nott had scored all the Wallace & Gromit shorts, but for last year's feature spin-off, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, he shared credit with several other composers in a score produced by Zimmer himself. Robert Towne's long awaited film of Ask the Dust was originally announced for James Horner to score, then Christopher Young, but ended up with two rising members of Remote Control, Ramin Djawadi (who had replaced Terence Blanchard on Blade: Trinity) and Heitor Pereira. Alan Silvestri, who takes few assignments these days, was announced to score the Adam Sandler vehicle Click, but was ultimately replaced by Rupert (brother of Harry) Gregson-Williams (getting replaced on an Adam Sandler comedy -- that's gotta hurt). Just recently, it was announced that Klaus Badelt would be writing cues for Michael Mann's Miami Vice feature, which previously had John Murphy as its principal composer (Mann is notorious for mixing-and-matching composers' music, even with such A-listers as Elliot Goldenthal and James Newton Howard).

There is nothing inherently wrong with one composer replacing another. Nearly all the top composers of recent decades have written replacement scores, including Barry (The Scarlet Letter), Elfman (Hulk, Nacho Libre), Goldsmith (Air Force One, The River Wild), Williams (Rosewood, Stepmom), and even perennial replacement victim Silvestri (Shattered, The Bodyguard, Practical Magic -- the latter was rescored so late in the game that the first release of the soundtrack CD featured a couple cues by its original composer, Michael Nyman). Occasionally, such a switch leads to a first-rate score (Goldenthal's Interview with the Vampire) or even a classic (Williams' The Reivers, Goldsmith's Chinatown).

The danger is that the more composers become replaceable, the more film music is taken for granted: it's just another element to be wiped clean and replaced, the way a CG artist can replace a sky or a background in a shot. Too often today, film scores consist of more music doing less. Two of the most frustrating scores this year (both, incidentally, by Remote Control associates) were James Dooley's When a Stranger Calls and Klaus Badelt's Poseidon, as in each case the seemingly incessant yet forgettable music made every moment feel the same, preventing their already grievously flawed films from having any dramatic rhythm, diminishing the tension (which in the case of When a Stranger Calls was already nonexistent) and turning the score into little more than noise.

This is not to say that all MV/RC scores necessarily suffer from these flaws. One of my favorite scores so far this year has been John Powell's X-Men: The Last Stand. The score sounds nothing like Hans Zimmer and is even different from Powell's other action oriented films, and though his main theme is forgettable, the melodies for Phoenix and Angel are strong and have the specific impact that first-rate leitmotific scoring can provide. The music has variety -- something you won't find in When a Stranger Calls -- and though the score is substantial it isn't wall to wall, so when the music is heard it actually means something.

Another side effect of the MV/RC approach is that the collaborative nature of many of their scores -- which makes them ideal as last minute replacement composers -- gives the music a much less distinct identity. The credits on several recent Hans Zimmer projects only reinforce the question -- what is a Hans Zimmer score? Is it a Zimmer score when he only writes the themes and two other composers write the score (The Ring Two)? Or when virtually every cue on the CD has additional composers (Tears of the Sun)? Or when there's a co-composer whose credit is relegated to the end title crawl (The Weather Man)?

They used to say that12 pregnant women in a room won't produce a baby a month; however, 12 composers can produce a score in a week. The popularity of replacement scores and collaborative scores are not as troubling as the recent boom in excessive temp track retention (Kingdom of Heaven, Man on Fire, Fun with Dick and Jane, Miss Congeniality 2), but they're all part of the same slippery slope, leading from the ideal situation of one composer having enough time to write one score (and not getting fired) to a more impersonal method of film music production that may please studios but is only likely to decrease the quality of American film music.


22 out of the 311 movies eligible for Oscars in 2005 were partly or completely scored by Media Ventures/Remote Control members, past and present:

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
ASYLUM
BATMAN BEGINS
BE COOL
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE
COACH CARTER
CONSTANTINE
DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST
DOMINO
THE GREAT RAID
HOUSE OF D
THE ISLAND
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
MADAGASCAR
MR. AND MRS. SMITH
THE PROMISE
THE RING TWO
ROBOTS
A SOUND OF THUNDER
STEAMBOY
WALLACE AND GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT
THE WEATHER MAN

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