The year is 1990. This is a random pick from the season’s blockbusters and the film composers who scored them.
GREMLINS 2: sure, Jerry largely regurgitated ideas from the original, but the resulting music sounded distinctly Goldsmithian nonetheless.
DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER: avowedly, the late Michael Kamen added little to the palette of the one that launched the franchise, but at least the score was Kamen all over.
BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY: Oliver Stone’s second Vietnam outing featured unmistakably Williamsesque string writing and a theme that still brings tears to my eyes.
HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER: Basil Poledouris, rest his soul, treated us to a stunning choral prelude and action music that was both intense and majestic, but more than anything else, film music that truly bears his mark.
Flash forward to 2011. We’re halfway into blockbuster season, and this is what we’ve been given so far.
FAST FIVE : Brian Tyler copying Zimmer on request - he’s done it a million times before (and yet THE HUNTED, that obscure little 2003 Varese album, the one that caught Richard Donner’s attention, led to the TIMELINE rescore and deservedly launched Tyler’s career, couldn’t be further removed from Zimmer territory).
THOR – Patrick Doyle reluctantly allowed into blockbuster territory, as long as he didn’t stray far from the comfort zone established by Remote Control’s big honcho.
X-MEN FIRST CLASS : Henry Jackman opening the score album with a string ostinato, a technique beaten to death by, well, three guesses.
PRIEST, Christopher Young composing a great theme, underpinned in the concert-like arrangement opening the album and in the drawn-out majestic end title by a string ostinato of decidedly suspect origin. (Still a great score, by the way!)
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4 : ON STRANGER TIDES – Zimmer himself delivering what can only be described as the worst and laziest score in recent memory and, a decent mermaids sequence notwithstanding, the weakest entry in the PIRATES franchise – hardly a matter of personal opinion, I would think.
Coming up soon: another TRANSFORMERS movie: does anyone expect anything notresembling sub-par Zimmer ?
And why not add James Horner while we’re at it: would I be far off the mark if I said that the opening bars of KARATE KID’s Final Contestcould easily be mistaken for Zimmer material? And am I really the only one who thinks that AVATAR’s Gathering the Na’vi Clanssounds a tad Zimmerish? (These last comments are particularly painful for me to make, since James Horner is my favourite composer. To be fair, the Zimmer influences on his work have been brief so far – by and large, Horner has still been able to stay true to (Horner) form.)
I can hear you thinking: ooookay, here we go again, a grump who was young back in the eighties now trashing Hans Zimmer and everything too contemporary for him to handle.
Well, no, not exactly. Take a look at how Zimmer has progressed since the eighties, from the self-taught musician who created abominable filler music for Basil Poledouris’s WHITE FANG to the creator of brilliant concert arrangements and concert-worthy arrangements like 160 BPM (ANGELS & DEMONS, basically the end title cue), Hoist The Colours (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3: AT WORLD’S END), CheValiers de Sangreal (THE DA VINCI CODE’s finale), Homeland (SPIRIT’s main title) and so on and so on. Here’s a guy who has been generous enough lately to provide directors with suites of themes before he even pens a single score cue, and giving fans of good (film) music great anthology material in the process. Speaking of which, a Zimmer anthology, if it is judiciously compiled from the best material out there, will sound just as impressive as any other composer’s. To say that Hans has not honed his musical skills over the years, is to close one’s eyes to a plain and simple truth.
The truth is that Hans Zimmer is a composer capable of great things. And I mean that, every word of it.
So what am I driving at, you might be wondering.
Well, you see, this article is not about trashing Zimmer, it is about gaining insight into the industry that has enabled him to take over film music land - and lead Film Score Monthly’s annual top ten composer list year after year.
I don’t mind the Hollywood system driving artists nuts every once and a while. I remember Jerry Goldsmith saying: “You know, one day, I looked around and saw that I was the only one left composing end title cues, so I thought, what the heck!” It’s not exactly a big secret that Goldsmith had become something of a cynic toward the end of his career. While he was at work on THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, he dutifully scored every action and menace scene, spoonfeeding even the most simplistic of dramatic nuances to the audience as per the studio’s request. And when director Pil Alden Robinson told him the studio could live without music in a particular action scene, Goldsmith said great!and moved on the next action cue. But you know what? Jerry Goldsmith gave us a decidedly left-wing take on the main title sequence, delivering a knock-out opera cue that will never fade from our collective memories. (Ironically, he himself resisted the opera idea for the longest time.) For all his cynicism, and for all his over-reliance on slurred brass ideas for bad guys late in his career, Goldsmith rarely disappointed.
By the way, and this is a very random comment, Goldsmith was wrong about him being the last one composing elaborate end title cues. John Williams still does them - but even he must be blamed for finishing REVENGE OF THE SITH in the laziest possible way. James Horner still does them – but even after spending yearson AVATAR, the end credits sequence following the obligatory song was a hodgepodge of poorly edited score highlights – frankly, a botch-up job that fell well short of Horner’s usual standards. And sorry, Jerry, but a few other composers still do end credits too.
I’ll say it again : I don’t mind film composers succumbing from time to time to the pressures of and being mentally defeated by the blind cynicism of an industry that, now more than ever, is about one thing and one thing only: money. It’s a miracle we still get as much honest, or richly emotional, or ambitiously composed, or even well-crafted music as we do every year, and we should be thankful for it. As a film music fan who’s been collecting since the mid-eighties, I honestly don’t see that ending anytime soon. Quality will always find a way.
But there’s one thing I do mind. And it has become my pet peeve.
I do mind blockbuster scores, the double whoppers of my film music diet, the ones I look forward to every year, and, let’s face it, the ones composed for the industry’s lifeblood, being handed on a plate to one single composer and his ever-growing ranks of meek protégés and imitators. Especially - and yes, this isa matter of personal opinion – especially since barring those aforementioned concert(-like) arrangements, a Zimmer of Zimmerite score often has alarmingly little else to offer. And while I am willing to live with Zimmer’s penchant for congregation writing, it is certainly no excuse for anything like the second half of the PIRATES 4 album. But forget I even mentioned that.
Back to my main point: I do mind film music being reduced to a pervading impression of sameness. In this day and age, that sameness could be dubbed Hansness. I sincerely hope I will not have to come up with a different -nessin a few decades. I do not think Hollywood will have changed a whole lot by then, but you know what: let’s hope it will still exist at all. If not, good film music, whoever’s, will no longer be around for us to enjoy and collect.
Please resist the temptation to see only cynicism in my comments, and especially, please take these views as my own, as they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the venerable Film Score Monthly staff I am sending them to.
- Kjell Neckebroeck