According to Film Score Monthly's annual review of who's hot and who's tepid in the world of film scoring, they concluded that for 2007, Hans Zimmer is the hottest composer in Tinseltown (or Chintzville as I like to call it). I suspect for a lot of readers, that is just about the most depressing news in the history of the world and I can't say I'm thrilled or surprised. It's not even that John Williams should necessarily be top by default (after a spectacular 2005, he's be very quiet the past couple of years) but that as Zimmer gets progressively less inspiring as a composer, his profile becomes ever greater. There was a time when the patented Zimmer/Media Ventures sound was fairly fresh and a muscular way to score action films. Now it's everywhere and Zimmer's own scores barely feature any music by Zimmer, invariably featuring numerous additional music credits. Of course, when music is written and sold as a commodity, I guess it's easier for studios, producers and directors at the dimmer end of the spectrum to know what they're getting. None of this invention malarkey.
For all his recent slackness, Zimmer has, admittedly, composed some pretty good scores and Gladiator has had more impact than most. Indeed, most historical epic scores these days owe something to it, but rarely have its variety and good tunes (save for the blatant Holst lifts in the action music). Also, the collaborations work in the music's favour and aren't just a crutch; Lisa Gerrard actually makes a valuable contribution. Some may argue that her world music finale, Now We Are Free, isn't appropriate, but I must admit to the great heresy that it probably has more emotional connection than a good number of the historical epic scores of the past despite their musical superiority. Sorry Miklos. Unfortunately, dragging Gladiator into every new score has been a Zimmer passtime of late and so The Last Samurai sounds very similar, although the Horner-ish ethnic flutes work quite well. Then again, the simple and tedious score for Pearl Harbour is represented by the blandly noble Heart of the Volunteer.
As noted, Zimmer's earlier scores are generally more interesting and, even if they don't appeal to those who like his synth and orchestra approach. Then again, were someone to play the theme from Rain Man to me, I doubt I'd have any idea it was from said film; in fact, it's surprisingly inappropriate, one doesn't sense Zimmer has any feel for the characters at all. Where's Thomas Newman when you need him? Another effort for Ridley Scott, Thelma & Louise is far more evocative, with its twanging guitars and slightly tragic strings. The curious marimba melody of True Romance is another esoteric choice. It may not immediately evoke the tone of the film out of its frame of reference, but the slightly African rhythm does reflect Zimmer's affinity with African music.
There are surprisingly few outright action entries, but Crimson Tide is undoubtedly one of his most popular; with its stonking main theme and brilliant mix of synths, percussion, orchestra and chorus, is terrific. If the pure orchestral version here doesn't work so well, then it's a small testament to Zimmer's production skills. The same goes for The Rock, although again it comes across as a pale copy of its predecessor; the story of Zimmer's scoring life. Ironically, the recent entries on display generally highlight other composers; Patrick Cassidy's Vide Cor Meum is infinitely more interesting than Zimmer's own dreary music for Hannibal and Richard Harvey's Kyrie for the Magdalene is the best track of The Da Vinci Code album, even if it one of Zimmer's best recent efforts. Something which can't be said of Batman Begins which takes tuneless, ambient scoring to its extreme with one of the most dire comic book scores ever, which even James Newton Howard couldn't save in collaboration.
Zimmer's lighter side is often his best and most overlooked, notably here while Driving Miss Daisy. It's just a shame that neither As Good as it Gets nor Spanglish are included as both show a surprisingly light touch and that he has some compositional range. Another curious omission is the Oscar winning (as if that means anything, I'm talking about you Gustavo Santaolalla) The Lion King which is a pretty good score, as is The Power of One. The aforementioned African connection is disappointingly absent. The album rounds out with the first two Pirates of the Wherever It Is, including a suite from Klaus Badelt's score to the first film and from Zimmer's sequel score which, curiously doesn't credit Badelt's original themes. So who did write them? Hans? Klaus? Anybody else with a silly German name? No? Well, we'll all just sit here and guess then. It's arguable that this is an especially essential Zimmer collection as it doesn't quite represent his best work, not helped that half of the best tracks are by someone else, and the omissions are actually quite critical to highlighting his strongest scores. Performances are generally fine, even if the slick production Zimmer's scores always receive isn't always as evident here.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad