1. The Coral Atoll (8:00)
2. The Lagoon (8:36)
3. Journey to the Line (9:21)
4. Light (7:19)
5. Beam (3:44)
6. Air (2:21)
7. Stone in my Heart (4:28)
8. The Village (5:52)
9. Silence (5:06)
10. God U Tekem Laef Blong Mi (1:58)
11. Sit Back and Relax (2:06)
The Thin Red Line is a score I have been looking forward to ever since I heard that Zimmer was on the film and that the film bared favourable comparison with Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan in being a gripping account of warfare. Perhaps the biggest difference being that Thin Red Line deals with the wars that men fight in their own mind rather than the simple act of survival that Spielberg made seem so impossible from the infantryman's point of view. Like Spielberg, director Malick chose not to score the action sequences, but let the sound of the battle carry the visuals. Apparently Hans Zimmer ended up writing hours of music for the film and many different themes that were then whittled down and fitted to the on screen ebb and flow. The score has been highly praised by movie critics, which I can well understand since it provides a great deal of atmosphere. However, as a pure audio experience, it just doesn't hold up nearly as well. I can't help thinking that perhaps this score would have actually been more appropriate than Williams' score. That sounds like an insane thing to say, but (to me at least) quite rational. Williams tried to give the characters in Saving Private Ryan a heart and remind us that they are real people caught up in a heartless war. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't properly reflect the mood of the film, rather it tries to give the film a mood that perhaps it shouldn't have. Zimmer's music conjures up despair and fear as well and occasionally beauty. Williams pretty much stuck to his more heartfelt (but not sentimental) approach, but Zimmer's music is basically an hour long string elegy that tells of bleakness and despair, but not Copland-esque humanity.
There is an excellent half hour or perhaps three quarter hour score in Thin Red Line, but much of the rest seems to just meander a little too much. The opening two cues could perhaps have been cropped somewhat since it is only in track three when the music starts to perk up somewhat and seem like it has a point. Journey to the Line starts with a clicking noise that I considered a scratch on the CD until I realised it coincided with the violins that then come in. This is almost a Hans Zimmer meets Philip Glass with a repeating figure that builds up until the brass join in to provide an excellent almost self-contained 6 or 7 minutes of music. There is a short coda of slightly aimless violin music that could have been trimmed, however, the potential of the score certainly becomes very apparent with that track. Beam, which was composed by John Powell (for some unknown reason) isn't really very interesting and follows the pattern of aimless string writing without adding anything striking to the texture of the score. Stone in My Heart re-introduces the repeating patterns but counters it with a high end violin solo that is exceptionally beautiful. Village is also very emotive and sensitive and has a decent structure to it so doesn't appear pointless. The main theme (if you can call it that) is a very long line series of string textures that appears most prominently in the opening of Silence. It appears as a motif that can be heard several times and at least provides a grounding for some of the slower parts.
I read (and I can't remember who to thank for this) but Thin Red Line does work much better as an overall score. If you can get into it and listen to the entire thing several times over then it does become a lot more rewarding. Saving Private Ryan deserved the same treatment since it was easier to grasp the structure of the tracks after a few listens and Thin Red Line works similarly. Even if there doesn't seem to be an end point it is going for, much of the time, it does provide an atmosphere like no other Zimmer score and like no other war movie score that I've heard. I am going to award Thin Red Line four, rather than three which I had originally considered before repeated hearings. Like the film, Thin Red Line is a flawed masterpiece of a score. There are many poignant and powerful moments that really work well, but there are also several genuinely uninteresting sections. The last two tracks, the first of which is a short choral piece that sounds extremely ethnic and completely ruins the mood for me (despite being often enquired about). The singing is harsh and amateurish, which brings the correct flavour for the song, but doesn't work in the context of the score. The final cue is a horrible whining electric guitar (or similar) cue that could have been dropped. A CD that is definitely worth picking up for tracks 3 to 9 if nothing else and demonstrating Zimmer's talents as never before.
Hans Zimmer's score for Malick's come back film The Thin Red Line couldn't be more different than his recent, huge score, with bold brass and choir, for The Prince of Egypt. Like John Williams' score for Saving Private Ryan this is music without brass fanfares and war drums. The Thin Red Line is not a score that tries to glorify the horrors of war, and make it exciting - and neither is the film the music is written for. There is not one single cue with traditional Zimmer action music on the soundtrack album. Actually the majority of the music is slow. Very slow. At first this made me a little disappointed, as I found it to be difficult to get into the music, and appreciate it. But after a couple of listenings the music started to come to life - to get a voice and a soul. And when I saw the film, and heard Zimmer's music in its intended element, I realized that this is perhaps one of the best score ever written for a war film.
While Saving Private Ryan was filled with solemn brass elegies, The Thin Red Line is very heavy on strings. Not big and sweeping, but more powerful, sad and dark, which gives the score a very beautiful, but perhaps a little depressing, sound. There are in fact many parts of this score that will make you remember and think of all the people killed in all the horrible wars in our, and bygone, time, and it's hard not getting the least depressed and moved under those circumstances. I wouldn't say that the music is especially thematic - often it is just a "wall of sounds" - but there are two themes that I can promise will make a long lasting impression on you. They're given their best renditions in the second ("The Lagoon") and third track ("Journey to the Line"). They are very long and beautiful, with melodies carried by the strings ("The Lagoon") and horns ("Journey to the Line"). While the first theme is sad and mourning the second theme will hit you in the stomach with it's desolate sound. This music was used when the American soldiers attack the Japanese camp, and that scene was infact the only time the movie really grabbed me, and all thanks to the music.
Zimmer makes use of asian instruments, like the Shakuhachi and the Koto, as well as vocal chants (not used in the film though) and ethnic choir music, performed in the film by the natives, to make some parts of the music somewhat related to the part of the world where the film takes place. "God U Tekem Laef Blong", for instance, is an exotic sounding choral piece, used in the film during the end credits. It's rather enjoyable, but at the same time it interrupts the flow of the more "seriuos" music, on the album.
Zimmer wrote several hours of music, and an abundance of different themes, even before Malick started to shoot the film. The director then played the music on the set, while filming, to get himself, and the rest of the crew and actors in the right frame of mind. This means of course that a lot of the music Zimmer wrote never was used in the film. And for some reason much of the music on the CD is never heard in the film, and vice versa. There are a couple of gorgeous themes, and choral pieces, heard in the film that are missing from the soundtrack album. I think that RCA could have handled this release a little better. The Thin Red Line is one of those score that needs to be experienced in the film to get really appreciated. Let's take Saving Private Ryan as an example again. I never really understood how brilliant that score was, until I saw the film, and heard the music along with the pictures it was written for. The same goes with The Thin Red Line.
Now, before the Hans Zimmer fans begin to shout at me for that rating, let me assure you that I have been a Hans Zimmer enthusiast ever since I started collecting film music. However, my reviews ALWAYS concentrate on the entertainment value of a particular score. I listen to film music out of its natural context, the film. This has its problems, such as a piece stopping just when it really gets into a good rhythm, or the annoying "Mickey-mousing" that plagues otherwise excellent scores such as James Newton Howard's three Disney scores (Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet . The Thin Red Line is an admirable effort because of just how much effort Hans Zimmer actually put into writing it. It's a well-known fact that the German composer created several hours of music for Terence Malick's film. Even back then, in 1998-1999, Zimmer was striving to escape the Media Ventures box he had built himself with Backdraft, Crimson Tide and The Rock, because even though The Thin Red Line is a war film, it couldn't be further removed from those racy action scores. The Thin Red Line is all string adagios, fluttery woodwinds, inaudibly deep drums and haunting vocals - but, except for one great exception (more on that later) has no themes to speak of. The endlessly shifting layers of harmony are beautiful in their own way, but they never really go anywhere, and make for a rather frustrating album experience, especially when bundled in eight-minute-plus suites such as "The Coral Atoll" and "The Lagoon" that drag on and on.
Two songs provide welcome relief to this brooding, moody atmosphere: "Stone in My Heart" is more upbeat, based on a string ostinato similar to those used more recently in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and is therefore more listenable. The second exception, "Journey to the Line", is far and away the album's highlight. It's the only piece on the album where Zimmer's typical French horns are allowed to explode into a singular burst of grand, neo-classical majesty, but when they do, it's almost worth the long wait, and it alone persuaded me to add an extra point. Even when compared to other Zimmer power anthems, this theme has an enormous amount of gravity that has rarely been heard before or after in film music.
All in all, I feel that Zimmer wholeheartedly deserved his Oscar nomination for this effort. As film music, The Thin Red Line is excellent. As an album, it has about eight to ten strong minutes amid fifty others of mood music that works in the background, but not in the fore. Those eight to ten minutes, though, are not to be missed.