Films about mountain climbing seem like an ideal opportunity for a composer to score; stunning scenery to inspire and of course, a good deal of tension, excitement and drama as the beauty revels its terrors. One only need think of Williams' gorgeous Seven Years in Tibet for the former and, erm, Howard's Vertical Limit for the latter. The stories surrounding the score to K2 seem slightly conflicting, some suggesting Zimmer's score was rejected and others that he replaced an original score by Chaz Jankel. Either way, what is clear is that, in true Legend style, Zimmer's score was used for the European (British) print and Jankel's for the US version. However, since Zimmer is likely to sell more records than Jankel, it is his music that receives a release, under the banner of 'inspired by,' even though it was actually used as the score in some parts of the world.
The assembling of Zimmer's music into two long suites is credited to producer Robert Townson, although this approach isn't greatly different from Zimmer's own habit of sequencing long cues for album release. The split is a touch uneven, The Ascent almost twice as long as The Descent, but this makes little real difference to the music's flow. Naturally enough, the score is a mixture of synths and orchestra, opening with a fairly dissonant and crushing chord, a brief, but striking piece of doom right at the outset. Unfortunately, the quality of the synthetic ingredients is less successful than in Zimmer's subsequent scores. There are more sounds that are obviously not real and it lends the endeavor a rather dated feel. This is not to say that the score is ruined, far from it, and there are plenty of very striking moments from the expected exciting action to the more expansive music for the mountain itself. The latter is less successful, mainly due to Zimmer's pop sensibility creeping in rather too often, rendering what ought to be noble and spectacular a little too rock anthem and shallow. The Eric Clapton style electric guitar doesn't help, lending it a whiff of Michael Kamen's Lethal Weapon scores (not to mention is guitar concerto) from time to time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best portions are the acoustic led passages, notably in the final minutes of The Ascent and toward the end of The Descent, where the composer pulls out all the stops in true a Barber Adagio style, even if he seems to be working just that bit too hard to tug at the heart strings. In the years since, Zimmer has tempered his pop side and given his music a more convincing veneer of classicism, although many remain unconvinced of his talents. However, I still firmly believe he can, when pushed, do some excellent work. K2 doesn't quite match expectations, if only because the nature of the film ought to result in something truly astounding - even the album's gorgeous artwork of the peak itself, by the wonderful Matthew Peak (ho ho) is inspiring - and Zimmer simply doesn't quite reach that level. However, the generally solid dramatic moments make up for the less convincing grandeur and the now hard to find album is well worth checking out.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad