1. Progeny (2:13)
2. The Wheat (1:03)
3. The Battle (10:02)
4. Earth (3:01)
5. Sorrow (1:26)
6. To Zucchabar (3:16)
7. Patricide (4:08)
8. The Emporer is Dead (1:21)
9. The Might of Rome (5:18)
10. Strength and Honor (2:09)
11. Reunion (1:14)
12. Slaves to Rome (1:00)
13. Barbarian Horde (10:33)
14. Am I Not Merciful? (6:33)
15. Elysium (2:41)
16. Honor Him (1:19)
17. Now We Are Free (4:14)
In my review for Hans Zimmer's King Arthur, I mentioned the fact that I prefer Hans Zimmer's scores to large-scale epics to those for straight action films. Gladiator is the first of those epics, and though many say it is simultaneously the best, I disagree. As a listening experience, both The Last Samurai and King Arthur are more satisfying. That's not to say that Gladiator isn't a great album, though, and the sheer number of later scores that have lifted style from it is amazing.
Gladiator's first two tracks open with two of the trademarks that have become so thoroughly overused in later "epic" scores, some may find it annoying here - the use of the duduk, and Lisa Gerrard's "wailing woman" vocals. However, this is where all those derivative epics got their inspiration - back in 2001, this was a novel concept and there's no denying it works very well in the film over those waving wheat fields that, yes, have since been overused (most blatantly by 300, whose controversial score by Tyler Bates also borrows somewhat from Gladiator).
"The Battle" is one of Gladiator's longest and strongest tracks, though it got Hans Zimmer in a peck of trouble when the Gustav Holst foundation decided it sounded too much like "Mars, Bringer of War" for their tastes. The influences are certainly there, but they are no more blatant than they were in Star Wars. It's a great action piece that never lets you go, and represents a big shift from the chaotic action of Zimmer's 90s scores towards the more harmonious, easy-to-follow action in Zimmer's 2000s scores (especially Pirates of the Caribbean, which took more than a bit of inspiration from Gladiator). It's a shift that I am immensely grateful for.
Gladiator's middle section lacks cohesion sometimes. The stronger tracks, like "Earth" and "To Zucchabar", are more ethnically oriented - the former introduces a nice but somewhat underachieving, lilting main theme, while the latter offers some beautiful duduk work by Armenian artist Djivan Gasparyan. These are offset by more dull tracks such as "Patricide", which takes inspiration from The Thin Red Line in its dramatic shifting strings.
"The Might of Rome", though, sets the score firmly back on the epic track, shifting from an epic crescendo with some ethnic percussion into music that can very well be described as Wagnerian (indeed, it lifts quite obviously from Siegried's Funeral March). "Strength and Honor", too, has certain elements of Wagner in its slow, melodramatic progressions.
"Slaves to Rome", a short, monumental and surprisingly bolero-like piece, segues directly into the second of Gladiator's two ten-minute action tracks, "Barbarian Horde". It's just as strong as "The Battle", and reprises several themes, including the main theme from "Earth", presented in a far more monumental way here than in that earlier track. The end offers a massive statement of Maximus' theme (which was heard on horn at the beginning of "The Battle"), aided by a chorus and some absolutely massive orchestrations. This is the only moment where Gladiator truly transcends Zimmer's later epics. It's just a shame that, while King Arthur managed to keep this level of melodrama running for minutes on end, these moments are fewer and farther between in Gladiator.
Lisa Gerrard's New Age sensibilities show in "Elysium," which she composed with help from Klaus Badelt. Hans Zimmer offers a short statement of the Earth theme in "Honor Him". Then, at the end of the album, the two themes are combined in Gladiator's most famous piece, "Now We Are Free". I'm not usually a fan of the sickly-sweet, barbershop mentality of New Age music, but Zimmer's Earth theme especially lends itself well to Gerrard's voice in this piece, and it's a fitting end to Gladiator.
My biggest bone with this score is that it somewhat lacks a coherent personality, a problem neither King Arthur nor The Last Samurai encounter. Gladiator switches between ethnic orchestration, brassy Holst-esque action and New Age vocals too often to make it a coherent listening experience. All three of these styles are handled excellently by Zimmer and Gerrard, but they do rub against each other somewhat on album.
Despite all this, Gladiator is a monumental effort and a truly defining score in Zimmer's career. I am grateful to Gladiator because it moved Zimmer away from his punchy, frenetic 90s action scores and towards the superior, large-scale epics he has been regularly composing in the 3rd millenium.
While some people complain bitterly about the lack of innovation in contemporary film scores, it seems that anything straying too far from what is expected is greeted with even more trepidation and complaint than something somewhat predictable. I admit that innovation is more likely to mean innovation musically; a score that doesn't sound a bit like its temp track these days is a rarity. However, after last year's Thomas Crown Affair and Bill Conti's strange flamenco, hand clapping thing, we have Hans Zimmer's Gladiator. Probably the first historical epic for about 30 years; the way it was made was going to be a point of contention and this extends to the music as well. As I've stated enough times, Hans Zimmer is a fine composer whose ability to sound nothing like what we expect him to sound like is actually quite impressive. I would wager anything that, on a blind test, almost nobody would name Zimmer as the composer of As Good as it Gets - it just sounds unlike nothing he's written that I've heard. However, the accusations against Zimmer are usually as a result of his action scores and an historical epic is going to have lots of action, although Gladiator still as a large number of more lyrical moments. Yes Gladiator does sound like what might be deemed 'typical' Hans Zimmer, but because it doesn't sound like Miklos Rozsa or Alex North doesn't particularly mean it's any less valid and in the context of the film, found that it worked well against all expectations.
Firstly, it is not unresaonable to suggest that Gladiator is possibly one of the most unoriginal Zimmer scores, but all the disperate elements are mixed together effectively and that makes it one of those scores that is hard to rate fairly. The two lengthy action cues could easily be from The Rock, along with the a harmonic progression from the over plagurised Mars from Holst's Planet Suite. Mars was the Roman God of War, so the use is not totally unreasonable, works in context, but I would have been more impressed if Zimmer had perhaps credited it as such, but I suppose that would lead to legal complications. The quieter moments veer somewhere between the more sombre moments of both The Thin Red Line and The Prince of Egypt, while those co-written by Lisa Gerrard (who wrote the score to another Crowe film, The Insider) are very new-agey, somewhere between Enya and the Ofra Haza portions of Prince of Egypt. The final two cues are particularly new-agey and lend the film a weirdly spiritual finale that was often a point of contention amongst those watching the film.
Gladiator is derivative, but diverse - elements of this and that run into each other like some rambling synth symphony, conjuring up moments of great drama, a few lighter moments, but also a few somewhat simplistic, but engaging battles. One thing that struck me about Gladiator more than any other Zimmer score was how much the music sounded like it was just being played and made up as he went along, most notably in the action pieces. It's a difficult reaction to articulate, but one that I had none the less. The music doesn't jump in style from one cue to the other and actually build quite effectively, perhaps it's the synth orchestra that makes it sound incomplete.
As usual, I can't tell where the real instruments (apart from the Gerrard vocals) end and the synths begin, but I'd suggest that a majority is performed on synths, which doesn't sound bad at all, but maybe a proper orchestra would have given it a more credible performance and made it sound less like The Rock or whatever. It is perhaps this fact that makes Zimmer action scores all sound the same, the equipment they are rendered on always has a very metallic twang which means that even if the music is different, the 'instruments' sound the same - the nuance in performance offered by a conventional orchestra isn't there. Anyway, I doubt Zimmer is going to change the way he writes scores for me or anyone else, especially when he's been so hugely successful and Gladiator will undoubtedly win him quite a few new fans, but those opposed to the whole Media Ventures sound will perhaps still remain unimpressed.
The Roman empire. Statues and buildings in marble, togas, amphi theatres and war are probably some of the things people associate with the Romans. And heroic trumpet calls and big booming drums when it comes to Roman music - which may not have sounded like that at all, but the majority of us think it did. But not Hans Zimmer, if we are to judge by his music for Ridley Scott's Gladiator, starring Russel Crowe in the leading role.
Sure, the brass and the drums are all there, but one cannot say it sounds very Roman. In fact, it sounds like a typical action score by Hans Zimmer - the kind of scoring we have heard in the composers' scores for The Rock, Backdraft, Crimson Tide and Peacemaker, albeit much darker. Wether it suits a film about Roman gladiators can be discussed, of course, but I find it hard to really dislike it. There has to be a reason the scores mentioned above are some of my favorites. But yes, we have heard it before and it is starting to get a little repetetive by now. And the lifts from "Mars, the Bringer of War" from Holst's The Planets (very easy to spot in the scores' big action piece "The Battle", don't help either, even if I can understand why Zimmer chose to get "inspired" by that piece - after all Mars is the Roman God of War.
But what makes this score interesting is not the music by our German friend, but rather the cues written by Lisa Gerrard. Many would probably call them "New Age crap". I would simply describe them as beautiful. With soft strings and wordless female voice, Gerrard creates music that serves as an excellent contrast to Zimmer's synths and orchestra.
But even Zimmer has his moments of orchestral beauty in this score - we know he is capable of writing excellent, strong, thematic music without synths, with The Thin Red Line being one of his very best. In Gladiator we get this kind of scoring in a couple of cues. Most notably in "Patricide" and "The Might of Rome", which both features some stunning writing for strings, joined by dramatic choir, brass and woodwinds in the latter track. Absolutely gorgeous and one of the best pieces on the album.
As is the four last cues, "Am I Not Merciful?". "Elysium", "Honor Him" and "Now We are Free", with both the wordless vocals by Gerrard and Zimmer's lyrical and memorable themes these cues serve as a great ending to a score that unfortunately wasn't what I expected it to be, both when it comes to quality and style.