|The Medallion Calls
|The Black Pearl
|Will and Elizabeth
|Walk the Plank
|Barbosa is Hungry
|To the Pirates' Cave!
|Skull and Crossbones
|One Last Shot
|He's a Pirate
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If the majority of Hans Zimmer/Media Ventures haters weren't already of the belief that Jerry Bruckheimer knew squat about any film music that wasn't a power anthem, his firing of Alan Silvestri off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl firmly cemented that thought. Silvestri's 2001 score to The Mummy Returns was full of heroic brass and classic swashbuckling music in the vein of John Debney's Cutthroat Island and the classic Erich Wolfgang Korngold scores, and he was a natural choice for this brave (considering the disaster that was Cutthroat Island, score aside) new pirate flick. Would have been.
As a fan of both Silvestri and Zimmer, I have no idea whether to groan or cheer at this this most ill-advised decision on Bruckheimer's part. On the one hand, Silvestri's excellent talents were lavished, not on one of the ten highest-grossing and admittedly entertaining franchises of all time, but on the abysmal Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (for which, as usual, he provided a far stronger score than the film deserved). On the other hand, Zimmer's (and Klaus Badelt's, though it is now widely accepted that the only reason Badelt is on the CD cover at all is because of contractual reasons) work on PotC 1 paved the road for his infinitely superior sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and especially Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ).
But, it must be said, this first Pirates score can be quite a nuisance. Admittedly, there was little time for the larger-than-usual committee of ghostwriters to pen it, but if ever there was the cheap epitome of a Media Ventures score, this is it. Its major themes (best heard in summary in "He's a Pirate") are highly derivative of Drop Zone, The Rock and, almost blatantly, Gladiator. That doesn't mean they aren't extremely bombastic and memorable, though - I will admit that one of the first times I really noticed a score in the context of the film was the massively brassy and very obvious theme in "The Medallion Calls", which plays over Jack Sparrow's humorous entry into the harbor of Port Royal.
Hidden very well behind the many power anthems and loud statements of theme, a very minimal attempt was made to insert a bit of swash and buckle into this score. This comes in the form of a 6/8 jig played on Martin Tillman's cello in "Fog Bound", "Walk the Plank" and, most robustly, in "One Last Shot" - which would be fine, except that it's a surprising and somewhat dismaying copy of Edward Shearmur's music for The Count of Monte Cristo.
The rest of the score is mainly action music, and not of the excellent memorable variety that Zimmer inserted with style into The Last Samurai the same year, or King Arthur the next. The brass, strings and especially percussion in this rather uninspired stuff is synthetically aided to such an obvious level that it sounds quite cheap in a movie set in the 17th century. Only some tracks stand out: "Barbossa is Hungry" and "Blood Ritual" (even if the latter isn't strictly action music) are among the handful of decent tracks on the album.
A bit of sombre or romantic music takes over wherever the synthonic (synthetic and symphonic - get it?) action or suspense music cuts out. The former is mainly in the form of adagios performed by a predominantly male choir in, for example, the beginnings of "Blood Ritual" and "Underwater March". The latter is all strings and best heard in "One Last Shot", but it's dreadfully dull stuff when compared to any of Zimmer's other love themes (Pearl Harbor, etc.).
Despite all this bashing, I must admit I do nurse a pronounced soft spot for this score - it's the first film score CD I ever bought, and there's no denying that it makes a rousing and exciting, and VERY listenable album experience. So listenable, indeed, that in terms of popularity it rivals even Titanic and Gladiator, two relative bestsellers in the world of orchestral film scores.
Plus, it set the scene for two vastly superior and immensely enjoyable sequel scores where Zimmer managed to snag himself the main credit on the cover. But still, I have to ask myself: what on earth was Jerry Bruckheimer thinking? Good thing there's a Pirates 4 (as if this franchise hasn't outstayed its welcome already) on the horizon - maybe Alan Silvestri will be given a well-deserved second chance.
I just can't help but to feel a little sorry for Badelt. Here's this, clearly, very talented guy that has managed to stray away from the typical Media Ventures sound. He's hot off a couple of really good scores, The Time Machine, for example. And so he gets to do a pirate flick. "Fun", he must have been thinking. "This is a perfect opportunity for me to write some great, old-fashioned pirate music with a modern twist, kind of what Harry Gregson-Williams did for Sinbad". But instead he and his composer buddies have to do what the Media Ventures composers have been doing for practically every Bruckheimer flick ever produced (A couple of hundreds perhaps. Well... more than two, anyway.). So that's disappointing (it's also disppointing that Silvestri never got to score this film. I was praying for something like "The Mummy Returns - with a Ship and an Eyepatch"), but here comes the strange thing about this score and its effect on me.
To be regarded as a proper and serious reviewer I would probably have to bash this soundtrack. But I won't, because I'm not a proper, serious reviewer. And I happen to like it. I really do. Despite the fact that most of it basically is an overused cliché, a trifle, a "been there done that" score. And even though cues such as "Will and Elizabeth" is so much Media Ventures that it almost gets a little silly. And despite the huge lifts from scores such as The Rock and Gladiator. But yes, I like it. It's somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Pirates of the Caribbean is a darn entertaining score. And fun. So sue me.
The main theme screams MV, serving as your standard powerful march, often performed by a large array of brass instruments with plenty of pounding percussion in the background. Its appearance in "Barbosa is Hungry" is a perfect example. Great cue, that ows a lot to The Rock. The more quiet material is dominated by a nice slow theme, allowed to shine in "Moonlight Serenade", for at least a couple of minutes, before the action music bursts onto the stage again. There's also a little reocurring grovvy fiddle ditty, which also opens the CD in "Fog Bound". But it is the action music that dominates the score. And it's great fun.
It's interesting to note that seven (!) composers, apart from Badelt, wrote additional music for this film. It's not easy to tell which parts that have Badelt as their source, with such a large number of contributors, but I choose to believe that the more original parts are his, at least. Makes sense, after all, that he should focus on the fresher material, while his collaborators take care of parts of the rest. And I don't know if the large number of composers involved is the main reason Pirates of the Caribbean is a hotchpotch of purely orchestral parts, 100% synth cues and something in between. It's not really annoying, but certainly a little strange. Not that Media Ventures and synths is a new combination, but it is rarely this obvious.
Pirates of the Caribbean is perhaps the most unoriginal score of the summer, but it's also one of the most entertaining. It's just not possible to take this score seriously. And why should we? We always have a tendency to be so frickin serious about the music we listen to. It's just music, after all. Right, laddy? Haaaaar!
Yo, ho, holy crap... it's The Rock as pirate music. I could probably stop there as that one sentence sums my entire feelings and contains an adequate description of Klaus Badelt's score. However, that would be a touch unprofessional, not that I get paid to type this drivel. It's only fair to open by saying that I was one of the many who was thoroughly disappointed that Alan Silvestri's participation on this project fell through. After his terrific effort for The Mummy Returns, he seemed a great choice to tackle another attempt to revive the once popular swashbuckler, this time based on a theme park ride; Hollywood, desperate? Surely not. However, as a Jerry Bruckheimer film, the music moved in a Media Ventures direction and one of the new rising stars, Klaus Badelt. He seems more capable than many of his MV colleagues to pen halfway decent music, but Pirates of the Caribbean is a blaring and soulless creation that doesn't sparkle, it just shouts, constantly.
The press release that I received with the album states that Badelt was invited to Hollywood by Hans Zimmer after scoring many films in Germany. It seems likely that he had his own style before arriving in America, but despite having started promisingly, Pirates of the Caribbean leaves the distinct impression of a temp track botch job. This perhaps isn't surprising, since the moniker of 'Music by Klaus Badelt' largely ignores the list of additional music credits: Ramin Djawadi, James Dooley, Nick Glennie-Smith, Steve Jablonsky, Blake Neely, James McKee Smith, and Geoff Zanelli. Many of those also contributed to 'Hans Zimmer's' Tears of the Sun and there the results were often extremely good, particularly those by Steve Jablonsky. However, here each track seems to just thunder and grind its way through the usual mix of pounding synth percussion, blaring brass (possibly synthetic, it's hard to tell these days) and often topped out with a chorus. Only the opening track and its jaunty jig tune offers any feeling for the genre or period. A couple of other tracks reprise the material, but aside from a few fleeting quiet cues, or part cues (usually a subdued final 30 seconds or less), offer any respite from the onslaught.
If Erich Wolfgang Korngold were alive, he'd be rolling in his grave and frankly I wouldn't blame him. As Media Ventures scores go, this is at the distinctly obnoxious end of the spectrum and aside from the jig, you'd be hard pressed to tell it's from a pirate movie. I was pretty scathing about Harry Gregson-Williams' score to the animated Sinbad released around the same time, but in comparison, it's a beacon of subtlety and imagination. At first I was disappointed that the Pirates of the Caribbean album is relatively brief, but by about halfway through I'd already had more than enough. There's no let up, almost no change in tempo, volume or drama. I suppose you could argue that there are no dull moments and the jig tune is rather nice, but otherwise, there's not much in the way of redeeming features. It is possible to produce a pirate movie with the Hans Zimmer/Media Ventures sound and as such, I recommend Muppet Treasure Island instead. Plus it has a frog duetting with a pig. What more could you want?
Thinking logically, this is a poor score. It's bloated, loud, and brutish. Do I care? No. This is some of the most purely entertaining music ever written for the screen. Go in with your brain turned off, and you'll have a damn good time.