The Good, the Bad and the Badass: Hans Zimmer
Last week, we took a look at the career of a truly badass helmer, Kathryn Bigelow. However, while people are quick to praise directors, actors and writers when a movie goes over well, often a crucial component, that of the film score, is overlooked. The following badass is without a doubt, the go-to guy for pretty much every genre of film score out there, and a guy we all know and love.
I've often found that today's musical scores are lacking. Too often, they're just sonic wallpaper, with absolutely no life of their own outside the films they appear in. Back in the seventies and eighties, there were plenty of composers doing amazing work, like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams in his prime. Today's go-to-guys, meh. If you think of the great scores of the last few years, chances are they were done by an off-kilter choice (like The Chemical Bros. doing HANNA) or, the subject of this column, Hans Zimmer.
Any way you slice it, Hans Zimmer is the man. Not only is he extremely prolific, but often, the scores he doesn't do, he produces through his company Remote Control Productions. Composers like Ramin Djawadi (GAME OF THRONES), Harry Gregson-Williams (MAN ON FIRE) and Henry Jackman (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) all work for him.
But back to the man himself. German-born Zimmer first made a splash in Hollywood with his avant-garde score to the Dustin Hoffman-Tom Cruise classic RAIN MAN, which got him his first Oscar nomination. It kicked off an ongoing collaboration with Cruise, with his score for DAYS OF THUNDER kicking off a long-term relationship with Jerry Bruckheimer, for whom Zimmer constantly works (if Bruckheimer movies aren't composed by Zimmer, you can bet he at least produces them). Zimmer's professionalism, mixed with a healthy dose of genius, has led to many fruitful partnerships with directors like Ridley Scott (BLACK RAIN, GLADIATOR), Ron Howard (BACKDRAFT, RUSH) and most recently Christopher Nolan INCEPTION, the THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy).
For my money, Zimmer's best score is his music for Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR. A masterful score, Zimmer's music helped take a genre everyone thought was dead (the historical drama) and make it contemporary for a modern audience. Coupled with Lisa Gerrard's vocals, it's alternately haunting and thrilling, and has gone on-to be much imitated, but seldom equalled.
After GLADIATOR, Zimmer became the go-to-guy for historical dramas, but rather than just recycle his own material, Zimmer continued making inspired, unique music. His score for the Tom Cruise vehicle,THE LAST SAMURAI is one of his all-time best scores, with a stirring main theme perfectly conveying all the ideals the film champions, such as honour and sacrifice. It's a wonderful piece of work.
OK, so here's one that's going to be controversial. For me, Zimmer's most overrated score is the work he did on the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN series. The first, and best score of the series was composed by Klaus Badelt, a former protege of Zimmer's, who took over at the last minute when Alan Silvestri's score was rejected. The score was produced by Zimmer, and definitely had his sound (it owed a lot to his GLADIATOR score), but for the sequel, Zimmer took over himself. The music was fine, and occasionally quite good (I like the Ennio Morricone-influenced parts of AT WORLD'S END) but to me, the music for the series on the whole is overrated. Also, Zimmer's subsequent scores were never as memorable as Badelt's original work.
This was actually suggested to me by several readers on Facebook and Twitter. Terrence Malick's THE THIN RED LINE contains one of Zimmer's most memorable scores, and provides an intriguing counterpoint to Steven Spielberg's own WW2 movie, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, that came out the same year, and set the standard for war movies to follow. While Spielberg mostly eschewed music, Malick used a lot of it, with an extremely emotional score by Zimmer being front and center during the film's big battle sequence. Just listen the the music here (the selection is called “Journey to the Line”) and tell me this is not one of the most stirring themes you've ever heard. Zimmer himself must appreciate it to, and he essentially plagiarized himself two years later for his PEARL HARBOR score.
As always, Zimmer's a busy guy. He's got RUSH and 12 YEARS A SLAVE both coming out this fall, and next summer he's (intriguingly) doing to score for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. After that he's got INTERSTELLAR, and presumably BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN. I also hope that one day, he'll finally get to do his dream James Bond score (INCEPTION & his recent score for SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS are both very Bond-like).