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1991 Milan

2005 Milan

Composed and Produced by:
Hans Zimmer

Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Shirley Walker

Labels and Dates:
(August 11th, 1991)

Milan Records
(March 1st, 2005)

Also See:
Black Rain
Crimson Tide
Beyond Rangoon
The Rock

Audio Clips:
1991 Album:

2. Fighting 17th (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

6. Burn it All (0:31):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (248K)
Real Audio (154K)

8. Fahrenheit 451 (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

9. Show Me Your Firetruck (0:41):
WMA (166K)  MP3 (202K)
Real Audio (125K)

Both Milan issues are regular U.S. releases.



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Buy it... if you own several scores from later in Hans Zimmer's career and seek his first, highly successful and enjoyable large-scale merging of an orchestra and choir with his electronics.

Avoid it... if no variant on the extremely masculine tones and simplistic themes consistent to Zimmer's style (from any era in his career) will fit with your preference for subtlety and delicacy.

Backdraft: (Hans Zimmer) The forces of good and evil were hard at work against each other in Backdraft, but not in the ways you'd expect. Ron Howard's character story of firefighters in Chicago's Chinatown had one of cinema's most spectacular assets in its favor: the best portrayal of flames ever produced. In fact, even many years later, no film has treated the personality of a fire with such menacing dignity as Backdraft. So brilliant is its realistic qualities on screen that audiences were willing, for the most part, to forgive an absolutely terrible script by Gregory Widen to witness them. The slow and predictable narrative of Backdraft couldn't be salvaged by even an expert cast led by a few outstanding conversational duels between Donald Sutherland and Robert DeNiro. The reconciliatory side-stories of the brothers played by Kurt Russell and William Baldwin are so wretched that you sit waiting for the next cut to the maniacal Sutherland or, in his honor, another scene of arson to feature the mesmerizing special effects. While Howard had established a strong collaboration with composer James Horner at the time, he had been impressed by Hans Zimmer's Black Rain, and depending on what source you talk to, the director's high opinion of that 1989 score was either a blessing or a bad omen. While some accounts indicate that Howard wanted a different variation on the style of Black Rain to provide a hard edge to Backdraft's masculine tones, Zimmer himself has indicated that to appease the director, he ended up having to copy some of the earlier score almost precisely for the fire scenes in particular. Either way, Zimmer was on the verge of being fired from Backdraft because of the miscommunication between them, and the production's music director had to step in at last minute and help explain to Zimmer what Howard was seeking in his approach. Inconvenient technical glitches didn't help, either. The two eventually worked very closely on a cue-by-cue basis for the score, with Zimmer in attendance on the set during the filming of live-blaze action. But the two men reportedly did not speak again until their reconciliation more than a decade later led to Zimmer's involvement in Howard's The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

The composer had already been recognized with an Academy Award nomination by 1991, but Backdraft's score was a significant wake-up call to casual film score collectors. The thrilling role of Zimmer's music in Backdraft and on its powerful album helped launch him beyond the promise of Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy into the top tier of composers where he would remain for decades. In interviews, Zimmer has stated that he's proud of the somewhat unorthodox method of writing and recording soft music for scenes of fiery destruction, and although that technique is used a few times, don't be fooled into thinking that Backdraft is anything less than Zimmer's bombast at its best. His bass-heavy, percussive score is loud enough to be heard over any of the stunning sound effects mixed throughout the film. Prominent composers of the era (such as Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner) had already experimented with a combination of orchestral players, choir, and electronics in their film scores, but never with the resounding power that Zimmer introduced with Backdraft (he would later elaborate upon this style in Crimson Tide and many others, of course). Between the perpetual snare drum rhythms, the light female chorus, and Zimmer's robust and simplistic themes, the Backdraft score, despite whatever difficulty it may have had in the conception stage, is exactly what Zimmer and Howard wanted it to be: an ode to firemen. For Zimmer, the opportunity to work with 95 orchestral players, a chorus, and his library of synthesized samples led to the difficult task of combining all three without drowning any one of them out. Many film score collectors credit orchestrator and conductor (and good composer in her own career) Shirley Walker for helping to guide the score's consistently intelligent balance between the organic and synthetic. The same people often state that Walker also played a bigger role in the success of Danny Elfman's Batman, and in regards to the situations that accompanied both inexperienced composers into large-scale orchestral assignments, as well as the strong results that followed, there might be merit to such claims of credit. Zimmer's detractors, who followed in the days of Media Ventures' height, were quick to jump on that bandwagon, though nearly any Zimmer listener will surely admit that there's a fresh ambience to Backdraft that is missing from the scores that he only co-wrote or produced later in his career.

In short, the music for Backdraft is an extremely successful match for the topic, and Zimmer has every right to be proud of the achievement. His favorite cue accompanies the funeral procession at the end of the film, and it is an emotionally charged and elegant piece with bold brass, percussion, and choir that indeed resides as one of the best single cues in his career. Many different aspects of Backdraft would foreshadow his subsequent scores. Interestingly, some of the more melodic moments of Backdraft would be further explored in The Lion King, especially in the combination of strings and light choir during the latter half of "You Go, We Go." Two themes exist in the score: the propulsive fanfare for the firefighting concept (a clear inspiration for Mark Mancina's later Speed and also famously used as the theme for the TV cooking show "Iron Chef"), and a more lyrical secondary idea for the two brothers. By the end of the score, as Baldwin's character assumes the role as the family's veteran on the force, the latter theme would be used as an interlude to the firefighting theme, essentially integrating them into one construct. A singular moment of intense thematic statement for the death of the brothers' father in "Fighting 17th" exhibits a level of raw emotion rarely touched upon by Zimmer in the following years, and this subtheme for lonely trumpet returns at the end of "Burn It All." The heavy, electronically-driven portions of the score are more interesting than the stock, synthesized orchestra hits that would come later in Zimmer's library of samples. While never resorting to a harsh electric guitar, Zimmer uses brazen and grinding electronics during scenes glorifying the fires. The balance in tone here seems to be more accomplished than in most of his subsequent works, perhaps a stroke of beginner's luck or owing, perhaps, to an editor's mixing talents. Still, in the first half of "Burn It All" (a cue used in several trailers for other films at the time), rambling keyboarding does clearly emulate Black Rain. The aforementioned direct copying from Black Rain comes with the dramatic, chopping string, drum, and choral piece starting a minute into "You Go, We Go." There's a reason this cue is almost identical to the end of "Charlie Loses His Head" on the commercial Black Rain album (more accurately titled "Outburst of Rage" on that score's bootlegs); Howard used that piece as a temp track over his trial footage of dramatic fire behavior and fell in love with it.

Zimmer was inclined to take the score in a fresh direction, and he still did, especially with the utilization an array of sound effects early, including the tingling electric sound of a burning circuit. Several of the cues in the first half of Backdraft rely on that kind of ambience to carry what is otherwise mundane material. Underachieving is "The Arsonist's Waltz," with a rhythm that barely qualifies as a waltz and a tone that neither takes advantage of the explosiveness of the crime or the mystery of its perpetrator in the story. Also of little interest is the almost atmospheric tone of the majority of "Brothers" and "335," both highlighted by the brothers' theme on piano overcoming sparse, dreary environments. When the film's tensions inevitably rise, though, the outward instrumental creativity does return. The clanging of an ax is imitated by chimes, inserted at certain points to help maintain action rhythms. The same chimes, among other metallic strikes, underline several heroic deeds late in the film. For the militaristic aspect of the story, Zimmer emphasizes the most important instrument of them all: the snare drum. Fans will have a hard time remembering a score so dominated by one percussive instrument, but the snare is a perfect representation of the fire truck and the hailing of emergencies throughout the film. It, along with various medium-range drums (real or on the pads, it doesn't really matter), create the memorable ambience of a giant pinball machine, adding excitement while also lending a sense of urgency, duty, and battle that the concept relies upon. All of these neat effects are highlights of the score apart of the film, though the album situation for Backdraft has never really been very satisfactory. The original Milan product of 1991 contains mixes of many cues that are different from those in the film, including the pivotal and beautiful combination of "Fahrenheit 451" and "Show Me Your Firetruck" that is for, despite the title, the funeral procession and final call to action at the end of the film. The "Ron Howard Passions and Achievements" retrospective compilation album from 1997 contains the superior film mix of those properly merged cues, with even bolder percussion and choir presented in an extended suite format that is really a lovely 6-minute overview of the score (and possible substitute for the original album). Some creative editing was done on that compilation cue, leading to an awkward volume change in the last sequence of the suite (at about 4:00), but fans are treated to an even more varied percussive role that clearly defines the intent that Zimmer had when preparing the music for the film.

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The original Milan album also had mislabeled tracks, less-then-stellar sound quality, and a presentation of cues out of film order. A dull mix causes the often droning bass elements to overwhelm some of the trickier and more interesting high range percussion. Aside from the merely average Bruce Hornsby songs at the start and end of the product, about 30 minutes of Zimmer's score is provided in the composer's standard, lengthy suite format. In 2005, Milan revisited the album and pressed a re-issue that unfortunately solved none of the original product's problems, and arguably made them worse. The selling points of the 2005 album were a remastering of the score and the inclusion of a 9-minute Zimmer interview about the score done in retrospect. The interview is fine, and it illuminates some of the Black Rain issues that plagued Backdraft. But the remastering, while it does better emphasize some of the treble elements that got swallowed up by the bass in the previous presentation, has a terrible time managing gain levels. The volume is cranked up so high at times that audible distortion is heard repeatedly in the second half of the score. It actually becomes embarrassing in "Burn It All." The clarinet solo near the end of "You Go, We Go" (whether real or Zimmer's remarkable Diving Miss Daisy incarnation) is downright nasal because of this ambient mix. In the process of toning back the bass in "Fahrenheit 451," a certain amount of tape hiss effect is heard, too, causing the entire piece to consequently sound tinny. Even more disappointing is the absence of the original film version of the "Fahrenheit 451" and "Show Me Your Firetruck" combination already available on the 1997 "Ron Howard Passions and Achievements" compilation, likely the result of a licensing complication (re-issues often don't allow for fiscally viable expansion of the music by even rights-owners). Compare the mix of that piece to the remastering of Backdraft done for the 2005 album and you'll be guaranteed to scratch your head in bewilderment. Thus, if you already have the original 1991 album and/or the Howard compilation with Zimmer's preferred mix of those highlights, don't bother with the surprisingly disappointing 2005 re-issue. Overall, from "Burn It All" onward, this score is an action packed, nonstop thriller of a listening experience. In a bittersweet sense, Backdraft is a trip back to the days when Zimmer was a refreshing deviation from the standard Hollywood sound, and in part because of his rash of originality problems in the decades to follow, it remains a sentimental favorite. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Hans Zimmer reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 2.98 (in 89 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3 (in 266,342 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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   Original mixes
  Per Markus Dahl -- 1/27/15 (5:58 a.m.)
   Re: Show me your fire truck is from the fun...
  Frans Postma -- 12/30/09 (3:36 p.m.)
   Show me your fire truck is from the funeral...
  Richard Kleiner -- 11/7/09 (11:07 p.m.)
   Backdraft music favorite.
  Sharon Akins -- 11/23/07 (10:19 a.m.)
   Re: Iron Chef puts this great music to bett...
  bob -- 12/7/06 (9:11 a.m.)
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 Track Listings (1991 Milan Album): Total Time: 42:54

• 1. Set Me in Motion - performed by Bruce Hornsby & the Range (5:20)
• 2. Fighting 17th (4:26)
• 3. Brothers (3:32)
• 4. The Arsonist's Waltz (1:58)
• 5. 335 (3:02)
• 6. Burn It All (5:19)
• 7. You Go, We Go (5:11)
• 8. Fahrenheit 451 (2:59)
• 9. Show Me Your Firetruck (3:31)
• 10. The Show Goes On - performed by Bruce Hornsby & the Range (7:32)

 Track Listings (2005 Milan Album): Total Time: 52:22

• 1. Set Me in Motion - performed by Bruce Hornsby & the Range (5:21)
• 2. Fighting 17th (4:24)
• 3. Brothers (3:32)
• 4. The Arsonist's Waltz (1:59)
• 5. 335 (3:03)
• 6. Burn It All (5:18)
• 7. You Go, We Go (5:11)
• 8. Fahrenheit 451 (3:00)
• 9. Show Me Your Firetruck (3:35)
• 10. The Show Goes On - performed by Bruce Hornsby & the Range (7:32)
• 11. Hans Zimmer Interview (spoken track) (9:30)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts for the albums contain extensive credits, but no extra information about the film or score.

  All artwork and sound clips from Backdraft are Copyright © 1991, 2005, BMG/Milan, Milan Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 3/25/10. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.