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Section Header
Composed and Co-Produced by:
Hans Zimmer
Lorne Balfe

Conducted by:
Matt Dunkley

Orchestrated by:
Bruce Fowler
Elizabeth Finch
Walter Fowler
Rick Giovinazzo
Kevin Kaska
Suzette Moriarty
Ed Neumeister
Carl Rydlund

Co-Produced by:
Christopher Nolan
Alex Gibson

Watertower Music

Release Date:
July 13th, 2010

Also See:
The Dark Knight
Dark City
The Matrix
The Da Vinci Code
The Thin Red Line

Audio Clips:
3. Dream is Collapsing (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

7. Mombasa (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

8. One Simple Idea (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

12. Time (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and a Grammy Award.


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Buy it... if you loved the oppressive, brooding, and heavily processed sound of Hans Zimmer's harshest blockbuster scores of the late 2000's, a sound faithfully regurgitated for extended periods here.

Avoid it... if you wish Zimmer would stop making ridiculously dumb statements about how transcendent his style and methodology is and instead step out of his comfort zone to explore another generation of truly innovative ideas in his music.

Inception: (Hans Zimmer/Lorne Balfe) Every director seems to have one project of personal importance that he or she develops throughout the majority of a career, refining to death such productions until, if they ever do get the green light from a studio, they usually end up in shambles. For director, writer, and producer Christopher Nolan, that dream to become a reality is Inception, the 2010 culmination of a decade of writing and pushing of the concept until Warner Brothers finally allotted him $200 million to perfect his vision. The idea behind Inception is prime candy for science fiction enthusiasts in love with temporal paradoxes and alternate realities, following The Matrix and Dark City in terms of establishing and tearing apart realities that aren't what we think they are. In the plot, Leonardo DiCaprio is a skilled "extractor," a man who can steal secrets from another person's subconscious and conducts his corporate espionage while his targets are dreaming. His talent is not only coveted, but it makes him an obvious target of his victims wrath, and his only chance at resuming a normal life rests in an idea once thought impossible: planting an idea rather than stealing one. While the script alone is enough to twist one's mind, the production design of Inception is arguably its most accomplished selling point. With reality folding, exploding, and contorting in fantastic ways, the film has always promised to be a visual treat, and early critical response was overwhelming positive. Nolan had collaborated with composer David Julyan prior to working with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for the rebooted Batman franchise, and Julyan's usual tendencies to produce atmospheric haze would likely have served Inception well. Instead, it's no surprise that Zimmer's star power (and loyal ghostwriter Lorne Balfe) ended up attached to the production; after all, such high profile scores with a popular guest performer on electric guitar can be marketed with live performances and signing events to celebrate the opening of the film. This all happened with Inception, of course, Zimmer's score transformed into a event for salivating fanboys much like The Dark Knight, a project after which, if you recall, Zimmer erroneously claimed he would be retiring from film music composition for a while. Like the popular 2008 score, Inception's music has been the recipient of a fair amount of teased press information, with an unconventional technique of scoring the film promised in interviews meant to hype the production.

Unfortunately, like The Dark Knight, no amount of polished marketing, supposedly creative writing procedures, special guest performers, and/or claims of transcendent music made by the composer can help the score for Inception avoid the inevitable disappointment it dishes out to those listeners seeking something truly fresh in film music, from Zimmer or otherwise. It's amazing to consider how much hype Zimmer, his supporters, and his financial interests generate for these "events" given how underdeveloped and boring the resulting music can be. If the composer and these entities were extending these delusions of grandeur in order to simply sell units at record stores and iTunes, then it would make sense. But these people seem to think that the music Zimmer provided for Inception is itself worth a parade, this while vastly superior compositions and recordings for films in 2010 (such as Zimmer associates John Powell's How to Train Your Dragon or Howard's The Last Airbender) slip by without any of the same mainstream recognition. This isn't to say that Zimmer shouldn't have earned his paycheck for Inception. Indeed, he did, as evidenced by the effective match between the tone of Nolan's concept and Zimmer's score. Why anybody would go orgasmic for this kind of music, however, remains a good question. Zimmer's methodology raised some eyebrows initially; he was refused by Nolan to see the rough edits of the film and write music based on those. Instead, the composer operated based on his impression of the characters in the script, and he sent Nolan enough original library material to create a functionally original temp score before the director allowed Zimmer to coordinate the cues into final shape (to an extent not known) during post-production. As such, you won't hear a score in Inception that was intentionally tailored by the composer to specific synchronization points and other subtle shifts of emphasis on screen. Instead, the music's final form was largely assigned by Nolan, a circumstance that has drawn some criticism from film music fans who have long been convinced that the director has little intelligent idea about what he's doing when handling the soundtracks for his films. Interestingly, Zimmer had originally expressed an interest in writing the score as one of romance given that he viewed the concept as a love story. Ultimately, however, an environment of atmospheric pseudo-noir haze became the identity of his composition, the dull and vague memories of dreams musically embodied in equally dreary tones and undefined narrative parameters.

All you need to know about Zimmer's approach to Inception came in the following quote from the composer at time of its release: "I'm not interested in the massive heroic tunes anymore. Now, I'm interested in how I can take two, three, or four notes and make a really complex emotional structure. It's emotional as opposed to sentimental. It's not bullshit heroic; it has dignity to it." Now, Zimmer has been known to say some truly dumb things in the last few years, sometimes denigrating the talents of his associates in the industry by devaluing their style (by Zimmer's definition, Georges Delerue's sentimental tone lacks refinement and grace!). It could be easily argued that "bullshit heroic" music, an issue that Zimmer raised when dismissing Danny Elfman's theme for the original Batman as "happy," is actually more difficult to perfect for a soundtrack than what Zimmer has provided for Inception. For instance, it takes infinitely more talent for John Williams to craft a heroic theme that doesn't come across as cheesy than it is for Vangelis to simply write simplistic ideas in various unorthodox textures and force the film to adapt to that sound. As discussed in reviews before, Zimmer is neglecting to conform his compositional style to the needs of all of his assignments, instead choosing to explore whatever his preferred "dignified" approach is and then applaud his work as transcendent as an excuse. Perhaps most intriguing about Inception is the fact that Nolan aided and encouraged this technique through his procedure of not allowing Zimmer to see the film. It should be no surprise, considering everything outlined thus far in this review, that what Zimmer wrote for this film is not a score for Inception, but rather a self-contained concert composition to promote the kind of music he wishes to explore at this particular point in his career. It's no different from what John Barry ended up doing in the 1990's. Barry became a completely stubborn, one-dimensional composer in that decade, buoyed by the prior success of his string-dominated romance sound. He was eventually ineffective in his assignments because of his adherence to a very narrow set of parameters in his music. With Inception, it's become increasingly clear that Zimmer could be defined as the 2010's version of what Barry was in the 1990's. Still popular, still hired, but an artist of regurgitation and rigid perceptions. It's amazing to think that Zimmer, who at one time could bounce from the style of A League of Their Own to Point of No Return with Cool Runnings in the middle, has become so limited that he risks becoming the antithesis of a versatile composer like John Debney.

If you love the narrowly guided direction that Zimmer has chosen to take with his blockbuster scores of the late 2000's (his lesser assignments have thankfully been immune to his closed-mindedness on the larger canvasses), you'll find much to appreciate in Inception. If you've always admired the composer for innovating in ways that inspire his army of Remote Control clones to emulate him, then you may be disappointed by his lack of fresh ideas in the score. If you've never cared for Zimmer's brooding, overly-processed sound of late, then you'll consider the composer's work for Inception to be downright lazy. That's right: lazy. No matter where you fall in this spectrum, everyone can pretty much agree that it's polarizing music. In the film, few will protest, but on album, it's a love it or hate it prospect. As mentioned before, the album presentation of Inception may as well be considered as a standalone concert composition. Its tone is extremely consistent, there is rarely significant shifting of direction within the tracks, and each piece is developed over long periods that allow for endless repetition and the maintenance of atmosphere. In terms of its instrumental makeup, Inception is truly a hybrid work. As Zimmer stated, "It's a very electronic score. There is orchestra, but the electronics share an equal spotlight, and I also have Johnny Marr [of Modest Mouse] playing guitar. Besides Johnny and the orchestra, everything else stays virtual throughout the mix." His comments about the electronics may be a bit deceiving for some listeners. The score doesn't use sampled orchestral sounds; in fact, the impression it leaves is based on the performances of the string and brass performances throughout its length. What he means is that it's an extremely processed score. If you thought his live brass sounded like the sampled variety before, wait until you hear them here. The bass region is enhanced as usual, joined by general meandering tones in the treble that use their incongruous presence to convey unease. Pulses and thumps in the bass join extremely low bass string effects to establish a droning reminder of key in nearly every cue. Zimmer borrows from Brad Fiedel's playbook to manipulate these sounds in ways familiar to the first two Terminator scores. Marr's electric guitar often blends back into the soundscape, occasionally employed as an ostinato tool rather than a performer of thematic parts. Backwards edits are a cheap effect used by Zimmer for the addressing of alternate realities; while the technique was fresh fifteen years ago, it's a cheap, cheap, cheap tactic now. It's time for those sudden, warped ends to cues to be shelved and replaced with something more innovative.

Thematically, Inception isn't completely devoid of substance. Its primary identity could be called the "dream theme," a prototypical Zimmer idea of staccato rhythms over muscular, ultra-harmonic whole notes for the brass section to pound out with authority. The theme follows the standard "CheValiers de Sangreal" format from The Da Vinci Code (like most of the ideas in Inception) in its generation of momentum and addition of layers. You'll be hard pressed to recall this actual theme after the conclusion of the album however, because it's more of a series of general ensemble chords rather than a specifically developed melody. If anything, it'll remind you of Craig Armstrong's more forceful contemporary themes, especially with the chopping strings and hard-ass attitude. The major performances of this theme occupy "Dream is Collapsing" and "Dream Within a Dream," with a softer variation at the end of "Waiting for a Train." It is reduced to slight strings in "Paradox," where is joined by the score's other theme, dubbed, for lack of a better name, the "Quantum theme." This title relates to the idea's similarity in posture and progression to David Arnold's theme for the secret crime organization in Quantum of Solace. Endless, foggy capitulations of the theme in "Old Souls" are handed to more transparent guitar performances early in "Waiting for a Train." Also heard in the score are a few lesser motifs, including a subtle motif in "Time" that refers back to "Half Remembered Dream." More obnoxiously, a pair of crushing brass hits tend to denote gravity of truly planetary proportions. In this regard, Zimmer is guilty of the same technique used so blatantly by Barry through the years: repetition. He seems so obsessed with the grandiose sounds of these blasts that he has to repeat each one twice just to make sure the audience gets the point. But the comparison doesn't stop there; Zimmer also repeats the pulses in the bass and the phrases within his themes multiple times as well (sometimes for minutes at a time), a Barry trademark that has a tendency to bore more often than impress. Like Barry's music, the tempi are excruciatingly slow in Inception. It's no wonder Zimmer's aimless concert-like suites were so convenient for Nolan to edit into the picture. In many ways, this is the ultimate library score. With just a couple of exceptions, the subdued nature and lack of clear evolution in the score also pushes it towards Michael Nyman territory, though the totally unrelated constructs in several of them continue to point towards Vangelis' largely unfocused works. Given modern technology, it's frightful to imagine that this method of arrangement may represent the future of film music. If so, why not put the four music editors on the movie poster instead of the primary composer?

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The attempts by the composer to add a noir-like element to the score are largely ineffective (God forbid he do the unthinkable and use a solo trumpet!), though you can hear where these portions struggle to convey a romantic touch. Promising harmony on strings in "One Simple Idea" is reprised in the midsection of "Waiting for a Train" and additional string lines in "Time" faintly recall the famous "Journey to the Line" cue from The Thin Red Line. Outside of the thematic statements and these subtle romantic hints, Inception is uninhibited, streamlined gloom. The only even remotely energetic cue is "Mombasa," which suddenly explodes with outward electric guitar coolness over irritating loops. Processed electronic descents in that cue (among others) and incessant pounding on key are mind-numbing. Other individual points of interest in the score include the abrupt, processed ends to "528491" and "Time," a cheap technique as mentioned before. "Waiting for a Train" unexpectedly layers non-English female lyrics from an old song in the seventh minute. Octave hops late in "Paradox" are marginally interesting. "Time" offers another "CheValiers de Sangreal" moment without fail, though far more subdued in a quietly agonizing stupor. Together, because of the way Zimmer constructed this score, Inception has marginal narrative flow (at best). It cannot compare to peers like Don Davis' The Matrix or Trevor Jones' Dark City in terms of flow or interest, the former far more technically intelligent than Zimmer's effort and the latter preferable in its ability to convey sonic brutality and a menacing tone while also maintaining a generally harmonic, enjoyable stance. All of this said, the music for Inception is saturated with Zimmer's writing and recording style, and with any reasonable success of the film, don't be surprised if the composer receives attention from AMPAS members for it. This music has been successfully branded as being "different" when in fact it's simply Zimmer sitting firmly in his comfort zone and claiming himself to be transcendent. For those not interested in subscribing to his methodology, Inception is a basically effective score in context, acceptable but not exceptional. Its fifty minutes on CD album will alternate between mundane and irritating, devoid of creativity. Perhaps the man will one day cease making ridiculous statements about the superiority of "emotional" music over "sentimental" music and will again challenge himself to step into areas of music outside of those comfort zones so that fans will hear his underlying talents (which any collector of his early scores knows are sitting idle underneath the disappointing material he churns out nowadays) shine once more. Until then, one man's "dignified" music is another man's bore. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: ***
    Music as Heard on Album: **
    Overall: **

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 266,330 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3 Stars
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   FVSR Reviews Inception
  Brendan Cochran -- 11/13/14 (6:05 p.m.)
   Re: Hey idiot at Filmtracks - Reality check...
  ZPIANOGuy -- 11/22/13 (8:09 a.m.)
   Inception average critics rating
  Chris -- 10/6/13 (11:49 a.m.)
   Re: Hey idiot at Filmtracks - Reality check...
  Jason soundtrack fan -- 5/2/12 (2:12 p.m.)
   Re: Amazing arrogance...
  Jacque -- 4/10/12 (1:11 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 49:13

• 1. Half Remembered Dream (1:12)
• 2. We Built Our Own World (1:56)
• 3. Dream is Collapsing (2:24)
• 4. Radical Notion (3:43)
• 5. Old Souls (7:44)
• 6. 528491 (2:24)
• 7. Mombasa (4:54)
• 8. One Simple Idea (2:28)
• 9. Dream Within a Dream (5:04)
• 10. Waiting For a Train (9:30)
• 11. Paradox (3:25)
• 12. Time (4:36)

(some digital download versions of the album contain the bonus cues "Projections" and "Don't Think About Elephants")

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes the expected note from the director about the perceived greatness of this music.

  All artwork and sound clips from Inception are Copyright © 2010, Watertower Music. 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 7/13/10 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2010-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved. Bullshit heroic music is fun!