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Zimmer, team, and alums rundown Pt 3 - MV 1999-02 - Sprawlball (3c)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Saturday, April 9, 2022, at 5:30 a.m.
• IP Address:

This is part of a series. Part 3b can be found here:

The Pledge (2001) - ***
Badelt & Zimmer; add’l music by Michael Brook, Craig Eastman, Heitor Pereira & Martin Tillman
vocals by Alison Moynihan; music editors Marc Streitenfeld & Vicki Hiatt
Jim Dooley as Zimmer’s assistant (among others);
album compiled by Ramin Djawadi & Richie Nieto;
thank you’s to Gavin Greenaway, HGW, Henning Lohner, John Powell, Jay Rifkin & Jeff Rona

Helmed by actor Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson, the grim cop thriller The Pledge received a solid critical reception upon release but failed to earn back its budget in theaters. Its music, my twenty-second discovery of this rundown, is branded as a co-composition, though Badelt was largely on point for it. “The more Hans opened up for me, the more I got to write tunes. That’s actually the key. I’m not a very good underscore composer, just writing atmosphere Hans just said, ‘I don’t have time – you write the theme!’ So it ended up with Hans playing [my] themes for the first time, instead of the other way around!”

The end result is a close cousin of the atmospheric soundscapes that would dominate a lot of Western films and television in this decade and beyond. Badelt & company were doing something largely similar to, say, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (think the later Hell or High Water, for example), or a less synthetic and less Native American take on James Horner’s earlier Thunderheart - and possibly setting the stage for what Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian would provide for the hit TV series Yellowstone. The low-key, plucky personality sticks with you more than any individual thematic statement - you may not be overly motivated to return, but you won’t mind it if you do. Smilla’s Sense of Snow comparisons have been made before, but this work is decidedly less dull than that one, even at its weakest moments, and it also has the benefit of being a much shorter album.

Per Klaus, “We had ten days to write, record, and mix the whole score. I assembled a bunch of classical musicians I knew, and we were mostly jamming. We’d discuss every cue up front and then we just went in and improvised. Sean Penn would come by at night, bring some wine, listen to things, and then make some comments, and we would move on.” Zimmer would also have good feelings about the process, saying, “The Sean Penn thing, where we’re all a band and we’re making music at 3 in the morning and someone comes up with a crazy idea. Those sort of things, which are more about life experiences - you try to fold that into the film.”

Those statements by Zimmer and Badelt suggest it was a rush-job replacement effort, but actor Tom Noonan would reveal later that the film had significant money issues which were likely the driving factor behind the compressed post-production schedule. “[The producers] also put up the money for Battlefield Earth, and it opened very badly. They were so freaked out that they got on Sean about finishing on time and under budget, which wasn’t possible because they were shooting in the mountains. There were four or five scenes I still had which explain who I am in that film - I’m not the guy who killed the kids, but because they couldn’t finish shooting they made it look like I was.”

It’s also Berklee College of Music graduate Ramin Djawadi’s first credited appearance. “The connection [with Hans] was made by pure coincidence. During the winter of 1999/2000, I was back in Germany where I met up with a friend [who] has a guitar shop in Cologne where I've been buying my guitars since I was a child. I told him about how I was playing in a cool band in Boston that had been relatively successful, but that I would actually prefer to be composing music for films. He told me that he knew someone who knew someone, and two weeks later I moved to Los Angeles. I started working for Klaus doing arrangements and additional music.”

Hannibal (2001) - ****
Zimmer; additional music by Jim Dooley, Steve Jablonsky & Geoff Zanelli;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch;
‘Gourmet Valse Tartare’ by Klaus Badelt; ‘Vide Cor Meum’ by Patrick Cassidy;
ambient music design by Mel Wesson; ‘Firenze Di Notte’ by Martin Tillman & Mel Wesson;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; boys choir conducted by RGW;
thank you’s to HGW, JNH, Jay Rifkin & Jeff Rona

”It’s a haunting story, and my ambition has been that the music will be haunting.” Mission accomplished, though there were some battles that recall the late night screamfests Hans went through with director Ridley Scott’s brother back on Crimson Tide. “Every once in a while you wonder, ‘Is it all worth it?’ Staying up all night, disappointing your family, not being home for weekends. [But] there was a moment in the cutting room, 11 at night, Ridley and [editor] Pietro Scalla and me yelling at each other about whether a single tear is a tear of anguish, loneliness, or disgust - and suddenly you go, ‘This is the greatest job on Earth.’”

Some fans complain (sometimes justifiably) about the orchestration of Zimmer’s music generally, but it’s hard to argue with some of the smart instrumental choices here - piano for elegance obviously, but also commendable is the deliberate choice to avoid writing for violins or violas in some places. There’s a very refined texture to some tracks - obviously not the velvety feel of the music of Polish film and classical composer Wojciech Kilar, but it’s the closest Zimmer ever got to that kind of sound. In other areas the work suggests the more morbid dramatic elements from Gladiator pivoted to a spectral environment.

HZ: “Harry and John were working on Shrek and I was working on Hannibal - they are both movies about a red-headed princess and some horrible monster. I go over to Harry’s room and he’s playing me his theme, and it’s using all the same chord changes that I'm using for my ‘Dear Clarice’ theme - and I'm going, ‘You can’t do this! I'm using this thing!’

If you listen to the CD, there is a big romantic piece at the end. In the movie, that is maybe a two-minute scene, but the music is seven minutes long, because it was always written like that. ‘Do the picture around it and we’ll just cut the piece to fit the picture afterwards.’ Everybody was fine with that.”

The choral work here is haunting (really the first time a Zimmer work pulled that off) - and there is great behind-the-scenes footage of Zimmer getting involved with modifying the intensity of the orchestra’s performance based on what the solo vocalists are doing. In other ways it feels like a workshop for future scores - Avarice is a clear template for parts of The Da Vinci Code, while the ambient textures by Mel Wesson (who would get along famously with Ridley due to their shared painting hobby) in Firenze di Notte are shockingly similar to Batman Begins.

It’s a beguiling, seductive work. And yes, dear reader - I forgot about the jump scare at the end.

Irish composer Patrick Cassidy, relatively new to Media Ventures at the time, wrote an aria for an in-film opera which is probably the most-recognized piece of music from the movie (partially because Ridley would reuse it in a later work) - an amazing feat not only because of how much time he had but because he didn’t speak Italian. “I moved to Los Angeles in order to pursue my career. It was very tough at first because I went from being a fairly big fish in a relatively small pond to being practically a nobody. I was hoping to get more into film music, but I had only one credit under my belt, a film called Broken Harvest — a very nice film, but one that did not have an American release! Hans works on a lot of projects simultaneously and he knew my strength was choral music. They needed an aria and they were shooting the scene in two weeks. So I was in the right place at the right time.” Cassidy started working on a Dante opera in the mid-2010s with this piece as the inspiration; the pandemic has delayed its premiere.

Anthony Hopkins, who has since performed some of his own classical compositions, wrote a piano solo which went unused; HGW’s assistant was at its recording session. Per Hans, “His piece would've worked if that scene had come later in the movie, but it was too early to be romantic. I think he still likes me, but it was my decision to take it out and replace it with Bach's Goldberg variations.”

Also, Geoff Zanelli got his own writing room! “Hans was starting Hannibal and said, “you know…there’s a broom closet, would you like to help?’ Hannibal was mostly taking an idea and trying to make it fit somewhere. I spent [the next] 4 or 5 years picking up more and more writing experience on films with Hans and John, and also Harry, Klaus and Steve. Most of the time ‘additional music’ is the appropriate credit for what I did; the line between additional music and arranging is always hazy.”

HZ, talking to the orchestra at the start of the recording sessions: ”It's a really comedy love story. We have a little opera in it on your stands. (Then jokingly) There you go. Start to fuck it up.”

Spy Kids (2001) - Not heard
HGW, Danny Elfman‚ John Debney, Gavin Greenaway, Heitor Pereira, Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez & Chris Boardman;
orchestrated by John Debney, Bruce Fowler, Ladd McIntosh & Don Nemitz

HGW: “Spy Kids was a project that I spent only four or five weeks on and, sadly, had to jettison. I got a fright at the ER here in Santa Monica where I had gone because of some nasty chest pains - the doctors kept me at the hospital for a week or so and I had to tell Robert Rodriguez that he'd have to go elsewhere as I couldn't continue. He used the one Family Theme I had written, so that was good.”

Pearl Harbor (2001) - ***½
Zimmer; add’l music by Klaus Badelt, Steve Jablonsky & Geoff Zanelli;
orchestrations by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch;
‘There You’ll Be’ written by Diane Warren & performed by Faith Hill; song produced by Trevor Horn & Byron Gallimore;
song orchestrated by David Campbell with arrangements by Fiachra Trench & James Levine;
guitar Heitor Pereira; cello Martin Tillman; solo trombone Bruce Fowler;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; Jim Dooley as Zimmer’s assistant (among others);
thank you to Jay Rifkin

Disney chairman Joe Roth, desperate to stay in the Michael Bay business after The Rock, eventually got him to say yes to a movie about Pearl Harbor. Bay had even said on the set of that earlier film, “when I’m more experienced, that’s when I’ll try to do something that’s more regarded critically.” Roth quit Disney, and not too long after fellow Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg did, to run his own production company, but the movie still proceeded ahead with Bay and Bruckheimer, even with Michael Eisner cutting some of the budget due to his frustration with the performance of the company’s recent live action films.

HZ: “My contract was the first one signed on that film, and it was before the whole budget-reduction thing, and they had to go and beg me to tear up the deal - that's how early I was attached to the project!”

Zimmer’s score received a fairly middling critical reception when it came out - and probably still retains it for many listeners. Zimmer’s procrastination might’ve played a part in the end product, but he’s conceded he was a bit exhausted from back-to-back-to-back productions, and also implied he wasn’t a huge fan of the movie.

HZ: “Everybody says how prolific I am - well, I'm not! I work very, very slowly; I just work many hours and I don't take weekends off. Of course I can get a larger amount of work done - I never sleep! [I went] straight from The Pledge to Hannibal into Pearl Harbor, [and on that one] I was so late [with] everything. There were literally days when I would say, ‘Hey, what are you guys dubbing today?’ and they would say, ‘Nothing.’ I’d say, ‘Why not?’ and they’d say, ‘We don’t have any music.’

I thought, let me do it as a love story. What I didn’t know was that I had a very long movie but I had to deliver the love story in 10 minutes. You’re forced into a position where you have to make an audience believe in a love story very, very quickly. And it’s just impossible.”

The score has its obvious flaws. The Japanese material often seems to pull fairly transparently from the Marrakesh fight music from Gladiator (I recall being struck by this when the film was playing in a hotel gym years later). The descending notes from Journey to the Line appear several times - Jerry loved that track and put it in the trailer, so it’s not hard to imagine he put it in the temp track as well. There’s a big reliance on epic chord shifts.

And it’s often an unimaginatively orchestrated work - perhaps understandable given that Bruckheimer didn’t like anything that came off as fanciful or resplendent (HZ during a later promotion for Gladiator: “anybody who manages to finish a score and not get fired off the movie is a hero”), but having a score of military tragedy that features maybe one brief usage of solo trumpet likely reflects the man’s compositional tendencies (Powell’s comments after the Ghent concert about Zimmer infrequently using the instrument seem to ring true here) or perhaps his established aversion to doing the expected.

But the score does make for a largely lovely way to pass the time, which is maybe the only score for a Michael Bay movie one can say that about. And the choral work here is impressive, both the solos (another wordless female vocal) and the ensemble stretches - between this and the earlier Hannibal, it showed that Zimmer could do more with a large array of human voices than just the beefy masculine tones that dominated the prior decade.

Admittedly, this opinion is based on the original album which I know was deliberately designed to sound this way. “The one thing I wasn’t going to do was to shove a lot of action music on [the CD]. I thought we had too much of that on the Gladiator album. You make aesthetic choices as much as you can, and most of the time you get it wrong.” Zimmer seemed to take the middling reception of this score quite badly, not just the disappointment from critics but also the perceived personal attacks from online buyers; he references Amazon in at least three interviews done at the time. You get the sense that Zimmer was frustrated people didn’t understand how much he busted his ass trying to come up with the theme that would make the movie work, even if he too was nonplussed about the end product.

Irish composer and songwriter Fiachra Trench, who had orchestrated and conducted a number of Zimmer works in his early days, returned to help arrange the Faith Hill song. HZ: “I don't think it hurts to have a really pretty blonde girl who's a major star singing. I would be a fool to say that she had nothing to do with the success of the album.”

The film performed decently at the box office but perhaps not enough relative to its budget. Director Michael Bay would never attempt to mount a period piece or a primarily romantic film ever again. Zimmer would never score another Michael Bay film, though Steve Jablonsky would see his position as Michael’s go-to composer solidified thanks to the music he contributed here (which included all the climactic material). “I didn’t really meet Michael on Pearl Harbor; the focus was on Zimmer, as it should be. Michael's first reboot was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There was a discussion on, ‘Who can we get?’ Bob Badami, the music editor, and Pat Sandston, who’s a production supervisor, told Michael, ‘This guy, Steve, he did a lot of good stuff on Pearl Harbor.’”

Just Visiting (2001) - **½
John Powell; add’l by NGS, James McKee Smith & Geoff Zanelli;
conducted by Adam Stern; choir conducted by Gavin Greenaway;
orchestrated by Ladd McIntosh; guitars by Heitor Pereira;
‘Your Time Will Come’ by Powell, Greenaway & Jeff Pescotto; song vocal by Kudson Kai;
thank you’s to Bruce Fowler & family

Receiving middling-to-poor reviews when it was released, Just Visiting was yet another example of completely unnecessary Hollywood remakes of foreign films (in this case Les Visiteurs, a film about medieval characters entering modern times and one of the most successful French films ever) that end up being way worse than the original. Powell was tagged as the primary composer, with two of his then-assistants along for the ride - but puzzlingly Nick-Glennie Smith appears to have helped with about half the material.

My twenty-third discovery of this effort is a pseudo-fantastical parody score, so it’s understandable there are a lot of stylistic pivots. Even accounting for that, the score often has an alarmingly processed sound - take my “this sounds like MIDI” point about the action from the earlier Antz and apply it to darn near the whole score.

There are some charming stretches, including some of the contemplative acoustic guitar that would reappear in the same year’s Shrek. It’s seemingly the first score where Powell got to stretch his choral composition skills, something he would be well-known for by the end of the decade. And there are a few striking moments of modern style, even if they strongly suggest that the works of Romeo + Juliet composer Craig Armstrong were in the temp track (On The Bridge, Not A Bunny, Julia Sees The Castle). There’s enough to somewhat redeem the album, but it’s still probably for completists only.

That end credits song is…something, alright.

This was seemingly the last film Geoff Zanelli assisted John Powell with, though keep in mind it is tough to figure out who did what/when for the various cuts of the shelved Stallone film Eye See You, aka D-Tox.

Shrek (2001) - ***½
HGW & John Powell; add’l music by James McKee Smith; uncredited add’l music by Toby Chu;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh, Liz Finch, John Bell & John Coleman;
‘Welcome to Duloc’ by Mike Himelstein & Eric Darnell;
‘Merry Men’ by Kirby Tepper, director Andrew Adamson & Conrad Vernon;
conducted by HGW & Gavin Greenaway; thank you to Hans Zimmer

HGW: “Chicken Run and Shrek came a bit too close together for comfort, and the memories of the whole process were still lingering, but we just got down to it. John and I didn't choose each other - we're not partners or anything, in fact we rarely have a drink! We're two very different people. After Chicken Run, we both said, ‘Well, great - I think that's it!’ Before we'd seen Shrek or read it or anything about it, we both had the same reaction - we called each other up, and said ‘Why don't you do it, and I'll find something else to do.’ The next week we went to a rough screening of the film, and afterwards asked, ‘So John, did you find anything else to do?’ ‘Oh, shut up - let's just do it!’”

The guys were scoring, as HGW put it, “a pastiche of a fairy tale” and had to navigate around several pop song placements, so of course it has a stop-start, frequently shifting feel. Never mind the Fairy Tale and Shrek themes have similarities to The Princess Bride and Deep Blue Sea, respectively - you get everything from goofy comedy songs to parodies of Prince Valiant marches to Arnold Bond action mannerisms to folksy guitar passages.

That it succeeds at all is a testament to the likability and versatility of its two somewhat-derivative but still magnificently entertaining main themes - the composing team really nailed the heart of the movie. And many of the wilder individualized moments are entertaining enough on their own and sometimes quite funny on film (the overblown Michael Eisner…sorry, Lord Farquaad introduction, for example). I had this at *** and that seems unfairly low; it’s no Chicken Run (what is?), but it deserves a better rating.

Per Harry, it was still a very collaborative effort. “in Shrek, I wrote the main Fairy Tale theme, but my favorite cue in the movie is ‘Ride of the Dragon’ - John's cue, using my theme.” But unknown until 2019 was that John Powell was basically fired midway through production. “I was moving away from Hans and trying to find my own voice. I think I pushed a little too hard on Shrek and got, as Jeffrey would call it, a timeout. I was not as flexible in making compromises as perhaps I should have been. Obviously Harry filled in all of the gaps from me being a bit bullshit. Everybody wants you to have strong ideas, they just don’t want you to be a dick about it. So when they came back to do Shrek 2, I wasn’t asked, and that made absolute sense because Harry did most of most of the work.”

It’s the first credited appearance of longtime HGW team member Toby Chu, though he’d been on site for over a year. Chu came out of Berklee just like Geoff Zanelli and Ramin Djawadi, but he is largely unique among the Media Ventures crowd in having been a painter first. “Music was always in the background to fine arts [growing up]. I was always a mess covered in oil paints, water paints, something. In high school music became more of a focus. Music wasn’t in my family, [so] it was something enticing.

I played a lot of classical guitar in college trying to get into the music college, then it became jazz (my dad listened to a lot of jazz). The person I auditioned for said, ‘you should paint.’ Eventually I mustered up enough confidence to audition for the same guy again - ‘I’ll accept you to the program, but you’ll be in a probation program’ meaning I had to audition every Friday in front of a jury. I [got into composition because] I realized it was very similar to painting - layers, all those different techniques. I’d get frustrated playing in trios and want to go home and write something different for them to play.

[After Berklee] I moved to L.A. and eventually got an internship at Media Ventures. I think Hans was working on Gladiator and M:I 2. They promoted me to an engineer after about a month. I didn’t know anything about computers. I was 20, basically broke, selling paintings. I helped all 5 or 6 composers that were there - I was just supposed to help Hans, but when there’s a good intern, everyone goes, ‘Grab him.’ One day Harry pulled me, he just finished something and had a whole back room of CDs. ‘Just put some stickers on until you get tired.’ I did them all and finished at 3 in the morning; my hands were shaking. Harry later said, ‘Toby, I don’t think you got a degree in coffee making.’

On Chicken Run he asked me to help with a cue, but Steve was using the piano, so I just ran to the closet and started transcribing by ear. Harry came back and played it, it was correct, and he offered me a job. I worked with Harry for 12 years, on over 50 films. Shrek was my first film as Harry’s assistant.”

Evolution (2001) - ***
John Powell; add’l music by Gavin Greenaway & James McKee Smith;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch;
guitars & saz by George Doering; conducted by GG

An early-stage extension of Powell’s Road to El Dorado and Chicken Run style into the more rowdy material he would be known for over the next decade-plus. Tons of trumpets! Random flute whirls! If it were a Bruckheimer production Powell might’ve been fired, but he was starting to find collaborators who would let him stretch his compositional muscles. The album, my twenty-fourth discovery of this effort, is a likable 40 minutes, and it avoids the abrasive sound heard earlier in Just Visiting, but with none of the themes sticking out too strongly it’s perhaps best to treat the work as a testing ground for later ideas.

Rat Race (2001) - ***
Powell; add’l music by James McKee Smith & John Ashton Thomas;
orchestrated by Nick Ingman, John Bell, John Coleman, Kevin Townend, Geoff Alexander & Rick Wentworth;
conducted Nick Ingman; album compiled by Powell’s assistant Joel Richard

My discoveries hit the quarter-century mark. Number 25!

No, not the jazz score by Elmer Bernstein for the movie with Tony Curtis. This is the score that replaced a score by Elmer Bernstein, of which Bernstein’s one-time agent Richard Kraft wrote about. “When Jerry Goldsmith was unable to score Rat Race I gave Elmer an enthusiastic, unofficial recommendation. One day in LAX I bumped into Elmer’s daughter, Emilie, who was working as her father’s orchestrator. She had just flown back from London where the plug had been pulled on Elmer’s score. I offered a feeble joke about how he had already scored Rat Race 40 years ago. We smiled, but deep down I felt awful that there are no Get Out of Jail Free cards for film composers, no matter how much they’ve accomplished.”

This film was a remake of the well-regarded 1963 film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Both films largely seemed to be an excuse to get a bunch of people you recognized on screen so they could chase after some loot. Star John Cleese would praise the newer movie’s script and upon release it did make decent money, but it bombed critically and director Jerry Zucker (of Airplane! fame, but also coming off the poorly received First Knight) would never helm another film again. It was the second misbegotten remake Powell would work on this year, though he managed to deliver what feels like the first truly zany Powell score, one that would clearly inform his future music for Blue Sky Studios’ Ice Age franchise. You get lots of busy ensemble explosions straight out of a Looney Tunes episode and a healthy dose of female vocals to bolster the comedy. It’s not too far removed from what Alan Silvestri or Danny Elfman might’ve done, though a few extensions of the Antz formula, namely Chase to the Balloons, clearly root this as a Powell work. The score is harmless fun that’s executed with a lot of panache (there’s even a tuba solo!), but be warned there are a lot of short tracks and even only 36 minutes of this music might be too much for some.

There was an 2014 Empire interview done in promotion of Rio 2 that was a bit of a Random Roles-type rundown and seemed to have been the only place on the internet where Powell spoke about working on this movie (it’s also where he spoke about getting a lot of his material from The Bourne Ultimatum tossed), but a recent web redesign seems to have screwed it up and most of the quotes are no longer visible. Bummer.

This is the first credited appearance of longtime Powell team member John Ashton Thomas, Powell’s former classmate at Trinity College of Music who would have a variety of credits on Powell’s work for the next two decades, with most of those after 2008 being for orchestration. “The job of a film orchestrator is to make the music sound good when played by the orchestra. John’s arrangements are already full of detail when I get them. I receive MIDI files and mp3s. I create a playable score from these materials. I do not see the movie as I orchestrate, but have sometimes seen it prior to that. Real musical performance is enriching in all its forms, be it recorded or live performance. The idea of some film music is that it adds emotional depth to a movie.” Outside of Hollywood, Thomas was also known as a skilled jazz instructor. He would sadly pass away last year at the age of 60, only a little over a month before Encanto (which he helped orchestrate) was released.

Also, for what it’s worth - Elmer’s music for the earlier film The Rat Race (released on CD by Kritzerland, and also featured on Bernstein’s marvelous Movie and TV Themes LP recording) is terrific and needs to be heard by a wider audience.

Spy Game (2001) - ***½
HGW; add’l arrangements by Justin Burnett & Toby Chu;
orchestrated by Bruce Fowler; score reader Alastair King;
Vietnamese vocals by Lisbeth Scott; Celtic harp by Patrick Cassidy;
thank you’s to Hans Zimmer & RGW

The film that solidified the Tony Scott-HGW partnership for the next decade. “Tony is certainly one of a kind. I didn't really feel the force of it on Enemy of the State, since there were two of us composing, and we came in pretty late. I don't think the producers were that keen on me at first, but Tony went out on a limb for me - I didn't do a demo or anything. When I first saw the rough cut of the film, I was so confused by it I hardly dared show Tony how baffled. But it turned out when we tested the film that everyone seemed to have a problem with it. So he very smartly and intelligently honed it down.” By producers Harry perhaps meant Bruckheimer, whom he felt had practially tortured him during his time on The Rock.

Like the same year’s Black Hawk Down, the music plays like a collision of world music and rock - BHD’s more restrained, less angry cousin, if you will. The modern electronic edge that populates a good chunk of the score will be a deterrent to some listeners, though others may appreciate that this is lightyears away from the unsophisticated loops and drum pads of earlier MV works. There’s a refinement to some of it that’s surprising, not just in the solo moments but how it occasionally supports the warmer orchestral passages. Admittedly, I thought Training Montage was pretty cool.

“The thing that made a huge difference to the Beirut sequences was finding, quite by chance, a vocalist who has become a good friend, and had a complete abandon about the way he sang.”

The themes don’t really stick with me, though there are a few impressive dramatic crescendos and some lovely intimate stretches. The finale track is exceptional. It’s not the easiest listening experience at times, but it’s much better than I remembered it being.

If you think the album’s overlong, rest assured Harry agrees with you. “There was a time when we were mixing and I was much more [focused on] how it was going to work for the film. I tossed the music over to another mixing engineer. I'm not blaming him for it, I did make some suggestions about how he could cut things together - but it ended up being too long.”

I Am Sam (2001) - ***
John Powell; orchestrated by B Fowler/Moriarty;
ukes & guitars by George Doering & Heitor Pereira;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; James McKee Smith as Powell’s assistant;
thank you to Hans Zimmer

A drama about a mentally challenged man who suddenly gains custody of his young daughter, I Am Sam was a decent commercial success but is perhaps remembered today for factoring into a mercilessly funny sequence in the action comedy Tropic Thunder about how far actors should go in portraying people with intellectual disabilities for awards bait films - “Ask Sean Penn, 2001, I Am Sam. Remember? Went full retard? Went home empty-handed.”

Like Forces of Nature two years earlier, my twenty-sixth discovery of this effort could’ve been just anonymous background material and it’s impressive enough that it isn’t. Powell plays around with a largely intimate ensemble, toying with a lot of guitar and cello ideas that would inform his future scores, and even if it doesn’t have the most obvious themes it still makes for a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes. One piece would hint at Powell’s later Latin infusions in things like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, while a few tracks suggest his penchant for hyperactive percussion with some active (if subtle) parts for what sounds like a kid’s xylophone. Shrek is the best-known score Powell had a hand in from this year, but his other 2001 works provided an equal (if not better) sense of where Powell would head over the rest of the decade.

Considering The Pledge from the same year, that’s two 2001 movies with Sean Penn involved that MV members wrote plucky, somewhat themeless material for.


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