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Zimmer, team, and alums rundown Pt 3 - MV 1999-02 - Sprawlball (3d) [EDITED]
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, April 10, 2022, at 7:09 a.m.
• IP Address:
Message Edited: Monday, April 11, 2022, at 3:41 p.m.

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

Black Hawk Down (2001) - ****
Zimmer; add’l music by the BHD Band - Michael Brook, Craig Eastman, Heitor Pereira & Martin Tillman;
trumpet by Walt Fowler; featured vocalist Baaba Maal; ambient music design by Mel Wesson;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty & Liz Finch; special contributions by Jeff Rona, Jim Dooley & Ilan Eshkeri;
music editor Marc Streitenfeld; future Elfman team member T.J. Lindgren as one of the asst. engineers;
Trevor Morris as Zimmer’s assistant (among others); thank you’s to KB; GG, HGW, Henning Lohner, JP & Jay Rifkin

Quote from Zimmer published in July 2001 about having Black Hawk Down later in the year: “I refuse to even think about it.”

Bruckheimer bought the story rights of the failed 1993 US military raid in Mogadishu for Simon West to direct, but West left to direct the first Tomb Raider film, so instead Ridley Scott was brought on board. The two Tinseltown titans had worked together years earlier on commercials and were already friends, though this was the first time they had teamed up on film. Coming out only several months after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the film - a relentlessly intense and unsparing view of modern warfare with an absurdly stacked cast - was a critical and commercial success and is generally regarded today as one of Scott’s finest movies, though it was not without its critics who objected to its intentionally one-sided view of the conflict and omission of Somali actors. Despite some disagreements between Ridley and Jerry (Scott claimed there was some “circling in the ring, but no one was taking punches”), it was largely seen by both as an effective collaboration, with Bruckheimer later saying Scott was instrumental to the film’s quality. I was a little too young to see this when it originally came out; my father later spoke of how seeing it in theaters remains one of most riveting moviegoing experiences he ever had, something I’m still envious of.

Ridley, unsurprisingly, had very specific instructions about the music. “The main priority was not to sound Hollywood. And I don’t mean that in any detrimental fashion. I was going to be walking very carefully on the side of docudrama and that meant I needed to have the music to be very affecting. We had already gone after Peter Gabriel and he said, ‘it will cost X.’ I said, ‘Dude, that’s way too much! For that much I can bring in Baaba Maal from Senegal. And his family.’ We did. Baaba and Hans and I sat in a Sony room and Baaba would say, ‘Okay, run it.’ We’d run a section and he would literally do a cappella, on the spot, immediately and powerfully. Now, Hans is very much a prepared, knowledgeable musician but Baaba was much more of a ‘from the hip’ musician, because that’s how he functions. So we got the passion. When we begin the film I slowly [tracked across bodies] and through this we introduced Baaba. It still knocks me out.”

HZ: “Hannibal is incredibly composed - just sit down, write very properly. Black Hawk Down, I just wanted to do it like the way the movie was. I thought we should make it two tribes - the polished, technologically advanced ‘techno’ tribe and the North African side [with] more ethnic instruments, but they would have equal power, equal strength, equal expression. I read more books about the history of Somalia than any musician should. I sent Marc Streitenfeld to Morocco while they were shooting, and he went from village to village, collecting sounds from street musicians.”

The post-production process was compressed; Zimmer was supposed to have three months to work on the music but then the schedule was moved up to the point that Zimmer claimed there wasn’t even time to write mock-ups for most tracks. Regardless, Zimmer’s prior jam band scores seemed to have given him a good amount of practice with managing his team like this, and the result was probably the best score produced in this format in this period. As with the rock band approach to Mission: Impossible II the prior year, Zimmer would say “I hope I’m not making a mess of it - I bet [Ridley and others] are praying I just pull it off.” He didn’t; the music is a near-perfect match for the film’s relentlessly chaotic onslaught, the sheer uncertainty of the combat situation, and the tragedies and failures displayed on screen. One is reminded of Zimmer’s earlier statements from Crimson Tide about avoiding the usual tendency to glorify the army - “the main theme is for that boy every generation who went to war, that this is a job they go and do; I don’t think they think of themselves as heroes, and I wanted you to feel what this is like. There’s a vulnerability with this group of soldiers that they only overcome by taking chances for each other, and in a way I’m trying to have that reflected in our process.”

It wasn’t 100% a jam band though. Bruce Fowler recorded a string section doing all sorts of experimental things (everyone playing their highest note, everyone playing their lowest note, etc.) to create what Zimmer called “sound sculptures” so that just playing American or North African instruments didn’t become predictable.

MT: “[It was the first time I was] making new groves with the electric cello. It was a very open-minded world music score that had bits of Middle Eastern and African approaches in it. Everything fell into place. A rare circumstance.”

This would be ZImmer’s first African score in a while, coming years after A World Apart, The Power of One, and The Lion King, and it is decidedly different from those, with some of the material playing more like a lament (creating connections with Zimmer’s previously mournful music for the war film The Thin Red Line and the melancholy The House of the Spirits). Some may quibble occasionally about how Scott uses music in his films, but the vocals by Baaba Maal are striking, both on film and on album - it lends the same kind of unexpected impact that Lisa Gerrard’s voice would in Gladiator the prior year.

The full score has some notable tracks that deserve a legitimate release, including a rare martial performance of Zimmer’s troops theme that plays when Eric Bana’s character is using a turret. However, a lot of the score was written as suites (when it was even written down at all - “There’s one tune that only existed on a handheld video camera”) or originally written with one scene in mind before being shuffled elsewhere, so it’s not clear how easy it would be to work the entire work into a decent listening program. I recall my experiences in the aughts encountering 2CD and even 3CD bootlegs online that claimed to be the “complete” score - they never were, and they almost always featured duplicate tracks.

JR: “I came in about halfway and wrote my own themes and pieces, some to picture, and some just as a library of music for the editors to use as they wished. Many are in the film, and fragments of them appear in other people's cues as well. It was a chance to experiment with what was possible.”

Ideas past and future blend here. A slow, sparse theme that emerges towards the end of Synchrotone and functions as an interlude in Leave No Man Behind is an obvious descendant of The Thin Red Line, while Tribal War teases how a subtheme from The Rock would make its way into Pirates in a few years.

Whether it’s a good standalone listen or not is a different matter. It is intentionally designed to be challenging music, and if you don’t have any affinity for it or how it was used in the film then the album might be a slog. But it makes for an incredibly creative and coherent album, astonishing in the grungy cultural collisions it creates even if it’s not the most fun. And gosh, I’ve tolerated equally challenging material from Bear McCreary (never mind Austin Wintory’s nasty brass passages in The Banner Saga trilogy). I’d rather have this than the abrasive sampled sounds of the prior decade.

I toyed with moving the score’s rating up from *** to ***½ or ****. My major complaint about the album (that it holds its primary military theme for the penultimate score track) almost had me take the first option, but memories of its profound impact on the film, plus the fact that I listened to the album again the next day and still really enjoyed it, sealed the deal.

This would be the first credited appearance of future Vikings composer Trevor Morris, who got his start in the industry much in the same way John Powell and James Levine had. “I was in my early twenties writing music for commercials. I decided that I wanted longer than thirty seconds to say what I wanted to say. I was living in Canada at the time and there wasn’t room for me in the business, so I decided to go to Los Angeles. I got a job working as a pickup assistant for James Newton Howard through his then engineer Jim Hill, who remains a friend and does a lot of mixing for me. James didn’t have a full-time position for me then, but Hans had something open up and it just flowed from there.”

Harry Gregson-Williams once said you can tell how far Zimmer is into a project based on the length of his beard. During the post-production documentary on Hannibal he’s clean-shaven. During the documentary on Black Hawk Down he is very scruffy. How fitting.

We Were Soldiers (2002) - ***½
Nick Glennie-Smith; featuring ‘Sgt. MacKenzie’ by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie; orchestrated by Ashley Irwin;
lyrics for ‘The Mansion of the Lord’ by director Randall Wallace; sound design for ‘That’s a Nice Day’ by Malcolm Luker

Discovery #27 - and the first solo NGS work explored as part of this effort - covers screenwriter Randall Wallace’s second project as a director after The Man in the Iron Mask, for which NGS also did the music. Adapting a book about the Battle of Ia Drang during America’s war in Vietnam, the film received respectful reviews and did modest business at the box office - and also featured early film roles in supporting parts for future Mad Men star Jon Hamm and future First Lady on Scandal Bellamy Young, as well as one of the last film appearances of actress Madeline Stowe. But the movie hasn’t lingered in the public consciousness the way other major war films of the late 90s and early aughts (or many of the Vietnam war movies of the 1970s and 1980s) have. Star Mel Gibson’s many public controversies years after its release probably haven’t helped matters.

NGS: “It’s not like a Vietnam war movie where you’ve got people who were drafted. It’s people who were already in the military. I was aware of the effect [the Vietnam War] was having on [American] society and a whole generation of kids, and feeling very lucky that I was in England and not [there], even though I was a little too young for it.”

The score largely delivers restrained drama for the proceedings that could not be farther from the abrasive feel that occasionally defined NGS prior contributions. It’s simplistic for sure, but it is on occasion lovely. Eastern instruments and vocals are infrequently applied but do provide some nice diversity. Singular moments, like the traditional-sounding hymn and the rerecording of Joseph Kilna MacKenzie’s lament for his father, impress. On the whole, it’s certainly appropriate (there’s far more solo trumpet in here than there was in Pearl Harbor), but it’s also a very conservative approach to the material, and the consistently low-key feel may put some listeners to sleep.

“I thought about how to unify Western and Eastern, so I used some (not completely true to Vietnam) instruments.”

For a war actioner, it features remarkably little action music, which was a joint decision; Wallace wanted sound effects to dominate those sequences while NGS said ‘I really don’t like gory stuff’. The conclusive hymn was also Wallace’s idea. “I had this tune for the ending at Arlington [National Cemetery]. Randall said, ‘I’ve got some words I think we should use, we should do something like a hymn at the end of this. I phoned Paramount up and said ‘we need a choir’. ‘Where’s the choir going to be?’ ‘In the end credits.’ ‘We’re booking an expensive choir for rolling black?’ ‘Yes!’ And now that hymn gets played every day at Arlington.”

The Time Machine (2002) - ****½
Klaus Badelt; add’l music by Geoff Zanelli; add’l arr. by Jim Dooley, Tim Jones & Ramin Djawadi;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway & Rick Wentworth; thank you’s to B Fowler, Jay Rifkin, HGW, Henning Lohner & HZ

Yes, it’s the H. G. Wells story, but we’re not talking about the low-budget 1960s adaptation that reused sets from the The Forbidden Planet. This is the adaptation where Orlando Jones plays an AI librarian and Guy Pearce fights a very pale Jeremy Irons. The film had some production issues, namely director Gore Verbinski having to take over for Simon Wells for the last 3 weeks of filming, and it almost had the misfortune of opening against Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring before the studio pushed its release date forward a few months. None of that would prevent a rancid critical reception. Maybe if it had been more successful Hans Zimmer would’ve been asked years later by fans what it was like to adapt Badelt’s themes for The Time Machine: On Stranger Tides.

KB: : “The producer of The Time Machine was Walter Parkes, one of the producers on Gladiator. I liked the guy and I guess he liked me too. And he’s quite a good guitar player.”

The score, probably the best-remembered element from the picture, dares to ask the question, “what if Media Ventures was double-dared to write both a James Horner and a Jerry Goldsmith score and instead decided to negotiate a two-for-one deal?” This sucker is super-saturated with the former composer’s dramatic and fantasy tendencies as well as elements from the latter composer’s 1990s output (the rousing brass theme from The Edge likely was in the temp track). Film music reviewers at the time reacted with genuine surprise if not near glee, as perhaps doing ersatz-Goldsmith and ersatz-Horner was more attractive to them than hearing the company’s established style regurgitated once more. These elements are occasionally distracting in their familiarity, but the whole package is still executed with tremendous panache and Badelt’s main themes are all quite catchy.

Woodwinds flutter in with an activity you’d usually associate with John Powell; perhaps the presence of former Powell assistant Geoff Zanelli influenced that. I Don’t Belong Here is as rousing as any track MV and its alumni wrote during this 4-year stretch. The later action material does lean in more of a traditional MV direction, but even then it exhibits more of the expansive acoustic feel and terrific percussion mix of Mark Mancina’s better scores of the 1990s - very little is abrasive here. The weighty opening of The Master is the halfway point between Badelt’s earlier MV contributions and his massive work on The Promise a few years later.

KB: “I tried to use various elements in the score - it's in the future, but it\'s not a technological future - it's a primitive one. It's not in Africa, Russia, or Bulgaria - it's in New York. So I tried to use elements that are known to you, but make them sound like they\'re not. Like the choir pieces. I recorded a single person 158 times, and then put a real choir in the back - so if you listen to it, it's just a bit strange. There’re lots of synthesizers in there, too, but they're hidden so you don't hear them much.”

There’s definitely an upper bound on how high one should rate a work so derivative, but this was still much more fun than I remembered - and that’s worth an extra half-star from my prior **** assessment. To leverage a phrase from this site, it’s a 4-star album with a handful of 5-star moments. Steal from the best, right?

Passionada (2002) - ***
HGW; add’l arrangements by Justin Burnett & Geoff Zanelli;
track layering by Toby Chu; acoustic guitar by Heitor Pereira;
album compiled by Meri Gavin

Discovery #28. This music was for a film that was a little-seen romcom situated in a heavily Portugue section of Massachusetts that had an early appearance of Emmy Rossum, the future star of the TV series Shameless.

The score basically has three modes. Attractive acoustic guitar passages by Heitor Pereira are littered throughout, alongside plenty of pleasant woodwind solos, the occasional piano part, and a small string accompaniment. Other areas seem to ape the quirky parts of Thomas Newman’s later scores (Beck the Cardcounter, for example), to the point that you wonder if American Beauty or something similar was in the temp. And then you have tracks like Vicky on Her Bike and Vicky Has An Idea with relentlessly thumping bass and bouncing manipulated voices that play like the intersection of the Spanish sections of M:I 2, HGW’s music for Tony Scott thrillers, Zimmer & team’s later music for The Holiday, and what Ludwig Göransson might’ve done.

The Latin playfulness of The Bakery is pretty close to what John Powell would end up delivering for future action films Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Knight & Day, though that’s probably a coincidence.

All of those elements are fine, even if they don’t really fit together or interact much. It’s a minor score, but it showed some welcome sides of Harry we hadn’t seen before. It makes for a largely agreeable 30 or so minutes of music, and it even blends fairly well with the 12 minutes of songs by singers Misia and Mitar Suboti&#263; interspersed throughout the program.

Speaking of temp tracks - HGW would find that when he showed up to work on his next romantic comedy it had already been mocked up…with this score!

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) - ***
Zimmer; add’l music / arrangements by Steve Jablonsky, Jim Dooley, Rupert Gregson-Williams & Mel Wesson;
acoustic & electric guitar by Heitor Pereira; electric cello by Martin Tillman; executive music producer Jay Rifkin;
'Here I Am' by Bryan Adams, Gretchen Peters & Hans Zimmer, also prod. by Gavin Greenaway;
'I Will Always Return' by Bryan Adams, Mutt Lange & Hans Zimmer, also prod. by Patrick Leonard & Gavin Greenaway;
'This Is Where I Belong' and 'I Will Always Return (Finale)' by Bryan Adams, Mutt Lange & Hans Zimmer, also prod. by Gavin Greenaway;
'You Can't Take Me' by Bryan Adams, Gavin Greenaway & Mutt Lange;
'Get Off My Back' by Bryan Adams & Eliot Kennedy, also prod. by Matt Mahaffey;
'Sound The Bugle' by Gavin Greenaway & Trevor Horn, also prod. by Gavin Greenaway;
'Here I Am (End Title)' by Bryan Adams, Gretchen Peters & Hans Zimmer, also prod. by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis;
'Brothers Under The Sun' by Bryan Adams, Steve Jablonsky & Gretchen Peters;
'Don't Let Go' by Bryan Adams, Gavin Greenaway, Mutt Lange & Gretchen Peters;
'Nothing I've Ever Known' by Bryan Adams, Eliot Kennedy & Hans Zimmer, also prod. by Gavin Greenaway;
“Red River Valley” arranged by Craig Eastman; thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Nick Glennie-Smith, Harry Gregson-Williams & Henning Lohner

There are a truly gargantuan amount of credits here for this, the music for Dreamworks’ horse adventure and my twenty-ninth discovery of this effort.

Originally Garth Brooks was pursued, but eventually Bryan Adams was brought in to sing and write nearly all the songs for this western animated film with a now-rare Dreamworks animal protagonist who doesn’t talk. Adams’ occasional co-writer Gretchen Peters helped, as did producer Mutt Lange (Shania Twain’s then-husband) who had worked on several prior Adams records. Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLaughlin is on one track. Zimmer’s old Buggles bandmate Trevor Horn reappeared. R&B team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, producers on a number of acclaimed Janet Jackson albums, contributed to the end credits piece. Gavin Greenaway had a hand in half the songs, while Steve Jablonsky would make his first big impression with Zimmer by submitting a melody that turned into the song Brothers Under The Sun. “I knew he could arrange and do all the technical stuff, but this was one of those tunes I wish I had written.” Zimmer and Adams would even take the show on the road, performing live against clips of the film at a ShoWest convention and a Dreamworks event in L.A. before playing the entire score live-to-film for the film’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival a few weeks before its wide release.

Zimmer was unusually transparent about the trial and error process of finding the sonic world of the score, even mentioning it in a promotional making-of video. “I was trying to reinvent the western. There must have been a couple of fights Jeffrey and I had. I did the score three times. I couldn't figure out how to make it work. The first version - ‘let’s get a lot of guitars in’ - [but] the first time you hear a guitar you know there were definitely people there - I was trying to tell it from the horse’s point of view. ‘Okay, if I don’t want any people in there I should go totally abstract and make it an electronic score’ - except I did that for a year and it got REALLY boring. What was hard was trying to figure out how to introduce real instruments without making it sound like there were men hiding, like the Count Basie Big Band at the end of Blazing Saddles. Finally I realized [I should] just try to write good melodies. It has become this metamorphosis of all these different styles.” The urge to reinvent both genres and himself that led Zimmer to produce this kind of score/song combo is perhaps key to understanding the next year’s Pirates.

Honestly, I’ve never listened to an album by Adams before; my only experiences with his music have been via his songs on Michael Kamen scores, most of which I liked enough even if I tended to skip over them. I didn’t find any of the tunes objectionable here (except for a bizarre hip hop credits remix), though even with their stylistic differences they all seemed to blend into a folksy, amorphous whole. The problem was what they were being written for. Adams claimed he felt the role of his songs was to try to bring emotions to things - but in having the lyrics almost didactically explain what the horse was feeling or what was going on in the movie it seemed to clash with the visual aesthetic of the film and possibly insulted the intelligence of the audience (as if Katzenberg & co didn’t trust the viewers to understand what the images were conveying). The album reviews from the time mainly exist now to remind readers that many film score critics truly despise Adams’ songwriting and/or fanbase.

HZ: “We gave Bryan very specific instructions. Be very metaphorical. And of course the first lines he gave us were ‘here I am.’ So we changed our minds - be very specific!”

There’s at least 20 minutes of standalone score on the original album (probably more if you consider that some of the song tracks contain uninterrupted instrumental sequences), and it’s the only score from this period by Zimmer that feels like a real throwback to his pre-Lion King days when he was regularly tossing out great tunes and off-the-beaten-path mixes of real and synthetic instruments that would elevate smaller character-driven films. The swooshes, the specific keyboard tones, the easygoing feel, the melodic structures, the pipe flute sounds - it’s all largely anachronistic, almost to absurd proportions (something Zimmer would wholeheartedly concede, saying “there's no point making an animated film unless you can step outside reality”), but it does a good job triggering nostalgia. The “songs then score” approach to the album sequencing (common then for animation score CDs, and sadly still common now) doesn’t do the work any favors, in fact it has the unintended consequence of making it feel like the incongruous album to The Road to El Dorado even though Zimmer & team had an active hand in many of the songs this go-round.

The whole package feels like what some folks said about Zimmer’s Pearl Harbor a year earlier - not bad music, but it may not be the right music. Like Zimmer’s replacement score on White Fang a decade earlier, the genre became somewhat subordinate to his own tendencies.

The film had a decent but unremarkable critical and commercial reception. Now it feels like a relic of an earlier age where Katzenberg and Dreamworks were still trying to crank out hand-drawn animation and Disney-adjacent musicals. The film was in development for four years, including during the release of Shrek, whose computer animation, goofy humor, and pop culture references would more inform the studio’s output going forward. After this and the largely middling response to The Road to El Dorado and its music, a singer-songwriter would never again be so integrated into the creation of a Dreamworks film’s music, nor be so prominently featured in the marketing materials, although some would show up to contribute to select tracks or credits songs (Jónsi’s work on the How To Train Your Dragon series, for example). However, the Spirit franchise would find a surprising second life over a decade later as a spin-off TV series and subsequent film.

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) - ****
Klaus Badelt; add’l arrangements by Geoff Zanelli & Ramin Djawadi; orchestrated by KB, Robert Elhai & Brad Warnaar;
‘Suite for Orchestra’ and maybe more conducted by Valery Gergiev; ‘Voices of Light’ “arranged” by Walter Murch;
add’l conducting, orchestrations, arrangement of ‘L’Internationale’, and help with ‘Reunion’ by Blake Neely;
thank you’s to Henning Lohner & Hans Zimmer

Discovery #30!

Distributed by Paramount but not produced by any major studio (thus making it one of the most expensive independent films ever), this telling of the true story of a series of accidents aboard a nuclear submarine during the Cold War would be deemed adequate by many critics, but was criticized by some surviving crew members for its accuracy and ultimately (sorry) sink at the box office, perhaps due to the questionable choice to release a somber submarine drama where everyone has “hunting for Moose and Squirrel” accents in the middle of the summer movie season. Supposedly a lot of material was excised from the theatrical release; composer Klaus Badelt would claim the first cut was over four hours long and did a lot more to establish the characters and their heritage.

KB: “They are a very proud people. They've endured many wars on their own soil, for hundreds of years. With the music, I tried to give them these roots, and I used the orchestra [and] a few instruments like the balalaika, and the accordion - folklore instruments. These characters are not from big cities, so it's basically their own music. I wanted to give them a feeling of 'home'. There's no synth at all, it's a purely orchestral score.”

Badelt’s composition is a often-slow, solemn affair that is perhaps best described as the halfway point between the brooding Commodus material from Gladiator and a weighty Russian symphony. This was not by accident, though it wasn’t exactly the result of scholarly research either. “Me being a German composer working on an American movie about a Russian story, well, you can't expect authentic Russian music - so I didn't even try to do that. But like the movie, it's seen from our perspective - so I did just that in the music. I asked myself, ‘How do I see Russian culture?’ I didn't try to be authentic, and didn't study anything in particular. I just tried to capture the coloration of it - the instrumentation and the chords.” The full score is very reliant on its main theme, which does start to overstay its welcome at the end of the nearly 70-minute album, but thankfully it's a good one.

Badelt would originally write a 15-minute symphonic suite after watching the album - and a lot of the ideas would make their way into the full film score. The third movement of the suite really goes in a Peacemaker-on-the-high-seas direction, with some of it even distractingly recalling the waltz-like mannerisms that informed Gladiator two years prior. Thankfully these elements would not recur much in the actual score. As the score goes on the work starts to get more assertive and bombastic, usually to its benefit. Big, floor-shaking choral outbursts throughout Journey are clear nods to the opening of Hunt for the Red October, but they’re also shamelessly entertaining. My reaction was like the one I had with the equally derivative Time Machine from the same year - who cares?

Much was made at the time of the involvement of Russian classical conductor Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra (who were recording their first-ever film score, and apparently were the ones to suggest the idea in the first place). It was largely a success, especially with the suite where there’s a performance emphasis and flow that actually feels like Gergiev was interpreting the music in the way he would’ve a major symphony, producing the kind of resonance (especially in the strings) that has largely been rare in the history of original film music recordings, maybe only emerging in Alfred Newman’s conducting during his leadership of the 20th Century Fox music department and more recent dramatic works emphasizing a prominent classical soloist like Itzhak Perlman for Schindler’s List.

However, Badelt would admit it took some work to align the music back to the film. “I showed them the scenes, [but] I didn't want to push Gergiev in any particular way. No click track. It was surprising how different the interpretation of my work was most of the time. There were parts that [were] too slow for the film, for example. So we did a lot of music editing - after all, we had a movie to fit!” Badelt would also have an interesting story on how American classical composer Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light was worked into one part of the film. ”[The editor] Walter Murch cut the sequence around the music, but then he cut the music so much that he ended up arranging it. We took his arrangement, and we re-recorded it - so it would have musical continuity with the same orchestra - the same color, recorded in the same room. Walter did such a great job, and it was so moving, that I really didn't want to even touch it - so I didn't write anything for that sequence.”

It’s also the first credited MV appearance of Blake Neely, a former orchestrator for film composer Michael Kamen and future maestro of the CW’s superhero TV series empire. “I was in Paris, Texas, with no connection to Hollywood or film making. (And don’t forget: no internet!) I majored in Linguistics with two minors in Russian and Japanese. At the time, my very supportive parents told me to choose a major that I could fall back on if music didn’t work out for me. When I told them I’d chosen Linguistics, my father said, ‘That’s not a fallback!’ And I said, ‘I know. Now I really have to make music work out!’

Through a long and diverse set of circumstances, I made it to Los Angeles in 1991. In 2004, I finally saw my name on a movie poster for the first time. Hilariously, on my first poster, they misspelled my name as Neeley. But my first actual composer credit came 2 years earlier on the television series Everwood. Thankfully, they got my name right there.

The first CD I ever bought was a Hans Zimmer CD, and to work with him so closely and now call him a friend doesn’t even feel real sometimes. I actually find myself wanting to work with other artists, [which] comes from working with Michael Kamen, because he had such success working with artists like David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, and others.”

Given this and Time Machine, it’s a real shame that Badelt got sick of Hollywood.

Also, this would not be the only score from a Media Ventures alum this year to feature a healthy dose of its pre-film ideas on its album.

The Bourne Identity (2002) - ***
John Powell; add’l music by James McKee Smith;
orchestrated by B Fowler/Moriarty; guitars featuring George Doering;
piano and ProTools operating by TJ Lindgren;
Joel Richard assisted with programming; Daniel Lerner compiled the album

Overall, this was definitely not as frustrating a standalone listen as I remembered.

The second adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s spy movie (following a 1988 TV movie that aired in two parts and hewed more closely to its source novel), The Bourne Identity was plagued by studio mandated rewrites and reshoots, went over its budget, and had its release delayed by almost a year - yet it turned out to be a winner that would spawn multiple sequels and turn drama darling Matt Damon into an action hero. A more traditionally orchestral score by Carter Burwell (best known then and now for his work on films directed by the Coen Brothers) was ultimately tossed, though it is unclear if Burwell wanted to do a rescore or was even available. Powell was brought in and initially conceived of a mostly electronic score that would help keep costs down, though eventually strings would be added to lend more of a cinematic feel (trumpets were contemplated at one point by Powell but was “chastised by [director] Doug Liman if I sounded remotely Bond-ish.” Funny enough, its constantly churning string pattern might be the most recognized music from the picture (it’s either that or the drums, or maybe the Moby song Extreme Ways that’s consistently used in the series’ end credits).

JP: “I had to sort of leave, fly the coop, and do Bourne Identity to make sure that Hollywood knew me as being something that was different from everybody else. The Bourne Identity was me reacting and doing the opposite of everything I was required to do when I was at Media Ventures.”

Powell’s propulsive work was unintentionally innovative. It was a clear rejection of the larger-than-life, rock/orchestra/choir mash-ups and power chords that had been coming from Media Ventures, including his own earlier, admittedly derivative work on Face/Off. But it also wasn’t a throwback to the more muscular orchestral action classics of the 80s either; there’s not a trace of, say, Jerry Goldsmith’s Rambo or Basil Poledouris’ Robocop to be found. It was different - stripped down, agitated & nervy, unresolved. The percussion didn’t sound like anything else used in films at the time. There’s a catchy kind of cool to a lot of the proceedings, with electronics that feel nearly omnipresent but are rarely obnoxious (save maybe for the loop-dominated The Apartment), but Powell wasn’t using the 80s and 90s way of generating coolness by letting a guitar rip. The score gave the film a sense of unease, momentum, and occasionally heart, and it was seen as a key part of the film’s success.

The score has been shown up on various online lists from time to time as “one of the greatest scores ever”, but it’s perhaps more fair to say it is an extremely consequential score rather than an overly compelling one. It feels like an embryonic, somewhat unrefined presentation of ideas that all would be better explored in the subsequent film in the series, although that score would lose a bit of this work’s edginess. Its themes and motifs are functional but not overly memorable, and the work is more focused on atmosphere and style (which works great for some listeners, but doesn’t for me). It perhaps represents an inflection point with action movie music where scores would start to become vastly more effective on film than they would be engaging as standalone album listens, something that would become more prominent over the next two decades.

I do mean consequential though, and not just because Powell would write music for four future films by Doug Liman. This score would revolutionize the action genre for the next decade or so, with a host of films rushing to not just have a Bourne feel to their story and visual aesthetic (especially the quick-cutting, shaky camera work of the sequel), but also to have the Bourne sound. Powell would experience this firsthand by hearing his own music in the temp on a host of later projects but also encounter it in plenty of movies he had nothing to do with. A dozen years later he would say “it’s got to the point where I can barely watch television because everything sounds like that. I can even tell which piece they’ve been [referencing].” Powell was largely sick of scoring action films when he said that, though he would produce perhaps his finest score for that genre only a year after he did this one.

The last four tracks on the commercially released album are not actually part of the film but are instead some of Powell’s conceptual demo suites that got him the gig. “Doug hired me not even knowing I’d been connected with Hans. He heard a demo that he liked, then he brought me in and I did some demos for him. He liked them and just from the conversations I had I knew he wanted something different.” While they are close to the final ideas used in the film, they are decidedly more aggressive and challenging to listen to; many listeners will probably want to skip these. The score received a very negative review from this site when it came out, and it seems these played a big part in that, though I don’t see the need to punish this score for what are basically bonus tracks showing the composer’s working process.

Some comedy - According to Powell, Doug Liman took a dare to put Icy Hot (or something like it) on his balls if the film, then seen as doomed, made over $100m. “Six weeks later I got to watch him do that and run to a bucket of ice.” Also, Powell would show a hilarious alternate arrangement of this score at a later SAG/AFTRA event:

The Ring (2002) - ****
Zimmer, Henning Lohner & Martin Tillman; add’l music by Jim Dooley & Trevor Morris;
ambient music by Mel Wesson, Clay Duncan & Bart K Hendrickson; orchestrated by B Fowler;
conducted by Fiachra Trench & Gavin Greenaway; thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Ramin Djawadi, HGW, James Levine & Geoff Zanelli

Whoops! Almost forgot to do this one before posting. Instead, we get Discovery #31.

The rare American remake of a foreign film that was actually good, Gore Verbinski’s film about a haunted VHS tape was a massive box office hit. Zimmer, burned out after Spirit and contemplating taking a year off from scoring, met Verbinski about another project but was entranced by the footage that, to him, recalled German expressionism. Zimmer hadn’t worked in the horror genre since he and Stanley Meyers scored the British Paperhouse in 1988, so it was an opportunity to “perhaps do it a little bit better.”

Zimmer felt the process of composing was fairly easy for this one. “It felt very much like working on a European movie. There are a lot of silences in this movie, so we were talking about silences [as] opposed to the next car chase. So it's very much back to where I come from. Sound-wise some of the best horror movies are The Exorcist, The Shining, and Psycho, so for composers horror movies have always been an area where you can go and reinvent something. I don't think I reinvented a lot in this, I just had a game.”

The music is an intimate portrait of gradually creeping dread, to the point that you actually hear the bow on the strings at a few points (almost like an intentional deconstruction of a Bach cello sonata). But rather than obsessively dwell in dissonance, ambient noise, or musique concrète as a lot of later scores in this genre, The Ring plays more like an extension of Zimmer’s elegantly haunting music from the earlier Hannibal, even down to the way low strings were used. “This score's only dark instruments are cellos. I was trying to get them to play higher all of the time.” And yet, with childhood so prominently featured in the story, there’s a frequent twinkling menace to the proceedings.

Having not heard this score standalone before (and not really remembering it from when I saw the film), I was totally unprepared for how much of a prequel it was for Zimmer’s later Da Vinci Code music - the churning low strings, that twinkling Dies Irae-like theme, and so on.

Curiously, this is one of the only times Henning Lohner got a prominent credit during his tenure at Media Ventures.

Two Weeks Notice (2002) - ***
John Powell; orchestrations by Sonny Kompanek;
Joel Richard as Powell’s assistant; thank you to James McKee Smith

Discovery #32.

Opening in mid-December as counterprogramming to the second Lord of the Rings film, Two Weeks Notice made very good money for a romcom, probably because audiences was at the time enamored with its two leads rather than the muddled film they got. The film by Miss Congeniality screenwriter Marc Lawrence largely came into being because Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock (playing a developer and his frustrated legal counsel, respectively) had wanted to work together, but the end result seemed to be five different types of so-so movies at once (one mid-movie scene leans into almost screwball farce territory), though this didn’t seem to bother Grant who would work with Lawrence on another three films.

Also, Donald Trump (before he was even on The Apprentice) appears at one point and talks about stealing Bullock’s character from Grant’s character, a scene I had forgotten was in the movie before I rewatched it two years ago and which has aged about as well as you’d expect.

As with Endurance, I was only familiar with this work through the one track on the Film Suites Vol. 1 album. The score is much less experimental than his earlier Forces of Nature work, going more in the direction of a traditional rom com sound. It’s fairly straightforward, with a likable main theme, some extensions of the intimate acoustic sound of I Am Sam, a Hammond organ at least once, and a few pleasant moments of jazzy background material. You’ll hear it. You’ll like it. You’ll forget it. Given the film, it’s commendable enough that Powell didn’t just phone it in.


Next time: The greatest and second-greatest movies of all-time, according to one guy I knew in college who was blackout drunk.

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