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Zimmer, team, and alums rundown Pt 4 - MV 2003-04: Pirates Gets The Booty (4c)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Friday, April 15, 2022, at 5:22 a.m.
• IP Address:

This is part of a series. Part 4b can be found here:


Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003) - *****
HGW; add’l arrangements by Stephen Barton; asst. engineers Toby Chu & Gregg Silk;
solo vocals & ‘Sirens’ lyrics by Lisbeth Scott; album compiled by Slamm Andrews;
thank you’s to Hans Zimmer & Nick Glennie-Smith

HGW: “In order to really feel like you’re part of the tapestry of the film, animation is really the way to go, unless you get hooked up with a musical movie that is two years in the making.”

Sinbad was originally planned by the screenwriters of Aladdin as a mid-90s Disney film, cancelled, and eventually resurrected by Dreamworks head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg after he left Disney. He wanted the music to feel like “the great adventure scores - Star Wars, Indiana Jones [with] great themes”, and Harry, coming off of the ambient electronics of Phone Booth, seemed to enjoy going in this direction (he’d start on this about 18 months before it came out). “Leading up to Sinbad, I hadn't done many projects that were particularly orchestral, so it was fun to get in front of the orchestra and not worry about electronics in the slightest bit.”

If at this point in your journey through Media Ventures you were feeling a bit fatigued by the unison brass sound of a lot do their entries, Sinbad is the perfect cure for that, with very distinct parts for trumpet, trombone, and especially french horns (maybe the MVPs of this work). This work is a tad reliant on its main theme - something that was noted by some film score critics at the time - but that main theme is one of the most inspired in the entire pirate movie genre, and HGW puts that theme through so many different variations and settings (never mind only quoting pieces of it at certain times) that it never overstays its welcome. “When we first meet [Sinbad] he’s a bit of a loser. I wanted to get this kind of blackheart character who would bounce around doing anything he liked but, toward the end of the score, would transform into something much more honorable and noble.”

A number of reviews from 2003 seemed to dock points for “synth percussion”. Why? Moments like Lighting Lanterns are cool. And it’s not like they’re omnipresent; HGW kept those infrequent by design. “There’s not a lot of pastiche on Sinbad. There were obviously boundaries one didn’t want to cross because it was supposed to be a swashbuckling adventure. So one didn’t want to hear a synthesizer.”

Enough praise cannot be thrown at the creative vocal work used in the music during an action scene involving sirens which makes for arguably one of the most uniquely intoxicating tracks to ever come from this musical lineage. It was inordinately difficult to accomplish given the scene changes sometimes typical of animated filmmaking. “Their idea was that these sirens would come out of the water [and] you'd hear a voice. I wrote the cue [and] they loved the music. It was just storyboards; I couldn’t see where a siren jumped out. But they’d animate a little bit and then toss it back to me, and of course they’d move the place where I thought a siren was going to jump out and my vocal would have to be changed.”

The sheet exuberance of the material - so consistently full of energy and outright glee from start to finish, especially during its magnificent final minute - is enough to bump this up from ****½ to a full 5 stars. I really have no idea what I was doing keeping it any lower. Its bassoon parts alone deserve that higher rating.

There is no inherently better reason why this is superior to the same year’s Pirates; you’ll either like it more or you won’t. For me, perhaps the simplest way to differentiate them is that Pirates took me to someplace fun I’d been to before and Sinbad took me somewhere wondrous I hadn’t been at all. And at no point did I think chemical weapons were being chased. This music obviously would have been the wrong music for a film like Pirates, but it was nearly perfect for this one.

In a few places this work feels like a trial run for ideas Harry would expand on in his score for the first Narnia film a few years later - some of the melodic and harmonic mechanisms, the toggling between cello and acoustic cello, and how woodwind solos are emphasized in the mix. Something I hadn’t noticed before!

Unfortunately, the film capsized at the box office, and would be the last largely hand-drawn animated film produced by Dreamworks (like Spirit, it was in production before Shrek crystallized the company’s usual approach to animation). The film’s unique fusion of hand-drawn people and computer-generated monsters hasn’t aged well. Even Harry knew it was somewhat doomed when it came out. “It's sad that it bombed at the box office, but I don't think anyone was particularly surprised about that. We knew that as we were getting closer to finishing the film. It was obviously far too late to change anything. $10 million [on opening weekend] doesn't sound too good. Someone said to me, ‘Where’s the cute funny animal?’”

The Rundown (2003) - ***
HGW; guitars & add’l music by Heitor Pereria; add’l programming by Tony Chu & Meri Gavin;
electric cello by Martin Tillman; thank you to Stephen Barton

No cute furry animals here either.

No one had any idea that The Rundown would be the starting point of the wrestler formerly known as The Rock’s box office domination. Dwayne Johnson was already a known commodity for his trash-talking days in the WWE and had appeared in two poorly reviewed films in Universal’s The Mummy franchise, but this was the first time he was the lead in a new property (or really co-lead, as he was teamed with Seann William Scott, the actor perhaps still best-known as Stifler from American Pie). The film got dumped into an early fall release date, got decent-but-unremarkable reviews, and fell short of making its money back in theaters, though it proved Johnson could act and headline a film and also would shockingly set the template for many of Johnson’s future films - quippy and action-packed buddy movies set in modern times, often in an outdoor setting, that usually lack a clear love interest.

The film, like the earlier Forces of Nature and Gone In 60 Seconds, had a lot of pop songs featured, and as with those film’s composers it seems Harry Gregson-Williams was largely tasked with providing music that would be consistent with the aesthetic (in this case an edgy, hip jungle adventure) without being overly obtrusive. Given those constraints, it’s surprisingly good - and arguably superior to those two aforementioned scores. It’s somewhat of a synthesis of Powell’s Bourne music, some legacy Media Ventures action mannerisms (those big dramatic strikes of all the instruments in The Gato, for example), and Harry’s own refined electronic experimental stuff for Tony Scott films. There is one notable exception - the climactic, ass-kicking, electric guitar-featuring Guns, which is just stupid amounts of fun and possibly worth the price of the album on its own. Frequent MV collaborator Heitor Pereira’s guitar work shines in a few places.

It’s like a slightly better Italian Job, at least for me - if for no other reason then its album ending didn’t make me go “wait…that’s it?” How we got from this and Hancock to the music that more typically shows up in films directed by Peter Berg is beyond me.

Discovery #36 fixed the grumpiness caused by The Recruit and Phone Booth.

Matchstick Men (2003) - ****
Zimmer composing and playing some instruments including spaghetti pots; ambient music by Mel Wesson;
add’l arrangements & wicked programming by Geoff Zanelli; other bits of significant arranged & programmed by Jim Dooley;
Walt Fowler on trumpet; Heitor Pereira on guitar & typewriter; orchestra distracted by Bruce Fowler;
add’l orchestration by W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh; music supervisor Marc Streitenfeld;
some credited use of La Dolce Vita by Nino Rota; thank you’s to Gavin Greenaway, HGW, Steve Jablonsky,
James Levine, Michael Levine, Henning Lohner, Jay Rifkin, Gore Verbinski & The Media Ventures Sleep Is For Wimps Team

Discovery #37, which fixed the grumpiness caused by Bad Boys II.

For all the hay that was made over the broad acting in Ridley Scott’s more recent House of Gucci, it seems people had forgotten that almost two decades earlier he let Nic Cage shout ”Hey have you ever been dragged to the sidewalk and beaten till you PISSED... BLOOD!’ at someone in a drug store. This oddball, twisty movie about a neurotic con man reuniting with a daughter he didn’t know he had didn’t make much of an impact when it came out, which was a shame for me since a) I was a massive fan of all things Ridley Scott at the time (or really just Gladiator and Black Hawk Down) and b) the film is actually pretty enjoyable.

HZ: “There's something wonderful that happens when Europeans come and look at America, because in a funny way we aren't cynical about it. We can see wonderful things in the valley. I think it's going to be a bit of a love story to Los Angeles.”

The score is really Hans Zimmer writing a big love letter to the music Italian composer Nino Rota did for the films of Fellini in the 1950s and 1960s - jazzy, playful, sometimes wistful, unapologetically European-sounding, and all skirting right on the edge of lounge music without tipping over into silliness. Add a dash of Europop and you get Zimmer’s most breezy, lighthearted album of this era, if not the entire decade. Dated keyboard sounds and frequent use of accordion and supremely goofy whistling may repel some, but for those who were a bit worn down by the bloated power anthems of the last decade or so, hearing plotting music with prominent roles for a clarinetist might’ve been the perfect tonic. The bombastic horns in Pygmies! are the sole hint that this score even came from this oft-portentous era, and even that track is kind of fun. Songs on the album by Bobby Darin, Heb Lapert, and Mantovani (among others) fit perfectly with the program. Only the purely electronic Tuna Fish and Cigarettes really breaks the mood.

If it jumps all over the place, that’s somewhat reflective of the trial-and-error process of getting the music right. Zimmer and Scott thought they were making a comedy, writer Ted Griffin thought they were making “a drama [where] the comedy comes out naturally but isn’t sold to the viewer,” and producer Sean Bailey always thought of the film as a “darker character study” (which Zimmer implied he and Scott would’ve never signed up for). Scott, who originally pushed for Zimmer to follow a comedic temp score, would eventually concede the music was “intrusive”, so Zimmer rewrote his material. Zimmer seemed a tad annoyed at the whole thing (quipping “no more comedies” during a recording session), though he would later laugh about the fact that, unlike other movies where he would come up with a bunch of ideas and then discard most of them in favor of the few that really worked, “all the tunes he wrote were in this movie”. And he would still warmly reflect at Scott’s patience with him “failing 99% of the time”.

You don’t get to something like the later The Holiday without this working as well as it does. Not factoring into my rating: they must have opened the good bottle of wine when they wrote the credits for this in the booklet.

Basic (2003) - Not heard
Klaus Badelt; add’l music by Ramin Djawadi

This was the last movie made by the once-acclaimed action director John McTiernan before his myriad legal troubles ended his career. The score was never officially released, and it sounds like Badelt didn’t have the easiest time on it. “I wasn’t part of the development of the film. I came in very late. John never really showed up. I had questions, but he wouldn’t pick up the phone!”

Beat the Drum (2003) - ***
Klaus Badelt & Ramin Djawadi; orchestrated by Penka Kouneva

Discovery #38. Between this and his earlier support on Pirates, it was a big year for Ramin. According to Klaus, Ramin did “a lot of it.”

While producing a miniseries on AIDS in Africa, former advertising executive W. David McBrayer would come up with a story that would later turn into a screenplay (his only to date) about a boy whose village is wiped out by the disease and has to make his way to Johannesburg. Critics liked it, as did some film festival juries where it was screened. The score is a charming little thing. Frequent acoustic guitar, pleasant chord shifts, nice woodwind solos, and a soothing African choir in the finale all make for an album that’s incredibly easy to listen to. It’s a minor work, but still quite lovely to have on in the background - an understated addition to the brand’s strong history of making quality music about this side of the world.

Brother Bear (2003) - ***½
Mark Mancina & Phil Collins; ‘Transformation’ choral arrangement by Eddie Johnson;
orchestrations & vocal arrangements by David Metzger; conducted by Don Harper

Discovery #39. Irony of ironies - a score/song combo soundtrack that has a lyric of “I'd do everything differently” ends up prompting memories of the singer’s last film contribution.

Brother Bear, one of the last hand-drawn animated films to come from the Mouse House, came and went, making decent money at the box office but not really capturing the zeitgeist in any way, shape, or form. That it doesn’t regularly pop up on the bottom of various “worst Disney movie ever” lists on the internet is likely because viewers were more just indifferent to it than anything else, and maybe also because there have been far worse offerings (The Black Cauldron, for starters). The most remarkable thing about it seems to be convincing Joaquin Phoenix to voice the main character, of which he would say “don't call me a leading man, I don't care about that, I'm a leading bear, I am content!” - very on brand for someone who would grow out a beard and pretend to quit acting for a rap career in a few years.

I’m probably in a better place discovering this now compared to those who first came upon it when the film was released. Coming only four years after Tarzan, another dose of Phil Collins’ gospel/world music/pop fusion songs likely felt horribly redundant - and not just of that animated films’ songs, as one fan site of Collins’ old band would refer to Look Through My Eyes as “like Genesis in the early 90s.” Unlike, say, the occasionally painfully earnest Bryan Adams songs for the prior year’s Spirit, there’s nothing truly challenging about the material - but it all has a been-there-done-that feeling, even today. On My Way has its charms, and the film version of Transformation (which Collins doesn’t sing on) bristles with power. But otherwise you would have no clue you were listening to songs about bears in Alaska.

The score was apparently an active co-composition between Mancina and Collins, no surprise after Collins showed a keen interest in learning about the scoring process on their last collaboration. 20 minutes ended up on CD (hey, that’s more than we got for Tarzan), though Disney would press a For Your Consideration promotional album of the full score for awards consideration. It does have its strengths. There is a good amount of integration with the song melodies. The subtle vocal work that appears to suggest the aurora lights is a nice touch, as are the world woodwinds that are interspersed throughout (fans of James Newton Howard in fantasy mode may like both of these things). Mancina’s ever-improving talent at this point for creating detailed and well-recorded orchestral scores (thanks in part to his work with orchestrator David Metzger) was clearly evident. Alas, a lot of portions end up feeling like slightly above-average kiddie animation material without creating moments that really stick with you.

The whole thing has an “oh, that’s it?” feeling. It’s an unfairly maligned work, but one has to wonder if they would’ve been better off just having Mancina doing the whole thing and eschewing the songs altogether (so, basically do John Powell’s Call of the Wild).

I would not have any of these issues with the Mancina score for a film that came out only a few weeks later.

You should thank your lucky stars I like this music, otherwise I would’ve worked an obscene amount of dad jokes (of the unBEARable variety) into this commentary.

The Last Samurai (2003) - ****
Zimmer; add’l by Geoff Zanelli, Blake Neely & Trevor Morris;
orchestrated by B Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh; conducted by Blake Neely;
music editor Marc Streitenfeld; album compiled by Melissa Muik;
thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Jim Dooley, Gavin Greenaway, HGW, Steve Jablonsky, James Levine,
Michael Levine, Henning Lohner, Heitor Pereira, Jay Rifkin, and Pinar Toprak

As director Ed Zwick (of Glory and Legends of the Fall) and Hans Zimmer were standing next to each other, waiting to be called into an Oscar nominees luncheon where a long list of introductions was being read off alphabetically by last name, Zwick mentioned he was doing a film about a drunken US Cavalry officer who ends up in a Japanese village and learns the way of the samurai, and Zimmer asked for the script - which perhaps explains why Zwick didn’t reteam with frequent music collaborator James Horner. The film starring Tom Cruise was well-received at the time, and is perhaps best remembered for introducing American audiences to the charismatic Japanese actors Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada.

Zimmer’s resulting score worked like gangbusters in the film, even if now it feels like two scores - both no worse than fine on their own but only occasionally intermingling. On the one hand, you get very soothing, often contemplative music, with a focus on strings and a variety of specialty instruments. It’s a close cousin of the one-with-nature portions of The Thin Red Line, but without that work’s austere sensibilities - there’s something more flowing and even romanticized here. Zimmer hadn’t really written in this pseudo-Eastern style since Beyond Rangoon in the mid-90s, and it was nice to hear him return and expand on it here. He did admit some struggles though. “My problem is that I feel Japanese music is really inaccessible to Western ears, and I was really struggling with this film initially, trying to figure out what I was doing. This idea popped into my head for using Western-style themes, but applying a Japanese aesthetic to them, which sounds great of course, until I had to ask myself what I meant! Actually, I think it's just my way of not overloading certain things with too many colors, or being geometrically precise about my cues and not making them too flowery.” Some Japanese chants appear as part of the mix; they’re awesome.

On the other hand, you get the brawny, harsh action of Gladiator - right down to the near-sampled sound of the brass and a few moments that recall the Moroccan fight music from that film, including one track that hilariously mirrors that sequence’s gradually building intensity and gong hits. You can’t tell if this was just Zimmer defaulting to this methodology because of how much score had to be written (almost 110 minutes in the final cut, plus probably more if counting alternates or pre-film demos) or if the filmmakers just really wanted that Gladiator sound in their film. Regardless, it seems to mark the point where Zimmer stopped being asked to duplicate Crimson Tide and instead started getting asked to duplicate that 2000 work instead. There are also some very low sustained pulses that seem pulled straight from The Thin Red Line.

Having said that, those harsh elements still have their effectiveness on film, and the moments that lean more into the typical Media Ventures sound still make for a good guilty pleasure on the album (especially during the doomed final charge). And the sad moments after that charge as the samurai are gunned down are scored by tragic descending string patterns that are clearly modeled on the infamous Journey to the Line track from The Thin Red Line, boosted by keyboards that almost suggest Vangelis - you’d almost laugh if it wasn’t such an emotional gut punch as a standalone listen (even managing to get me to this day).

Listeners may gravitate to one or the other mode. It’s possible to like both. I did. But it does kinda feel like two scores (above-average or better) stitched together.

HZ: “For me, this character's journey was about his need to earn tranquility and peace, so within the score there's this very romantic, overblown and passionate theme. It's like a juvenile way of dealing with life and death – the pain and liebestod. However, to contrast with these very relentless themes, there are a number of stark, formal and sober pieces, because I wanted to take Tom's character on a journey. He comes from America and ends up in this foreign place where he doesn't speak the language or understand the culture. But at the end of the movie, I want the audience to think that there isn't a more beautiful place for him to be, that he is at home in Japan and finally at peace.”

Hidden away in this work are suggestions of the Remote Control methodology to come like short melodic ideas and Zimmer trying to build chords that create (as he would later call) “a really complex emotional structure.” One recurring theme is a series of changing rising intervals, not the same ones that we’d hear for the upcoming Nolan Batman identity but similar to its methodology. There are a few walls of sound. Strip out the brass tones and the Japanese instrumentation / styles and you can start to hear some minor structural similarities with Zimmer’s later Nolan works like Inception and Interstellar.

For folks who see additional composers credited and say “see, Zimmer doesn’t even do anything anymore!”, they’ll be disappointed to hear Trevor Morris claimed his biggest contribution was adding eight bars of low trombones to Beating in the Rain due to a picture change. Geoff Zanelli wrote the percussive ninja attack material. Blake Neely helped a bit. But otherwise this is one of the rare scores during this time (indeed, in all the Media Ventures eras) that Zimmer wrote almost entirely himself, or is at least credited for doing so. With nearly the rest of the company helping on Pirates or Bad Boys II earlier that year, he may not have had any other choice. There are a lot of people mentioned in the thank you section of the booklet, which given the number of stories about composers walking into the room and offering feedback may just be a reflection of that.

Trevor Morris, who juggled helping on this, Pirates, and Bad Boys that year, seems to have kept his spirits intact, and he had some great stories about this experience. “Hans and I were building his new writing studio together around this time. Which was bittersweet, we both wanted The Last Samurai to be the first project in his new room. It just wasn't meant to be timing wise. We recorded Taikos of every size and shape, and watched as Hans bussed them through Pro-Tools and triggered old Analog Modular synthesizers for extra bottom end, to make the ultimate Taikos for use in the score. This process took over 3 weeks straight. It was exciting before he even wrote a note. Ed Zwick, likely the coolest director on the planet, would show up and have a glass of scotch and listen to cues.

Myself and the staff did pitch in and buy [Hans] a real Samurai sword for inspiration (which he put over his writing desk during the movie). The joke being he always had a way out if the going got too rough on the score! It resides in his new studio as a reminder of how close we all are to voluntary suicide as film composers.”

Future Captain Marvel composer Pinar Toprak (yet another Berklee College of Music graduate) appears to have started her brief Media Ventures career at this point; she was a programmer during this and a few other projects in the next year or so. “I always wanted to write for films but I didn’t always think I could actually do it. Most of my friends and family tried to push me towards piano performance. They thought the odds of a young female composer from Istanbul making a living in film scoring were slim. Which is why when I first started Berklee I was a piano performance major. One late night after I left my practice room, I went to Tower Records. I only had 20 bucks in my pocket. I was listening to film scores on the listening stations. [The] Prince of Egypt had just come out. I listened to that CD – didn’t sleep all night. I got out the next morning and changed my major. I still have that CD in my studio next to my piano, the jewel case is all worn out.”


Next time - who knew the separate song album had the best track the composer contributed to for a movie? I didn’t.

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