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Zimmer, team, and alums rundown Pt 4 - MV 2003-04: Pirates Gets The Booty (4d)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Saturday, April 16, 2022, at 5:41 a.m.
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This is part of a series. Part 4c can be found here:


Tears of the Sun (2003) - ***½
Hans Zimmer; add’l by Heitor Pereria, Lebo M., Lisa Gerrard,
Steve Jablonsky, Andreas Vollendeider, Martin Tillman & Jim Dooley;
ambient music design by Mel Wesson; orchestrated & conducted by Bruce Fowler;
also orchestrated by Suzette Moriarty; Clay Duncan as Zimmer’s assistant;
thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Gavin Greenaway, HGW, James Levine, Henning Lohner,
Geoff Zanelli, and producer Arnold Rifkin (no relation to Jay Rifkin who isn’t thanked)

Discovery #40. I know I saw this movie on VHS a year or more after it came out, but I don’t really remember much of it. I know Monica Bellucci was in it, but she didn’t look like she did in the Matrix sequels, so teenage me was probably disappointed. I assume Bruce Willis did Bruce Willis things. It’s in Africa. I appear to not be alone in this - the film didn’t even make its budget back in theaters and got middling reviews, and it has not shown up on many of the internet lists of folks’ favorite roles and films of Bruce Willis prompted by the actor’s recent retirement from acting due to aphasia. Even the score seems curiously forgotten - I couldn’t find a single interview comment about it by any contributor.

The score was by Zimmer and (unsurprisingly) a lot of contributors, but unlike other such works from the company this one feels curiously unfocused, as if it actually was written by nine unsupervised people. You get a work that rarely does anything poor, but there’s little that’s truly surprising, especially in the first eight tracks. A few nice parts suggest the austerity of The Thin Red Line in Africa. The vocals are often impressive. But nothing really congeals into a whole. Plenty of indistinctive heavy synths and low strings lurking in the background every so often. One gets the same sense of unrealized potential that came from Mission: Impossible II, and Tears doesn’t even feature Heitor’s blazing guitar work! As with the same year’s Brother Bear, there’s a creeping sense of stylistic repetition.

The final two tracks on the album are terrific though, and probably worth a half star on their own - The Jablonsky Variations on a Theme by HZ / Cameroon Border Post effectively fuses the score’s myriad elements into an exquisite “guilty pleasure” action track, while The Journey / Kopano Part III is a jubilant joy (as if Power of One had been dragged into the Media Ventures era). You end up with two-thirds of an album that feels like spare parts and one-third of an album that should have a permanent place on any Zimmer highlights playlist.

There are at least two versions of this on YouTube that claim to be the full album program but instead start with 8 minutes from The Last Samurai, which almost led to a very different write-up until I realized what was going on.

The Haunted Mansion (2003) - ****½
Mark Mancina; orchestrations by David Metzger & Don Harper;
choral arrangements by Eddie Jobson; includes adaptations of Buddy Baker’s themes for the ride

Discovery #41.

Amazingly, Disney released two movies this year based on its theme park rides. This one, styled as a family-friendly spooky comedy starring Eddie Murphy, was released Thanksgiving weekend and critically savaged; the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus is “neither scary nor funny”, a rare case of failing at all your genre elements. It made enough money internationally that it couldn’t be considered an outright flop, but then we haven’t exactly seen Disney pushing out The Haunted Mansion 4: On Stranger Hilltops.

Unlike the Pirates ride, Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride had some well-known music, and composer Mark Mancina should be commended for taking the effort to integrate Buddy Baker’s material in a few places. The rest of the work is maybe the largest score Mancina had written up to this time, a gigantic fantasy composition that barely even plays up the humor (seeming to follow the Elmer Bernstein “play it like it’s not a comedy” rule for comedy storing). It exists very much in the grand tradition of the fantasy works by James Horner and Alan Silvestri, with some nods to the wonder of the former’s output and the barnstorming action material of the latter’s. Vocal work even stretches to some chanting that suggests folks had Jerry Goldsmith on the mind; it’s halfway between that that composer’s work for the iconic horror score from The Omen and the nasty material Roque Baños would provide for the 2013 Evil Dead remake.

It mostly transcends its influences because it doesn’t linger on any one of them for long and because Mancina wrote up a number of very strong themes and managed to rotate them throughout different sections of the orchestra - the result is a densely thematic work that never gets stale during its lengthy runtime (over 90 minutes includes alternates). And, as any great fantasy score should, it utterly nails its finale, elevating the main themes to emotional highs and providing an incredibly satisfying close to what was otherwise a very unsatisfying movie.

Like the score for Speed 2, Mancina’s work wouldn’t receive an album release around the time of the movie - only a six minute “overture” on an CD otherwise populated by unrelated songs would be put out there in 2003. It would take until 2016 for specialty soundtrack label Intrada Records to put the album out there; that CD is now out-of-print and hilariously expensive, but the music has since made its way onto Spotify so future listeners can enjoy this, the hidden gem of Mancina’s career.

Paycheck (2003) - ****½
John Powell; add’l composition & arranging by James McKee Smith, John Ashton Thomas & T.J. Lindgren;
add’l drum programming by Daniel Lerner & Germaine Franco; orchestration by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; original album compiled by Daniel Lerner; Deluxe album produced by Powell & Batu Sener

Paycheck wrapped up what was a disastrous trifecta of failed films for Ben Affleck this year (along with the aforementioned Gigli and Daredevil); Affleck would concede much later that he had pretty much done the movie for the money, though the year seemed to be instrumental in eventually sending him on the path to being a well-regarded film director. The frustrations surrounding this movie also made its director John Woo quit Hollywood and return to China. “I had intended to make an Alfred Hitchcock-style movie out of it, something more about suspense and thrills than guns and shooting, but unfortunately the script wasn't written that way. But at least it was nice working with Ben Affleck.'

Powell: “Some directors are very talky. John [Woo] is not that at all - and yet he’s not indecisive either. He’s very clear in his filmmaking. One of the first things John said to me is that this film is about love. It’s about emotion.”

John Powell got the gig for doing the music, and came pretty close here to perfecting the modern action formula he’d been toying with over the last year-plus. There is a near constant sense of movement and occasionally gracefulness, largely because Powell was scoring it like “a danced story” per Woo’s instructions. It effectively blends the stylish electronics and percussion of his earlier works with a romantic orchestral sound (laced with 5% of the feel of Bernard Herrmann mystery music). The main theme is frequently used, but it gets flipped into so many romantic and heroic guises that you never find it repetitive, and there are a bunch of secondary themes that help keep the work fresh throughout its long runtime. And of course there’s the two-part Hog Chase sequence, possibly the earliest example of Powell’s gift for sustaining brilliant, lengthy action material in live action films over multiple minutes (in this case seven).

“The opening titles turned up quite early on. That’s very rare for me. I found the harmonic language I was going to use. It perked up a lot of ears and made people take notice.”

It’s the rare score that practically demands to be heard in a complete format, and Varèse Sarabande would finally satisfy that demand by releasing an expanded edition in 2021. Unlike, say, Agent Cody Banks, this work definitely does not get overextended at 90 minutes, with key new additions including multiple moments of high style, lots of variations that reveal a pretty deep thematic roster, and the impressive action track Hot Seat.

Man on Fire (2004) - ***
HGW; add’l music, programming & arranging by Justin Burnett, Stephen Barton, Toby Chu, Meri Gavin & Hybrid;
conducted by HGW & Stephen Barton; ‘The End’ by HGW & Lisa Gerrard; ‘Angel Vengador’ by Meri Gavin & Stephen Barton;
Heitor Pereira on acoustic & electric guitar; thank you to Hans Zimmer

Discovery #42

The second film adaptation of a 1980s novel about a former soldier turned bodyguard on the hunt for the men who kidnapped his employer’s daughter, Man on Fire is most notable today for its frequent scenes of Denzel Washington just being a stone-cold badass on screen. It was also the point where Tony Scott’s visual style got increasingly more experimental - sped-up montages, seemingly random editing, shots saturated in yellow, putting occasional English subtitles on screen in random places while English was being spoken. Some loved it and some thought it an avant-garde distraction from an otherwise good film, while New York Times film critic A.O. Scott (no relation) seemed to think it was one of the worst movies he’d ever seen.

Gregson-Williams clearly loved working with Tony Scott, even if in the moment he found it often exceedingly challenging to adapt to his requests. “It’s always easier to look back and smile than it is to actually be in it. It’s very angst-ridden working with Tony - six months of almost daily visits from [him] - since he's committed to basically every frame of his films. And the frames that he chooses to use in his films change daily. I started before they finished shooting, [yet] of course there was a race to finish - perhaps a bit more than with Spy Game. You have about 80-90 minutes of music, and one minute of music will take 2-3 weeks. But we got it all worked out. He didn't shackle me. He's constantly got ideas of how things can be changed and improved. ” Probably helping - for the first time, Harry was on a Scott picture that didn’t involve torture-master Jerry Bruckheimer.

This is one of those cases where the music is a near-perfect fit for its film but much easier to appreciate than enjoy on the album. HGW effectively captured the disorientation of hunting through a modern Mexico City; club music, rock, other electronica - it’s all sequenced together effectively without sounding like incoherent nonsense, outside of one or two notable jump cuts. The sensitive character moments are a nice reprieve (some of the solo piano lines even suggest James Horner at his most intimate), but they’re a bit on the short side and aren’t terribly distinctive. As with many collaborations in this era, Pereira’s guitar work is always a plus.

Lisa Gerrard’s vocals at the ending weren’t problematic, but they didn’t veer THAT far from her other film contributions from earlier years. Like Phil Collins’ work on Brother Bear the prior year, there’s a nagging sense of familiarity and even redundancy with her appearance. Also, Sanchez Family briefly deploys what certainly sounds like the drum sounds from Bourne.

It’s appropriate music for Denzel’s rampage, but It’s also a less enjoyable standalone listen than Spy Game is. For those not inclined to enjoy this type of material, perhaps seek out John Scott’s more tuneful music for the 1987 version of the same story - funny enough, I think most of you likely have as it was tracked into the ending of Die Hard.

Shrek 2 (2004) - ****
HGW; add’l by Stephen Barton & James McKee Smith;
assistant engineers Toby Chu, Meri Gavin & Gregg Silk;
Conducted by HGW; album compiled by Meri Gavin

”Shrek 2 and Man on Fire sat rather precariously on top of each other because their release dates were similar, their dub dates were pretty damn similar, and their scoring dates were frighteningly similar. I’ve never worked on more than one movie at a time, but in this case I didn’t want to let go of my relationship with either one.”

If you prefer the individual moments of Shrek (derivative or otherwise), that work might be stronger. None of the Arnold/Bond techno action from that work appears here. If you like a little more coherence, you might like this one more. I did. Powell stans might be mad at that statement, even with Powell team member James McKee Smith on board for this work.

If there’s a quibble, it’s that the Fairy Tale theme seems sidelined for much of the album. And, like the first Shrek score, a good chunk plays like above-average fairy tale pastiche. This is almost by design. “What they didn’t need me to do was to make too many large statements in the music that detracted from the humor. Obviously, I wasn’t going to just sit back and bland out behind the dialogue, so we had to fight a little bit about how much I could actually say, and sometimes there are scenes without dialogue or montage scenes where the music was clearly going to tell the story. But Donkey never stops talking for two hours and there’s a lot of dialogue that needs respect, and that’s the battle—to find something emotional to say without taking away from the dialogue.”

On the flip side, the Shrek theme (which some people refer to as the “dragon theme” after it featured prominently in a flying scene in the first film) gets a workout. There’s astonishingly little cut and paste. “The movie is so different, and it's made up of so many different set-pieces, so that there was no piece of score I could just lift from the first film and place in this one - and I didn't want to, either”. And some of the action hints at the boisterous energy of the prior year’s Sinbad.

Gregson-Williams once quipped his themes are “nothing without their countermelodies”. He was perhaps being overly modest, but his countermelodies are really good here - that French horn line alongside the Fairy Tale theme in Magic Tea would’ve made Elmer Bernstein (the king of horn countermelodies) proud.

The Puss In Boots theme honestly plays like random guitar strumming, but the character didn’t need anything more, and I’m physically incapable of criticizing Heitor’s guitar playing at this point in the rundown. It only really suffers in comparison to Henry Jackman’s sensational theme for the later spin-off movie.

And, as with Shrek, the obvious parody tracks are often delightful. The Ball features an absurdly hysterical reworking of the Fairy Tale theme into a classic game show arrangement. It probably took an inordinate amount of time to get right, but it’s this kind of overthinking that makes these works excel.

Unlike the first Shrek, where all the score and parody songs ended up on one album, some of Harry’s music for the sequel ended up on the separate song soundtrack album - annoying for score fans if they wanted to hear Harry utilize the Shrek theme in tandem with the climactic fight song. “There’s a quite tricky arrangement of ‘Holding Out for a Hero,’ and it never really worked—we used the original Bonnie Tyler version, which had really cheesy arrangements with weird little plastic synth sounds; it’s horrible, it kind of dragged on a bit and it’s the denouement of the movie where Shrek is battling his way into the castle to get to his girl. As soon as I had the liberty to start throwing Shrek’s theme into his actions as he was breaking in it started to work.” Honestly, it’s the best track in the movie - an astonishing statement to make, considering before this rundown I’d never listened to it standalone - and is worth a half star on its own.

Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004) - Not rated
HGW; add’l music by Stephen Barton; Heitor Pereira & Martin Tillman as musicians; Toby Chu & Meri Gavin as HGW’s assistants

Discovery #43.

“Just as I was sliding into the abyss that was Man on Fire and Shrek 2, I wondered to myself what I could do as a breath of fresh air during the summer. I knew that the director had worked with Rachel Portman [before], but in any event, I bought a plane ticket and sort of rushed her in London saying ‘Me, me, me, me!’ I know the production company Working Title quite well, having done The Borrowers for them years ago.”

Only a two-minute track was released at the end of the song soundtrack. It’s extremely pleasant; as with Zimmer’s earlier Nine Months, you could’ve completely fooled me into thinking Patrick Doyle wrote it (and, again, this is meant as a compliment, especially in this case with Doyle writing the first film’s score). Harry did provide some pretty great insights on the challenges of scoring romcoms. “It’s a romantic comedy and they temped the thing with a lot of my music from Passionada and a bit of Bridget Jones 1, and it’s okay—it doesn’t really do much, but then it doesn’t really have to do much. I’ve got a little bit of time to see if I can find a language for the film that will keep us in the place we want to be, which is not to draw attention to itself by being cooler-than-thou. I’ve done a few sort of romantic comedies that weren’t that romantic and not that funny actually. I wanted to see what it was like, and I don’t want to make a complete career out of that, but it’s going to be interesting to see if I can find a subtext in the music, and I’m not sure I can. Because the music’s got to say, ‘Bridget’s in love,’ or it’s got to say, ‘Bridget’s in deep shit,’ and there’s not much in between.”

Side note: I hated this movie. So did my wife, and she’s much more forgiving of romcoms than I am. That whole pivot into the Asian Tourism Panic genre in the second half is just dreadful. The first film’s alright; mainly what was off-putting to me was that the movie seemed to resent its protagonist. I actually felt the third movie was the strongest of the three - still a minor work, but much less bothersome than its predecessors.

Laura’s Star (2004) - ****
Zimmer & Nick Glennie-Smith; add’l music by Henning Lohner;
‘Touch the Sky’ by Wonderwall, Sam Tyson, Dee Mullen, NGS & HZ

Discovery #44.

Clueless American that I am, I had no clue that Laura’s Star (Lauras Stern in its native language) is a pretty big deal in its home country of Germany. It’s a well-known children’s book series that has inspired this film, two sequels, and a TV series. Expansive in its orchestral palette, occasionally laced with a light choir, and featuring a rather affecting cello solo in its finale, the film’s score is a consistently charming fairy tale from start to finish, filled almost to the brim with a pervasive sense of wonder. Given that some of Glennie-Smith’s earlier contributions fell on the harsh side (e.g., Man in the Iron Mask, parts of Just Visiting), hearing this kind of whimsy is genuinely surprising, and makes you wonder what kind of solo composer NGS might’ve blossomed into if The Rock hadn’t damaged his career just as it was starting. It also prompts questions about why Henning Lohner didn’t find more success stateside.

Admittedly, the work is extremely reliant on its charming main themes, so if those don’t work for you then you may want to pass on the album. But if you like the fantasy tones of James Horner or Danny Elfman, or close cousins of that sound like Patrick Doyle’s music for Nanny McPhee, then this is an easy recommendation. Getting it might be tricky though. The album was never commercially released in America and is out of print (though resale prices seem reasonable). It deserves to be reissued for a wider audience, or at least put on digital/streaming services.

NGS and Lohner were also credited for the music on last year’s live action adaptation. Anyone know anything about this one?

Steamboy (2004) - ***½
Steve Jablonsky; orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch;
conducted by Blake Neely; thank you’s to HGW & Hans Zimmer

HGW: “I had to boot him out. I said ‘look, you can’t be scratching around underneath my desk like a little Mini-Me, that’s just not right. You’re too good, you’ve got to be composing. As much as it pains me to give you up to the world, I have to give you up to the world.’ So I did…then he went on to assist Hans Zimmer and from there he got to where he was going to go.”

I’ll cop to knowing nothing about this movie before this rundown, including that it was the first movie Katsuhiro Otomo had directed since his acclaimed Japanese animated film Akira. It was a marginal success in its home country but only given a very limited release in the U.S., so arguably most of the people who know of the film in America know of it because of it being an early solo effort for Steve Jablonsky. “That was one of those films where I was brought on very early so I did have time to develop those themes and ideas so I had maybe two months which was really great.”

A number of MV dramatic tendencies are supersaturated throughout, like some big ol’ hits and Gladiator noise in Two Delusions, as well as one frequently used theme that sounds distractingly similar to the churning musical identity for Nick Nolte’s character in The Thin Red Line. But there are also occasional hints of James Horner’s material - the dramatic builds, the way trumpets are occasionally emphasized in the mix, and so on. The score generally avoids the “heavy” mix of a lot of the action from this era, delivering something more spacious that I’d usually associate with Mark Mancina’s output. It even soars at times.

“We didn’t play [Ray’s theme in full] until the very end. If you do something too soon it is going to feel wrong. The director will say ‘we should use that here’ and I’ll say ‘we haven’t earned it yet, the character needs to get to this point, and this point and this point and then we can do that’.”

It’s no Antz, but it’s lightyears away from what Jablonsky would be asked to deliver on future Michael Bay and Peter Berg films. “There are very little electronics and I hadn’t really ventured too far into the electronic side of things at that point so pretty much everything is live on that.” The album was probably a huge shock for many listeners when it came out, though perhaps folks should’ve been less surprised considering how much time Steve had spent on Harry’s team on earlier Dreamworks films.

It’s also a minor miracle it’s as good as it is given that Jablonsky was pulled into something else - possibly twice! “I was asked to do [Pirates] and I said no, I think I was doing Steamboy, and I just told them I couldn’t help. Then one day I was walking down the hall to the kitchen right when Hans, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski were walking out of Hans’ studio. Now Jerry knew me and he pointed right at me and went ‘You! We need you. Now!’ Gore was like ‘wait, who is this?’ Then Jerry just goes, ‘he’s good’, and Hans is in the back just smiling because he knew at that point I had to do it. So I made some time and told them I could give them two weeks.” He would also get pulled off Pirates for Bad Boys II.

Possibly a coincidence - some of the more active mallet percussion mirrors what Steve’s former boss HGW would use in the next year’s Narnia score (think the music for the mid-film wolf chase).


Next time - an unintended big middle finger to the music of Bad Boys II

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