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Zimmer, team, and alums rundown Pt 4 - MV 2003-04: Pirates Gets The Booty (4e)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, April 17, 2022, at 5:49 a.m.
• IP Address:

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


Secret Window (2004) - Not heard
Philip Glass & Geoff Zanelli

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard originally planned to collaborate on this, but schedule conflicts supposedly got in the way. Philip Glass would get the picture instead, though it seems most of his music was replaced by work from Media Ventures composer Geoff Zanelli. “The call for Secret Window actually came from Sony, who wanted to see if I could score just one scene. They had a deadline looming so I had to write quickly. The production was in New York and I’m in Los Angeles, so after my first day I sent my music to Koepp. He liked it, and sent another scene for me to score. Then another. And then another. This carried on for about a week until we had an orchestra session. I went on to write more scenes for another week and by the end of my 13th day of writing we had our 2nd orchestra date. I hadn’t realized until after we recorded that I’d scored nearly all of the film. After I finished my work on the score, David Koepp called to tell me ‘you saved the picture!’” Koepp would use Zanelli on most of the pictures he directed going forward.

The music was never released legitimately. Supposedly there’s a promo of Zanelli’s material floating around somewhere.

Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) - Not heard
Steve Jablonsky; add’l music by a variety of credited and uncredited contributors

Danny Elfman’s title theme was put on an album, but Steve Jablonsky’s score has never been released in any format. Still, it’s worth citing for how wildly different it is from Jablonsky’s usual film output.

SJ: “Michael Edelstein was a producer on the ABC show Threat Matrix, which I had scored. He called me in the middle of Steamboy, and asked me to do a demo for Housewives. I scored the opening scene of the pilot, sent it over, and got a good response. I was right in the middle of Steamboy, and couldn't afford to take it on as well. So they went and got Steve Bartek. He did two episodes, and for whatever reason, creative differences or something, they called me. Stewart Copeland did the third episode, but at that point they called me and told me that I had the show.

I was writing as many as 30 minutes of score per episode. We all eventually realized that it was too much - the show didn't need it because a lot of the scenes lived fine without score because the writing and acting is so good. So we toned down the music to about 15-18 minutes a week, much more manageable. I also got two friends to help me out, Jay Flood and Louis Febre. Febre had apparently helped Bartek on the pilot - so there was a connection there already.

[In a later episode] my orchestra has seven players. I want you to be able to hear each player.”

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004) - Not heard
HGW; other incidental music by Norihiko Hibino;
add’l music by Justin Burnett & Toby Chu; programming by Meri Gavin

Seems to be available only via an out-of-print CD - but since I missed Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in the last era I’m gonna include some of what I’ve learned about the franchise below.

With MGS2 going to the PS2 and thus having fewer hardware limitations, the studio was able to actually have music beyond just sampled strings fit on the game. They went to Harry Gregson-Williams after Hans Zimmer turned them down because they weren’t going to pay him enough, though it’s also likely he thought game scores were second-tier work and perhaps didn’t even understand how lucrative hit releases could be (he would tell Harry “watch out, you're here to try and build a path to being a film composer”). Harry was contacted on the basis of his work for Enemy of the State of all things. It’s possibly the earliest confirmed instance of someone going to a cheaper version of Zimmer after he’d turned them down, though I have a sneaking suspicion earlier works for this criteria as well, namely Gavin Greenaway’s sublime Disney Parks works.

Harry was intrigued, even though he wasn’t a gamer; according to former assistant Stephen Barton, the only one he confessed to knowing at the time was Pong. “Hideo Kojima said he had a vision for his game to be scored as if it were a Hollywood action movie. He seemed like a nice bloke, and I never even considered writing music for a game before, so I thought I would give it a go.”

The compositional process required the sound department to act as a middleman between Hideo and HGW, who would admit some early struggles with writing music with no images. “It was quite a primitive process. I think I was one of the first Hollywood film composers to do the music for a game. He wasn’t able to send me the film, and that’s my normal working process, would be to start with… hello!… the film. So, if ever I’m stuck with my work, I go to look up at the screen and learn something, and bounce off that. I would be sent little descriptions – adjectives. And I’d have to write 30 seconds or a minute of music in that vein, so it was kind of difficult for me, and different. But I liked it.”

Harry would end up writing a 9-minute piece for the game’s trailer shown at video game conference E3 in 2003, which helped with the process tremendously. 'After the E3 thing was over, we were both able to refer to that a little bit. So, for instance, after that, when he would ask me for an action piece--'Imagine you weren't detected and suddenly you were detected and there's a shootout…'--he'd be able to say, 'You know minute five or six in the E3 thing where the drums come in, I really like that; use that as your starting point.'” Harry would end up writing another 45 minutes of music used across the game’s cutscenes, with gameplay music being done by Norihiko Hibino.

HGW would apparently make frequent use of Tappi Iwase’s legacy franchise theme in his first entry, but otherwise MSG2 and MSG3 are supposedly quite distinct works. “MGS2 and MGS3 have very different environments and so stylistically it wasn't appropriate for the games to sound too similar.” As with the Shrek sequel score released in the same year, Harry made a conscious effort to try to avoid repeating himself.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) - ****
John Powell; add’l arranging & programming by John Ashton Thomas & T.J. Lindgren;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty, Liz Finch & Rick Giovinazzo; conducted by Pete Anthony;
synth recording & original album compiled by Dan Lerner; thank you to James McKee Smith

This is a bigger, broader version of the sonic universe of the first film. You can hear cases of Powell injecting little bits of style from Agent Cody Banks and Paycheck into the proceedings, but it still has that stripped down feel that fits with the film. Powell also realized that the sequel needed more of a traditional theme, so he wrote a new, somewhat mournful idea for Bourne - and it’s a doozy, applied sparsely enough that it’s not omnipresent but enough that you’re aware of it when a contemplative arrangement for strings and piano hits near the end (a gut punch equal to Zimmer’s derivative material from the climax of The Last Samurai, at least in context). “There was something about Goa and Marie where we realized that’s where we should establish a new theme. That’s basically a useful device to follow him as he goes through the movie.” Its early, energetic arrangement for a Goa beach run ended up being so effective that it even showed up in at least one of NBC’s athlete perspectives videos for its Olympics coverage four years later.

But that doesn’t mean Powell left the relentlessly churning Bourne ostinato at home - you get everything from subtle references in some tracks to outright building the whole Berlin foot chase around it. Enough cannot be said about the 12-minute action finale, a masterful exercise in gradually building tension before unleashing a torrent of crazy energy; Moscow Wind-Up and Bim Bam Smash should be permanent residents on any Powell highlights playlist. And the fact that this work, like its predecessor and successor, continued to make use of a uniquely high-pitched bassoon for its more personal/sensitive stretches continues to help it stand out from its frequent musical imitators which would usually ape the tension of this musical trilogy but not its heart.

“The funeral pyre scene, where he burns the photos of Marie - he’s grieving. So, there’s lots of ways of doing that - play the sad music, then play action music as he starts getting his things together. I wanted to start that idea earlier. I took these massive drums [and played the over the sad music] so you have this paradox -a beautiful grief going on in the strings and at the same time you have this rage. That’s unusual, definitely more influenced by Peter Gabriel than the film scores of the past.”

For the score fans who found Powell’s Bourne Identity a challenge, this was a big step up into competence. For those who really liked the first film’s music, the sequel score was a revelation. The score is also an unintended big middle finger to the music of Bad Boys II - proof that you could write distinctive music with noticeable themes for modern action films with hyperactive editing without detracting from the story or the style.

The album release was a fairly good representation of the score, though it robbed listeners of the wild music for the early Goa car chase and a soft variation on the main theme that came right after the final action scene.

I had this at ***½ stars - one of those “great on film, eh on album” type ratings - but the strength of the new theme and the exquisite action finale bumped it up a bit. Worth noting - this rundown has made me a lot more forgiving of non-traditional scores, i.e., the stuff that no reviewer in their right mind would call “fully orchestral”. I get the sneaking feeling the picture of Michael Tilson Thomas on that Mahler album is judging me again. I don’t care.

Side note: I think this is my favorite of the three original films. The faux-documentary quick-cutting style has been mocked to death at this point - perhaps because so many films emulated it afterwards and did it way worse, but also because the John Wick films have proved you can do cool action movies without bouncing the camera around. But few theatergoing experiences have ever been more downright awesome than this movie’s final car chase; my dad and I were floored.

Shark Tale (2004) - Not rated
Hans Zimmer; add’l music by Geoff Zanelli & Trevor Morris;
score programming by Ryeland Allison, Clay Duncan & Michael Levine;
conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith & Gavin Greenaway

Shark Tale blended Will Smith voicing an anthropomorphized fish, a whale car wash, a shark mafia family, and an ogre-sized serving of pop culture references. That description feels even more bizarre than it did when it came out, and the production was rush through a shorter-than-usual process, though since audiences showed up in droves it seemed to validate the Dreamworks’ new approach to moviemaking (this was the first one they put into production after the colossal success of Shrek).

Zimmer would seem enthusiastic about the project in late 2003 - “I complained to Jeffrey Katzenberg that I couldn't cross any more Red Seas, or deal with any more horses that can't speak; I wanted to do one of the fun animated movies instead” - but you get the feeling things may have gone terribly wrong since barely any score was released (one suite tacked onto a song-centric album), there were 5 other contributors, and Zimmer never said anything publicly about the music after the film came out.

Zanelli: “I did some of the Italian music for this film since it’s in my blood, but the most fun I had on this was writing ‘The Kelp Fields’ which is a cue that plays under dialogue. There’s a very particular challenge in writing a cartoony cue like this which has to weave in and out of a busy conversation between the characters.”

Thunderbirds (2004) - ***
Zimmer & Ramin Djawadi; add’l arrangements by Jim Dooley & Mel Wesson; add’l electronica by Clay Duncan;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty & Liz Finch; Trevor Morris as score technical supervisor; conducted by NGS

Why go into a lot of detail on this adaptation of a beloved 60s TV series when you can just quote the series’ creator on what he thought about it? “It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick.. The biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life.'

The score’s not bad though. If anything it has a something-for-everyone vibe. Legacy MV action action mannerisms, a few moments that suggest Gladiator was in the temp, one moment that’s practically a Crimson Tide throwback - they’re all here, but they’re all filtered through what feels like a delightfully optimistic Dreamworks lens that has lots of similarities to, of all things, the future animation work of not-here-yet Henry Jackman (think Big Hero 6). It’s not very substantial or original, but it’s still a spirited good time. At least the gang had the decency to quote the original series’ theme a few times. Also, finger snaps - they’re not just for John Powell anymore!

Fun booklet facts: this would be the second score in this era that credits Clever Trevor Morris for something.

Ella Enchanted (2004) - Not heard
Nick Glennie-Smith; orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Liz Finch; conducted by Fiachra Trench

Never officially released. This replaced a score written by Irish classical composer Shaun Davey, perhaps best known in the film world for his music for Waking Ned Devine. Apparently the replacement came so late in the game that Davey’s name was still on the posters.

National Treasure (2004) - ***
Trevor Rabin; add’l music by Don Harper & Paul Linford;
orchestrations by Gordon Goodwin, Tom Calderaro & Trevor Rabin

Discovery #45.

This score is about as unsurprising as this music can get. Brassy themes straight out of the 90s. Chopping string sounds that occasionally bleed into chopping keyboard sounds (sometimes hard to tell). A few moments of big background harmonies courtesy of a choir. And it also has those classic Rabin elements: cool guitar moments, rock drum hits, extremely pleasant chord shifts during character moments.

Rabin: “This was a great experience, although Jon Turteltaub, the director, was a bit impossible – charmingly impossible, I should say. He’d come in and listen to a seven-minute piece of music, and he’d say, ‘That’s fantastic! It’s done.’ He’d rave about it and then say, ‘OK, let’s listen to it again and I’ll make some notes’ – by the time he was done, the notes were 30 pages long. A week later, half of the notes would go away without me changing anything.”

There’s some playful modern piano material, and the track Library of Congress practically goes in a quirky Thomas Newman direction (even more so than Harry Gregson-Williams’ earlier Passionada, although in this case we actually have proof that Rabin had to deal with American Beauty in the temp track).

Rabin: “I’d written the main theme and played it for Jon, and he said, ‘It sounds like a cowboy theme.’ So I told him, ‘Have a listen to Star Wars. If you put that music against a western, it’d be perfect.’ I didn’t really see what Jon was saying as a negative – one could be used for the other. Luckily, Jerry was there, and he said, ‘No, I love it,’ and it stuck. Otherwise, Jon would’ve gotten rid of it.'

It’s undemanding, predictable fun.

Team America: World Police (2004) - Not heard
HGW; programmed by Stephen Barton, Toby Chu, Steve Jablonsky & James McKee Smith;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh, Liz Finch & Rick Giovinazzo;
Meri Gavin as add’l music engineer; songs by Trey Parker & Marc Shaiman

Alas, the music for this raunchy, absurd puppet terrorist comedy by South Park Trey Parker and Matt Stone is grayed out on Spotify. Marc Shaiman had already successfully teamed with Parker & Stone on their film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and he was involved early in contributing to a few of this film’s songs including Everyone Has Aids and America F**k Yeah. But a rushed post-production schedule (mainly to get the film released before the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election) apparently left Shaiman and the filmmakers little time to connect on the score itself, which created issues after around 80% of it was recorded. “I started writing while they were still filming. That was the only way it could get done in time. They decided it had too much of my personality in it. Trey wanted it to be less playful. It was a group decision that it would be easier for someone else to come in than for me to suddenly turn my head around and be able to score the movie over again in five days.” To understand how crazy late in the game this was, consider this - the movie was released on October 14th, and there is a post from ScoringSessions dot com dated September 17th that has photos of the orchestra performing Shaiman’s score with Shaiman, orchestrator Jeff Atmajian, and conductor Pete Anthony in attendance.

Harry & team only had a week to write and record a replacement score that was an intentional parody of the Media Ventures house style. “My brief was to veer from being absolutely serious in every musical statement I made. Not for one moment was I to score this movie as a comedy; I had to imagine that these were not puppets but Hollywood stars acting out a hugely slick, massively budgeted, FX-laden Hollywood action movie.” Harry would seem to have been following the edict Jeffrey Katzenberg gave him about how to score Antz years earlier - make people forget they’re not watching people as soon as possible.

Catwoman (2004) - Not heard
Klaus Badelt; synth orchestration by Wolfram de Marco, Blake Neely & Geoff Zanelli;
remixes of ‘Outrageous’ and ‘Who’s In Control’ by Junkie XL;
orchestrations by Bruce Fowler; conducted by Blake Neely & William Ross

Gosh, I wish there were more comments about this on the record. Geoff Zanelli said he came on at the last minute to help meet the deadline.

Spanglish (2004) - ****
Zimmer; add’l arrangements by Trevor Morris, Henning Lohner, Heitor Pereira & Kaz Boyle;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh, Liz Finch, Rick Giovinazzo & Brad Warnaar;
conducted by Blake Neely; Heitor Pererira & Martin TIllman as musicians;
thank you’s to Clay Duncan, Geoff Zanelli, Jim Dooley, Ramin Djawadi, Steve Jablonsky, James Levine & Klaus Badelt

Working with Adam Sandler on this dramedy about cultural misunderstandings between a rich family and their Mexican housekeeper was apparently a delight for all involved, including Zimmer (“he is this incredible, nice guy”), but the film would get mixed reviews, bomb at the box office, and signal the start of the decline in the quality of the works of director/producer James L. Brooks. Zimmer had worked with Brooks earlier on As Good As It Gets and the misbegotten musical parody I’ll Do Anything, the latter which Zimmer once called “the never-ending movie.” This is probably the most delightful of those three scores - think of it as the refined, tango-dancing cousin of Matchstick Men. It’s remarkable how Zimmer and team take only strings, guitar, a few woodwinds, and a small percussion section and whip them into a pirouetting rhythmic frenzy. It’s arguably Zimmer’s most tuneful score of this era, buoyed by the effective solo performances of regular collaborators Heitor Pereira on guitar and Martin Tillman on cello.

Zimmer had apparently gotten no less touchy about online criticism in the three years after Pearl Harbor. “You have to look at the subject matter for those films - 16 French Horns and a whole army of taikos would probably not have been the way to go in Spanglish, for example! But I don't seem to be able to win, really, because if I write a small intimate score, half of the reviews you're going to read are going to say, ‘Well, it's no good because it's not the big Zimmer sound.’ And if I do the big Zimmer sound, the same people will say it's no good because it is ‘the big Zimmer sound’ - and it's always the same thing, apparently.”

The short album makes for an exceedingly lovely 35 minutes - a minor work for sure, but one so overwhelmingly charming you can’t help but adore it. It’s basically the closest Zimmer (or any other film music composer in this era, for that matter) got to the second movement of Ravel’s String Quartet in F, which may help explain my affection for it.

It was also an effective counterbalance to the new age behemoth Zimmer and team wrote earlier in the same year.

King Arthur (2004) - ****½
Hans Zimmer; add’l music by Nick Glennie-Smith & Rupert Gregson-Williams; uncredited add’l music by Jim Dooley,
Steve Jablonsky, Trevor Morris & Blake Neely; drum programming by Mel Wesson; orchestra conducted by NGS;
‘Tell Me Now (What You See)’ by Zimmer & Moya Brennan and produced by Trevor Horn & Mel Wesson;
choral music arr. by RGW & Alastair King; choir conducted by RGW; thank you’s to Lorne Balfe & Martin Tillman

Trevor Morris: ”Of all my times writing additional music and arranging for Hans, this score was the most memorable.”

Gritty! No, not the magnificent Philly Flyers hockey mascot. A year before audiences were treated to the Christopher Nolan take on Batman that sparked a gritty take on, like, everything, Jerry Bruckheimer was producing a very muddy, largely demythologized take on the Arthurian legend. For me, coming on the heels of the seeming revitalization of large-scale epic filmmaking thanks to Gladiator and Lord of the Rings, 2004 seemed to be a gold mine of opportunity at the start of the year, what with this, Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy (with its dope teaser trailer armada reveal shot), and Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Alas, bigger was not better. None succeeded with critics or at the domestic box office, and the astonishingly poor performance of the truncated theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven the next summer would do no favors for anything having to do with swords or sandals either. In the near-to-mid term some studios would still try to recapture the success of the Tolkein films with varying degrees of success, but most large financial bets in Hollywood would start to gradually and then quite drastically shift from epics to superheroes movies and other established IP.

As a film, King Arthur is perhaps only remembered today for being an early pairing of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, future stars of the beloved and gone-too-soon Hannibal TV series. But for score fans it represented one last gargantuan gasp of the power anthem - an admittedly derivative but relentlessly grand triumph to some and a portentous over-extension of an all-too familiar style to others. Nearly everyone has a Zimmer score they are almost irrationally attached to despite its flaws. The Rock is that work for many folks. Man of Steel may count as that for more recent audiences. King Arthur is mine. Don’t @ me.

HZ: “I thought it was an interesting idea to tell the King Arthur story minus the myth. But as soon as you put the music in it mythologized the characters.”

It is not unique by any stretch of the imagination. There are low sonic sustains once again resurrected from The Thin Red Line. There are solo parts for the duduk, an Armenian woodwind instrument used notably in Gladiator and seemingly everywhere since as a musical shorthand for the Middle East; it’s in this Arthurian tale for…idk…reasons. Heck, a bunch of stuff from the prior year’s music for The Last Samurai shows up (the shakuhachi flute namely, but also as some similar progressions and the harsh edge to the brass). The portentous Gladiator carry-overs practically go without saying. Pirates would lurk in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways (even the pan pipes!), no doubt due to the presence of Sir Bruckheimer of the Power Anthem.

But being familiar and predictable isn’t inherently problematic. If you’re gonna riff on the old favorites, do it with this kind of enormity - and with massive goshdarn drum sounds every chance you get. As with the prior year’s Pirates, there’s a startling coherence to the work despite its myriad influences and multiple contributors. You get the sense that Hans and team came up with a bunch of above-average heroic ideas and then just decided to use, like, every single one of them (a action version of the “all the tunes I wrote are in this movie” approach to Matchstick Men, ironic considering one of the tracks on the score CD is called All Of Them!). There will undoubtedly be some listeners who view them in aggregate as undifferentiated anthemic noise, but for me the thematic density rewards repeat visits, and the rousing moments are, to perhaps modify a German phrase for this German composer, über-rousing.

The vocals are more diversified than this work gets credit for. Sure, the bellicose male choir seems sent straight from Crimson Tide. But there are also moments of female choir, powerful mixes of both groups, and the haunting solo vocals of the Irish folk singer Moya Brennan (of the band Clannad). The latter continued Zimmer’s fascination with incorporating the wordless singing of a woman that dates back to at least Pacific Heights in the early 1990s, and probably much earlier since what got him interested in film music was him sneaking into a showing of Once Upon a Time in the West when he was twelve and hearing the operatic sounds Ennio Morricone wrote for singer Edda Dell'Orso. Brennan’s contributions also rooted the work in a specific period of late 90s / early aughts fantasy scores where there was a new age-y bent to things - think some of Trevor Jones’ music for NBC’s Merlin or Lee Holdridge’s The Mists of Avalon. For those playing Spot The Collaborator, Zimmer’s former Buggles band mate Trevor Horn would team with ambient music maestro Mel Wesson and Brennan to come up with a credits song.

Curiously, King Arthur would subtly inform some of Zimmer’s methodology for the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The thematic interrelationships between his three main new themes for that sequel - all sharing the same three starting notes - mirror his comments about this score. “Everything should revolve around Arthur as the apex. I created a tiny little three-note motif; everybody gets handed those three notes at one point or the other.” And while there was much hand-wringing in 2006 about Zimmer referring to Davy Jones’ crew as a “biker gang”, keep in mind he stated he was trying to do the same with Arthur and his knights two years earlier.

Part of my nostalgic adoration for this work comes from it perhaps being my first introduction to the world of unofficial expanded presentations. The score is served decently enough by its commercial album, but the complete score (leaked online about a year after the film came out) reveals a mightier work, even if it does double down on a lot of stylistic elements that were already maddeningly familiar for some. It also features the complete action finale, which cranks the drama and the volume up to gargantuan proportions, making a mockery of the original intent to demythologize the characters but delivering so much brutal fun you couldn’t care less.

The move to London to write the music did create some interesting experiences for the composers. Morris: “[We] built makeshift suites in the photocopy room above the Cantina, in old dub rooms, anywhere we could fit. We sent some staff off to buy candles and drapes and pillows.” Morris also provided insight into how Zimmer could still involve himself with tracks others provided additional music for, thus perhaps rebutting those who frame the man as a detached producer. ”He played a dirge, turned to me and said ‘there's reel 7’. I laughed out loud, then realized he wasn't kidding. Everything in ‘Final Battle (Part 3)’ came from that one idea. Hans and I would each vamp on his composition, he'd work then lay on the couch and I would jump in and work, which sparked an idea in him and he would jump back in, and on it went. Hard to believe this cue germinated from a single piano line.”

Sometimes you want a refined Middle Ages score like Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Sometimes you just wanna enjoy the bigly bigness of the big music. This is one of those times.

Critical opinions were all over the place with this one. gave it ****½ and called it a “must-have.” Filmtracks had a generally enthusiastic **** review of the work. James Southall at Movie-Wave gave it a mixed *** take, calling it derivative but “impressive.” Jon Broxton over at MMUK was less enthusiastic about what he felt was a tired continuation of the old MV formula - in his days of using star ratings he gave it ** but admitted “it seems less terrible than it did on that first spin.” I wonder if Mr. Broxton has thought about inventing a time machine so he can go back and shake his younger self a bit and, knowing what he knows now about where much of Zimmer and team’s output went in the Remote Control years to come, say something like, “Relax about this one. It’s gonna get so very much much worse for you with these.”


Next time: It gets worse for Jon Broxton.

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