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Zimmer, team, alums rundown Pt 5 - RC intro + 2005-07: (B)atmosphere Man Begins (5b)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, May 1, 2022, at 5:47 a.m.
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This is part of a series. Part 5a is here:


Kingdom of Heaven (2005) - *****
HGW; add’l music by Stephen Barton; orchestrated by Harry Gregson-Williams & Alastair King;
conducted by HGW; music supervisor Marc Streitenfeld; ‘Light of Life’ vocals & lyrics by Natacha Atlas;
woodwinds Richard Harvey; electric cello Martin Tillman; electric violin Hugh Marsh; featured vocalist Lisbeth Scott;
thank you’s to Halli Cauthery, Toby Chu & Trevor Horn; possible uncredited contributions by Tom Holkenborg

Ridley Scott’s enormous Crusades epic opened in the first weekend of the 2005 summer movie season, just as his successful Gladiator had five years earlier. It was probably my most anticipated film of the year. But Kingdom stumbled badly out of the gate, getting mixed reviews from critics and not even making $20 million in its opening weekend. It was the first dent in the then-ascendant career of actor Orlando Bloom, though it would later be revealed that over an hour of the film had been chopped out (including many key scenes with the queen played by future Bond girl Eva Green), presumably so the studio could get more screenings, and a later director’s cut release on DVD revealed a much stronger film that is now considered to be one of Scott’s better movies.

Hans Zimmer was supposedly attached to this at one point, but for reasons unknown he ended up swapping assignments with Harry Gregson-Williams. “Kingdom of Heaven was the first time I’d worked with Rid and he needed his composer to be on hand. He wanted to meet me face-to-face every week for three or four months. I had spent 8 or 9 years building up my own studio in Venice Beach, so to be asked to pack it all up and to move it to some London office park and find new ways of doing things and new people, it wasn’t a dream job in terms of convenience. But it turned out to be a dream job in terms of creating the cues for that film. I researched quite widely about Middle East instruments. It was a huge, huge voyage to go on.”

At the time this was perhaps the most thematically rich work released from someone in the Media Ventures lineage. There’s a simple-but-elegant main theme that Harry gets a lot of mileage out of, plus another theme for Bloom’s hero Balian, a peace theme that doubles for his Ibelin estate in the holy land, a hopeful but somewhat frail idea for the Christian leper king, a recurring string rhythm for knights and a later variant of that for the Muslim army during the final battle, multiple ideas for the Templar villains, various themes for the Muslims and their leader Saladin, a lamenting Burning the Past idea that kicks off the original album in exquisite fashion, a sterotypically Middle Eastern idea for Jerusalem, a whole bunch of action motifs and recurring rhythmic devices, and probably a few ideas I’ve failed to mention. They all combine to create a rich tapestry that’s buoyed by Gregson-Williams’ expert deployment of regional instruments throughout the soundscape.

And vocals! Can’t forget about those! Some reviews at the time would liken the score to something more like an opera. While that characterization may be a bit extreme, this is still one of the few works from this decade that rivals Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in sheer choral magnificence. The composer (a former highly-trained chorister) uses voices in darn near every moment of the work, imbuing the film with a frequent sense of religious majesty (almost like a less domineering version of composer John Barry’s earlier medieval choral work for The Lion in Winter). It is a work of beauty, detail, and texture that fits the more contemplative nature of its film (or at least as contemplative as you can get when your final act starts with trebuchets raining fire at night).

The original album is an immaculately sequenced joy - delivering an hour of many of the highlights, including at least one that wasn’t even featured in the film . Bootlegs of varying lengths have emerged over the years, covering the two or so hours of music Harry conceived for the director’s cut of the film plus a ton of alternates (Harry estimated he wrote over four hours of music in total). New material of note includes a rare jubilant take on the Burning the Past theme for an arrival at a seaport, a sprightly montage track after Bloom’s character meets the rest of his father’s knights in Jerusalem, and most of the final battle music. Nearly all of what I just mentioned isn’t in any version of the film though, as Scott would not just shuffle parts of Harry’s music around but also retain some of the original temp track, which breaks down into good choices (some lovely traditional-sounding vocals), acceptable ones (retaining Patrick Cassidy’s Vide Cor Meum from Hannibal for a funeral scene), and downright bizarre decisions (Jerry Goldsmith’s bold theme from The 13th Warrior during a motivational speech). Admittedly, only a few are disruptive on film, and it’s really only disappointing once you’re aware of the intricate thematic narrative Gregson-Williams created.

This would appear to be the first appearance of longtime additional music writer Halli Cauthery (lately of Henry Jackman’s team). “I was living in London after finishing my postgraduate studies. I was a jobbing musician playing violin in orchestras. I was writing music but not film music. I thought to myself, ‘I could continue doing this but if I want to write music for a living then I want to try and see if I can get it to film and TV. Who do I know that I could speak to?’ The obvious name was Harry because I had known him years earlier when I was a tiny kid going to after school violin lessons at the local music school in South of England where I grew up. He was one of the staff members at a summer camp I attended between ages 9 and 12.”

Harry would give a prominent role in this and his later Narnia score to Canadian electric violinist Hugh Marsh. “I was in L.A. [for] the final date of a tour with Loreena [McKennitt] in 1998. Jerry Bruckheimer’s wife was in attendance and passed on a copy of Loreena’s CD to Jerry who in turn passed it on to Harry and Trevor Rabin with the suggestion they hire [me] for some solo bits in the film. I was in Santa Monica recording a couple of days later. This has led to working on numerous scores with Harry as well as with Hans, Steve, David Buckley and Paul Haslinger.”

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) - ****½
Harry Gregson-Williams; music programmers Stephen Barton, Toby Chu & James McKee Smith;
music technical engineers Meri Gavin & Costa Kotselas; electric violin Hugh Marsh; electric cello Martin Tillman;
orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty/McIntosh & Rick Giovinazzo; conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams;
‘Where’ co-composed & performed by Lisbeth Scott; ‘Can’t Take It In’ written by Imogen Heap & Harry Gregson-Williams

The success of the first Harry Potter film, coming only a few months after the rights to a Narnia film franchise were secured from Lewis’ estate, were enough to convince everyone involved that they wouldn’t have to Americanize the children in Lewis’ story. It’s hard to remember in the wake of its two sequels stumbling, but The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was a gargantuan success (even today I kind of did a double-take at how much money it raked in). The film would be helmed by Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two Shrek films, which would lead to Harry Gregson-Williams getting involved. “I’ve done dark stuff with Tony and Ridley Scott, but I feel in my heart this is where I have the most to offer. I hope it’ll be the culmination of everything that I've learned since I started to be a film composer. Andrew's very encouraging [which is good because] it’s very much a lonely task, left alone in your ivory tower to compose the music. The editor gets to sit in the room with Andrew every day!”

The film may have tried to steal some of the thunder of Lord of the Rings (right down to also filming in New Zealand), but the music definitely didn’t, and in some ways that were fairly controversial at the time. As with the electronic-sounding percussion in Sinbad two years earlier, a number of score reviewers didn’t have a positive view of the score’s more modern elements - the swooping plane sounds during the opening bombing of London, Hugh Marsh’s electric violin, Lisbeth Scott’s new agey vocals - words like “peculiar”, “head-scratching”, and even “disastrous” were thrown around (this wasn’t universal, as one reviewer at the now-defunct Film Music on the Web said it was the best thing he heard all year). These moments will still likely be make-or-break for some, and since I had this score at a high-end ***½ before this rundown they clearly used to bother me. But the work has so many strengths outside of those elements, which occupy only something like 10 minutes of a nearly 2-hour work anyway. Better these anachronisms than running the orchestra through a guitar amp to get a darker sound, which would be advertised as a plus in a Remote Control blockbuster score the following summer (thankfully, not Harry’s doing).

Like Kingdom of Heaven, this is a richly thematic work - two themes for Narnia (a folk tune which HGW was cautious to not make “sound too Irish” and a “beauty of Narnia” idea), a theme for the children and another specific theme for Lucy, an Aslan theme, multiple motifs relating to the Ice Queen villain and her forces, and Peter’s heroic theme that seems to have entered into public consciousness as the work’s main theme (it’d be the one composer David Arnold reprised in the third film in the series). Harry even had to write a lullaby for the faun Tumnus to be used during filming. HGW constantly develops these themes over the life of the film; nothing ever feels stale. A lot of these contribute to a pervasive sense of awe, discovery, and wonder - say what you will about the more modern elements in the mix, but Harry utterly nailed this key element of fantasy storytelling. ”The first time Lucy goes into Narnia, there’s a little snow but nothing else. Andrew said, ‘you know that sound when there’s a lot of snow falling and you enter a little clearing and there’s a feeling of emptiness there.’ That was a great clue to me musically.”

Also like Kingdom of Heaven, this work has an astonishing diversity of voices - solo vocals, children’s choir, full adult choir. The Media Ventures days of just big male voices bellowing at you were over. It showed that Harry, like John Powell with his concurrent brass and percussion usage, was starting to refine a distinctive compositional style that was decidedly his own - “hey, THAT’S a Gregson-Williams score!” And the work Harry started doing on Sinbad around emphasizing elegant woodwind solos amidst the ensemble comes out in spades here (the flutists might be MVPs here).

I didn’t have a paragraph to talk about the music for the deus ex machina sequence involving Santa Claus, so I’ll just praise it here. Utterly awesome track.

Some rhythmic devices and secondary ideas carry over from Kingdom of Heaven - something some people noted at the time but which HGW is perfectly fine with. “A rhythmic pattern can be used in any way. I can make it sound very different each time. I have a custom audio folder which we build up at the end of each movie. Maybe you’ll hear a two-bar portion of The Martian reversed [in a later movie]. It sounds like I’m trying to be repetitive and I’m not. I’m not a bottomless pit of ideas.”

The album release included about half the score (along with a few unrelated songs); this covered many of the score’s highlights but omitted a lot of engaging material that elevates the work from very good to great status - the White Witch’s twinkling introduction, the complete To Aslan’s Camp sequence, Aslan’s climactic resurrection, and much of the mid-film chase material (The World of Narnia in particular should’ve made the album, both for its bombastic action and for doing intriguing things with the White Witch theme). The score, as well as its sequel, are deserving of an expanded release. “It’s well over 100 minutes - that’s probably 3 Beethoven symphonies in a row. That’s kind of scary.”

“I think I was nominated for a Grammy and that year John Williams won it for [Memoirs of a Geisha]. Those things are very fun and don't mean much, but if the party's good then everyone is happy. I was nominated for a BAFTA for Shrek and they very kindly flew me back to London from Los Angeles, put me in some posh hotel. When I used to live in London I couldn’t afford walking into a place like that. So great, me and my wife can make a night of it, and then it turns out that the person presenting the awards for the Best Score is Bjork; who I happened to have a massive crush on back then, so I was like 'Oh come on, I've got to win this, I've GOT to win this' so I can go up on stage and give her a peck, but no, [Craig Armstrong] won, but that was fun too'

Domino (2005) - Huh?
Harry Gregson-Williams; add’l music by Toby Chu, Heitor Pereira, the electronic music group Hybrid, and Junkie XL,
acoustic & electric guitar by Heitor Pereira, ‘Real’ also by Lisbeth Scott, ‘Alma Muda’ also by Meri Gavin;
cello by Martin Tillman; electric violin by Hugh Marsh; strings orchestrated by Kirk Bennett

RC discovery #2. No, not the thriller starring Jaime Lannister that was taken out of director Brian De Palma’s hands by the producers. This is the one where Kiera Knightley’s character offers a gang leader a lap dance.

Sane people should never experience this music apart from the film. You may go insane just by listening to it. There is a non-zero chance I have lost complete control of my mental faculties as I write this.

This almost-too-good-to-be-true tale of a famous actor’s daughter who became a bounty hunter was given the same outlandish style director Tony Scott brought to his last film Man on Fire. Audiences saw the trailer, mostly said, “huh?”, and barely showed up. Critics savaged it as an over-plotted mess, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “trash shot to look like art imitating trash,” and even Scott would admit he “fucked up on that one.” Harry would “secretly love the movie”, but it would be fiendishly challenging to score for two reasons. First, the temp track. “When I did Spy Game, the best bits of Enemy of the State were in the temp. When I did Man on Fire, the best bits of Spy Game were in the temp. When I did the next one…it worked, but it was quite difficult to get away from.” A good chunk plays like hip-sounding leftovers from those earlier collaborations - you could’ve swapped in the others and I might not have noticed. Even a wailing sound from Kingdom of Heaven shows up a few times, including during one sequence that blatantly rips off the sounds of the Bourne franchise.

Second, with Scott wanting moment-to-moment adherence with (as Harry put it) “the swooping of the camera,” the score ends up being a very stop-and-start thing when heard standalone. There are almost 80 tracks across a nearly 100-minute runtime, and they barely cohere. There are outlandish clashes of styles even Ludwig Göransson wouldn’t have dared attempt, including a moment that mixes modern jazz flute, acoustic guitar, and moaning vocals - I don’t know if I liked it, but it was different! Probably not helping matters was that Gregson-Williams had to work around an eclectic array of songs including three by the rapper Xzibit, two by Tom Waits, one by Tom Jones, a Bach recording by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and even his own main titles piece from Man on Fire.

This is music that isn’t meant to stand apart from the film it was so tightly wound to support. It’s absurd, occasionally obnoxious, and borderline schizophrenic, though also may be a work of mad genius. I laughed out loud multiple times, both because of how ridiculous the whole thing was and because Harry wrote this in the same year he wrote his two more well-known works. That’s not exactly a compliment, but it’s a sign of enough unintended entertainment value to stave off a lower rating - it’s probably getting *½ just for that.

This was the first credited appearance of the Dutch DJ Tom Holkenborg as an additional composer. “I met Harry [and] became his assistant for a little. At that time, I wasn’t capable of doing scenes on my own. But I was good at making sounds and cool loops. I made all these toolboxes for Harry, and he would compose with that tool box. He was the first one to show me how to deal with directors and studios, what is right and not right for a movie. And as I was having my number one hit [Elvis vs. JXL], I was sitting in his basement, chopping audio files.”

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - ****
Julian Nott plus Rupert Gregson-Williams, Jim Dooley, Lorne Balfe & Alastair King;
score produced by Hans Zimmer; orchestrated by Nic Raine; conducted by Gavin Greenaway

RC discovery #3.

After a successful team-up on Chicken Run, Dreamworks would once again pair with Nick Park and Aardman Animation to co-produce a feature length story involving the London studio’s claymation character Wallace and his trusty dog Gromit, who had appeared in several beloved short films in the 80s and 90s. The film wasn’t a huge success in the U.S., but it did relatively well internationally and even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Julian Nott, the composer of the music for the classic Wallace & Gromit shorts, had been put forward by Aardman to score Chicken Run years earlier and had even written some demo music that was used in a promotional reel, but ultimately Dreamworks went with Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell, something Nott was disappointed by but seemed to take in stride a year later. “There’s a lot of commercial interests at stake with these Hollywood films, and I can’t engage five thousand miles away in the UK. I had a couple of meetings with Hans, and I remember him telling me he found my style of music a bit old-fashioned. At first I was puzzled, but the more I thought about it I did begin to wonder whether there was something in what he was saying. Some sophisticated composers like Thomas Newman seem to be adopting harmonic and melodic idioms and choices of sounds that almost seem inspired by the music of untrained synth composers, yet the result seems fresh and exciting. Almost a dumbing-down from the point of view of classical tradition and technical perfection, but I don’t think this is a problem.”

The movie went into production in fall 2003, and Nott was initially given the composing job. For reasons unknown, at some point a number of Zimmer’s Remote Control associates got involved in fleshing out the work. It’s not clear whether Nott’s material was simply reworked or if Zimmer’s team wrote a significant chunk of replacement material; no tracks except the conclusive theme piece are credited to Nott alone. One could infer that Dreamworks, who Park said gave copious notes on the film throughout production, may have gotten cold feet on producing a film that didn’t have a composer from Zimmer’s team (the company wouldn’t do that until its 25th feature in 2012). There was also confirmation of at least one screening for an American test audience that suggested the film might be too British (lol), which resulted in at least the accents being streamlined - maybe this led to the score being reworked as well.

One can quibble with the process that sidelined Nott, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Even if it’s not quite the love letter to Ron Goodwin that Chicken Run was, and even though it doesn’t have anything like that score’s brilliant Building the Crate, it’s still an energetic, optimistic-sounding, consistently entertaining score with an occasional injection of big band energy. Nott’s catchy theme from the shorts gets plenty of airtime, as does a goofy Elfman-like theme for the were-rabbit. Expect to bounce a lot with joy at something that feels shockingly closer to the gleeful spirit of the original cartoons than you’d expect.

Rupert Gregson-Williams, who had been at Zimmer’s studio since The Prince of Egypt, would credit this as his big break. “I was parachuted in to help out, and a producer noticed I’d done an okay job, so he offered me Over The Hedge.”

Madagascar (2005) - ***
Hans Zimmer; add’l by Jim Dooley, Ryeland Allison, James S. Levine & Heitor Pereira;
probably orchestrated by Bruce Fowler; conducted by Gavin Greenaway & Nick Ingman;
thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Ramin Djawadi, Clay Duncan, Bart Hendrickson,
Steve Jablonsky, Henning Lohner, Trevor Morris & Geoff Zanelli

RC discovery #4.

No one would’ve thought a movie about zoo animals stuck in the wild would spawn a huge franchise, but Dreamworks proved having a lot of famous voice actors, a few good jokes, and one outrageous Sacha Baron Cohen performance were enough to generate a Shrek-sized array of content - two sequels, a spin-off film, multiple TV series and shorts, video games, live shows, and a NBC Christmas special. Good grief! As of June 2004 Harry Gregson-Williams was saying he would be scoring this film, but for whatever reason that changed and Zimmer took over, bringing in what seemed like everyone on his team who wasn’t already helping on his other 2005 blockbuster or next year’s Pirates sequel. Less than a third of the 38-minute score was released on the original album, somewhat unsurprising as the film prominently used a number of pop songs, namely I Like To Move It, Move It. The full score (plus another 40 minutes of alternates) would eventually leak out as a bootleg.

This is an easygoing work, if also a somewhat inessential one. The lighthearted theme suite Best Friends could’ve come from Zimmer’s Nancy Myers comedies or his tuneful early days, though the whistling and harmonica suggests Zimmer may have been trying to smuggle his love of Morricone into the mix as well. It’s a catchy idea, and Zimmer & co. get a decent amount of mileage out of it in both goofy and heartfelt modes. A moderately energetic recurring string pattern covers the early escape sequences and climactic rescue. You get some Mission: Impossible-style crime caper jazz for the penguins (all by Jim Dooley) - not quite as impressive as The Incredibles or Agent Cody Banks but still an adequate dose of fun. There’s a moderate percussive ruckus in some of the jungle scenes. A mid-film montage for building an ersatz Statue of Liberty has some fun ersatz John Powell vibes. It all tends to go in one ear and out the other, and a ton of tracks are less than 30 seconds long, but it’s less objectionable than the all-too-brief original album program suggested it to be.

A few alternates feel like slight rearrangements, but most show evidence that the gang tried A LOT of things. The initial zoo scene has two takes of playful antics (one with 80s keyboard hits and a nice bass groove and one without) and two that go in a jazz direction. Nearly every penguin scene has a variety of approaches that toy with different bongo usage and electronic mixes. A short waltz for a character getting tranquilized was turned into a twinkling lullaby. They did surf music with and without a Hammond organ. There are three different island reveal tracks. The statue montage has four versions that alter how funky it is and how loud to flare the brass in a few spots. And the album version of Zimmer’s dream sequence arrangement of John Barry’s theme from Born Free is grander than the later alternate. Not included on either program is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s performance of the Born Free theme with lyrics, which adds some overblown absurdity to the opening shots of the film (this team didn’t arrange it).


Next time: Wait, Zimmer wrote something else important this year, right? Was it The Weather Man? Or something else?

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