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Zimmer, team, alums rundown Pt 5 - RC intro + 2005-07: (B)atmosphere Man Begins (5f) [EDITED]
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Monday, May 9, 2022, at 6:37 a.m.
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Message Edited: Monday, May 9, 2022, at 8:20 p.m.

This is part of a series. Part 5e is here:


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) - ***½
Hans Zimmer; add’l music by Lorne Balfe, Tom Gire, Nick Glenne-Smith, Henry Jackman, Trevor Morris,
John Sponsler & Geoff Zanelli; orchestrations by B & W Fowler/Moriarty, Rick Giovinazzo & Ken Kugler;
featured cellist Martin Tillman; ambient music design by Mel Wesson; conducted by Pete Anthony;
thank you’s to Ramin Djawadi, Jim Dooley, Clay Duncan, HGW, RGW, Steve Jablonsky, Michael Levine,
Henning Lohner, Blake Neely, Atli Örvarsson, Heitor Pereira & Bobby Tahouri

Klaus Badelt: “Write the same music again? I don’t think so. Franchises [are] boring. It’s hard enough not to repeat yourself anyway.”

Hans: “I didn’t know we were going to do a trilogy.”

Nowadays when a major film blockbuster grosses over $1 billion worldwide it’s greeted with a shrug, as if marveling over that much money in box office grosses has become passé. But back in 2006 it was still a huge deal, and Dead Man’s Chest was only the third film ever to do it at the time. I recall going on the internet every so often and doing double takes - “wait, HOW much now?” The first film in the franchise had caught most folks by surprise. The second one did not. Everyone had to see it, and see it they did, even if later some expressed some confusion over how complicated the stories around Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan had gotten, and also quibbled about a screenplay that seemed to have been designed around gargantuan setpieces first before filling in the blanks later. The film still remains a special effects marvel, with the animations for the tentacle-faced villain Davy Jones and his barnacle-encrusted crew still holding up well to this day.

Pirates would be the only thing that Brucheimer produced during 2005-2012 that Zimmer would work on, so it still involves some of that legacy Media Ventures sound. “The lack of woodwind writing is historical in Jerry Bruckheimer movies other than Pearl Harbor as it just never fits into his scores.” The big bass choir, the somewhat unison brass, the very direct nature of the composition - they’re here too. Whatever Jerry wants, Jerry gets. Jerry also apparently liked what Zimmer and team did for King Arthur a few years earlier, since that work was almost hilariously resurrected during Jack’s doomed last stand (and in a few moments in the third film).

Like many other prior scores, Hans would take some time to come up with theme suites for the movie, but whereas the first film’s ideas were banged out in a night, Zimmer would carve out a few weeks before he started work on The Da Vinci Code for brainstorming on Dead Man’s Chest. The results are a mixed bag. My main issue with these ideas is not so much that their constructs seem straightforward, but more that the variations of these themes seem to all be “normal”, then “faster” and/or “louder”. The new cello-heavy comic theme for Jack Sparrow and the organ piece for Davy Jones are simplistic, though entertaining. But The Kraken problematically realizes the ambition from the first film’s score of Cinderella walking into a ballroom and hearing a Metallica concert (again, those were real quotes); it’s fun as film music in a vacuum, but the electric guitar sound and true rock & roll feel seems to cross the line on what’s permissible in this genre environment (versus the first film, which hinted in this direction but never actually got there). And one of the ideas from that suite is basically a theme for the Saxon enemy from King Arthur but with the repeated three-note pattern jumping around different intervals.

But the true head-smacking moment? “Actually, it's not an electric guitar. The first thing I had was the organ and the music box, and that didn't make a very heavy character. So I thought, let me do it with the orchestra and pump it through a guitar amp. Very Lemmy from Motorhead.” This is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, and also very much doubling down on the “they’re a biker gang” logic he had tried applying to 2004’s King Arthur.

New themes not included in the suites include ones for the voodoo character Tia Dalma and Cannibal Island (both by Geoff Zanelli), as well as a serpentine idea for the secondary villain Cutler Beckett and an ascending series of three notes that would matter more in the next entry. Zimmer would have some cheeky fun with the ideas for Jack, Davy Jones, and Beckett by making them share the first three notes (he had toyed with something similar on King Arthur). “It’s fun when you have a meeting with Gore and he's like 'well, why don't we use that other tune?' And I'd be like 'which other tune?' and he'd have to sing past the first three notes for us to figure out which one we were talking about!”

Not helping matters is the commercial album, which is a hot mess. After the aforementioned three suites (plus another Jones one in the middle of the album), there are only about 32 minutes of the actual score from the film, and it’s an incredibly inconsistent experience, with one moment going right into a comic dance sequence and another into some sea shanty source music (possibly trolling listeners with a traditional pirate tune). One of the earliest tracks in the film is the second-to-last score track on the album. The music for the three-way sword fight is severely truncated. The Beckett theme basically gets consigned to a cameo appearance. And the last seven minutes of the album is bizarrely taken up by a remix of He’s A Pirate by the Dutch DJ Tiësto. Remixes, they’re not just for The Ring anymore!

So...I’ll do what I did for Batman Begins - bring on the full score! And not the version I tolerated in undergrad (and no longer have), which was incomplete and chock-full of sound effects.


The main attraction of the full score is a lot of lengthy sequences that were partially or fully omitted from the original album - the seven-minute introduction to the themes of Davy Jones and his crew, the full wheel fight, and the climactic ship chase and kraken battle which closes on a uniquely slowed down version of the main franchise theme. None of this is terribly nuanced music from a symphonic sense, but it is often executed with such glee and volume that I couldn’t help but feel a giddy thrill from it.

The full score doesn’t reveal much in the way of significantly different takes on most of the themes, save for the early introduction to Beckett’s theme and some more grungy takes on the motif for Jones’ crew. The in-film kraken music is a tad less abrasive than Zimmer’s suite. Davy Jones Plays His Organ might be more shamelessly entertaining than the actual concept suite for that character, even if it’s doing that “bang the same note over and over” thing Zimmer was doing as a prelude to action in The Last Samurai and King Arthur.

“They used to have small harmoniums on the ships. Maybe not as grand as the organ on set. But it fed into the hubris of this character.”

There’s a decent amount of cut-and-paste from the first score, which was to be expected. On the flip side, that harsh mixing effect, and the feeling of synthesizers being laid over every second of music, that were pervasive in the first film’s score are gone, so even if I’m hearing something familiar at least it’s easier to listen to this time. In parts you can actually hear woodwinds - bassoons early on, plus the fluttering woodwinds in The Haunted Dress - was Jerry asleep for those sessions?

If you found the first Pirates score wholly inappropriate for the concept, the sequel score isn’t going to change your mind. It takes just as many steps forward as it does back - a slight bit more sophisticated than its predecessor, but also lacking in the same sense of sheer fun (in an “am I doing something wrong in enjoying this?” way). It’s one of the last torchbearers of the Media Ventures style in the Remote Control era, so it’ll be a hearty serving of dumb fun for some and an anachronistic regurgitation for others. At least the full score doesn’t reveal another lengthy sequence that rips off King Arthur, though it does feature a few Batman Begins-style scene-ending brass crescendos.

Zimmer: “There’s a way of looking at these characters that’s morally ambiguous. I don’t think there’s a single tune in a major key. If you slowed them down they’d all be sad tunes. The sad course against the slapstick somehow makes a grander statement.”

You get the feeling Zimmer & team recognized that the guitar amp feel of the Davy Jones and kraken material was perhaps a bit too much, since none of that style would make its way into the third film’s music.


Zimmer, when later asked about the waltz during the bone cage sequence, pretty much gave us the Remote Control mission/vision statement: “Do something ludicrous and against type. Quietly and deviously pervert the genre.”

Fun fact: the album booklet credits Zimmer with both composing and “overproducing” this score, which seems to be a pun in response to people’s reactions over credits in the first score’s album booklet.

Trailer music composers Tom Gire & John Sponsler (of Brand X Music) joined the RC crew at this time. “[We] met through a mutual friend. At that time, John was scoring B movies and TV shows and I had been doing re-mix and arranging work for the Asian pop market. John got a call from a guy who was producing a trailer for The Matrix. We spent countless hours in the studio to try and capture a sound that complemented the unique style of this film.

[Later] we worked with [Zimmer’s usual music mixer] Alan Meyerson recording strings and percussion for The Last Samurai trailer and he [recommended] us to Hans. We got the call to come take a meeting for ‘a little sequel’ he was doing. He was interested in having new guys work with the themes [from the first Pirates] while his other team members worked on new material. Hans’ reaction to our first batch of demos was less than stellar, [but] Bob Badami and Hans took extra time to really help us find the vocabulary and sound palette.

We didn’t work our way up from assistant at RCP, so we were a bit of an anomaly, but trust me, we were scrambling to learn from anyone who would teach us about how to survive!” Gire & Sponsler would stick around for another five years before going back to trailer music full time.

SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Combined Assault (2006) - ***½
Jim Dooley; add’l arrangements by Matthew Margeson; orchestrated by Tim Davies & Brandon Roberts; conducted by Davies

RC discovery #16.

For this SOCOM follow-up, Jim Dooley kept his main theme but altered its progressions so it was closer in style to the main theme from The Rock (and brought over some of the skittering piano from that work as well). But most of the music of Combined Assault is taken up by a new rousing anthem, as well as an imposing enemy theme. There’s a real choir this time (as opposed to the sampled vocals of SOCOM 3), which lends the work some tremendous oomph even if it also doubles down on the Crimson Tide / Peacemaker sound the 2005 entry evoked. On the flip side, the music veers between sounding instrumental and sampled - it’s unclear if this is just a recording / mixing issue or if they didn’t have the same orchestral budget this time. The work isn’t quite as impressive as Dooley’s SOCOM 3, but it’s still a fun guilty pleasure.

“Most of the cinematics, you wouldn’t hear [the] choir on the field of battle, except in the culmination of battle sequences when you were at your max forces. For the most part we wanted to keep as much tension as possible, and when you hear [a] choir that lowers the tension a little.”

Flushed Away (2006) - ***
Harry Gregson-Williams; add’ music by David Buckley & Halli Cauthery;
add’l arrangements by Stephen Barton & James McKee Smith; maybe uncredited assistance by Graham Preskett;
assistant music editor Meri Gavin; orchestrations by HGW & Ladd McIntosh; conducted by HGW & Nick Ingham

RC discovery #17.

The cracks that had started to show in the Dreamworks-Aardman relationship in 2005 blew wide open in 2006, with the London studio supposedly chafing at the creative control Dreamworks tried to exert on their final collaboration, the CGI feature Flushed Away. The film made okay money and got solid reviews, but given its cost and the aforementioned fissures it marked the end of the partnership between the two companies. Harry, a veteran of their first collaboration Chicken Run, was brought on board. As with the earlier Madagascar album, only a short sampling of score was included on CD largely dominated by songs, though the full score has since leaked out as a bootleg.

This is a decidedly lesser score than Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit. It really can’t pick a lane. You go from some mysterious Elfman vibes to bustling orchestral chase music to accordion to sax to rock. Sometimes this congeals into something fun like the enjoyable funky Escape From Le Frog and the climactic action material. Some later tracks improve things - Flight Over London is a fun blend of romance and action, while Saying Goodbye brings in some Narnia-like choir for some emotional highs. In a few cases the fantasy grandeur of Shrek 2 reappears.

But it’s a lot of stop-and-start music, with much of it feeling interstitial and inessential. None of the themes linger with you for long. It affirms Harry was really good at writing for woodwinds - certain passages give off a warmth not dissimilar to some of Alan Silvestri’s dramatic works - but it basically ends up in a tie with his brother’s Over the Hedge from the same year.

Fun fact: “David Cauthery” is credited in the album booklet, which not only means Halli Cauthery helped out but also signals the arrival of future Good Wife composer David Buckley. “I started my musical life as a chorister at Wells Cathedral in the UK. I sang on Peter Gabriel’s The Last Temptation of Christ (I didn’t see the film; it was quite controversial), which did suggest to me that there’s another way music can be used, not just for its own benefit. I [also] had the good fortune to sing on a piece called The Plague & The Moonflower written by Richard Harvey. Harry was working for him at the time (back in the 80’s) - Harry’s father had commissioned the Richard Harvey piece, he was an arts promoter in England [and] was involved in big festivals. Some decades later I caught Smilla’s Sense of Snow, one of his early [scores], and I saw him in the end credits and thought, ‘Blimey, last time I saw him he was in Exeter!’ All this led to me coming over to L.A. to help Harry out on a few films - it was one of those ‘come for a few months’ things and years later I’m still here. My initial task was to provide additional music, rather like Harry did for Hans way back when.”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) - **
Steve Jablonsky; ambient music design Mel Wesson; add’l music programming Jay Flood;
orchestrated by Penka Kouneva, Benoit Grey & Danail Getz; thank you’s to HGW & Hans Zimmer

RC discovery #18.

This prequel to the 2003 reboot of the franchise by Michael Bay’s production company would be torn to shreds by critics and make less than half the money its predecessor did. It wasn’t the first time a studio tried to wring as much money out of a horror franchise as possible by doing a so-so (or worse) origin story movie (Amityville II, Psycho IV, Exorcist: The Beginning), but it would seem to kickstart a trend of that in the modern era - Paranormal Activity 3, Final Destination 5, the 2011 The Thing prequel, Annabelle for the Conjuring franchise, and even another origin story for this franchise’s villain with 2017’s Leatherface.

Steve Jablosnky would return after doing the 2003 film’s music. This largely plays like a more atmospheric and occasionally angrier take on The Ring Two. A good chunk of the album’s 46-minute runtime is devoted to ambient music design of the Mel Wesson variety. But there’s also an obvious orchestra weighted towards low strings, doing a mix of sustains with the occasional chopping string rhythms (perhaps not too far from what Brian Tyler might have done).

Horror music would get a lot more challenging over the next 10+ years - with a greater reliance on dissonance, stingers, electronic distortion / manipulation, and even blatant industrial noise. This score thankfully avoids all that - instead it’s just somewhat anonymous, and probably far more effective at supporting its film than it is at sustaining your interest on its album.

Snakes on a Plane (2006) - ***
Trevor Rabin; add’l music by Paul Linford; orchestrated by Rabin, Gordon Goodwin & Tom Calderaro; conducted by Goodwin

RC discovery #19.

Snakes on a Plane briefly became an internet sensation when the movie was in production (in a “surely they’re really making this, right?” way) - my future grandchildren will look at me in confusion when I explain this - but the end product showed the idea was perhaps more entertaining in concept than in execution (especially since the filmmakers seemed to largely be making a serious thriller), though it has earned immortality for the great “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” line shouted by actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Aside from some material that blends guitars and synths for moments of “snake-vision” (something that apparently “took the longest time” to get right), Rabin’s music is surprisingly orchestral and acoustic. Sure, some of the material falls into the kind of slasher noise that we heard in parts of the composer’s Deep Blue Sea music. But on the whole it does an effective job maintaining tension, the action is competent (one track practically ventures into James Newton Howard territory), and the themes are adequate enough.

Prison Break Season 1 (2005-06) and Season 2 (2006-07) - **½
Ramin Djawadi; add’l Season 1 music by Todd Haberman;
one Season 1 episode & one Season 2 episode with add’l music by Larry Hopkins;
technical score advisor Rob Simon who also compiled the original album

“[It] was a lot of fun to work on that. A lot of the music inside the prison always had to be small and sneaky. There was always a lot of planning which was really fun to score. Now on the outside there are a lot more opportunities to open up a bit more.”

RC discovery #20.

This Fox series about a brother who gets a bunch of mysterious tattoos all over his body and gets himself put in prison so he can break his wrongly convicted brother out was the surpise success of the 2005-06 TV season. The first season was shockingly great, delivering an interesting story and an engaging cast of characters including an all-time sleazy villain performance by Robert Knepper as the sadistic inmate T-Bag. The second season would have the gang on the run after breaking out of prison, but the increasingly convoluted plotting would wear audiences down (and would waste a great performance by William Fichtner as the special agent hunting them), perhaps a function of networks making most of their shows fill 22-24 episodes at the time. Showrunner Paul Scheuring would later admit he conceived of it as one single season of storytelling but stretched it to two seasons to appease the network, though he did appreciate how the extra time allowed them to give the characters more depth.

“I got a call from my agent. I met the producers and we had a good meeting. I wrote a theme and we stylistically seem to be [on] the same page. I think I had two and a half weeks until the show was going to be on air. We wanted a lot of electronics but we also used [an] orchestra in moments when you can take it. The show was so epic I think that’s why it could handle such a thing.”

Speaking as someone who enjoyed the first season, I can say Ramin Djawadi did effectively add to the atmosphere of the prison environment. Strings of Prisoners, with its revolving chime theme and chopping synthetic strings, lent a noticeable element of cool to the series. There seem to be themes for many of the characters, though I doubt most listeners will pick up on them. The infrequent moments of action play like a low-budget imitation of 90s Media Ventures works. Acoustic guitar would start to creep in as the show moved south of the border in its Season 2 finale.

“The only direction I had [for the opening titles sequence] was to use a vocal and it should be percussion driven. The theme you hear at the end is my mystery theme which I had already written for the episode. The rest of the main title was specifically written and I rarely use it during the episodes.”

The music could’ve just been ambient noise, and it’s commendable that Djawadi and the producers decided to give us more than that. Ramin was clearly working within budget confines but managed to effectively support the show nonetheless, though as the material doesn’t translate that effectively into a standalone listen the CD release of material from both seasons may really just be for fans of the series. The album frustratingly closes with some abrupt electronic sounds, likely due to the cliffhanger of the gang getting stuck in another prison.

Open Season (2006) - Not heard
Ramin Djawadi & Paul Westerberg; orchestrated by Stephen Coleman; conducted by Matt Dunkley; songs by Westerberg

This was the inaugural film for Sony Pictures Animation, and with their first score they went with a Zimling. Why isn’t exactly clear. Maybe the decisionmakers at Sony saw how much success the Zimmer brand had experienced over at Dreamworks. Another factor could have been the presence of longtime Bruckheimer music supervisor Bob Badami, who received a consultant credit on this movie. Regardless, this was one of Djawadi’s first major feature film credits after years of assisting Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer (and maybe his first depending on your opinion of whether Blade Trinity counts as a major film or a major catastrophe).

The score has never been released, though an album of songs by former Replacements lead Paul Westerberg was issued. Westerberg had mused about doing movies for a few years, saying in 2004 “I wouldn’t like to do that as a regular job and do five movies a year and all that, but it’s a viable alternative to touring.” AFTER the movie Westerberg would be singing a different tune. “I had to pay the f**king rent on the house. People think I’m rich but I owe more money than anybody realizes. You take Hollywood’s money and you eat Hollywood’s s**t. They ain’t called me back since.”

Spot The Contributor - Brandon Roberts, a key future part of composer Marco Beltrami’s team, was credited for music preparation.


Next time: “I sometimes call it my ‘hobby film’ because I was paid very little money in the first place and then [did] it for four years – I think we worked it out to be $6 an hour.”

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