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Zimmer, team, alums rundown Pt 5 - RC intro + 2005-07: (B)atmosphere Man Begins (5j)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at 5:24 a.m.
• IP Address:

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


The Simpsons Movie (2007) - ***
Hans Zimmer; music posse Ryeland Allison, Lorne Balfe, Jim Dooley, Henry Jackman, Michael Levine & Atli Örvarsson;
Heitor Pereira on guitar; orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty, Liz Finch, Ken Kugler, Steve Bartek & Geoff Stradling;
technical music assistants Jacob Shea & Noah Sorota; conducted by Blake Neely & Nick Glennie-Smith; ‘Spider Pig’ lyrics by
James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully,
Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder & Jon Vitti; thank you’s to Ramin Djawadi; Clay Duncan, Bart Hendrickson, HGW, RGW,
Steve Jablonsky, James S. Levine, Henning Lohner, Matthew Margeson, Trevor Morris, Martin Tillman & Geoff Zanelli

“I was on Pirates for a really long time, and honestly, the Simpsons guys were getting a little worried. These guys work incredibly efficiently fast and I work very inefficiently slow, so by the time I actually started doing things, they were way into it. I’m a sprinter. I’m not good at marathons. If it weren’t for the last second, nothing would get done.”

The long-running animated sitcom by James L. Brooks & Matt Groening finally got a movie in theaters in 2007, though it was almost a decade after the show’s “Golden Age” was considered over (possibly Season 8, per the never-ending “when did the Simpsons stop being good?” debate). The movie itself took six years to make, with over three years of rewrites (it was a musical at one point) before they started animating. The film was still undergoing massive changes only months before its release (some of those stemming from a poor March test screening), with most of the shots from one of the trailers being tossed and Groening claiming they cut enough to fill two entire movies.

The show had a famous, rambunctious title theme by Danny Elfman, and Alf Clausen had been doing episodic music for the series since 1990, but Brooks had a longstanding relationship with Hans Zimmer that seemed to trump both of those, though Zimmer was initially resistant to taking on the task. “I kept sort of saying ‘I think I'm the wrong guy’ but everybody who is working on the movie has worked with me at some point, and they all sort of ganged up on me! I thought the opening theme was a pretty strong [starting point]. I was thinking Prokofiev and I was thinking Nino Rota and I was thinking surf guitars unfortunately at one point or another. Then I said to Matt, ‘Did the characters ever have themes?’ and he goes, ‘Um… no.’ He wasn’t entirely sure himself. ‘Let me try to write a Homer theme. Let me at least try that and if I get anywhere with that, I might be able to do this movie.’”

Zimmer would modestly refer to himself as Elfman’s arranger, and there are some fun deconstructions of the show’s title theme throughout the score. But the rest of it is all over the place. Rock music. La-dee-da choir. Plenty of orchestral mayhem. It’s not exactly incoherent, as Zimmer would make sure to write themes for Homer, Bart, Marge, and romance, though they may not linger long in your memory. There’s a bit of a “that’s it?” feeling at the end of the album, though given the state of the film’s production process that was probably inevitable no matter who wrote it. Still, it is the rare case where Zimmer largely worked within genre conventions instead of trying to tear them down, basically achieving charmingly inoffensive music that could’ve come from Elfman or John Debney.

“It’s the second time I’ve played with somebody else’s toys after Mission: Impossible II. And I learned from that funnily enough to not make the same mistakes twice, which is, ‘Don’t overuse the theme!’”

There’s a remix at the end of the album (again, this is just what we did with score CDs back then), though those who remember the Hyphopera track from 1994’s Drop Zone will be amused to see Zimmer was still asking contributor Ryeland Allison to crank out material like this. But right before that is a moment of high comic genius on par with what Harry Gregson-Williams had done in his Shrek sequel scores - the Spider-Pig song. “Michael Levine and I made up the Spider-Pig Cantata very quickly. I never played it for them, because there wasn’t any room in the movie. And then one day things were tense and I thought we needed a laugh and I put [it] up and Jim said, ‘Why is the funniest thing in our movie not in our movie?’ So we figured maybe Spider-Pig had a longer life than just me amusing myself. There’s a whole process that goes into making a movie and part of it is you have to go and translate it into 32 different languages. We all gathered back at the studio with the choir and taught them how to sing in Spanish and Portuguese and German and French, you name it. I just Germanized it by going ‘Shpider-schweine.’”

There’s also a digital-exclusive track not included on the physical CD, which would start to become an irritating fad soon after but would be especially odd in this case since the original album was only 41 minutes long - PLENTY OF SPACE LEFT, GUYS! All kidding aside, it’s entirely possible that the album had to be compiled before they’d recorded this track. The real shame is that it’s a fun little jazz/rock action piece that many people don’t even know they missed out on.

Series composer Alf Clausen seemed nonplussed about not getting the film gig, saying, “sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug”, though this would be paradise compared to getting fired from the show and replaced by Zimmer’s minions a decade later.

Mr. Brooks (2007) - **
Ramin Djawadi; technical score advisor Rob Simon

RC discovery #31.

Showing a COMPLETELY different side of actor Kevin Costner than what we saw in The Guardian a year earlier, the serial killer thriller Mr. Brooks was a modest financial success, earning double its $20 million budget in theaters despite middling reviews. The most astonishing thing about it is that its filmmakers envisioned this as the start of a potential trilogy. Ramin Djawadi was brought on board for the music - this was his first significant solo film effort - and he enjoyed being “able to experiment with sound design that goes beyond the orchestral palette. I don't have a preference for one or the other as long as I don't have to do the same style again and again. I prefer the variety.”

The score is almost completely electronic - and seemingly designed to maintain a low-key environment of coolness and menace. Piano and guitar occasionally intrude. A lot of it ends up feeling like indistinctive atmospheric music or sound design (like crime television music in a way). Little of it’s offensive, but it doesn’t have much in the way of memorable thematic content, and it may lull some listeners to sleep - with the exception of the more aggressive guitars & synths in Mr. Meeks and the last minute of Graveyard Standoff. The penultimate Mr. Brooks piano performance is lovely though. And you can hear seeds of some ideas here that would show up more fully realized in Westworld.

Rescue Dawn (2007) - ***½
Klaus Badelt; arranged by Ian Honeyman & Andrew Raiher; featured musician Craig Eastman; ‘Dangerous Games’,
‘River in the Rain’, ‘Monsoon’, ‘Voice from Another World’, and ‘Phantom of the Night’ by Ernst Reijseger

RC discovery #32.

Eclectic and acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog had made a documentary in 1997 about the downed pilot Dieter Dengler and his escape from captivity during the Vietnam War. Now Herzog would return to the topic and make a dramatic work of fiction starring Christian Bale. Despite widespread critical acclaim and Bale being a huge star in the wake of Batman Begins, the film didn’t even make its $10 million budget back in theaters, perhaps due to the curious decision by MGM to delay its release from late 2006 to the middle of the 2007 summer movie season (why grill burgers & hot dogs in July when you can go watch a P.O.W. movie instead, right?).

Klaus Badelt had done the music for Herzog’s earlier film Invincible. His score for this film largely exists in two modes. The first is sparse, simple melodies (often played by piano or harp) that build to more hopeful ensemble statements. Fans of James Newton Howard in this mode will probably gravitate towards these. It’s a bit adjacent to the approach Zimmer took for the Thin Red Line, but the melodies and performance here are often warmer and less austere than that work. The second mode would involve a lot of methodically ticking wooden percussion sounds, often in support of the hopeful chord shifts to make the music sound more propulsive. Midway through Hope the orchestra builds on this approach, lending more of an Eastern edge to the music and almost pushing the track into The Promise territory.

It’s a mostly intimate work that makes for good mood music and features an impressive finale track, though even at 40 minutes the album can feel a bit overstretched. The album also includes a song based on one of Badelt’s themes, a solo piano performance of another theme, and a monologue by Herzog. Hey, at least there’s no remix!

Badelt wasn’t the only composer involved with the film. Dutch avant-garde cellist Ernst Reijseger had done the music for two prior Herzog films and would contribute several pieces to this film, three of which were included on the 2007 album Do You Still, an album of arrangements for two cellos and piano. These play a little more like an improvisational version of a Johnny Greenwood score. All pieces are interesting as standalone music, though possibly a bit abstract to function as film music, and the cat-like screeching of the cello part in Voice from Another World might be a bit much for some listeners. Never mind that they don’t really exist in the same sonic universe as Badelt’s score.

Herzog would employ both Reijseger and Badelt on his future films, though never again for the same movie.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - ***½
John Powell; add’l music & programming by John Ashton Thomas & James McKee Smith;
orchestrated by David Butterworth, Jake Parker & Gary K. Thomas; conducted by Gavin Greenaway;
score production coordinator Germaine Franco; add’l recording and album compilation by Daniel Lerner

Powell in 2015: “Bourne is as boring as I can get.”

The Bourne franchise would be brought to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion with The Bourne Ultimatum - though that would be short-lived as the studio would eventually produce a lesser spin-off film as well as another sequel almost a decade later. Nearly the entire team that made the second film would return for this one, though screenwriter Tony Gilroy would claim nothing from his draft ended up in the final film. Obviously John Powell would be along to compose the music as well. He would encounter the classic franchise conundrum for a composer - write enough good music for these films and eventually the filmmakers will start asking you to repeat yourself.

Two of the major action sequences feature music that is VERY similar to material from Bourne Supremacy. The first half of the Tangiers chase contains some thrilling new material (and a rare case where Powell’s Middle Eastern-sounding scales don’t seem anachronistic), but the second half is a reorchestrated Berlin Foot Chase. And the second half of Waterloo is incredibly similar to Moscow Wind-Up. Powell would say later that he perhaps over-intellectualized his approach for the film’s score, with a lot of it written in 3/4 and 3/8 time signatures, and as a result a good portion of it was tossed in favor of material from the earlier films. An exciting unreleased track for the late car chase through New York actually functions as its own thing for the most part, but its ending is a less funky version of Bim Bim Smash from the second film - though in that case it’s hard to blame Powell since the end of this car chase is an almost blatant callback to the end of the second film’s car chase. Given his likely frustrations here, one can understand why Powell would tell the director of the How To Train Your Dragon franchise not to temp any of the sequels with his music from the first film.

There are some other worthwhile unreleased sequences of music. Turin Meeting extends the dramatic momentum from Six Weeks Ago. The second half Internet Bar has some entertaining action. There are expanded versions of Waterloo and Unsafe House (called Assets and Targets on the album), though some of the new material for the latter is more atmospheric and less interesting standalone (almost a minute gets taken up by the fluttering Tibetan flute sound he frequently used for moments of “intrigue and tension”). The actual Assets and Targets is a nicely tense prelude to the Tangiers chase. The post-Tangiers track Apartment Cat and Mouse oscillates between loud drumming (yay!) and skittering synth ideas (meh). The climactic Corners Of My Mind introduces a weirdly distorted take on the Treadstone motif as Albert Finney’s character harasses Bourne in a revelatory flashback. None of this, except maybe the film version of Assets and Targets, is as essential as the unreleased material from The Bourne Supremacy; most listeners will be fine with the original album program for Ultimatum.

A clear strength of the second film’s score was how Powell was able to use a new theme to hint at the subtext of Bourne’s journey. Here the idea is used much less frequently, which makes sense given the character’s broken psyche and frequently injured body but makes for a more dour and fragmented narrative that is less satisfying standalone. Probably the most noticeable dramatic element is the almost melodramatic descending string idea that pops up in Faces and Names, Coming Home, and Jason is Reborn; it’s a bit much for the concept.

It ends up wedged between the first and third scores from the series in my rankings.

Bee Movie (2007) - ****
Rupert Gregson-Williams; executive music producer Hans Zimmer; add’l music by Lorne Balfe, Halli Cauthery, Michael Levine,
Mark Russell, Ryeland Allison & Heitor Pereira; orchestrated by RGW, Alastair King & Geoff Alexander;add’l arrangements by
Graham Preskett; conducted by RGW, Gavin Greenaway & Alastair King; ‘Thinkin’ Bee’ by Marc Shaiman & Jerry Seinfeld

Across the entire canon of Dreamworks Animation, no film’s enduring popularity is more bizarre than that of Bee Movie. The film about a bee named Barry (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) who falls in love with a woman, petitions a court to compensate bees for the honey that humans consume, and accidentally causes an ecological catastrophe received middling reviews yet was a modest commercial success when it came out. But the last decade has seen an absurd collection of ironic memes, videos, social media pranks, and a number of ‘Beestiality’ puns about the film’s suggested interspecies romance. It’s not a horrible movie (it’s practically a Pixar classic compared to the studio’s Shrek threequel from earlier that year), though it remains perhaps the only modern animated film to have its two main characters joke about a suicide pact.

The score, the second animated work to have Rupert Gregson-Williams in charge after the prior year’s Over the Hedge, plays somewhat like a more jazzy extension of Rupert’s brother Harry’s earlier Antz music. The first theme heard in the film even hews a little close to the famous jazz piece Brazil that was used in the dystopian 1985 film of the same name, possible a bit of a intellectual joke given that how both movies involve low-ranking individuals set to be cogs in a big work machine. Rupert manages to juggle that and a bunch of other themes (including a malleable idea for Barry, a rousing theme for the pollen-collecting bees, and a motif for the human honey conspiracy) through a variety of playful settings, so even though it’s not the most distinctive work it should manage to overwhelm and delight you with its sheer exuberance. As with, like, almost every other Dreamworks Animation score, the music is coherent even though a bunch of contributors helped out. If you liked the earlier Curse of the Were-Rabbit, you’ll probably like this too.

Some music leans a little more in a “well-orchestrated, generic parody music” direction (unsurprising as Rupert has said he loves writing music that’s “cheeky or massively stupid”), but what helps the work transcend that is two tracks that were among the best 2007 had to offer. As Seinfeld’s bee takes off with the pollen jocks to explore New York City, both of their themes are treated to multiple majestic statements in Barry Flies Out, a marvelously optimistic, vibrant 5-minute flight piece that’s about as good as the Dreamworks Animation “house style” gets. Later, as Barry uncovers that (gasp) humans have honey farms, Gregson-Williams covers this with a snazzy take on the honey theme that wouldn’t have been out of place in a David Arnold score for a James Bond film.

Land That Plane brings the score to a rousing close. Sadly, the supremely silly end credits song by composer Marc Shaiman is not included on the album.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) - Not heard
Harry Gregson-Williams & Stephen Barton; orchestrated by Ladd McIntosh

The three prior entries in Activision’s Call of Duty video game franchise had been set in World War II, and their music had been largely traditional orchestral creations by Michael Giacchino, Graeme Revell, and Joel Goldsmith. For the fourth entry, the producers pivoted combat to present day, and the results were a smash success. Modern Warfare was the best-selling game of its year, and most future games in the franchise would be set in modern times or the recent past. The music would follow suit - no more John Williams-adjacent orchestral patriotism, but rather an emulation of the Zimmer-adjacent action material that Harry Gregson-Williams had first brought to the gaming industry. Said team member Stephen Barton, “With the World War II approach there’s obviously a musical language already there. And a lot of the music of the first three games was playing up the heroism - something you might find in Where Eagles Dare. With Call Of Duty 4 we were trying to enhance the realism. There’s a lot of orchestral elements in it but there’s a lot more ambient and just sort of textural effects. It was going off of the shifting directions in film, where people have sort of moved away from this sort of literal sort of scoring - that golden age thing of going with every action moment and punctuating things.”

Harry admitted he wasn’t terribly interested in doing another game at the time, but the studio was able to compromise by only asking for the 30-40 minutes of music that needed to sound “cinematic.” Harry would write some of the thematic material, but it seems a lot of the heavy lifting was done by Barton. “I’d always been a first person shooter fan, so obviously that was something I knew very well and so they set up a meeting and we were going to go over and meet with them. But I had no idea that it was going to be Modern Warfare and set in the present day. I sill had Nazis and Russians and World War II in mind. The first thing they played us was the nuclear explosion from the big Shock & Awe set piece, without any preamble whatsoever. So that was completely different to what we expected. It looked insane, and there was a sort of massive canvas to really do something different.”

Despite being associated with a runaway freight train of a successful video game, the music was never given a standalone release. Bootlegs have since emerged that have all the tracks in alphabetical order, which is not exactly conducive to an ideal listening experience.

Barton: “I was actually a cathedral chorister down at Winchester of all places and then I trained as a pianist, I was a keyboard player. And then sort of added these other things that funnily enough now I think I’m now better known for: the more electronic stuff from the fourth Call Of Duty. And big, sort of epic elements. And when I meet with directors now they know me more from that world and are surprised when they look down my credits and see Shrek and Narnia – which are obviously a very different kettle of fish.

Steve Fukuda, the game director, did this fantastic 8-bit version of the main theme which was hilarious. And I didn’t know about it and I happened to be playing it and I was like,’ What the hell is this? It’s awesome!’”

Gone Baby Gone (2007) - ***
Harry Gregson-Williams; add’l arrangements by Stephen Barton & David Buckley; orchestrated by Ladd McIntosh, conducted by HGW

RC discovery #33.

A few years after the trifecta of failure that was Ben Affleck’s output in 2003 (Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck), Affleck was able to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent Hollywood history by turning out to be a fairly solid director. This, the first film he helmed, garnered critical praise and awards consideration for Affleck’s directing and the acting of his brother and actress Amy Ryan. Affleck would bring in Harry Gregson-Williams to do the music, though he’d make it clear to Harry he originally wanted Thoams Newman, something Harry would take in stride. “I don’t want to give the impression that I just sit around and pick and choose my own movies – I’m Harry Gregson-Williams, not John Williams. Obviously, if you come across my desk, if I am lucky enough to get an interview; that’s how these things go. I’m sure if I were directing a film [I’d want] Thomas Newman to do it.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s a touch of mid-2000s Thomas Newman to the proceedings, but the music also features plenty of Gregson-Williams’ own voice - electric instruments, Lisbeth Scott’s vocals, that synthetic whistling sound he’d been using since Smilla’s Sense of Snow, and so on. An Irish lilt shows up in a few places, likely representing the Boston region. The track Ransom impressively builds over six minutes, even if it eventually drifts into James Newton Howard territory. It’s more in the realm of Harry’s work in Tony Scott and Joel Schumacher films than the expansive choral/orchestral epics he delivered in 2005, and it’s a decidedly understated score, but it’s also a better-than-expected one for a modern investigative drama. As with The Number 23, you likely won’t be able to hum any of the music afterwards, but you’ll at least appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making the soundscape.


Next time: “A symphony orchestra with an identity crisis, just like America.'

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