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Zimmer, team, alums rundown Pt 5 - RC intro + 2005-07: (B)atmosphere Man Begins (5k)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Thursday, May 19, 2022, at 5:00 a.m.
• IP Address:

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


SimCity Societies (2007) - ***
Trevor Morris

RC discovery #34.

This continuation of the famed SimCity franchise would be Morris’ third gig for the Electronic Arts game studio, coming after Need for Speed: Carbon and Command & Conquer 3. Unlike those scores, this score clearly had no instructions to follow the Bruckheimer/Bay/Media Ventures action sound. Instead, Morris would produce a sound mostly grounded in light rock, jazz, and bubbly electronics.

“My original music sketch before I went to meet the guys was all orchestral in nature. As soon as I sat down and saw the game I realized that was the wrong musical color. Not that orchestra wouldn’t have a place, but the cities had such a unique look to them, not clear but not opaque, colorful and vibrant with a sheen to them of almost a glossy metal or plastic. There is a Zen-like flow and calmness that we wanted to feel. The blend of synths and real instruments turned out to be the magic combo.”

The whole thing makes for a nondescript but soothing and occasionally playful-sounding background listen. Fans of Joe Hisaishi in his more atmospheric mode might like this. One moment (March of the Obedient) feels like a fun little MV throwback. It’s clear Morris was working within budget confines, but he still delivered exactly what the game needed, and it’s easily the most consistently enjoyable listen of his three video games scores written up to this point.

“We were a little tighter on time than we all would have liked. So I didn’t get to sit for a week and write themes. I got a priority list and would write, say, 45 seconds of an idea and send it to the guys for feedback before flushing out the entire cue. The game people hate me because I email them daily for video captures. But I’m driven by color and by environment, so I have color laser printouts stuck up all over my studio for [a] constant reminder.”

P.S. I Love You (2007) - ***˝
John Powell; additional music & programming by John Ashton Thomas;
score production coordinator Germaine Franco; conducted by Brett Weymark

RC discovery #35.

Despite poor reviews, P.S. I Love You was a modest romantic box office success during the 2007 holiday season. It also overcame an Irish accent attempt so bad that actor Gerard Butler said during the promotion of Rocknrolla the next year “I apologize to the entire nation of Ireland for mangling your accent. I tried my best. I made you look like funny people.” The film had over 25 songs used throughout, but it still had room for an original score written by John Powell.

A number of score critics at the time said this sounds like it could’ve been written by anyone, and I think that’s unfair. Sure, it’s definitely closer to the sonic universe of other scores in the genre than it is to the wilder scores Powell was writing around this time. But the melodic structures, the instrumentation, the groove in certain tracks - this is very much a John Powell score. There’s a lot more of his personality in here than there was in, say, Two Weeks Notice (e.g., that delightful melody in 1st Letter, the frequent passages of solo guitar or bouncy woodwinds, the way strings float over the ensemble, the playful Gershwin-like clarinet solo in Kitchen Waltz). Subtle Irish elements weave in and out of the mix, only dominating the proceedings in a few instances like the penny whistle and fiddle in The Kennedys. It’s definitely a minor work, but it’s a lovely extension of the small-scale acoustic side of Powell’s style, probably a step up from earlier scores written in the same vein (I Am Sam, for example), and definitely an overachievement for the genre.

Fun fact: Powell seemed to have returned to Sydney to record this with many of the musicians who performed on Happy Feet.

Need for Speed: Prostreet (2007) - **
Tom Holkenborg

RC discovery #36.

Unlike the prior video game scores covered here, this score makes NO concessions to the Bruckheimer/Media Ventures formula. There aren’t even any of the cheap-sounding orchestral samples that were in Paul Linford’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted. The music is purely in the electronica / big beat wheelhouse that Harry Gregson-Williams’ former assistant Tom Holkenborg was known for at the time when he was performing as Junkie XL. “I'd been playing videogames up until [1996] a lot, but I pretty much stopped [when] I couldn't combine it anymore with my music career. But when I started Junkie XL I knew that my music was so underground that to get more of an audience I should try and get my music in games and movies and stuff like that. First it started with licensing music that was already out there. My music has been used in so many movies and games, I don't even know in which one. I just see it on statements every now and then. The interesting part for me was to make original music for the purpose of being used for a specific game or movie. It was like 'maybe we should ask him to do one track or something’, so I did one track, then it was two tracks, and so on. Quantum Redshift was the first game that I did the whole thing. Forza [Motorsport] was another one.”

Prostreet was consequential for at least one reason - it was the first score of Holkenborg’s that got an album release, a somewhat inauspicious start for the guy who eight years later would be scoring Mad Mad: Fury Road. It’s not a bad album given what it’s intended to be - a series of underground hardcore electro punk tracks meant to make race car driving sound cool - but score fans clearly weren’t the target audience for this. Still, that album is only half as long as the one for Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, so that’s worth a better rating - especially since Holkenborg clearly exercised discretion by not throwing all two hours of music he wrote out there.

“Need for Speed [was] the most complicated game [I’d] done. You sit down with the people who developed the game and you talk about a race lap, and you say 'what can happen in a race lap? What can happen to the player that would trigger certain emotions?' You come up with 20, 25 things that trigger human emotion, [then] you try to figure out as a musician, okay, how am I going to do this? The bulk of it is pretty underground. Electro rock, electro clash, punk rock, dance punk, y'know, everything that has a drum computer and some yelling will do.

By the time it's Christmas, they might have sold five, six million copies, so six million kids, times three - because that's the average rating of how one sold game is being shared - y'know, 18 million people are going to be listening to not only my score, but also to all these bands they've never heard of before - almost a new radio function.”

American Gangster (2007) - ***˝
Marc Streitenfeld; orchestrated by B+W+S Fowler/Moriarty & Rick Giovinazzo; conducted by Mike Nowak

This chronicle of the rise and fall of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas was originally offered by screenwriter Steven Zaillian to director Ridley Scott, who elected to film Kingdom of Heaven instead. The film then rotated between a bunch of screenwriters, stars, and potential directors (Brian De Palma, Antoine Fuqua) before finally landing back with Scott and Zaillian’s original draft. The film saw solid critical praise and did remarkably well at the box office for an original drama, both domestically and overseas, though despite being released around Oscar season it ultimately received minimal awards consideration. Former music editor Marc Streitenfeld had done a competent job with the score for Scott’s 2006 film A Good Year (his first-ever score) and would be brought back to do the music for this film.

Streitenfeld would come up with a score that was basically blues-adjacent and noir-adjacent, with a mix of orchestra and various jazz/funk elements in subtle doses. “I tried to limit myself, in a way, in terms of sounds and technology. The film was set between the years 1969 and 1975, so I didn’t need anything that would be foreign to this time period. I wanted to at least use instruments and technology that were available at that time. I didn’t want to do anything like a blues score. But those were all ideas that came into my head, that it would be nice to have those elements in the score. But then I wanted to give a fresh approach that was not really just reduced to that seventies feel, because the story and the drama is bigger that just this time period and I wanted to have a more universal approach to whole drama.”

The main theme is frequently applied and generally effective, though it isn’t super-catchy - but then being catchy wasn’t the point. The movie wasn’t trying to lionize either the criminals or the cops - you couldn’t have some swaggering anthem for either main character. “There’s a lot of street noises, traffic going so there is a lot of play between music and sound. So lots of time, it’s very subdued, it has a subdued function.” The music was there to lend a certain sense of momentum and energy without ever overwhelming a dialogue-heavy story, and in that regard the cool style Streitenfeld achieved probably exceeded expectations.

Streitenfeld would write over 100 minutes of music, with only a handful of minutes included on the song compilation album released around the time the movie came out in fall 2007. A score-only album with over a half-hour of Streitenfeld’s material would eventually come out early the next year. “I like short albums, especially for that kind of music: There were certain things that weren’t suitable or necessary for that album.” Expect to bounce your head along to the fun groove this album achieves.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) - ***
Trevor Rabin; add’l music by Paul Linford, Don Harper, John Sponsler & Tom Gire; orchestrated by Gordon Goodwin,
Tom Calderaro, Jennifer Hammond & Frank Macchia; conducted by by Don Harper & Tom Calderaro

“Someone recently told me, ‘Bruckheimer makes popcorn movies.’ Yeah, but they’re the best popcorn in the world.”

RC discovery #37.

Four years after National Treasure, director Jon Turtletaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer mounted a sequel. The goofy, family-friendly, Nic Cage-starring adventure through history’s mysteries did even better than its predecessor at the box office, despite again getting mixed reviews from critics. A third film in the successful franchise seemed inevitable, but the film remained mired in development hell for over a decade - Turtletaub and Bruckheimr would attribute this to script rewrites, while Cage said the studio didn’t think he was as bankable after the relative failures of films like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Drive Angry in 2010-2011 - and was eventually reinvisioned as a spin-off of the concept for an upcoming streaming series on Disney+.

Trevor Rabin did the music for the first film and would return to score this one. Apparently there is a 2 hour bootleg with almost 80 tracks out there somewhere, and I’ll be happy to seek it out if someone tells me it’s really necessary. A 22-minute download-only album was released around the time of the film, and it has at least one curious suite arrangement: a few random bits of honky tonk piano following the otherwise pleasant opening of Cibola, which afterwards turns into a more typical Rabin action track. But the end credits piece (Page 47, the first track on the album) is a spirited arrangement of the first film’s main theme, and City of Gold wallops you with simplistic grandeur. Some playful accordion work in Spirit of Paris isn’t too dissimilar from, say, John Powell’s later Knight and Day music.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here. If you liked the first film’s score and/or aren’t bothered by string sounds that blur the line between authentic and synthetic, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Disturbia (2007) - ***˝
Geoff Zanelli; ambient music design by Bobby Tahouri; orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty
& Rick Giovinazzo; Martin Tillman featured on cello; conducted by Bruce Fowler;
thank you’s to HGW, Steve Jablonsky, Matthew Margeson, John Powell & Hans Zimmer

“We all knew we had a good film as we were working on it. Early test screenings were striking a chord with audiences and each time we showed it, the response was better and better as more of the score was written and put into the film.”

RC discovery #38.

A loose remake of the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, this Steven Spielberg-produced film would star Shia LaBeouf as a misbehaving teen put under house arrest who starts watching his neighbor out of boredom and begins to suspect something. Critics found the film to be an above-average thriller, and the movie would clean up well at the box office (it was the top-earning film for three weeks in April 2006). Geoff Zanelli got the gig largely on the strength of his work for the earlier miniseries Into The West. “The folks [at] Dreamworks were very keen on me and I was asked to submit a CD for the director to listen to. From there, we sat down and talked about the project and it was clear from the start that we would work well together.” He would have close to three months to work on the score, an eternity compared to what he’d been given for PIrates and Secret Window.

Zanelli’s score would largely fall into two modes. The first half plays more to the modern side of things. The rockin’ Poofoot almost plays to the comedy of an early scene where LaBeouf’s character steps in dog shit at his front door by neighborhood kids. The rest of this material maintains an easygoing vibe. “I worked to get the songs and the score to gel together. The music of that time in my life wasn’t actually orchestral as much as it was song-based, so I approached the love theme as if I were writing a song.”

The second half is grounded in dark, nervous orchestral tension. The arresting opening track on the album, Disturbia, is in-your-face about this attitude from the get-go. “The thriller side needed to be larger than life, and that’s where the orchestra comes in, to give it that mass, that size that you need to tell that side of the story.” Strings maintain a grim sense of unease, unless they’re chopping away relentlessly during more action-packed moments. Dissonant brass and percussion pound away in the more tense moments.

These two sides don’t really integrate - which probably makes sense for a character who’s stuck between yearning to hang out with others and spying on the creepy older dude nearby, but can still make for a see-sawing album experience. And although Zanelli would claim he wrote a fairly thematic score (with the aforementioned love theme, plus ideas for LeBeouf’s protagonist and the neighbor), the whole work will likely play out as above-average but undifferentiated thriller music for many listeners. Director D.J. Caruso has tended to have Brian Tyler do the music on his subsequent films, and funny enough this score’s mix of snarling orchestral material, electronic guitar, and other synthetic embellishments aren’t too far from the sonic universe of Tyler’s later horror/thriller works.

Still, it’s nasty fun at times, and there’s exceptional clarity to the recording.

The rock band This World’s Fair would write a song that incorporated Zanelli’s love theme. It would appear on the song soundtrack album but not the score album.

Hitman (2007) - ***
Geoff Zanelli; add’l music by Ryeland Allison & Bobby Tahouri; orchestrated by B & W Fowler/Moriarty;
conducted by Mathieu Gonet; thank you’s to Steve Jablonsky, John Powell & Hans Zimmer

“Agent 47 is a killing machine, so I used the electronics to play the mechanical, calculating side of him.”

RC discovery #39.

Yet another in a long line of abysmally reviewed attempts at adapting a hit video franchise into a movie, the Tim Olyphant-starring, Luc Besson-produced Hitman at least had the decency to be a modest financial success. The initial composer’s work was rejected (it’s unclear who wrote it or what it sounded like), and Geoff Zanelli was brought in with only about three weeks to write, record, and mix a replacement score. “I got the call maybe because they knew I’d scored Secret Window in 13 days.” The producers seem to have asked him to do 90% a Bourne-style orchestra/electronic hybrid (complete with some of those very familiar chopping string rhythms) and 10% a Trevor Rabin imitation, along with a few moments of legacy Media Ventures male vocals lurking in the background to add, as Zanelli put it, “a more epic backdrop for the story” (unlike a dozen years earlier when there was actually a movie-specific reason for having the voices in Crimson Tide).

The famous song Ave Maria was a component of the game Hitman: Blood Money that had been released in the prior year, as well as the trailer for this movie, and Zanelli incorporated it into the score at the beginning. “It wouldn’t really be Hitman without Ave Maria. Here, I wanted to take the audience's expectation and turn it on its head a little. I’m not just playing a traditional arrangement of the piece. Instead, since it’s the first piece of music you hear in the film, I used it to establish the sonic world of Hitman.” There’s also a “not-quite-love theme”, though with the exception of its appearance in Istanbul it’ll likely evade most listeners - the score focuses far more on action, tension, and coolness.

The result is basically the Transformers of mid-aughts action scores - obviously derivative but still enjoyable despite those constraints, though it may be less tolerable for those who were sick of its obvious influences by that point. A sequel would be done seven years later, but it was basically a reboot of the concept with a different cast and a largely different creative team, so Zanelli didn’t return.

TMNT (2007) - ***˝
Klaus Badelt; orchestrated by Robert Elhai, Jeff Toyne, Brad Warnaar & Dana Niu; add’l orchestration by & Kyle Batter & Kevin Kleish;
synth orchestration, arranging & programming by Ian Honeyman, Andrew Railher, John Ashton Thomas & Tobias Marbeger;
conducted by William Ross

Quote likely from Marco Beltrami’s team member Buck Sanders in September 2005: “It looks like a lot of fun. Plus, they're fans of the Hellboy soundtrack and they want big orchestral scores and they seem to support experimentation.'

Quote from director Kevin Munroe right before the movie was released, when talking about Klaus Badelt now being the composer: “It's going to be close to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack — it has that fun feel to it. Also, part of it was to save on the ratings, because if we would have had this real hardcore music [accompanying] the scenes it would have seemed more violent, so we just wanted to make it more adventurous.”

RC discovery #40.

This continuation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was done by the relatively new studio Imagi Animation, whose then-US head had in an earlier job produced the prior live-action films in the series as well as a number of Jackie Chan movies. John Woo was originally announced as the director in 2001, but left after it became mired in development hell and also perhaps because they couldn’t afford him, so first-time director Kevin Munroe (who got his start in the industry as a storyboard artist on the American animated TV series Hey Arnold!) was tasked with shepherding the film. Production finally started in 2005 with an eye towards a 2007 release date - but at some point one or more of the studios (Imagi, U.S. distributor Warner Bros., and/or international distributor The Weinstein Company) panicked and, as Munroe put it years later, tried “to recut it at the last minute and make it a more straightforward kid film.” The original score by Marco Beltrami seems to have been a casualty of that activity, with a supposedly darker composition (Munroe said at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con that he wanted something like Danny Elfman’s Batman music) being replaced in the 11th hour by Klaus Badelt and a vast team of orchestrators & arrangers. Probably helping Badelt secure the job was his prior experience being the point person for the large crew that did the replacement music for Pirates of the Caribbean in under a month.

Badelt and team would write almost 80 minutes of score, though only around six would end up making the commercial album as the movie featured over a dozen pop songs in its 87-minute runtime. The result was a hybrid score that blended a live orchestra (brass & strings recorded separately), some moments of modern coolness (acoustic & electric guitar, drum kit, etc.), and plenty of specialty instrumental sounds to play up the “Easternness” of the concept and the turtles’ anthropomorphized rat mentor Splinter more specifically. It pulls in influences from a variety of places, including a bit of legacy Media Ventures action mannerisms. Listeners will definitely get some vibes similar to those of the The Promise, especially with the stomping villain material, and some of the East-West fusion action material will likely appeal to fans of the following year’s Kung Fu Panda score. There’s a decided aversion to anything that feels like it’s Mickey Mousing; you wouldn’t get the sense that this was written for animation.

It’s not the most distinctive work, but it is a very fun one, and it definitely exceeded expectations given how little time Badelt & co. had to work with. For the record, it sounds almost nothing like Pirates of the Caribbean.

The film ended up making decent but unremarkable money at the box office, and Imagi would close down after its 2009 feature Astro Boy flopped (although that film featured a stupendous score by John Ottman). But Munroe would seem to have liked working with Badelt as he used him as the composer on his next picture, the 2011 comic book adaptation Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.

Dream & Variations (2007) - ****˝
Don Harper; performed by the Oceana Orchestra; saxophone Dan Higgins;
piano Russell Ferrante; guitar Trevor Rabin; vocals Lisbeth Scott;
upright bass Dave Stone, violin Sid Page, cello Steve Erdody

RC discovery #41.

This album began as a song to the city of New Orleans (the track End of Days) and evolved into a series of musical vignettes. It was the first CD release of music by Don Harper, the longtime orchestrator, additional music composer, and conductor of many works by Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina, and Trevor Rabin. Rabin would contribute to this album, as would an all star cast of featured players - saxophonist Dan Higgins (many score fans will know him as the soloist on Catch Me If You Can, as well as the big band arranger on Mank), Yellowjackets pianist Russell Ferrante, frequent Harry Gregson-Williams collaborator Lisbeth Scott, bassist Dave Stone, violinist Sid Page (once of Sly and the Family Stone), and cellist Steve Erdody. As with the Disney parks works by Gavin Greenaway in 1999, it is strikingly different from Harper’s Media Ventures / Remote Control output.

The one weakness of the work is that it really is all over the place - though that’s obviously by design, as Harper would describe the work as “a symphony orchestra with an identity crisis, just like America.' As a result, you get music that veers from jazz to folk Western vibes to brassy Americana to choral lamentations - with shades of Copland and Alex North at times, as well as some passages that will appeal to fans of Austin Wintory’s future works.

The opening track Dream & Variations has a mysterious jazzy elegance one would almost associate with Alex North (the way the string ensemble slides into notes, those woodwind flurries, the muted trumpets) mixed with some devine saxophone sounds that called to Branford Marsalis’ stupendous solos on The Russia House and a rolling piano part perhaps closer to John Willams works like The Book Thief. A masterpiece of a track.

Where Do We Go From Here - Copland-esque orchestral harmonies criss-cross with Trevor Rabin’s wailing guitar solos before shifting to nighttime noir that isn’t too far removed from what Marty O’Donnell would write for Halo 3: ODST.

End of Days - Lament featuring Lisbeth Scott’s vocals, alongside acoustic guitar and sensitive string/wind support, gradually building to a larger statement with full choral support. Gorgeous.

Morning in Montana - A John Williams-like woodwind and brass chorale, complete with some lovely trumpet solos and a few unexpected melodic shifts.

Shades of Grace - Charming folksy piece featuring something like a dance between violin and cello.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - Another violin and cello dance at the start, though eventually they seem to transition to something halfway between church scales and jazz modes with vocal solos and reed harmonies. Fans of Austin Wintory ought to love this piece.

Blackwater Run - Almost like a playful bayou romp. Killer flute and guitar solos. More catnip for Wintory fans.

Her Touch - Sensitive piano solo with gradually building orchestral accompaniment.

When You Close Your Eyes - How is this not a Broadway or Disney ballad? A magnificently bittersweet piece - and a great coda if you don’t feel like hearing the slightly longer version of the eponymous piece that actually closes the album.


Next time: On to the next Remote Control sub-era (2008-2010)

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