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Zimmer, team, alums Pt 6 - RC 2008-10: Supes, Sequels, and Sherlock, oh my! (6a)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Tuesday, July 5, 2022, at 5:50 a.m.
• IP Address: 155.201.38.33

This is part of a series. The last part of the 2005-07 set is here: https://www.filmtracks.com/scoreboard/forum.cgi?read=109802

Wait…that came out in mid-May! What the heck happened?
- Summer weekend stuff (boating mainly)
- One relatively easy work project became three MUCH more busy projects
- Summer 2022 films & scores started coming out
- The CD pile beckoned

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For more proof of how this brand of movie music had entrenched itself in popular culture, look no further than the end of the 2008 United States Presidential Election.

Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama’s choice of music to play after his victory speech? Trevor Rabin’s music for the inspirational football drama Remember the Titans - possibly, as the Los Angeles Times speculated at the time, because the film fit with his campaign’s themes of inclusiveness and change (it had also been featured at his speech in the summer’s Democratic National Convention). The former Yes guitarist would claim his phone started ringing nonstop during the speech and laugh that “they played it louder at the rally than they did in the movie.” Rabin, whose white South African father had bravely hired a black partner during the days of that country’s racially segregated Apartheid laws and whose cousin had fled the country after the death of activist Steven Biko (a story adapted into the 1987 film Cry Freedom), said, “it really gave me chills to have my music be a part of the election of the first black American president.”

After completing his concession speech, the losing Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, walked away from the microphone to the triumphant sounds of Hans Zimmer’s end credits piece Roll Tide from submarine thriller Crimson Tide, another Denzel Washington movie. McCain would never speak of the selection, nor actually mention it when asked about his favorite movies during the campaign; those would include Viva Zapata and Some Like It Hot, with more recent ones he enjoyed including the Bourne franchise and The Departed. But it is easy to imagine that the former U.S. Naval officer saw enormous symbolic power in playing heroic music from one of the more successful military movies of the past 25 years, especially one aligned to his branch of the Armed Forces, and a campaign spokesman would later tell the magazine Entertainment Weekly that the music had a ”Naval theme”.

Many Americans may have been divided across the political spectrum. They were unintentionally united by Jerry Bruckheimer’s musical preferences. Zimmer’s company may have now been labeled Remote Control, but the sun never set on the Media Ventures empire.

Unfortunately, no one appears to have asked the anti-war, anti-racist, and supposedly atheist Zimmer what he felt about his music being used by the Grand Old Party, though his occasional comments over the last few years (mocking former White House spokesman Sean Spicer during an interview to promote his 2017 concert tour, opining about the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade on his Facebook page, etc.) seem to imply where his sympathies lie.

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This next sub-era of Remote Control (2008-2010) had lots of goings-on, some quirkier than others. John Powell had six (SIX!) works released in one year, including a prominent “welcome back” moment to Dreamworks Animation, but only one the following year. David Buckley, Ramin Djawadi, Henry Jackman, and Atli Örvarsson got their first significant lead composing gigs. John Ashton Thomas would pivot from being a sometime additional composer on John Powell’s scores to being Powell’s lead orchestrator. Tom Holkenborg would start getting credits on Remote Control scores. Ridley Scott continued relying on Marc Streitenfeld. Randall Wallace finally directed another movie, which meant Nick Glennie-Smith finally wrote another score. After years of trying, the video game industry landed its white whale - Hans Zimmer composed something for a game. And three different scores in the Prince of Persia franchise emerged in the same month.

One seven-month stretch during these years would have four of seven cover articles from the magazine Film Score Monthly focus on music written by someone from this crew.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this stretch of years would see the final collaborations between
- Jerry Bruckheimer and Trevor Rabin
- Nancy Meyers and Hans Zimmer
- Tony Scott and Harry Gregson-Williams
- Paul Greengrass and John Powell
- Doug Liman and John Powell (with the exception of a small bit of music for 2021’s Locked Down)

Probably most clear in fans’ memories are the three biggest works from these three years: The Dark Knight, How To Train Your Dragon, and BWAAAAAAM. Tease that I am, I won’t start with any of those. In fact, I’ll actually start with something I missed from the last series of posts, thanks to its delayed score album date making me think its film came out in 2009.

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August Rush (2007) - ****
Mark Mancina; theme by Mancina & Hans Zimmer; orchestration & add’l music by Dave Metzger; conducted by Don Harper &
Michael Nowak; solo cello by Steve Erdody; solo guitars by Mancina, Doug Smith, George Doering & Heitor Pereira;
‘August's Rhapsody’ includes an interpolation of ‘Moondance’ written by Van Morrison; Bach’s Prelude from Partita #3 and Elgar’s
Cello Concerto segments arranged by Metzger; ‘Bari Improv’ written by Mancina & Kaki King; ‘Dueling Guitars’ written by
Pereira and produced by Mancina; ‘Someday’ written by J. Stephens and produced by John Legend with string arr. by Metzger

Hans Zimmer claimed the idea of this film (about an orphaned musical prodigy wandering the streets of New York looking for his birth parents) emerged from a conversation he had with Backdraft producer Richard Barton Lewis. “Only if you were drunk would you admit to what it was like being a little boy and hearing tunes in your head. So that story, or parts of that story, at least, inspired Richard to go and make the movie.” Zimmer would be tagged in the credits as a composer of the film’s theme with Mark Mancina, but apparently that was an overstatement. “Mark had all the good ideas, and my involvement was that we talked a lot about it: he'd play me the tunes, and I'd give feedback.” Mancina would end up working on the film for a year and a half, with responsibilities covering writing, producing, and/or arranging new songs, as well as arranging preexisting songs and classical pieces, writing the orchestral rhapsody piece that the main character has performed at the end of the film, and composing the rest of the score. All of these resulted in a number of complexities that were deftly managed - for example, the song Break is arranged in the same key as a preceding Bach piece to create a seamless transition on film.

Somewhat limiting what Mancina could do with the score proper was that some of the songs were intentionally used as recurring musical devices, namely Van Morrison’s Moondance which represented the character’s search for his parents. But Mancina would still establish two simple-sounding but effective recurring ideas: an attractive long-lined melody that moves in five-note patterns (Guitar Lullaby) and a repeating descending motif introduced in Arpeggio Theme. The rest of the score would be a bit all over the place, though all of its components would inform the conclusive rhapsody in some way. Passages like Washington Square and Juilliard Pt. 2 reflect the mix of bustling orchestra and electric guitar from earlier Mancina works like Twister. Tracks like Playground and Searching are more focused on establishing a kind of magical haze. Against The Gate hews closer to Mancina’s prog rock days. Basketball gradually builds a rambling mix of guitar, percussion, and strings while layering in both main themes, including a gigantic organ performance of the arpeggio theme at the piece’s end.

Having a film built around music that ends with an in-film orchestral performance that pulls from the score was bound to draw comparisons to the earlier film Mr. Holland’s Opus and its conclusive American Symphony by composer Michael Kamen. Mancina would somewhat approach his in-film piece the same way Kamen did his (both of Mancina’s themes feature in the kid’s composition, for example) but this piece would also pull from the other musical ideas scattered throughout the film - the cello for his mom, acoustic guitar for his street performing experiences and his dad, vocals for the friend he makes, the magical chime haze, the bustling Americana orchestra, hints of prog rock guitar, and even a quote from Moondance. It made for a remarkably entertaining piece of music, one that should easily make any highlights playlist of Mancina’s career.

This work has a complicated release history (even more so than the dual albums for the prior year’s Happy Feet) that makes evaluating it apart from its film challenging. A song-centric album was released around the time of the film and contained the songs Mancina wrote, produced, and/or performed, as well as classical works adapted by his longtime orchestrator Dave Metzger, other songs from the film, the conclusive rhapsody, and the main titles score track with narration. A Japanese version of the CD released in mid-2008 would include three additional score tracks. A score-only album including some of Mancina’s theme suites and demos wouldn’t emerge until early 2009 and was only released digitally. The song and score albums are both on the U.S. instance of Spotify now (absent the La Bamba track), so most listeners should be able to arrange all the relevant tracks into a playlist. The Japanese version would appear to include one score track that wasn’t explicitly named on the other releases (Basketball to Organ Loft), though likely that’s an aggregation of two or more tracks later released.

Mancina’s career would seem to go in a bit of a rut after this; he wouldn’t score another major film for six years.

Also, Mancina, Metzger, and playwright Glen Berger would mount a stage musical based on the film a dozen years later. Reviews were mixed - some theater critics loved the music but not the story (somewhat matching the general critical consensus around the film), while the Chicago Sun-Times called it “a train wreck.”


Jumper (2008) - ***
John Powell; add’l music & programming by James McKee Smith & John Ashton Thomas;
orchestrated by James K. Lee, Jessica Wells, Daniel Baker & Bryce Jacobs; conducted by Brett Weymark;
score production coordinator Germaine Franco; album edited & compiled by Powell, Franco & Daniel Lerner

This adaptation of a sci-fi action novel about a teleporting man fleeing a secret society went through about as many production issues as director Doug Liman’s earlier Bourne movie; there were last-minute rewrites and recastings, plus actor Hayden Christensen sustained multiple injuries as a result of doing many of his own stunts. The end product seemed to take a cool premise (with a fun Sam Jackson performance) and tack a boring love story onto it. Most critics hated the film, though it was a modest financial success in theaters. A future franchise was contemplated but never pursued, while an eventual spin-off TV series appeared on YouTube Premium a decade later.

Powell’s score plays like a slightly more world music and pop-oriented take on his post-Bourne action sound with moments of more orchestral activity that he had dabbled in over the last several years interspersed throughout (those active woodwind parts are very X-Men, for example). There are a lot of guitars. The action music leans on the edgier, electronic side, namely in Coliseum Fight. It’s fine on the whole, but doesn’t have enough of a distinctive personality to quite transcend its familiar trappings. The album oddly bookends itself with a brassy, swaggering theme that’s delightful but doesn’t really inform the rest of the score.


Vantage Point (2008) - **
Atli Örvarsson; also arranged & programmed by Ryeland Allison, Clay Duncan & Henry Jackman; orchestrated by
B Fowler/Moriarty & Penka Kouneva; conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith & Steve Bartek; guitar Heitor Pereira; tablas &
percussion Satnam Ramgotra; music consultants Hans Zimmer & Bob Badami; technical score engineers Jacob Shea &
Jörg Hüttner; thank you’s to Trevor Morris, Lorne Balfe & Martin Tillman

“Up to that moment, I had been supporting other composers. Hans told me ‘all you have to do now is not f… it up’. And you start thinking ‘oh, my God, I can’t f… it up’. And you get paranoid.”

RC discovery #42.

Originally slated from a 2007 release, this thriller about a presidential assasination attempt told from multiple perspectives was bumped to early 2008 (usually a dumping ground) but survived so-so reviews to perform reasonably well at the box office. This would be the first significant lead composing role for Atli Örvarsson since he had joined the RC crowd, though not his first solo effort (earlier works included the direct-to-DVD Stuart Little 3 and the low-budget Civil War drama The Last Confederate). “I actually came on to the film very late. Another composer was supposed to do it; but, because there had been so much delay in the film, he had to go and do other projects that he was hired to do. They needed someone right away, so I was able to get my opportunity as a young composer to jump in. The job was to combine something very modern with the rest of it. I spent a lot of time working with synths in the 80s and 90s - but it was a really difficult thing to go back to that, like putting on an old shoe but it was way too small.”

This score feels like the filmmakers put Harry Gregson-Williams’ Spy Game, John Powell’s Bourne trilogy, and some Zimmer/Rabin stuff from Bruckheimer movies (the latter no surprise given the presence of regular Bruckheimer music supervisor Bob Badami) in the temp track and said “do a bit less than that.” Given the mystery box feel of the film, it’s perhaps understandable that there weren’t memorable thematic hooks. Still, what that leaves you with is a score defined by electronics (Örvarsson would say being inventive with those was “the job”), some orchestral embellishments, and a few instrumental solos (guitar and Middle Eastern woodwinds mainly). Atli didn’t f… it up, but we had all heard this done before in a more memorable fashion.

The End Title track is an engaging synthesis of the score’s various elements, so at least explore that. The rest is old hat.


The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) - ***½
David Buckley; add’l arrangements by Nick Glennie-Smith; produced by Harry Gregson-Williams;
flutes & ancient instruments by Richard Harvey; electric violin by Hugh Marsh; conducted by David Sabee;
thank you’s to Stephen Barton, Halli Cauthery, Toby Chu & Meri Gavin

“It was a naive score in many ways, but what I was asked to do, and I believe I achieved it to some degree, was to add a sense of fantasy and adventure.”

RC discovery #43. If you want to understand why this saga is taking so long, here’s a great reason why - now Zimmer’s former assistants were starting to have assistants do their own things.

This martial arts fantasy was reasonably successful (the studio put a lot of advertising dollars into telling audiences it starred Jackie Chan and Jet Li) and would be David Buckley’s first solo score. “I was quite happy helping Harry get things over the finish line. When I went to music college, I never thought ‘I am a composer and this is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.’ Forbidden Kingdom was spoken about in his studio, and he couldn’t do it. That was my opportunity to write a demo, meet the director and producer, and prove I was a legitimate candidate to score a film. Things kind of evolved from there with that film being a success - ‘maybe this is something I can do.’ I think having that early break 18 months after getting to LA built some confidence.” Buckley wrote 94 minutes of music, over two-thirds of which would eventually be released on album three months after the film came out.

“There were questions right from the beginning as to how far we should go in any one direction. There is only one western character in the movie, the young kung-fu geek from Boston. The film is about his journey through ancient China and his growth from boy to man. We looked for a way of trying to represent his ‘alien’ status in this strange mythical world. We decided the overall tone of the score should not be overtly Chinese. It should be something accessible for Western audiences and acceptable to Eastern audiences.”

Buckley basically produced a more lighthearted version of Klaus Badelt’s music for The Promise - an orchestra complemented by a variety of eastern instruments, only this time with a few of Harry”s melodic and stylistic mannerisms mixed in, as well as Hugh Marsh’s ethereal electric violin tones to “[bridge] the gap between the western violin and the Chinese erhu.” For one of the villains, Buckley opted for a “Spaghetti Eastern” feel with electric guitar that wouldn’t have been out of place in Ennio Morricone’s Western music (played by Buckley’s friend Keith Bayley) - which, for better or worse, definitely sticks out from the rest of the material. Choir adds a lovely fantasy touch to a few tracks.

The funky track that closes the album, ...Another Tale Begins (which is actually one of the earliest tracks in the film), is at odds with the rest of the material and honestly an odd way to wrap up the listening experience. And the full score wasn’t quite at the level of the music for the other martial arts blockbuster that came out later in the year (somewhat due to its themes not being as catchy, and also due to a merely adequate orchestral performance). But it was still an entertaining and energetic debut effort for Buckley. If you enjoyed Badelt’s TMNT music from the prior year, you’ll probably like this as well.


Stop-Loss (2008) - ***
John Powell; orchestration & add’l music by John Ashton Thomas; conducted by Powell;
music production coordinator Germaine Franco; album edited by Franco & Daniel Lerner

RC discovery #44. Yes, amazingly in this Powell-palooza of a year I skipped over this one. Oops.

Stop-Loss was advertised as covering the lives of soldiers back home in Texas who learn their contracts have been extended as part of the military’s stop-loss policy; director Kimberly Perice’s brother had served overseas in Iraq, which served as the inspiration for the film. But its trailers didn’t reveal that a huge chunk of the film would involve the main character going AWOL to take a futile trip to D.C. to get his senator to stop his deployment. The film was yet another in a series of mid-aughts movies about America’s war in Iraq that did next to no business at the box office (after Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Redacted, Grace Is Gone, and In the Valley of Elah), but it would at least serve a social good by giving Pierce a platform to advocate in front of Congress for soldiers with extended contracts to be given additional pay.

For composer John Powell, a pacifist who in more recent years has eschewed working on the action movies that once defined his career, one has to imagine getting the chance to score a drama about the costs of war was a note-perfect assignment. While his other five scores released in this year tended to exhibit his usual “chaotic wonderment”, this was something different, a mix of country/southern rock vibes for the locale that also doubles for the characters’ rage at their situation, some Bourne-like percussion for moments of momentum or tension, and understated military-sounding material not too removed from what renowned composer Jerry Goldsmith had been doing late in his career for works like The Last Castle. These elements are all competent but rarely blend together, resulting in an album that’s generally pleasant but a bit disparate. Still, the climactic track The Greatest Tragedy is a moving lament and almost worth the price of the album on its own.


Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears A Who! (2008) - ***½
John Powell; add’l music & programming by John Ashton Thomas, James McKee Smith & Paul Mounsey;
orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas, Kevin Kliesch, Dave Metzger, Randy Kerber, Brad Dechter, Conrad Pope,
Rick Giovinazzo, Jane Cornish, Pete Anthony & Andrew Kinney; conducted by Pete Anthony;
score production coordinator Germaine Franco; album edited & compiled by Franco & Daniel Lerner

Horton, the fourth film from Blue Sky Studios, would adapt the famous Dr. Seuss book about an elephant who discovers a world of small people called Whos living on a speck. The team was able to overcome some initial resistance from Seuss’ widow (due to Mike Meyers’ disastrous live-action take on Cat in the Hat a few years earlier), and the end result was charming fun. Critics and audiences generally liked it. Heck, I liked it. John Powell at this point was basically Blue Sky’s in-house composer, with this being the third film in a row of theirs he had done the music for. It would be his largest - and weirdest - work to date for them.

Sound designer Randy Thom: “John Powell and I had a great collaboration. One of the characters in the movie constructs a giant music making machine in an abandoned observatory. It’s a Rube Goldberg kind of contraption with gears, bows on saws, huge rubber balls pounding on trampolines, etc., that we wanted to sound like a kind of industrial symphony orchestra. John recorded lots of exotic instruments, and we did the same on the sound effects side. The challenge was to cut all these sounds together.”

As expected with any Powell animation score from this era, it’s extremely busy and absurdly creative. Kazoo choirs and plucked cactus spines (something Powell would mention in multiple interviews when the movie was still in production) complement a large orchestra and choir. The emphasis is frequently on antics, and unlike Happy Feet the stylistic pivots here are more frequent. You’ll be wildly impressed by this intersection of grandeur and zaniness, but also perhaps a bit exhausted.

Two sequences stand out. First, in the mid-film Mountain Chase Powell unleashes a series of operatic and chanting voices along with a wailing trumpet solo that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western score - thrilling stuff. Second, the climactic sequence (Roping and Caging, We Are Here, Symphonophone, and JoJo Saves The Day) where the Whos have to make enough noise to be heard unleashes a bevy of large-scale exuberant fun, much of which Powell had to write as the studio was in the process of animating the scenes. “A lot of Dr. Seuss books [are] very musical. In this one, there’s this whole society playing every instrument you’ve ever seen…or not seen actually. That has to be done in advance. We can’t just start animating to nothing.” It’s here that many of the grandest thematic statements reside, and the scene was one of the highlights of Powell’s career to date.

This would appear to be the first appearance of longtime Powell team member Paul Mounsey, another former Trinity classmate of Powell’s. He would comment about his background in 2011. 'My parents decided it would be a good idea to have me pursue music. I would sit at the piano composing music, aged five or six. It was like another toy to me. I got piano lessons from the age of seven and ended up in music college. John had the same tutor.”

Mounsey would spend most of the 90s and aughts with his wife in Brazil. “It was part of a study trip and I was with an anthropologist who had been studying these communities for several years. I tagged along to record their songs. The Tupari and the Makurap wanted us to produce a CD as an archive of their vanishing oral tradition. The communities could see their whole culture was disappearing. I got a shock when I got back to the hotel in São Paulo and saw myself in a mirror for the first time in weeks. It was a terrible sight because my head was full of lumps from the variety of mosquitos that work in shifts out there.

I wrote for boy bands and the songs went to #1 all over Latin America and one or two crossed over into the U.S. I moved from Brazil to Skye [in Scotland] and I like to think I still live on Skye. It was a culture shock going from a city of 20 million people to an island of less than 8000 in winter. I was trying to make a living doing music remotely for the Brazilian market.

For years, I had been promising to come out to Los Angeles but it is only recently that I did. I sometimes work for up to 12 hours a day without a break. I know it sounds daft, but I prefer to get back to Skye. So I come out whenever John needs me. I do whatever is required, a bit of composing, orchestrating and programming and usually all of those things in one day.”

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Next time: “Before I saw the trailer or the movie, I assumed it was going to be a traditional score - much more orchestral.”




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