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Zimmer, team, alums Pt 6 - RC 2008-10: Supes, Sequels, and Sherlock, oh my! (6b)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Thursday, July 7, 2022, at 5:49 a.m.
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This is part of a series. The first part of the 2008-10 set is here:


The Tudors Season 2 (2008) - ***
Trevor Morris

RC discovery #45.

This maintains the general style of the first season’s music (real instruments and voices doing pseudo-medieval stuff + sampled orchestra + some King Arthur adjacencies), so if you liked that or James Horner in synth mode then you’ll probably like this too. It does add some doom & gloom, especially with those gradually building dissonant crescendos that became a Media Ventures staple after Gladiator. Nothing’s as delightful as the prior season’s An Historic Love. And the album is a half hour longer than the first season’s album - granted, that’s still way shorter than some late season Vikings music releases, but it still makes it an item for series fans or Morris completists only. On the flip side, the album did include the cool-sounding end credits piece.

Army of Two (2008) - **
Trevor Morris; add’l by Todd Haberman

This third-person shooter by EA was at the time notable for its campaign being designed so that almost every objective required teamwork with a partner (either your buddy playing on the other controller or an in-game character). Reviews were generally positive, and the franchise would produce two follow-up games. Trevor Morris had already done three game scores for EA, so it was unsurprising to see his name pop up in the credits. This score is yet another that seemed to have few requirements save to drag the Bruckheimer music template into games. This maybe leans a little more in the Rabin direction, what with the sampled string sounds and the edgy rock feel to many tracks.

It’s not inherently bad or even obnoxious, but you have heard every trick in this bag before, and the lack of memorable recurring themes didn’t help either, especially when the album’s over an hour long. In 2008 film score terms, it’s Vantage Point.

Deception (2008) - **½
Ramin Djawadi; uncredited add’l music by Ryeland Allison & Rob Simon

RC discovery #46.

Never mind that acclaimed actors Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, and Ewan McGregor were in this poorly-reviewed erotic thriller. What the heck was acclaimed cinematographer Dante Spinotti (of Heat and L.A. Confidential fame) doing shooting it? At the time, Ramin Djawadi was largely known for sound design-adjacent material, something that continued with this score. The dominant electronic elements play up the mystery and modernity of the film, while piano, solo cello, and acoustic guitar are often interspersed for intimacy. Sampled strings occasionally intrude for more active moments of tension. If you like atmospheric or textural music, the album will probably go down fine - it’s a less dull listening experience than the prior year’s Mr. Brooks, and at times is basically a less-sophisticated version of a Harry Gregson-Williams thriller score. But if you expect music for a film in this genre to have a hint of sensuality or femininity, you’ll be disappointed.

At least the Berklee-trained guitarist got to play all the guitar parts on this score, something he wouldn’t get the chance to do on the blockbuster he worked on later in the year.

Iron Man (2008) - ***
Ramin Djawadi; add’l music & arrangements by Lorne Balfe, Atli Örvarsson, Bobby Tahouri, Clay Duncan & Ryeland Allison;
ambient music design Rob Simon; executive music producer Hans Zimmer; orchestrated by Stephen Coleman & Matt Dunkley;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; electric guitar Arron Kaplan & Tom Morello; electric cello Martin Tillman; drums Ryeland Allison;
technical composer assistant Jacob Shea; thanks to Bart Hendrickson and everyone at Remote Control; special thanks to Heitor Pereira

“I pretty much liked all the big [comic books] - Superman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Hulk. When I went back to Germany [in 2007] to visit my parents, I found some old Marvel comics in German. I showed them to Jon and Kevin and we had a laugh.”

Never mind thinking about the days before superhero movies dominated cinemas. Remember when Marvel Cinematic Universe movies used to occasionally be distributed by Paramount? The first film take on the somewhat lesser-known (at least relative to Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man) comic book character Tony Stark and his Iron Man suit was a runaway surprise success, serving as redemption for the career of actor Robert Downey Jr., establishing Jon Favreau (probably still better known as an actor at this point) as a major director, and setting up producer Kevin Feige to become a Hollywood creative titan for the next decade-plus. Along with Christopher Nolan’s earlier Batman Begins, it suggested a world where superhero movies could take themselves seriously and entertain audiences without devolving into large-scale cartoons.

“Before I saw the trailer or the movie, I assumed it was going to be a traditional score - much more orchestral. Then I saw the trailer and [Black Sabbath’s] Iron Man song was in there. Jon kept mentioning the idea of rock guitars. I loved the idea as it would give us a different tone than other superhero movies.”

Ramin Djawadi was a surprise composer choice. “I heard that they were still looking for a composer, and because I’m a big comic fan, I talked to my agent, I talked to Hans. I talked to Marvel given my previous relationships on Blade [Trinity].” As with a number of earlier cases where a Media Ventures / Remote Control underling was getting an early shot as a major lead gig, Hans Zimmer was along as a security blanket for nervous studio executives. “Him coming on as a producer was a big part of how I got the job. He was very involved in a lot of the meetings. For sure there are some Hans-ish elements in this - which I’m proud of.” Djawadi would basically play the role of both composer and coordinator of a team that prior alums had often done (think Klaus Badelt on Pirates or Rupert Gregson-Williams on his first two Dreamworks scores). Contributor Ryeland Allison would say he “looked at the recklessness of Tony Stark [and] played to some of my strengths and embraced more electronic and percussive sounds, as opposed to orchestra.”

Djawadi would encounter similar challenges that Hans had on Batman Begins. First, as with that film’s Batmobile chase scene, most of this movie’s edit was constantly changing. “The picture was never locked. CGI shots weren’t done until the end. So you’d write rock material and then [the picture would change and you’d] realize, ‘no, this should be more orchestral.’ A lot of cues I’d record both [approaches]. We kept it open as long as we could.” Second, it was an origin story where the superhero doesn’t truly emerge, which led to debates about whether a fully formed “hero theme” was even needed. “Rock-based music - a lot of the elements are like blocks where you can stack them. Some of the rhythmic elements I could just play without the theme, or a shortened version, so you don’t give away too much, but at the end you realize, ‘oh, I’ve been hearing this all along.’” For most listeners, the most obvious element will be a relentlessly chugging guitar riff, a cool element that served the film well but also played to expectations (hammering away at the same note was becoming a Remote Control specialty at this point). An actual Iron Man theme would emerge in the second half of the film, though (then and now) it still oddly feels a bit like a cousin of Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme.

Score critics were unusually unkind to this one when it came out (phrases like “extremely simplistic” and “aural sludge” were tossed around), possibly out of despair as this came the year after Steve Jablonsky’s derivative Transformers music and also as it seemed to suggest that superhero scores were going to hew close to the Zimmer mould from now on (some did, but many didn’t). But in retrospect the score feels more safe and stage-managed than outright embarrassing. It’s not a resplendently orchestrated work, but then Favreau (who also pushed the sound for the later Disney+ series The Mandalorian in an edgier direction) didn’t want something like that, and even with that in mind it’s not like we got the “unison brass” from a decade prior. It’s a thematic work, even if those themes weren’t the most complicated creations, and at least Djawadi applied some structural intelligence in making the rhythmic elements for Iron Man and the suit-wearing Iron Monger villain similar. The music during Tony’s first flight in his suit (Driving With The Top Down on the album) counts as a solid guilty pleasure, and the other action material makes for a good cross-section of familiar but energetic entertainment that definitely stands out in the film (in a positive way) and produces quite a few headbanging delights on album.

“My fear on the electric guitar [was that] you couldn’t play a melody on it, because you’d fall into the 80s. The only choice I had was to be rhythmic-based and riff-based. I would love to be more thematic [in the sequel].”

Considering that Djawadi was at this point known for sound design-adjacent scores (Prison Break, Mr. Brooks, the same year’s Deception), Iron Man if nothing else proved he could do other things. One could argue he wouldn’t have gotten Game of Thrones without it.

The album would include some songs played as source music, including a fun big band take on the theme from the 1960s animated series about the character. “That wasn’t me. That was a friend of Favreau’s: John O'Brien.”

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) - ****½
Harry Gregson-Williams; add’l music by Stephen Barton, Halli Cauthery & David Buckley; orchestrated by Ladd McIntosh;
vocals by Lisbeth Scott; electric violin by Hugh Marsh; ethnic woodwinds by Richard Harvey; percussion programming by Hybrid;
‘The Call’ arranged & produced by Gregson-Williams & Regina Spektor; thank you to Meri Gavin

“It was pretty cool when I actually got to see what Reepicheep looked like. For the most part what I saw was a kind of blue spot where he was going to be. I had no idea what he was going to look like.”

Two and a half years after The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe took the holiday box office by storm, Disney and director Andrew Adamson would push out a sequel that brought the Pevensie children back to the world of Narnia. The film would do well enough at the worldwide box office, but its domestic numbers were less than its predecessor’s, and Adamson would end up leaving the franchise after feeling burned out from four-plus years of working on these films. Perhaps the only element of the second film that was considered equal or superior to the first film was the music by returning composer Harry Gregson-Williams.

There is a little bit of cut-and-paste going on here, more so than we’d heard in the earlier Shrek sequels where Harry had stressed he was trying to avoid repeating himself. The vocals from the first film’s train travel music return as the kids arrive in Narnia. A creepy scene involving the near resurrection of the White Witch (a superfluous moment that tried to shoehorn in the best casting decision from the first film into the sequel, though it would be topped by an even more bizarre inclusion of the character in the next film) would largely reprise the weird-sounding music from the first film’s stone table sequence and some of its final battle music as well. Other elements of the first film’s battle music would inform parts of this entry’s mid-film castle raid sequence.

Still, “out of 128 minutes of music in Caspian, only 32 of those minutes are related thematically to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I wanted to do something different with the Narnia theme and the music that surrounds the children in the first film.” For the most part, Harry finds interesting ways to revisit his old ideas. Many of the earlier Narnia themes are treated to several dour, uncertain, or tentative performances in the first half of the film as the children discover a different Narnia that’s aged 1200 years, while Peter’s heroic theme (which had really evolved into the main franchise theme at this point) gets a sensationally bombastic statement in the film’s climax as a river god wipes out the remaining enemy forces.

He also mixes up the sonic universe a bit. Reflecting the darker, less wondrous tone of the film, there’s decidedly less of the “new age” material that was a significant part of the first film’s score - namely the ethereal vocals, the pop-sounding percussion, and the frequent electric violin solos (though Hugh Marsh was still part of the ensemble here). For those who found these elements to be a frustrating part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, it made Caspian an improvement on the concept. But minimizing them did rob the sequel score of some of the prior work’s distinctive flavor. For better or worse, it plays as a more “standard” fantasy score, albeit one still very rooted in Gregson-Williams’ unique musical voice. Thankfully not gone: all the layered vocal work - if you loved what Harry had done with choir for the earlier Narnia score or Kingdom of Heaven the same year, you were probably going to love it here too.

Still, where a sequel score often lives or dies is on the strength of its new material, and it’s here that Gregson-Williams succeeded in spades. “I did find it very difficult at first to find a spot where I could feel like I was striking a new chord. The title character of Prince Caspian is new to this movie so I dealt first with the eight minute opening sequence of the movie. It was pretty essential to me to not start with some old theme.” The new theme for the titular prince kicks off the film in thrilling style (Prince Caspian Flees was a highlight of Harry’s output in the aughts), and the composer is able to get a good amount of mileage out of it, often keeping it in more muted settings in the middle of the film before developing it into a more rousing idea as the character comes more into his own. “When I first wrote Caspian’s theme, it came to me in 3/4 time as opposed to 4/4 time. [Andrew] looked at it and I could tell in his mind, ‘That’s a good melody but how the hell is that going to work during that eight minute night sequence as Prince Caspian is charging away?’ We agreed that if I couldn’t make it work in four and [feel] robust and heroic, then it wasn’t the theme for us. I got it to work in 4/4 in a kind of driving manner but that’s often the case with themes. Especially with a movie like Caspian [with] a hundred and twenty-eight minutes of music, you've got to be able to use your theme or you are dead.”

Also showing up are more sinister ideas for the villainous Telmarines and their leader Miraz, which gave Gregson-Williams the opportunity to inject the work with some structural intelligence. “Miraz is the nemesis and the root of all evil whereas the children were on the path of good. So I flipped [their] theme over and presto I had a theme for Lord Miraz. But I doubt anybody in the world, apart from me, will hear that.”

And there’s an amusing little idea for the mouse warrior Reepicheep. “Obviously it had to be a little bit playful. I wrote his theme quite quickly and then it was a case of ‘what instrument shall I play that theme on?’ I had, for a long time, thought of a little pennywhistle. We decided that it would probably make him a bit too cute. He’s quite a noble mouse and in many ways he is rather military. So it seemed to me a trumpet would be the best thing. To give it a slightly different flavor, we stuck a mute in the trumpet and to accompany that, with some very small parts, col legno strings. The wooden parts of the bows are closer to the head on the bows so it makes a kind of scratchy wooden sound. It can be used in an aggressive way but in this instance it served as a scratchy blissful sound to accompany the trumpet.”

Like the first film’s score, Caspian would see an album release covering about half the score, plus a song featuring Regina Spektor, plus a few other “inspired by” songs. This was an adequate representation of the musical highlights, but the full score would eventually creep online via bootlegs possibly sourced from the isolated score feature on the DVD release. While hearing the score in full doesn’t quite induce a revelatory reevaluation as happened at least for me with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, it would reveal a few additional sequences that would’ve been nice to have released legitimately including the introduction to Reepicheep’s theme and the full castle invasion sequence (only half of that made the album).

Michael Apted took over the directing reins for the third film in the series and brought along his usual composer David Arnold. Score fans had mixed feelings about this. Arnold would end up composing a score that was considered by some to be one of the high points of film music in 2010, but others would lament the departure from the style Gregson-Williams had already established and the missed opportunity to let him finish what he started.

Kung Fu Panda (2008) - ****½
Hans Zimmer & John Powell; add’l music by Henry Jackman & James McKee Smith; orchestrations by John Ashton Thomas,
Dave Metzger, Kevin Kleisch, John A. Coleman, Jane Antonia Cornish, Jake Parker & Germaine Franco; add’l overdubs by
James S. Levine; conducted by Gavin Greenaway; thank you’s to Ryeland Allison & Jacob Shea

Another Dreamworks Animation movie with talking animals in the aughts meant another smash success that spawned multiple sequels, television specials, and series - though Kung Fu Panda still remains beloved for its gorgeous visuals, kinetic action scenes, and all star voice cast, as well as for perhaps being the rare hit Dreamworks film from this decade that eschewed humor based on pop culture references. Composer John Powell had basically been fired from Shrek mid-production by studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg and hadn’t been back in the Dreamworks or Remote Control worlds since. Zimmer would apparently call up Powell and ask him if he’d like another go at it. “Jeffrey was very kind and let me back into the fold. By that point I’d calmed down.”

The resulting collaboration, as with Zimmer’s co-composition efforts with James Newton Howard on the Batman films, definitely would exhibit elements of both composer’s respective styles (this one feels something like 40% a Zimmer score and 60% a Powell score) but still end up with a whole that was fairly coherent. Powell would claim they’d pass around different ideas, just as he had done with Harry Gregson-Williams on the earlier Antz and Chicken Run scores. “Maybe I’d fix the nebulousness of something, or make it way smaller, or twice as fast. We were always kind of each other’s arranger and confidante - you need somebody who tells you something will be good but at that moment it’s stupid.”

There’s a deft balance in this score between its various modes that I think really nailed and even helped enhance the tone of the film; it’s playful without being overly goofy or heavy on the slapstick - Powell would claim they had to be “a little careful about comedy music in that” - and yet it’s counterbalanced by multiple moments of choral wonder and dramatic resonance. And the thematic core here is just aces, with multiple ideas (the “spiritual” tune for China and kung fu in general, the bouncy idea for the panda protagonist, the fanfare for the Furious Five fighters) being highly memorable and subject to a lot of impressive variations. The integration of a Western orchestra along with Eastern solo instruments isn’t perhaps as masterful as the earlier The Promise, but it’s the next best thing (think of this work as that score’s more lighthearted cousin). Dreamworks Animation scores had been exuberant and energetic before, but they’d rarely been this gorgeously realized.

I used to knock the electronic elements that show up in some of the villain tracks for, like, reasons I guess? They don’t really seem that jarring anymore - they’re not a perfectly clean fit with the soundscape, but they aren’t disruptive or abrasive.

Get Smart (2008) - **1/2
Trevor Rabin; add’l music by Paul Linford; orchestrated by Gordon Goodwin, Tom Calderaro & Rabin; conducted by Goodwin

“Because I grew up in South Africa, I had heard of it but never saw it. But when I was going to be interviewed for the project, I really immersed myself in the whole thing, got the entire series and watched that a couple of times. I found it to be hilarious.”

RC discovery #47.

Looking back, it is astonishing how big of a decade the aughts was for studios adapting 1960s and 1970s television series into films. Rocky and Bullwinkle. I Spy. Scooby Doo. S.W.A.T. Will Ferrell had Bewitched and Land of the Lost, critical and commercial failures both. Even Underdog got a movie! Get Smart, an adaptation of Mel Brooks’ spy sitcom, got mixed reviews (though those made it a smash critical success compared to most of the others) but did stupendously well at the summer box office, due in part to the burgeoning stardom of actor Steve Carell in the wake of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Rabin had done the music for the comedic action franchise National Treasure, and for this action comedy he would somewhat channel the feel of those scores. “I thought it made the movie funnier by playing most of it straight and only occasionally playing the comedy comedically, musically speaking.” As a result, we get Rabin’s trademark “are those real or not?” strings, as well as some Thomas Newman-adjacent material that makes me wonder if American Beauty was in the temp. Even the brass feels sampled at times, which probably helped with the comedy but does make the album listening experience feel unnecessarily cheap.

Rabin did incorporate the theme from the original TV series by Irving Szathmary into several tracks. “I thought it was important to find a contemporary way of doing it without losing the essence of the original theme.” Some of these (namely the Look tracks that seem to be demos) are quite goofy, as if Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song (the ah-ah ah vocal line) were being adapted into the Pink Panther sequels by Henry Mancini - I imagine this will be distracting for listeners who pick up on either influence.

The score is basically the Rabin equivalent of what Elmer Bernstein did for comedies in the 1980s - take your action/adventure style and put it in funny films. Its album is fun enough despite its familiarity and sonic palette, even if it’s also a bit schizophrenic and perhaps only suited for those already enamored with Rabin’s distinctive style.

Hancock (2008) - ***½
John Powell; add’l music & programming by James McKee Smith, John Ashton Thomas & Henry Jackman;
orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas; add’l orchestrations by Kevin Kliesch, Dave Metzger, Randy Kerber, Brad Dechter,
Germaine Franco & Jane Cornish; conducted by Pete Anthony, Don Harper & Blake Neely; add’l percussion by
Satnam Ramgotra; music production coordinator Germaine Franco; album edited & compiled by Daniel Lerner;
Michael Mollo as Powell’s assistant; thank you to Hans Zimmer

In the days before the superhero industrial complex had taken over Hollywood, along came Hancock, a movie about an alcoholic superhero with a script that had been in development hell for over a decade. An audacious, rude advertising campaign and the still-strong stardom of Will Smith ensured audiences would show up in droves, though no one was quite prepared for the mid-film shift to an origin story / doomed romance plot, and today it’s only really known for being a curious final entry in Smith’s decade-plus summer box office dominance. John Powell’s score, somewhat reflecting the all-over-the-place film, covers a lot of ground stylistically. Gospel/blues tones appear, as do small-scale acoustic ensembles Powell had played with on occasion since I Am Sam. The snazzy action mannerisms of Paycheck are here, sometimes bolstered by the orchestral ruckus from X-Men: The Last Stand. Bourne drums pop up every so often. These elements are largely disparate, though their occasional collisions are riotously entertaining, namely in the major action setpieces (Hollywood Blvd and the unused SUV Chase) and the finale.

The score isn’t exactly coherent; it’s more a sample platter of everything Powell was known for in live action films at the time. But its long-lined main themes are very good, and as Powell had often done they seem less connected to individual characters and more to overarching ideas, which allows for a significant amount of variation throughout the film. Considering the plot shifts in the film and the inclusion of a number of pop songs, Powell probably did as well as anyone could with the score. Expect to return to a handful of highlight tracks regularly. The album would include around 75% of the score, though it would omit much of the bank fight music from the middle of the movie that included an almost parodic nod to John Williams’ Superman.


Next time: “Sid and Nancy”

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