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Zimmer, team, alums Pt 6 - RC 2008-10: Supes, Sequels, and Sherlock, oh my! (6e)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at 7:41 a.m.
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This is part of a series. The fourth part of the 2008-10 set is here:


The Tudors Season 3 (2009) - ***½
Trevor Morris

RC discovery #56.

Morris would seem to get the budget for some real strings this time, which helps make the listening experience more resonant. His new theme for Jane Seymour would be terrific, very much in the vein of dramatic wonderment that his former boss James Newton Howard is known for. And there are a number of impressive choral highlights (The Pilgrimage of Grace, The Death of Robert Aske, A Howling Wilderness / The Death of Jane Seymour). It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows (a mid-album action track is basically King Arthur done with what sounds like 90s Media Ventures unison brass samples) but it was a decided step up from the music of the first two seasons, even if some may lament how the composition had moved away from its initial “new age” feel.

Prison Break Season 3 (2007-08) and Season 4 (08-09) - **
Ramin Djawadi; technical score advisor Rob Simon; assistant composer Bryce Jacobs

RC discovery #57.

This once-promising show collapsed into absurdity in its later years - with the gang being stuck in a Panamanian prison, then being converted to a Homeland Security team to retrieve a renewable power cell - and ratings dropped by over a third of what they were in the first season. Composer Ramin Djawadi would return with his modern sonic environment. The coolness of the original prison music - probably the biggest strength of the first album release - was somewhat gone, though the electronics and pan flute sounds were still around, as were the passages of more sensitive acoustic guitar. But some of the larger-scale action tracks were extremely dependent on 90s Bruckheimer movie mannerisms that were a bit stale at this point, especially since they sounded similar to the sampled material being written by RC composers for video games around this time. The album release is probably meant for fans of the series only, although fans of Djawadi in atmospheric / soundscape mode may find something to enjoy as well - and the last track on the album (End of the Tunnel) is a solid coda.

Angels and Demons (2009) - ****
Hans Zimmer; add’l music by Lorne Balfe & Atli Örvarsson; ambient music design Mel Wesson; orchestrated
by Bruce Fowler; arranged by Julian Kershaw; conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith; violin solos Joshua Bell; guitar
Heitor Pereira; cello Martin Tillman; percussion Ryeland Allison & Satnam Ramgotra; synth programming
Matthew Margeson, Howard Scarr, Jacob Shea & Noah Sorota; technical assistant Andrew Kawczynski;
uncredited add’l music by Geoff Zanelli; music supervision Bob Badami; thank you to Gavin Greenaway

With the film adaptation of the novel The Da Vinci Code turning into a runaway financial success in spite of negative critical reviews, a follow-up was practically inevitable - and Sony would quickly move to adapt author Dan Brown’s first Robert Langdon novel into a sequel film. It would do quite well at the summer box office but make significantly less than its predecessor, and a third film in the franchise wouldn’t appear for another seven years. Director Ron Howard, star Tom Hanks, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman would all return, as would composer Hans Zimmer in his fourth collaboration with Howard. Zimmer wouldn’t completely eschew what he had done for the earlier film; multiple themes from The Da Vinci Code reappear including the “bad guys” theme and the idea that powered the remarkable Chevaliers de Sangreal, now clearly established as the Langdon identity. But he would shift the instrumental balance significantly - whereas the first film’s recording had almost a hundred players, Zimmer would pivot here to a more midsized ensemble (representing religion) complemented by synths (representing science). A large choir was still present - though this time it seemed to swerve from the Hannibal-like elegance that dominated The Da Vinci Code to more “walls of sound” with some hints of sonic manipulation.

Somewhat like Frost/Nixon the prior year, portions of this score are defined more by their rhythmic energy than outright melodies. Zimmer would kick off the album with 160 BPM, a reworking of some of his early career styles, including ideas from the 1988 British TV miniseries First Born, into an energetic Remote Control powerhouse - the suite wouldn’t outright appear in the film (an abbreviated version would appear in the end credits) but would inform some of its more active musical stretches. Restraint and soundscapes would define several other passages. Zimmer would use a climactic scene of an antimatter weapon exploding over Vatican City to find the halfway point between The Thin Red Line and a more minimalistic take on his God music from The Prince of Egypt (the middle of Science and Religion on the album). That and other sections would make effective use of the restrained tones of famous violinist Joshua Bell - Zimmer has never been one to turn down working with an accomplished soloist, but one suspects Bell’s appearance had more to do with him appearing on many classical music albums released by the film’s production studio. The sparse theme for the religious Camerlengo antagonist felt a bit underdeveloped, but at least it seemed to be a somewhat intriguing inversion of the Langdon theme.

The score didn’t break new ground for Zimmer, but it synthesized a variety of his mannerisms into a largely engaging “something for everyone” work.

The Sims 3 (2009) - ***
Steve Jablonsky; add’l music by Pieter Schlosser & Jay Flood; orchestrated by Penka Kouneva; conducted by Tim Davies

RC discovery #58.

For this third flagship entry in the long-running life simulation computer game series, EA would turn to composer Steve Jablonsky and get him to deliver something not at all like what he did for their 2007 game Command & Conquer 3. Using a midsized ensemble of strings and winds, some contemporary embellishments, and a female choir, Jablonsky would deliver a bouncy, whimsical score. Jablonsky even made an effort to incorporate Mark Mothersbaugh’s theme from the Sims 2 set of games. No individual moment reaches out and grabs you - given the game it was written for, the music arguably wasn’t supposed to - but it still makes for a delightfully charming background listen. If you like Danny Eflman in this mode, you’ll probably like this too.

The score would appear to be the first time Steve’s friend Jay Flood got an album credit above “additional programming” or “thank you”. He would continue contributing to Jablonsky’s scores until 2016.

Jablonsky and Schlosser would return to write music for the expansion packs World Ambitions and Ambitions (discoveries #59 and #60) over the next year. The results play like affable library music, certainly pleasant and appropriate for their games but also a bit all over the place on their album and definitely less essential than the music for the main release. **½ for both. If nothing else, the album would show album-ending remixes were still a thing; one by the electronic dance music group Young Punx would close the listening experience.

A year later Jablonsky’s score would be “reimagined” by Tom Holkenborg (as Junkie XL) and reissued on a separate album.

This score was practically the polar opposite of the music Jablonsky wrote for a summer blockbuster released less than a month later.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) - **
Steve Jablonsky; add’l music by Lorne Balfe; add’l music arrangements by Matthew Margeson, John Sponsler & Tom Gire;
ambient music design Clay Duncan, Howard Scarr & Andrew Kawczynski; music programming Jay Flood & Ryeland Allison;
synth programming Jacob Shea; featured vocalist Lisbeth Scott; guitar George Doering & Heitor Pereira; ethnic winds Pedro Eustache;
cello Martin Tillman; orchestrated by B&W Fowler/Moriarty, Rick Giovinazzo, Penka Kouneva, Liz Finch & Kevin Kaska;
conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith; choir conducted by Gavin Greenaway; music consultant Bob Badami;
‘New Divide’ written & performed by Linkin Park and produced by Mike Shinoda; thank you to Hans Zimmer

“I never go into a movie thinking ‘this is my show.’ I’m not here to sell albums.”

Coming two years after the significant commercial success of Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay’s first Transformers film, this sequel would again feature Optimus Prime and his Autobots doing battle with the evil Decepticons. But the influence of Spielberg was nowhere to be found in this entry. Bayhem was the order of the day - giant explosions, girls in tight outfits, every shot engineered for maximum visual impact. Critics were aghast at the exhausting plot (the writing of which was impacted by the 2008 Writers Guild strike), the lurid racial stereotypes, and the crude humor (in a forty-second span a robot humps Megan Fox’s leg and another robot farts out a parachute). It remains perhaps the only major film where any character says they are directly below the enemy’s scrotum. Famed film critic Roger Ebert wrote a hilariously negative review of the movie in the Chicago Sun-Times and then followed up with even more hilarious commentary on his blog. None of that mattered. The film made even more money than its predecessor and led to another three sequels.

The score for the first Transformers film had been an entertaining if highly derivative entry in the Remote Control canon, one that made little effort to hide the influence of Batman Begins, King Arthur, and Jablonsky’s earlier Bay movie music but also delivered a bunch of memorable themes. Rather bizarrely, those themes would barely carry over to the nearly three hours of music written for the sequel (and occupy little of the eventual album’s 43-minute runtime). There would be token appearances of the theme for the Autobots, the Arrival to Earth idea, the American Beauty-like stuff for the human character Sam, the military rhythm, and the Decepticon chant. But the Decepticon chant would largely be overtaken by an inferior five-note repeated rhythm (heard on the album in the Heed Our Warning suite). A Prime Hero idea would function as this film’s main theme, though even the soothing sounds of Lisbeth Scott’s voice couldn’t hide the distracting structural similarities the idea had with several themes from King Arthur. A sickening synth pulse and a creepy four-note theme would define the film’s new alien villain.

The rock band Linkin Park’s song What I’ve Done had appeared at the end of the 2007 film (Bay was apparently a big fan of the group), and for this entry they would write a new song called New Divide. Hans Zimmer would have a role in producing the song, which was not a huge surprise given his prior collaborations with pop artists on scores like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. One element of the song, a series of descending two-note patterns, would carry over to the film as an action theme. The sole appearance of the theme on the score album, the abrasively electronic NEST, would send film score reviewers and fans running for the hills. Jablonsky and team would adapt the idea into a variety of more orchestral guises that didn’t make the album (including a rousing take for Prime’s doomed mid-movie forest battle that ultimately went unused), but even those efforts couldn’t hide the fact that this kind of simplistic theme was becoming pretty stale in Remote Control scores at this stage.

On the whole, the work lacked the guilty pleasure joys of its predecessor. Many sequences were clouded in dour atmospherics and sound design, perhaps a function of having three guys credited for ambient music. And it was a bit all over the place, doing whatever might enhance the coolness of an individual scene without adding up to something bigger than the sum of its parts. A complete version of the score would eventually leak out as a bootleg, and it should wear most listeners down. The new age-y highlights would redeem the work for some, but Jablonsky would later imply that he was aware it wasn’t his strongest work. “They started shooting before they had a finished script. Not seeing the third act until way at the end [of postproduction] is difficult. A good film score follows character arcs; if the story is constantly changing, it’s not easy.”

G-Force (2009) - **
Trevor Rabin; add’l music by Don Harper & Paul Linford; orchestrated by
Rabin, Gordon Goodwin & Tom Calderaro; conducted by Goodwin

RC discovery #61.

The family-friendly adventure comedy about a team of guinea pig spies would seem (at least on paper) to be the most bizarre movie to be produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, though it still pulled in adequate box office numbers in summer 2009. Trevor Rabin, no stranger to scoring Bruckheimer/Disney films (Con Air, Gone With 60 Seconds, the National Treasure franchise, etc.), was along for the ride - delivering yet another familiar entry in his specific brand of orchestral / sampled / electronic hybrid action scores. It was rarely objectionable, but you’d heard everything in here before, and often in a much more memorable fashion.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) - ****
John Powell; add’l arranging, MIDI orchestration & programming by James McKee Smith, Paul Mounsey, Simon Greenaway &
Michael Mollo; orchestrated by John Ashton Thomas, Kevin Kliesch, Dave Metzger, Randy Kerber, Rick Giovinazzo, Pete Anthony &
Conrad Pope; conducted by Pete Anthony; score production coordinator Germaine Franco; music production assistant Beth Caucci;
features adaptations of ‘Adagio from Spartacus’ by Aram Khatchaturian and ‘You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ by Kenneth Gamble
& Leon Huff; Gilbert O'Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again’ produced by John Powell & Hugo Nicolson and performed by Chad Fischer

The third film in Blue Sky’s Ice Age franchise wouldn’t make much more than its predecessor stateside, but its colossal box office haul in overseas markets made it (shockingly) the third highest-grossing film worldwide that year - and would suggest a pivot point in the industry where commercial movie making success would start to be measured by more than just American earnings. John Powell, basically the studio’s in-house composer at this point, would continue to use most of the main themes he introduced in The Meltdown - the main herd / family theme, Manny’s mammoth theme, Sid the sloth’s loopy identity - though they don’t occupy that much of the score. Powell would sadly leave behind the prior score’s catchy, toe-tapping antics theme, save for one early playground scene.

Most of this entry’s runtime is taken up by a bunch of new identities which put Powell’s gift for engaging, malleable melodies on full display. There’s a satisfying warm theme for parenthood, as well as a new plucky idea for the T-Rex eggs and another for their antics as hatchlings. But the main joys of the work involve the identities surrounding the lost prehistoric world that the gang stumbles into, including a bombastic monster movie-like theme for momma T-Rex, an exultant choral statement for the world itself, a nasty three-note motif for the various associated horrors from there (used to clever effect in the opening title appearance), an adventure theme not dissimilar to Gustav Holst’s Jupiter movement from his famous concert work The Planets, and a gleefully swashbuckling theme for the Ahab-like weasel character Buck. Only an electric guitar stinger for the giant dino baddie Rudy plays as a bit too slapstick-like.

Unsurprisingly, the action music is a boisterous delight. But even in less active moments Powell wastes almost no opportunity to play around with every section of the orchestra - take a transitional mid-film sequence of some horned dinos walking by being treated to some virtuosic low wind writing. And unlike the last movie, where there was little-to-no music used for the antics of Scrat the squirrel, Powell would cover several of this film’s scenes featuring Scrat (often fighting or flirting with a female squirrel) with amusing variations on the Lou Rawls ballad You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine. Another climactic interpretation of Khatchaturian’s Spartacus opera, this time for a Call of the Siren Acorn, should induce chuckles for many listeners as well.

And, for better or worse, this is definitely the only score I can think of where “buck-toothed Casanova” and “your shallow, rapid breathing” are used in parody love song lyrics.

Speaking of Captain Ahab…

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) - *½
Themes by Hans Zimmer; music by Lorne Balfe; add’l music by Mark Mancina, Nick Phoenix, Thomas Bergersen, Dave Metzger,
Jacob Shea, Noah Sorota & Atli Örvarsson; add’l arranging by Bart Hendrickson, Clay Duncan, Ryeland Allison, Andrew Kawczynski &
Tom Broderick; percussion by Satnam Ramgotra & Ryeland Allison; score wrangler Bob Badami

”What makes it interesting is that it has an emotional darkness to it. It is less a geographic journey than an emotional one.”

RC discovery #62.

Hans Zimmer had been a white whale for the video game industry for a while, with Japanese studio Konami trying to get him for Metal Gear Solid 2 sometime in the first half of 2000 (and maybe even earlier). Why Zimmer had refused doing games before has been open to debate; Konami would claim he was too expensive and Harry Gregson-Williams would imply that Hans didn’t see scoring games as something on par with film scoring, while ZImmer would say in 2009 that game visuals and audio had to get to “a certain quality” for him to get involved. With Modern Warfare 2 seemingly achieving that level of quality, Zimmer would come up with some themes and then hand the work off to his team. Lorne Balfe would get the primary composer credit - “I was working with him on a film at the time and he asked me to score this game with him as joint credit” - though a quick glance at the credits would show a host of contributors, including the group Two Steps From Hell as well as…Mark Mancina? Mark Mancina!

Zimmer would claim he approached the game as “a novice” and liked having the chance to “go at it a little fresh”, but that would be completely at odds with the end product we got, which was a transparent exercise in reduce, reuse, and recycle. Nearly every mannerism from the last 15 years of MV / RC action scoring was combined into one package - perhaps not in a melodic sense, but definitely in the sense of doubling down on the same style, rhythms, and soundscapes. The music is almost entirely synthetic; there are no credited orchestrators and only a handful of named instrumental contributors. If Zimmer did supervise the application of recurring themes, they aren’t readily transparent on the album. Equally hidden is any sense of regional variation, despite Zimmer’s assertion that there were shifts in the instrumental balance to reflect levels set in Brazil, Russia, and such.

Hans would state he was “pushing the language of a good fast-paced thriller forward”, but this shockingly anonymous work seemed to push the format backwards. What exactly was the point of getting Zimmer on a game if he wasn’t going to produce a work any more distinctive than his team members had been doing for eight-plus years? If At World’s End was possibly the apotheosis of Zimmer’s supervisory methodology in the Remote Control era, MW2 was pretty close to its nadir.

The album wouldn’t come out until the following summer, something Zimmer would attribute entirely to being overscheduled. “There was an email I hadn’t answered for four weeks where they were going ‘where is it?’”

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) - **
Harry Gregson-Williams; string arrangements Halli Cauthery; orchestrations Ladd McIntosh;
wadd’l programming by Justin Burnett, Hybrid & Andy Page; electric guitar Heitor Pereira; electric
cello Martin Tillman; electric violin Hugh Marsh; thank you’s to David Buckley, Toby Chu & Anthony Lledo

RC discovery #63.

The book The Taking of Pelham 123 was originally made into a well-regarded 1974 thriller starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, though personally I found it a bit stale. So too did composer Harry Gregson-Williams when he was preparing to do the music for director Tony Scott’s remake. “In my memory it had been one of [the] best films I had seen in my early years, but when I put it on it felt quite dated and I felt it didn’t stand up to the test of time. I called up Tony Scott and told him that. He said ‘That puts you in a very good position -- leave it behind.’” Gregson-Williams would at least make an effort to give a modern spin to the distinctive twelve-tone jazz that David Shire had brought to the 1974 film, but discarded those early ideas after not finding them to be terribly successful. In their place is a series of electronic thumps, rhythms, and edgier sounds that were interchangeable with the earlier collaborations between the director and composer - Gregson-Williams has spoken of prior Scott films being temped with his earlier scores, and it appears this was a challenge here as well. Somewhat salvaging the work were a redemptive piano theme that congealed at the end of the film and some lively injections of hard rock sounds. But otherwise the score felt like spare parts.

The Fourth Kind (2009) - **1/2
Atli Örvarsson; add’l programming & arranging Dave Fleming; sound design & programming Jörg Hüttner;
vocals Hilda Örvarsdóttir; tablas & frame drum Satnam Ramgotra; thank you to Hans Zimmer

“In horror there seems to be a lot more ways to experiment.”

RC discovery #64.

This partial “found footage”-style film about alien abductions produced by Smokin' Aces director Joe Carnahan was savaged by critics and did limited business at the U.S. box office. Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson, starting to make a name for himself after two lead composing jobs in 2008, delivered a score that was largely atmospheric - thumps, sustained dissonant strings, spectral electronic soundscapes, something like insect sounds. As with Babylon A.D., you get the sense Örvarsson may have had the music of James Newton Howard on his mind in a few places, including the atmospheric bells in Hypnosis which aren’t too far removed from Snow Falling On Cedars. There are also some striking vocals from Örvarsson’s frequent collaborator Hilda Örvarsdóttir. But there were also plenty of constantly churning low strings - how many more of these scores did Hollywood think we really needed? Like Örvarsson’s 2008 scores, this wasn’t as much a poor score as it was an overly familiar one. Even a goshdarn duduk appears!

Solomon Kane (2009) - ***½
Klaus Badelt; add’l music by Christopher Carmichael, Ian Honeyman & Andrew Raiher;
orchestrated by Robert Elhai & Jeff Toyne; conducted by Andy Brown; score technical advisor Mark Yaeger

RC discovery #65.

This European mid-budget adaptation of a 1920s pulp magazine story about a medieval evil-fighting mercenary debuted to decent reviews, at least wherever it managed to get a release (legal issues ostensibly prevented a wide release in the U.S. for years). Klaus Badelt would provide the music for the grim proceedings, and his resulting composition had a little bit of everything: a simple-but-moving main theme that mirrored portions of Badelt’s Rescue Dawn with its repetition and gradually building power, some 90s Media Ventures mannerisms, suspense music that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Brian Tyler score, some stretches that rivaled Badelt’s earlier The Promise in sheer volume, a few folk horror leanings, and plenty of ambient passages. At over 80 minutes, the score would definitely drag as a standalone listen, but it had several magnificent highlights including the finale piece Meredith.

Badelt’s score would never be officially released. In the grand scheme of things it was a minor work. But it did cement that he was almost entirely working outside of Hollywood at this point. In fact, most of Badelt’s subsequent scores would be for films that didn’t get wide or even limited releases in America, and those that did tended to be poorly reviewed (Shanghai and Dylan Dog, to name a few). Yet years later, after he had worked on dozens of overseas productions, Badelt seemed to be quite satisfied with the assignments he was getting. “I love not doing the same thing I did last time. I remember I was on the plane and I watched a French movie. I said, ‘I want to do some French movies.’ [So] I made some calls. I’m always the outsider. I’m the German in Hollywood. I’m the Hollywood guy in France. There’s a different way of working with directors over there. You have more freedom. [I’ve done] things I’d never do [in Hollywood]. Romantic comedies!” Given the promising start to his career in the U.S., it was a shame for some fans that he wasn’t getting more widely known assignments, but there was no doubting that he was content with where he’d ended up.

It’s Complicated (2009) - ***
Hans Zimmer & Heitor Pereira; add’l music by Henry Jackman; orchestrated by B&W Fowler, Rick Giovinazzo & Kevin Kaska
featured soloists Ryeland Allison, Jack Dolman, Heitor Pereira & Satnam Ramgotra; conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith

Another Nancy Meyers movie in the aughts meant another story about a middle aged female protagonist with an impressive kitchen. The comedy about a divorced couple clandestinely hooking up debuted to mixed reviews but was a massive commercial success over the 2009 holiday season, though it hasn’t had the cultural staying power of Meyers’ earlier film The Holiday. Meyers had teamed with Hans Zimmer twice before and would bring him and his team back for this film. Soundtrack label Varèse Sarabande had planned an album release to coincide with the release of the film but that was cancelled, ostensibly because Zimmer felt the full score got repetitive, and a sixteen-minute album was eventually issued on another label. What was released was all around quite pleasant but also a bit all over the place - a mix of lighthearted material emphasizing acoustic guitar, some tracks that felt like leftovers from The Holiday, and one outrageous Latin-infused comic sequence. Not objectionable, but also not as catchy or distinctive as Zimmer’s better efforts in this genre.

Fun fact: Ryeland Allison, Ramin Djawadi, and Heitor Pereira appeared briefly in the film’s opener as party musicians.

This would be the last collaboration between director and composer. Meyers wanted Zimmer for her 2015 film The Intern but he was caught up with a superhero film at the time, so she turned instead to Theodore Shapiro, possibly first case since The Client in 1994 where Zimmer was too busy to score a film and didn’t hand it off to one of his team members instead.

Amazingly, it wasn’t the only film released on Christmas Day with a Hans Zimmer score.


Next time: “My editors have slapped Dark Knight all over my movie, and I don’t like it!”

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