Tag Archives: Hans Zimmer

Rocks In The Attic #788: Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – ‘Blade Runner 2049 (O.S.T.)’ (2017)

RITA#788We saw this on opening night, which is unusual for us. Our babysitter came through and we booked tickets. Packed cinema. Mix of age ranges; young and old. Halfway through the trailers of upcoming films, something didn’t feel right. A trailer for a brainless blockbuster was playing: Skyscraper with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

As is usual with trailers for blockbusters, there was lots of action and excitement. At one point, something exploded on screen; either the Rock’s biceps or a city skyscraper. The lady sat next to my wife lets out a small noise. Kind of like a small murmur of shock. ‘MmMm.’ Like saying ‘oooh’, but with your lips closed. The kind of noise you might make if you bit into a delicious cake.

That’s weird, I thought. I gave her a good once-over with my peripheral vision. She was in her late 50s, possibly early 60s, and was sat next to her husband of a similar age. Something else exciting happened on-screen, and she let out a similar noise. It wasn’t a loud noise – audible only to my wife and I sitting to her left, and to her husband, sitting to her right.

Another action-packed trailer showed, and she let out similar noises at all the mayhem. Maybe she doesn’t get out to the cinema much, I thought. Or maybe she just really likes the Rock. It could even be a food thing; maybe her husband bought her an ice-cream in the lobby and she’s really enjoying it.

RITA#788aDon’t worry about it, I thought. It’s just the trailers. I should just be happy that she’s not talking through them, or flipping through the messages on her phone.

The film started; the much-feared sequel to a classic film both my wife and I love. Based on the history of Hollywood sequels, it didn’t look promising. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn’t seem too long ago, and Harrison Ford was in that turkey too. Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner was a perfectly put-together sci-fi film. Its source material was a short story, so it wasn’t bogged down with expectations, and the film wasn’t successful enough on initial release to justify a sequel. It eventually appeared over the years in many different versions, but it didn’t need to be expanded with a sequel or a TV series.

But the choice of director for Blade Runner 2049 suggested that this may not be a complete disaster after all. I first noticed Denis Villeneuve when he blasted onto the film festival circuit with 2010’s Incendies, the tale of a pair of Canadian twins who travel to the Middle East to unravel their mother’s past. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s an amazing slow-burner. Just don’t watch it with your parents.

He followed this with two films in 2013 – Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as a pair of fathers who take the law into their own hands, and the fantastically trippy Enemy, starring Gyllenhaal as a man who encounters his double living in the same city. Or does he?

Incendies
, Prisoners and Enemy were all relatively small films compared to what came next. 2015’s Sicario pitted Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro against the Mexican drug cartel and was a key collaboration with writer-director Tyler Sheridan who wrote the screenplay. Villeneuve’s next film, 2016’s Arrival, showed that he could do science-fiction, and that he could do it well. Another slow-burner, considering its subject matter, Arrival was Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, redone for the 21st century. Where Spielberg gave us the optimism and wide-eyed excitement of alien contact against a backdrop of bubbling paranoia, Villeneueve’s film offers a tale of caution and trepidation. Why would aliens want to make contact with us when we’re so disconnected?

So things were looking promising for Blade Runner 2049. No, it didn’t need a sequel, but at least it seemed to be in safe hands. At least Ridley Scott wasn’t behind the camera this time (see: Prometheus, Alien: Covenant).

The film starts. It looks amazing good and sounds great. So far, so good. Ryan Gosling’s K lands his spinner on a deserted farm in a desolate landscape. He enters the farmhouse and encounters Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, a man he believes is a Nexus-8 replicant.

A fight breaks out between the two men, and somebody is slammed into a wall. The fucking woman sat next to me makes that annoying fucking sound yet again. ‘MmMm.’ Another heavy blow: ‘MmMm.’ K eventually ‘retires’ Morton, to the soundtrack of ‘MmMm’ from my right.

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In recent years, I’ve become a semi-professional at shushing people at the cinema. Director Joe Cornish (from Adam & Joe) calls it torpedoing, and it’s a fine art to get right. I almost got into a fight when the couple in front of me took the title of We Need To Talk About Kevin a little too literally and discussed each scene before the next one started, and took offence to me pointing out that we weren’t sitting in their living room. The couple in front of me watching Brighton Rock continued their discussion well into the opening credits of the film, earning a well-deserved ‘Excuse me, the film as STARTED’ in their ears from me.

One of the last films my wife and I saw at the cinema was last year’s Venom – we don’t get out much, and when we do we’re usually restricted to the dross that happens to be playing that weekend. The young lady sat to my immediate left starting playing on her phone a couple of scenes in. I waited a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t just turning it off, and was indeed scrolling out of boredom, before giving her a blast of ‘Please turn your phone OFF; you’re in a cinema!’ She recoiled at being called out, and then my peripheral vision caught her male companion lean forward and give me a good once-over. Just my luck, I thought. Her boyfriend is probably a bodybuilder, and will wait outside the cinema to extract his revenge. When we walked out after the film, they were waiting outside the cinema. But they were waiting for their parents to pick them up, being about 14-years old. Note to self: your peripheral vision is not the most trustable of sources.

Ten, fifteen minutes into Blade Runner 2049, and the woman sat next to my wife is still making these weird noises. ‘MmMm.’ My wife asks me to swap seats, and being the husband of the year, I oblige. Despite this change in seating right next to her, the lady continues to murmer during the next scene. Do I ask her to stop? What’s the worst case scenario here? Yes, I might get a beating from her war-hero husband who used to stack dead bodies as sandbags, but there’s a fate much worse than physical violence. What if I turn around and ask her to stop, and as the words are leaving my mouth, I notice to my horror that she looks disabled. She could be deaf, or partially deaf. She could have tourettes. It could be an involuntary noise, no fault of her own. Decisions, decisions.

RITA#788cThe cinema is practically full, and there’s nowhere to move to. Maybe she’ll quiet down as she gets used to the violence and explosions. Plus, the noise could be a lot worse, and so I decide to tolerate it for the rest of the film. Better to be tolerant than to be called out for being an intolerant arsehole, I reason with myself. The last thing I need is to be the headline of our sleepy village’s local newspaper.

Despite my neighbour’s additions to the soundtrack, I manage to enjoy the film. It’s a wonderfully realised sequel to a film that nobody asked for. The world-building feels like an extension of Ridley Scott’s film, and the whole project doesn’t ever come close to exploiting the power of the original’s legacy. The music score, a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is right on the money – both a homage to Vangelis and a bass-heavy synth update for the 21st century.

I missed out on the original soundtrack release in 2017. I was going to pick it up, but didn’t get around to it for some reason. So I was happy to see this 2019 repress by Mondo Records, featuring new spot-varnish artwork depicting one of my favourite scenes in the film: K’s Nabokovian realisation that his desires are artificial and ultimately a fallacy. The double LP is presented on one pink and one teal disc.

My only criticism is the film’s handling of the character of Deckard. Ridley Scott’s 1992 Director’s Cut of the original film suggests he’s a replicant employed to track down his contemporaries. While Villeneuve’s film doesn’t explicitly state that he isn’t a replicant, it neither confirms that he is. Yet, the thirty-year gap between the setting of the two films belies the original film’s oft-repeated claim that replicants have a short life-expectancy. A second sequel is still a possibility, so maybe we’ll find out then. Here’s to Blade Runner 2079.

Hit: 2049

Hidden Gem: Sea Wall

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Rocks In The Attic #709: John Williams – ‘Jurassic Park (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#709What does William’s score to 1993’s Jurassic Park have to do with Dies Irae, a latin hymn from the thirteenth century?

After watching the latest disappointing Jurassic Park sequel, it’s refreshing to wash my brain out with the score to Spielberg’s original film. At this point in his career, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Williams would be washed-up. Surely the composer of Jaws, Superman, the Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones trilogy – and many, many more – would have nothing left. Somebody that prolific can’t keep on being prolific, can they?

The answer seems to be a resounding Yes. Not only does Jurassic Park contain two distinctly memorable main themes – Theme From Jurassic Park and Journey To The Island – but the rest of the score is just as strong as his ‘70s and ‘80s output. But what’s all this about Gregorian Chant?

The answer is in a descending motif in the ancient hymn. For centuries, this doom-laden melody has been used as short-hand for evil or foreboding – Dies Irae itself translates to Day Of Wrath. A host of great composers have used the motif in their works – Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Holst, Liszt, Mahler and Rachmaninoff, to name but a few – but it’s its use in modern film soundtracks that interests me the most.

The tune is easiest to spot in the first few notes of The Shining’s opening Main Title, played by Wendy Carlos on the Moog Synthesiser. Here, the melody isn’t even disguised, it’s as clear as the day in which it’s used to soundtrack, as the Torrances drive up the mountain approaching the Overlook Hotel.

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Williams uses it to great effect in Jurassic Park, throughout the cues entitled Incident At Isla Nublar (from 3:32), and High Wire Stunts (from 0:00). But this isn’t the first time he’s referenced it. It can be found a couple of times in his iconic score to 1977’s Star Wars. Here it plays as the accompaniment immediately before Luke’s Force Theme rises up in The Burning Homestead (from 1:28), and is echoed in the doom-laden brass line (from 1:43) as Luke’s fate realigns.

And it’s not just John Williams sliding it into his scores, the musical equivalent of directors inserting the Wilhelm Scream into their sound mix. Other famous composers have “borrowed” the melody too. In 2001’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, Howard Shore uses it as the bassline thoughout the cue entitled Weathertop (from 0:18), as the Ringwraiths attack the Hobbits. Jerry Goldsmith utilises it in his 1982 score for Poltergeist, Hans Zimmer uses it briefly in 1994’s The Lion King, and Bernard Herrmann used it back in 1963 for Jason And The Argonauts. Unsurprisingly the tune also makes for good horror music fodder.

RITA#709aEven back in 1927, Gottfried Huppertz inserted the motif into his Dance Of Death cue for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (from 1:17) – confirming that the appropriation of Dies Irae in cinema is as old as cinema itself.

Interestingly, John Williams does something sneaky with Dies Irae in Jurassic Park. Usually the sequence of the first four notes in the motif is enough to suggest doom and despair, but Williams takes just the first three notes and does something unexpected with them. They serve as the starting point for the Jurassic Park’s main theme – as positive and upbeat a film theme as could be, even when played on a Melodica.

Hit: Theme From Jurassic Park

Hidden Gem: Dennis Steals The Embryo

Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes

 

Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #509: Don Davis – ‘The Matrix (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#509I love The Matrix. It’s one of my favourite films of the ‘90s; probably my favourite science-fiction film of that decade. It’s an awesome movie, but I think I like it more for what it represents than for what it actually is. For me, the Matrix represents a truly wonderful thing – the end of George Lucas’ reign over special-effects movies in Hollywood.

Yes, Lucas was responsible for a great deal of my childhood cinema: the three original Star Wars films, and the three original Indiana Jones films. A round of applause, please. But that’s it. Nothing else. His 1973 breakout hit American Graffiti might be an enjoyable slice of 1950s nostalgia, but Back To The Future did it much better in 1985. And let’s not get started on the Star Wars prequels or the fourth Indiana Jones film.

His legacy is one of the things that ultimately curses him: Industrial Light & Magic. The special effects house set up to handle the myriad of effects shots in the first Star Wars film ultimately came to monopolise Hollywood in the decades that followed. The company may have been trendsetters in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they hit a peak with the groundbreaking effects in 1992’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but by the late 1990s they had lost their edge. Nothing was special anymore; they had become complacent. The company that had once blown everybody away were now resting on their laurels.

Then a film was released in 1999 out of nowhere. Titled The Matrix, it was written and directed by brothers Larry and Andy (now Lana and Lilly) Wachowski, responsible at that point for only directing one film, Bound (1996), a crime thriller starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.

The Matrix came along with no hype. From the outside it looked like just another science-fiction film out of Hollywood, with a steam-punk aesthetic that we had seen before in dull gothic flicks like The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998). The lack of advance word even led to UK film magazine Empire relegating the film to its ‘Also released this month” section.

I saw the film at the cinema with my good buddy Stotty. Talk about being blown away. I was so engrossed that a Coca-Cola-induced urge to go to the toilet mid-way through had to be repressed. I wasn’t going to miss a second of this, particularly after being sideswiped by the film’s major left turn around twenty minutes in.

The idea, in retrospect, is simple: introduce the audience to the main character, then towards the end of the first act, suggest that the narrative you’re following is a fallacy, and that the film’s protagonist is being similarly hoodwinked. Hollywood had recently provided a film with a similar narrative hook, in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998). Truman Burbank figures it out for himself when he overhears some radio chatter, almost gets pulverised by a studio light falling out of the sky, and notices the regularity of people bicycling down his street, but in The Matrix, our protagonist relies on others to wake him from his dream. Films ever since have played with the elastic nature of narrative. It seems like they’re ten a penny these days, but back in the late ‘90s it felt refreshing and new.

Everything about The Matrix seemed well thought-out. The design, the cast, the music, the sound, the editing, everything; but what grabbed people most of all were the special effects. The Wachowskis rewrote the book, taking their lead from the infinite possibilities of Japanese Anime rather than traditional Hollywood special effects. Finally, seven years following Terminator 2: Judgement Day, here was something that we hadn’t seen before: Bullet Time.

John Gaeta from Manex Visual Effects, working out of Alameda, California, developed a prototype of the effect prior to the film, and the Wachowskis jumped on it. Gaeta’s concept was based on an old idea – that a moving image is simply a sequence of still images played at high speed – but Gaeta’s application of the method to film action sequences was ingenious.

A simple stunt, for example one character jumping up to kick another character, could be transformed from something very simple to something extraordinary. A rig featuring dozens of still cameras would bet set up around the actors, and the cameras would shoot the movement in the scene, before being compiled together to form a moving image. By employing a fairly simple idea, the filmmakers created the illusion of movement around the action, capturing the shot at super-slow motion, but still travelling at high-speed, hence ‘bullet’ time.

There’s an element of The Matrix borne out of a clichéd Hollywood trope – that of the white male protagonist being the saviour of the universe, or the ‘one’ as Neo’s anagrammatical name would suggest – but despite this, the films manages to still feel fresh. The main protagonist is derivative to a degree, taking the base elements of George Lucas’ original Star Wars conceit – that our hero is possessed with a magical ability to transcend all evil forces – but there’s so much innovation in the film, it’s easy to overlook this. It’s like receiving a pair of socks on Christmas Day, but finding that they turn you invisible when you put them on. Erm, thanks Aunty Flo.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about The Matrix without mentioning the sequels. At the time, they were exciting but just like the Star Wars prequels from George Lucas (him again), they suffered from a preponderance of weightless digital effects and little in the way of practical effects. Most Hollywood sequels are lazy rehashes of the same ideas that made the first film so interesting. The Wachowskis couldn’t be accused of this though; if anything, they overthought their sequels, giving them a highbrow slant that hasn’t been see in a sequel since The Godfather Part II.

It’s great to have Don Davis’ score to the film on this lovely slab of green wax. I probably enjoy the score as much as I love the pop soundtrack, which despite a few timeless classics is starting to feel very much of its time. I’m not familiar with Don Davis’ other work, but this is a great score – and its refreshing for a big action film to be scored by somebody other than John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Welcome To The Real World