art films music

Hans Zimmer, the Maestro

I’m a huge fan of the compositions of Hans Zimmer,  the German musician and composer known for his soundtracks for movies such as Gladiator,  The Thin Red Line,  Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, 12 years a slave and Inception.

Zimmer aims for a minimalist sound with grand production.  4-5 chord motifs explored with great dynamism by orchestral players and innovative arrangements. I’m not alone in my admiration for Zimmer as his critically celebrated works have garnered him four Grammy Awards, three Classical BRIT Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.

His creative relationship with Christopher Nolan has proved particularly fertile including his work on the Dark Knight Trilogy.  but not even Nolan gave him the free rein he received from legendary auteur-director Terence Malick who played the music on set during the arduous filming of his war epic, The Thin Red Line.  Malick let Zimmer’s score set the tone for each scene,  instructing.

In my opinion, his most successful score is his development of the themes within the Thin Red Line for the psychological thriller Inception.  The movie simply wouldn’t work so well without Zimmer’s score which moves to each beat of the plot and beautifully punctuates the shifts from action to introspection that take places throughout the movie.  The use of an electronically distorted and slowed version of Piaf’s most celebrated song Non, je ne regret rien is a delicious piece of whimsy.

The standout musical works in Inception, for me,  are The Dream is Collapsing” and the closing piece “Time”.  Nolan’s movie is fantastic in my opinion but I can’t imagine it with another score. I’ve often felt that when reviewers write glowingly about some movie scenes they’re actually paying homage to the music choice, for instance the use of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in the movie Fearless.

It should be noted that “Time” is clearly an Evolution of “Journey to the Line” from the Thin Red line. You don’t have to listen with much care or attention to hear a similar chord progression to Time’s 4 chord structure and 8 measure cycle. (Gm->Dm->Fmaj->Cmaj). Listeners will notice the same theme develop from about 4 minutes into “Journey to the Line”, becoming virtually identical by 5:20 and disappearing in the 6th minute.

The Slate has an insightful piece on Zimmer repeating himself pointing out that he may be a victim of his own popularity and the use of his works to promote other movies.

“To be fair, the trouble started with a trailer for the film, which actually used music from an even earlier Zimmer score, The Thin Red Line, for its dramatic final minute. That’s not self-plagiarism: It’s common practice for trailers to use tracks from older films for their emotional associations, especially because often the new film’s music is still being written when the trailer is cut.”

A live performance of the Inception soundtrack with co-composer Johnny Marr (formerly of Indie darlings “The Smiths”) is shown below.

Zimmer, Marr and Pharrell Williams have also collaborated on the score for the Amazing Spider Man sequel.