One of the toughest biases to break for critics is the old Hans Zimmer, the composer of bombastic action scores with fat brass and percussion bludgeoning audiences when characters were Dying, Sad, Melancholy, or the hero has Just Lost The Girl.
Something seemed to shift when Zimmer was given The Ring (2002), and although that was a score by committee (based on his themes, but scored in a specific style by three skilled protoges), he discovered the beauty of restraint, minimalism, and how to refine his use of might with care.
It may also have helped that he wasn’t any longer scoring Jerry Bruckhimer / Michael Bay excesses (The Rock), and the subject matter was more challenging. Angels & Demons (2009) has aged into a creepy, ferocious little gem that begins with a bang, and ends gradually with soothing tones and delicate harmonies. And with Christopher Nolan’s first two Batman films – Batman Begins (2005), and more so with The Dark Knight (2008) – Zimmer, collaborating with James Newton Howard, discovered a realm where he could deepen a dark film with layers of grey, effortlessly moving between horror, shock, torment, love, and remorse.
(It’s also fair to say that Nolan prefers to deal with one mind – or two brilliant minds, as with Zimmer and Howard - which is why he wouldn’t tolerate the multi-composer team and regurgitation of old Zimmer themes inherent to each of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, which collectively represent the Old Zimmer, and wretched score by committee approach of Media Ventures.)
It’s hard to say whether Inception could’ve been scored without Zimmer having worked on the dour Dark Knight, but the former is one of Zimmer’s best works to date because it weaves in and out of scenes, blends with sound design, rears up when there’s kinetic James Bondian action (“528491”), and sits in a harmonic netherworld where nothing is resolved – a perfect musical mirror for a lead character (Cobb) who must confront the Id in his subconscious – dead wife Mal – in order to find peace and wrap up the caper so everyone can land safely in the U.S. without any legal issues.
Zimmer reportedly structured the score to mimic the three dream levels and limbo, so as time slows down with each descent, so does the weight of the score, losing any semblance of memory, warmth, and resolution.
There are a handful of elements Zimmer uses: a massive brass section that clusters together during the rotating hallway sequence (“Dream Within A Dream”) with score way above any sound effects; the final confrontation with Mal in limbo; and the end credits (“Time”) which restate the hard personal life Cobb’s endured because of guilt and an obsession to hold onto a dead figure from a once warm life.
Zimmer also crafted a warm piece reflective of the couple’s love (“Waiting For A Train”), and there’s a light guitar solo over synths which captures Cobb’s always active mind – ever on getting the caper completed – as well as just reflecting on whether life as a thief who weaves in and out of peoples’ dreams is worth it anymore.
Water Tower’s CD contains the bulk of the film’s main themes and cues, although like Dark Knight, perhaps a longer release will follow in 2011.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan