Tag Archives: Hans Zimmer

My thoughts on: Gladiator (2000)

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Set in the year 180 AD, the film follows the saga of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) as he is betrayed by Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) after the latter murders his father, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (when he revealed to Commodus that he was going to restore the Republic). Maximus is sent to be executed when he discovers what Commodus has done but he manages to escape and races back home, only to discover that his wife and son have been brutally murdered, his home burned to the ground.

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Maximus is subsequently captured by slavers and becomes a gladiator in a backwater town of the Empire. Meanwhile, Commodus has returned to Rome and proceeds to enjoy life as an Emperor, giving the people an unending stream of “bread and circuses” so that no one notices that he’s really a terrible ruler.

Phoenix’s performance as the slowly-going-mad Emperor is really spine-chilling at times. He comes off as slightly buffoonish in the beginning, but once he really begins to go mad (I’m thinking of the scene where he threatens to kill his nephew unless his sister does whatever he wants), he’s quite terrifying.

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Of course Maximus inevitably makes his way to Rome as a gladiator, to fight in the great Colosseum. He vainly attempts to hide his identity (fearing that he’ll be killed on the spot if recognized), but the Emperor demands to know who he is, leading to one of the greatest movie lines of all time:

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

And vengeance he gets, though not without paying the ultimate price in return.

The score for this brilliant film was composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer. Some have noted that the music in many battle scenes bears a distinct resemblance to the music from “Mars: The Bringer of War” composed by Gustav Holst (so much so in fact that at one point the Holst Foundation sued Zimmer on the grounds that he had plagiarized Holst’s work). Also, Commodus’s triumphal entry into Rome contains music that seems to evoke two of Richard Wagner’s operas “The Rhine Gold” and “Twilight of the Gods.”

It’s been a while since I watched this movie, but it is indeed a modern classic that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

*poster is the property of DreamWorks Pictures

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Hans Zimmer talks Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

 

With the wonderful news that Sherlock Holmes 3 is in fact happening (*still dancing for joy*) I thought I would find Hans Zimmer’s interviews on the scores he did for Sherlock Holmes (2009) and the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011).

Hans Zimmer talks Sherlock Holmes (2009)

I love these movies, I really do. Being a fan of the late Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of the famous detective (he played the role on the Granada television series in the 1980s), I wasn’t sure about Robert Downey Jr. playing the role initially. However, once I saw the movies, all my doubts fell away and I was in love!

And being a musicologist, the music jumped out to me almost immediately. That slightly off-tune piano melody does an amazing job of setting the scene for the entire story. My favorite part (one of many) has to be the climactic battle on the unfinished Tower Bridge. Also, the byplay between Irene and Holmes was spot-on perfection (music included, you can tell that Holmes still has rather strong feelings for her, even if he denies it).

The sequel is just as amazing and Hans Zimmer returns to deliver an exceptional score. What’s fascinating here is that for this score, Zimmer traveled to various countries to find musicians with that “ethnic” and “rustic” sound that matched the mood he was looking for.

Hans Zimmer talks Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

The big moment here, is when Holmes and Moriarty are playing out their own scenarios as to how this fight between them will go. The very end, when Holmes admits that the only way is for them BOTH to die….is just perfect. There’s a weird imbalance between the music and the scene here, but it works. The only one screaming is Moriarty; Holmes is perfectly serene. At first it would appear to be because he’s come to terms with his life and impending death, but of course, we find out at the end it’s probably because he had no intention of dying at all (I hope Watson slugs him in the next one for faking his death like that).

My biggest wish now is that Zimmer returns for Sherlock Holmes 3, what a pity it doesn’t come out until next year! Argh!!!

*both posters are the property of Warner Bros. Pictures

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Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

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Like the Muppet’s Christmas Carol before it, Muppet Treasure Island tells the story of Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver with the Muppet twist: Captain Smollet is Kermit the Frog; Fozzie Bear is Squire Trelawney Jr.; Mr. Arrow is Sam the Eagle (his character is a total opposite from the book version); the pirates are an assortment of Muppets; Silver has a pet lobster named Polly; Gonzo and Rizzo play Jim’s two friends and, oh yes, Miss Piggy plays BenjaminGunn, marooned on the titular Treasure Island by Captain Flint after Smollet left her waiting at the altar. The film was directed by Brian Henson, the son of Jim Henson, the late creator of the Muppets.

Aside from the original Muppet Movie, this was my favorite film to feature the Muppets growing up. The songs and music are funny and serve to keep the story moving along. The instrumental score was composed by Hans Zimmer (no wonder I love listening to it so much), with additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Zimmer certainly did not skimp on musical quality. The opening instrumental melody (before Billy Bones’ narration begins) is just splendid, with a driving horn theme that is reminiscent of sea songs and old films about the high seas.

My favorite songs by far are:

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“Shiver My Timbers” : This is the opening song set during the prologue where Billy Bones narrates how Captain Flint brought all of his treasure onto the island, and once it was buried, killed all of the pirates so that only he would know where the treasure was hidden (Billy Bones the first mate, stayed behind on the ship so his life was spared). I just love the men’s chorus as they sing this song, it’s driving, it’s good music.

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“Professional Pirate” : After kidnapping Jim and revealing himself as a pirate, Long John Silver (and company) sing of the virtues of being a pirate in an attempt to convince young Hawkins into joining them. Tim Curry’s great singing voice is put to good use here and this is a great musical number.

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“Boom Shakalaka” : It turns out that Treasure Island is also the home of a tribe of wild boars (led by Spa’ am, get it?) who have made Miss Piggy their Queen (but of course), and “Boom Shakalaka” is the song they sing to summon her big entrance on an Asian elephant (how an Asian elephant got onto a Caribbean island I shall never know). Boom-Shakalaka is also her name among the tribe.

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“Cabin Fever” : After the voyage to Treasure Island has begun, the Hispaniola is becalmed at sea for almost a week, and the bored-out-of-their-minds crew goes slightly nuts, performing a song and dance routine about how crazy they have all become. It’s pure Muppet hilarity (notably, Silver, Hawkins, Smollett and Arrow are all absent from this number).

Even if you’ve never seen a Muppet movie before, Muppet Treasure Island is a great place to start. At 20 years old, this movie has lost none of its charm.

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Interstellar “No Time for Caution”

Like many, I watched enthralled when Interstellar (2014) came out into theaters. Even before I first saw the film, I’d heard that there were some fairly intense musical sequences. But nothing, absolutely NOTHING could prepare me for the sequence known as “No time for caution.” To briefly sum up how the story gets to this point: Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is put in charge of a mission to scout three planets to see if one of them is capable of supporting the human race in place of the dying Earth. One planet has already been proven unviable, the third is too far away, and the second planet was claimed (falsely) by Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) to be a viable place to live (frigid conditions notwithstanding).

 

Dr. Mann claimed that there was water located deep under the surface. Cooper discovered this was a lie and after surviving a murder attempt, Cooper and Brand (Anne Hathaway) chase after Dr. Mann who is making his way to the spaceship Endurance without them. Insane after years of isolation, Dr. Mann has convinced himself that he can somehow control the Endurance and take it back to Earth. In his rush to board, Mann ignores the fact that his ship is docked improperly, meaning the hatch seal is not stable. When the door seal is forced to open anyway, Mann is blown out of the ship into space and Endurance is sent spinning out of control. If Cooper and Brand can’t dock and stabilize the ship, humanity is doomed.

This is where the cue begins. There is a long high pitched drone immediately after the explosion (as Cooper and Brand watch in shock as Endurance begins to spin wildly). Then a strong drumbeat sets in as Cooper makes his decision. He orders TARS (a robot) to analyze the Endurance’s rate of spin (to help with docking). And when Brand asks the fateful question “Cooper what are you doing?” The only answer is “Docking.” This one word sets off the next stage of the cue in a revolving spiral of theme and variation.

In fact, I listened to this cue over and over and it finally hit me, that composer Hans Zimmer used a Baroque form called passacaglia when he put this cue together. A passacaglia is a musical form based on a repeating melody in the bass line. As you listen to the cue, listen closely to the primary melody (which launches around 0:44, 0:45 in the soundtrack version) and hear how it continues, leaping from instrument to instrument for most of the piece.

I hope you enjoy “No Time for Caution” as much as I do. Please comment if you liked it (or even if you didn’t).

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Hans Zimmer talks Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar

Question, who watched Interstellar when it came out? *hand shoots up* Who thought it was awesome? *hand shoots up again* Who freaked out when Matt Damon accidentally blew himself out of an airlock into the void of space never to be seen again? (I liked this movie, can you tell?)

Hans Zimmer talks Interstellar (2014)

The plot of Interstellar is rather complicated at certain points but the main gist is as follows: in the future (no year is ever specified), the Earth has suffered from a string of blights that has rendered most crops ungrowable. When the film opens, corn is the major food supply of the world and even that is quickly growing vulnerable. As a result, the world has suffered a major technological regression.

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There appears to be no TV, no Internet, no advanced medical equipment (it is openly stated that MRI machines are not available anymore), and man’s great technological achievements (such as landing on the Moon) are regarded as mere propaganda, not historical fact. To put it bluntly, the Earth is one generation away from being uninhabitable and it will mean the extinction of the human race…unless we can find a new home, and the story continues from there. (I will have to write about this movie in full some time in the future).

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The score of this magnificent film was composed by film music giant Hans Zimmer (born 1957). Zimmer is responsible for such great scores as: The Last Samurai (2003), The Lion King (1994), Gladiator (2000), The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) and Inception (2010) (and these are just a few, he’s a prolific composer).

In this interview, Hans Zimmer talks about how he developed the score for Interstellar, including how they decided to use an organ. Please watch and enjoy.

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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