Greetings, Shapescapers! In this post, I'm going to rant about today's most overrated film composer, the one and only Hans “BWOOOMMM” Zimmer.
This guy has become a celebrity among composers, having achieved a god-like status by fanboys who feed on anything even remotely “epic” sounding. I'm about to discuss some of the uglier truths about his more recent output and focus on the drivel that he has churned out for the Christopher Nolan films, which (in a just and caring Universe) should have destroyed his career instead of raising his popularity.
Kostas: Might as well mention that Nolan’s films are bound to do that, anytime soon. Dude likes to put his dick in everybody’s Cheerios and it’s only a matter of time before DC fanboys get tired of his shitty output and denounce him. Then again, this is NOT a just and caring Universe.
“It’s got be the chin, man. I blame the chin.”
1) He's generic as hell.
There's having your trademark sound, and then there's doing the same score for every movie. Zimmer has had his fair share of success during the '90s, thanks to his scores for The Rock and Broken Arrow whose melodies, motifs and compositional style proved to be so Hollywood-friendly that he decided to copy them into every single soundtrack that he has made since.
“You mad, composers?”
One could draw endless connections among his OST work. You will find tons of arguments online about how “this track from Gladiator sounds exactly like that track from Pirates of the Caribbean”. I'm not going to go into detail on this, because you can just put on any track from Black Hawk Down and it will sound like any other track from Pearl Harbor. Heard one, heard them all. And when a film or game company can't afford Hans, they'll hire his buddy Lorne Balfe, who makes exactly the same shit and is cheaper.
Kostas: Don’t forget the Batman movies and Man Of Steel! I am told they actually had music in them!
2) His production techniques are terrible.
Thanks his plethora of new fans, Hans has decided to make his music more accessible and enjoyable to a younger audience, sacrificing the orchestral performances in favor of maximizing DAT PHAT ULTRA-EPIC BASS. BWOOOOOM IN YOUR FACE, MOTHERFUCKER.
His dense sound design, which makes every horn and violin note sound grandiose and heavy, renders his work impossible to listen to. The soundtrack to Man of Steel demonstrates this perfectly. Every track is punctuated by a low, booming noise. Ever since he got his hands on digital composing toys, he often constructs his tracks with fake, electronically-generated orchestral sounds. Remember, this guy gets paid more than composers who actually use an orchestra.
“Now, where's that 'Generate Orchestra' button? Oh, there it is.”
And even when he does hire actual musicians, their performances are poorly mixed. The low frequencies are turned up to 11 and the treble is lowered (Kostas: in non-music nerd, this means that he puts every sound in the blender and flicks the puree switch). The listener is unable to differentiate the human-played instrument performances from the synththesized ones. Man of Steel features a “drum orchestra” (hooray for media-whoring!), which consists of many talented percussionists, including Jason Bonham, the son of Led Zeppelin's drummer.
“Dad would never agree to this horse-shit.”
All of them are relentlessly banging in your skull, while the monotonous synths and simplistic orchestral melodies just go by.
“Bang harder so people won’t be able to tell he sucks! HARDER!”
Here's a track that, hilariously, packs every single Zimmer cliché in the last five years in just nine minutes. Ladies and gents, TERRAFORMING:
0:00-2:26 – Generic Zimmer battle anthem, with melodies that go nowhere.
2:27-3:07 – Ear-splitting noise.
3:20-3:32 – My, my, we sure have some cool drummers.
3:34-3:36 – Noise AND drummers!
5:13 – Remember Batman's two-note theme? Dah-DUNNNN? Let's give Supes a ONE-note theme! DUNNNNN-DUNNNNN!!!
5:47-6:35 – Because brooding Gotham ambience also works for Metropolis.
6:46 – Foghorn from Hell! BRAMMMMMMPPPFFFF.
7:04 – Wait, didn't we hear this melody back in 1:50 with different percussion?
8:10 – Why are even quiet sections so damn bass-y?
9:04 – OH GOD I’M TRAPPED IN A JET TURBINE!
My, my, I wonder what Superman himself would make of this?
Even his few cool musical ideas (IF they are his to begin with) suffer from this. Inception's score proved to be a several-trick-pony. You've probably already heard about the Édith Piaf fiasco. That was neat. Plus, Johnny Marr (of The Smiths fame) played some great guitar parts, which made “Dream is Collapsing” and “Time” two of Zimmer's best and most memorable works to date. Still, when it's time for Zimmer's musical capability to rear its ugly head, Marr's guitar is buried under all this compositional warfare. Notice how the synth bass in the beginning of “Dream is Collapsing” is almost trying to choke the guitar.
3) He has a big, BIG mouth.
As the big celebrity that he is, Zimmy boy loves doing interviews. He talks. Like, a lot. I will spare you the headache of interview videos on YouTube (most of which last ninety hours each), as all you need to know is that he spends more time advertising his works than actually working in the studio.
He loves to brag about the musicians and instruments he brings into each of his masterpieces. “It has an Artot-Alard Stradivarius violin!”, he boasts on the Man of Steel interviews. “We've got Johnny Marr of The Smiths!”, he exclaimed about Inception's score. He also promises more than he actually delivers, like “a closure to the Batman theme” for the Rises score, which never happened. Christian Clemmensen of Filmtracks (who has written some of the most scathing reviews of Zimmer's music ever, by the way) once wrote: “This composer needs to shut his yap.” I couldn't have said this better.
|Kostas: Oh blow it out your asses, you cunts.|
4) He doesn't even write his own scores.
Okay, I'm exaggerating about this part. Of course he writes his own scores; after all, he's copy-pasting the same stuff he's been doing for the past 20 years. However, his company, Remote Control Productions, has been responsible for hiring various composers, all of which are mentored by Zimmer about how to make clichéd movie scores that nobody will remember after leaving the theater (or music for Call of Duty games, which more or less falls into the same category). These composers, mostly young Zimmer wannabes, have been guilty of ghostwriting for Zimmer. After all, ol' Hans never had classical training, and got into this business thanks to his immense fanboyism. Sound familiar?
“Fuck film schools!”
So, like Kevin Smith, Hans always has to rely on others in order to sustain his career. The most offending example of this is the horrible mess the scores for The Dark Knight trilogy were. Zimmer and his collaborator on the first two films, James Newton Howard, two composers with radically different styles (in that Howard actually knows a thing or two about music), created themes wildly inconsistent with each other, Zimmer making a simple two-note theme for Batman (daaaaaah-DUNNNN!!!) and Howard doing a complex composition for Harvey Dent.
Remember that song in the movie? Me neither, as most of Howard's contributions were either chopped up or kept in the background over all the Zimmer-produced noise. Unfortunately, after the studio hired Zimmer for Inception, Howard decided to depart from The Dark Knight Rises, saying that the chemistry between Nolan and Zimmer was so good that he didn't want to be a “third wheel”.
Then again, I'd imagine anyone would feel uncomfortable working with these bozos.
Therefore, the few interesting moments in the first two scores (which Howard composed on his own, by the way) were thrown out of the window and Zimmer decided to put his army of ghostwriters into use for the third film (including Game of Thrones' Ramin Djawadi), adding their own ideas to the same tracks he composed for the previous two films. Seriously. apart from the choir by Internet fans for Bane's “deshi deshi basara” theme (another gimmick!), most of the Rises music was recycled from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
The scores for all three films were rejected from the Academy because of the additional composers. My guess is, they also had trouble telling the three apart.
5) Zimmer's method is a disease. And it's spreading.
Ever since he stumbled into success, studios have been pushing composers to copy “the Zimmer sound”, most notably Anthony Gonzalez of M83, who was forced to go this route when he co-scored that sci-fi movie with Tom Cruise (I think it was called War of the Minority Oblivions). There are tons of soundtracks imitating the most annoying of Zimmerisms, including the foghorn from Hell, the intense string arrangements that don't go anywhere, and, of course, the irritating female singer who goes all Lisa Gerrard on your ass lamenting the death of a soldier or a nation or some shit like that.
Zimmer is guilty of this himself, of course. Apart from his aforementioned company Ghostwriters, Inc., he has produced scores for other composers, steering them in the directions he is comfortable with; one such example is the Zimmer-approved Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack by Steve Jablonsky, which sounds like every Zimmer soundtrack ever, with extra added Linkin Park flavor to boot.
A movie featuring iron balls needs a castrated score.
I'm so glad Nick Arundel and Ron Fish created excellent themes for the first two Batman: Arkham games, even when they were apparently pushed by Warner Bros. to create more Zimmery stuff for Arkham City; Arundel built upon the “Nolan-loves-dark-and-gritty” monotonous synths and two-note motifs and created a much better theme for City than Zimmer could have ever dreamed of.
So, there you have it. Hans Zimmer sucks, and even when he doesn't, there's no way to tell if he or some poor ghost composer is responsible for it. No wonder he works in Hollywood.
“I shove it up Nolan's ass every morning.”
Further reading: WhyHans Zimmer Got The Job You Wanted (And You Didn’t) Why the Man of Steel OST blows chunks and Impossibly Successful Unoriginal Fucks: Reviewing the Man Of Steel OST
Fotis “Wiz Frikiman” Kyriazidis is an expert time-waster. In his spare time, he dabbles in stage acting, digital art, movie reviews, juggling between creepy electronicaand silly mashups and, most recently, actual juggling. He aspires to become a professional synthesized orchestra drivel-churner.
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