With Dunkirk out now, Sean Wilson selects those Zimmer soundtrack classics that have been overlooked…
Christopher Nolan’s astonishing, overpowering World War II epic Dunkirk is on release now and there’s a common thread running through the laudatory reviews: the music is inseparable from the visuals. Indeed, Hans Zimmer’s keening, groaning, growling compositions help blur the lines between sound design and music so effectively that we’re faced with nothing less than an extraordinary wall of noise, replicating the terror faced by the soldiers during Operation Dynamo.
It’s the latest collaboration between Zimmer and Nolan, one that’s already encompassed the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar. Revolutionary as these scores have proved to be, Zimmer’s remarkable career has so much more to offer. Here are his best non-Nolan soundtracks in ascending order.
17. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
In his first collaboration with Guy Ritchie, Zimmer not only reminded us of his instrumental capabilities but also his wicked sense of humour, utilising a detuned piano that had been thrown down a flight of stairs among other oddball instrumentation. The score’s gypsy folk inflections perfectly captures the grungy feel of 19th century London as well as the rogueish, quirky nature of Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes.
16. Hannibal (2001)
One of Zimmer’s most fruitful and longstanding collaborations (at least until recently) was with Ridley Scott, and this lushly Gothic extravaganza is one of their best. Dripping with mordant humour, baroque menace and surprising amounts of grandiose romance, Zimmer’s familiar bass heavy orchestrations are leavened with all manner of choir and bells to nail the moody atmosphere of Lecter’s beloved Florentine streets.
15. Crimson Tide (1995)
In his own way, Zimmer is as influential and revolutionary a soundtrack figure as John Williams. In the early to mid 90s he pioneered a new, electronically processed sound for blockbuster movies within his Remote Control studio, one that (controversially) bulked up and enhanced the tone of the symphony orchestra to blur the line between organic and artificial. It’s a divisive approach, one that was rarely deployed more effectively than in Tony Scott’s nail biting submarine thriller.
14. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Zimmer’s divisive Pirates scores instigate as much debate over their construction (with multiple composers all contributing at once) as with their tone, drenched in the composer’s unashamedly masculine, rock and roll approach that would no doubt make Korngold blanch. The third movie is where it all came together, anchored (no pun intended) by memorable themes, an effective blend of the orchestral and synthetic, and robust orchestrations from Danny Elfman regular Steve Bartek.
13. The Holiday (2006)
We’re used to Zimmer in blusterous, noisy mode but he’s very often better when he dials everything back to a much more intimate vein. His delightfully effervescent score for Nancy Myers’ hit rom com is wistfully beautiful, stitching together a story of trans-Atlantic romance with a breezy bed of strings, piano, glockenspiel and a heartfelt interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in America.
12. The Little Prince (2016)
Co-composed with Richard Harvey (as usual, it’s tough to determine who wrote what), this is an altogether different proposition from this most bombastic of composers. This wonderful, Netflix-released animation is based on the classic French children’s story and allows Zimmer to really open the taps with gorgeous orchestral and choral wonderment (the latter courtesy of French singer Camille), playing into the film’s themes of imagination and inner strength.
11. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Sure, Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel was little more than a Scooby Doo episode as relayed by Brian Sewell, but it did allow Zimmer to unleash a churning, memorably brooding score. Playing in the lower registers for the most part, expertly hinting at the dark secrets lurking within the crevices of the Mona Lisa’s smile, it sound builds to the career-best track ‘Chevaliers De Sangreal’: an overwhelmingly emotional, powerful piece.
10. Cool Runnings (1993)
There’s more to Zimmer than action. His infectiously likeable, Calypso-infused score for this classic John Candy comedy is vibrant with the sounds of the Caribbean, playing its triumphant tonalities for laughs and in brilliantly humorous counterpoint to the film’s sub-zero Olympic locations. It’s a welcome reminder that as far as Zimmer is concerned, less volume and a lighter touch often yields far more memorable results.
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