Have we reached peak Hans Zimmer?

The #stopHansZimmer hashtag was created after the composer was brought in to provide the music for Blade Runner 2049, with critics claiming he’s too dominant

Rare is it that composers of instrumental music can get the time of day from the general public, but Hans Zimmer is a bona fide rockstar. His summer tour played to zealous fans throughout Europe and North America at venues such as Wembley Arena, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and a rousing set at Coachella. The Supermarine cue from his Dunkirk score has a ready spot on my iPhone’s playlist and, although the 60-year-old Frankfurt native is a phenomenon deserving our respect, but maybe it’s time to reel it in a little.

The latest news is that Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannson has been axed from Blade Runner 2049 and Zimmer and It composer Benjamin Wallfisch brought in to finish the project. (Originally he was set to be providing additional material.) After a summer of tense, throbbing Zimmermusik, I’m not the only one beginning to get irked at the man who has altered what every blockbuster is supposed to sound like these days.

To be fair, Zimmermusik (which is fun to say, especially since you can listen to it in your Musikzimmer), doesn’t all sound the same. Compare the wall of pounding, resonant percussion heard in Man of Steel to the peppy melodic line from Driving Miss Daisy. (Yes, that catchy, synthesized clarinet ditty was early Zimmermusik.) But in recent years the propulsive, repetitive themes that seem to already be playing before you notice them, which then bleed into the next scenes, are everywhere at the movies.

There’s a reason for this, and some of it is just human nature. When editors are putting a scene together they often use what is called a temp track: temporary music to help the picture flow until the new, original music is ready. Sometimes the temp tracks stick. (Ask Alex North, who was commissioned to write something for 2001: A Space Odyssey only to have Stanley Kubrick say: “You know, Richard Strauss, Aram Khachaturian and Johann Strauss actually work quite well, thanks.”) One of the most common temp tracks is Journey to the Line from Zimmer’s score to Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049
Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros.

Film industry people sometimes call this The Forbidden Cue because once it is in, producers will want it recreated. (Even Zimmer has had to tell his staff not to put it in as a stopgap.) With its ticking sound, emergence from quiet to loud and rising pitch that never quite reaches resolution, it’s something that just works with almost anything dramatic.

So many films try to ape this (perhaps from the inertia of its use in temps) that it is increasingly difficult to tell the acolytes from the original. Mad Max: Fury Road’s score was composed by Junkie XL and Wonder Woman’s score was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, but listen to the cues Escape and We Are All To Blame from each one respectively and tell me they don’t sound yanked directly from one of the Dark Knight soundtracks.

Zimmer is fond of incorporating something called a Shepard tone in his scores. It is like an aural version of an MC Escher illustration. At first you think a theme is rising in pitch, but because of multiple lines varying in volume, it just keeps repeating itself. Hollywood producers, never known to shy from flogging a dead horse, are currently so taken with Hans Zimmer that the contracts keep flying in with the regularity of an endless loop.

What’s particularly galling in the Blade Runner 2049 case is that this sort of bombast has nothing to do with Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, save for the closing credits. Even worse, that film’s composer, Vangelis, is still alive and kicking. His 2016 album Rosetta has all of the electro-noir that created the perfect mood 35 years ago. It’s not that Zimmer can’t still be brilliant (take a second look/listen at Interstellar; I doubt any of his copycats could come close) it’s just that maybe it’s OK to let someone else have a turn from time to time?


Jordan Hoffman

The GuardianTramp

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