Hans Zimmer is back in mystery mode!
Director Ron Howard is returning to the Robert Langdon franchise based on the bestselling novels written by author Dan Brown, and so is composer Hans Zimmer. After Howard’s latest movie, “In The Heart of The Sea” which Zimmer was not able to score due to scheduling conflicts (seriously, what project would you choose if you were given the chance to decide between a movie with an only marginally interesting screenplay or a Christopher-Nolan-science-fiction-blockbuster? Just asking…), he is now continuing his collaboration with the director by coming back to score the franchise that had been established with “The Da Vinci Code” in 2006 and was soon developed into 2009’s “Angels & Demons”. Both films earned generally positive critical response which made it unsurprising news that a third entry into the series had been announced early on.
Same can be said about Zimmer’s involvement. “The Da Vinci Code” is still considered to be one of the finest and most intelligent musical creations the composer has ever written, especially noteworthy is the ever-popular piece “Chevaliers de Sangreal” which has become a fan favourite in a comparatively fast period of time, while the sequel score for “Angels & Demons” was generally getting positive acclaim by the fans though it is not considered to be as well-crafted as the composer’s previous entry. But while “Da Vinci Code” surprised everyone with an exceptionally classical approach, contrasting Zimmer’s recent filmography, the following “Angels & Demons” heavily relied on the incorporation of electronics and synthesizer sounds. With “Inferno”, Zimmer takes this development even one step further.
Speaking of the new movie’s content, it is noteworthy that it does basically sound like a simple rehash of the previous movies: This time, Robert Langdon, the series’s main protagonist, again played by the extraordinary Tom Hanks, finds himself awakening in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what has happened during the past few days. Once again, the expert in symbology finds himself the target of a massive manhunt. Together with Dr. Sienna Brooks, played by Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones, who is helping him to regain his lost memories, Langdon is trying to solve one of the most complicated riddle’s he’s ever faced: stopping the spread of a horible disease developed by the story’s main antagonist, Bertrand Zobrist, whose aim it is to sustainibly decimate humanity in order to stop the problem of overpopulation on earth… and admittedly, the movie is rather enjoyable although it lacks the ambition of being more than a solid thriller.
Hans Zimmer himself is having quite an interesting year: After the exceptional fun-providing “Kung Fu Panda 3” for which he received mainly positive critical acclaim (well, to be honest, a large amount of the music had actually been written by the seemingly never-sleeping Lorne Balfe), the score which he and Junkie XL had composed for the disastrous “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was punished mercilessly by both longtime Zimmer fans and most other film music enthusiasts. However, his European concert tour was said to be a gigantic event and immediately became an immense success. As someone who had entered the film music scene mainly because of his ever-popular music, the show was a must-see for me and I was not disappointed at all to say the least; seriously, it was one of the best experiences of my entire life.
His score for “Inferno” had already been completed before the German composer started going on tour, so he decided to play a slightly altered version of his famous “Chevaliers de Sangreal” as a special gift to his fans – an altered version that is now featured in “Inferno”.
In an interview, Zimmer admitted that he originally wanted the soundtrack album, released on Sony Classical as usual, to consist of two long suites, one representing hell and the other one representing heaven. However, while listening to it, he then realized that it was not possible to listen to the album in its entirety cause it would have made up an immensely challenging listening experience – so we’re going with a quite “normal” tracklisting.
It all starts off with “Maybe Pain Can Save Us”, although the title has almost nothing to do with the music – excerpt for the fact that it’s not actual music; Zimmer created a soundscape mostly consisting of synthies and sound design in order to musically illustrate Langdon’s scary visions of hell in the movie. Yes, it supports the visuals on screen and contributes to an atmosphere of anxiety and danger, but the cue is almost unlistenable on the album. The music then glides into “Cerca Trova”, an electronic action piece, whose aggressivity is rather impressive – unfortunately, it is probably the most interesting piece of music, at least considering the quality, of the first ten cues on the album. Seriously, I doubt that there is anyone who really enjoys listening to ambient tracks such as “I’m Feeling A Tad Vulnerable” or the pair of “Seek and Find” and “Vayentha”: This is Zimmer at his very worst, providing awful synthetic dissonance without even a single hint of a recognizable melody driving the cue forward. As such, it awakens bad memories of “Must There Be A Superman?”, featured in the score of this year’s comic movie adaption “Batman v Superman” where Zimmer served as co-composer to Junkie XL (fun fact: JXL called the track “emotional” and I’m not 100% sure if he was taking this comment seriously or if he just wanted to do a little workout in order to prepare for a possible career as a comedian later on). As someone who enjoys listening to well-structured, thoughtful film scores, listening to this bunch of tracks really evokes a feeling of pain to my ears that almost resulted in pressing my music system’s off button.
At least, we are aware of the fact that it cannot get any worse at this point, and Zimmer rewards that knowledge with some really nice suspense scoring, cleverly mixing piano sounds, choir and electronics in “Venice” and the follwing “Via Dolorosa #12 Apartment 3C” – our badly-treated ears are finally receiving a short phase of relief!
New thematic material is largely absent from the album’s first half, but from now on, the composer introduces the listener to a piano motif full of melancholy and longing, heard in its full form in “Elizabeth”, portraying her relationship to the villain, Bertrand Zobrist, and his aim to save the world by becoming a mass murderer. Zimmer further explores this idea in several major appearances to follow; especially noteworthy is its wonderful use in the pensive “Beauty Awakens The Soul To Act” where it is performed by warm strings. But despite its extremely simplistic nature, the motif presents a very welcome addition to the score as it successfully manages to unleash real emotion that finally reminds you of the fact that we are actually listening to a film score that is meant to emotionally connect with the listener in order to influence his or her feelings. It is then followed by an incredibly mournful violin solo establishing a bettersweet and haunting atmosphere, one of the rare moments where the score really shines.
With “The Cistern” and the propulsive “The Logic of Tyrants”, Zimmer gives away the score’s biggest action moments, relying heavily on relentless pounding and aggressive synth rhythms effectively mirroring Langdon’s time pressure that is getting increasingly dominant. However, it is a nice surprise to rediscover the symbologist’s theme presented in a speed up arrangement on synths.
Next up is “Life Must Have Its Mysteries”, which is undoubtedly the standout cue of the entire album. Starting off with a beautiful fluid piano solo which is almost immediately taken up by the strings, the piece then turns into an synth loop being directly developed into Zimmer’s majestic Robert Langdon theme, now being played in its full orchestral glory for the first time, an arrangement that is almost identical to the famous “Chevaliers de Sangreal”. However, the suddenly emerging choir – singing the harmonies over the violin melody – adds another level of greatness to the composition that takes the cue to unknown heights. In addition to that, the theme’s development in the score is quite beautifully done: In the beginning, we are only receiving small glimpses, almost hints, of what could be the previously established Langdon material. As the symbologist slowly regains his lost memory, the theme becomes more and more prominent, leading into a celebratory outburst in which Zimmer unleashes all orchestral, choral and electronical forces building the basis of the score.
“Our Own Hell on Earth” finishes the album with conciliatory tones, summarizing Zimmer’s main ideas combined with the score’s thematic core while providing one last major statement of the Langdon theme.
Personally, I am a huge Zimmer fan – after all, he’s one of the composers who made me fall in love with film scores – and I really appreciate that he was taking on a quite experimental path the last couple of years as it resulted in some especially wonderful scores – just think of “Interstellar”, an absolute masterpiece in my humble opinion. However, his electronic-heavy score for “Inferno” is, compared to its predecessors, not only a surprisingly weak sequel score, it is actually a complete misstep for me. Besides the return of the beautiful Robert Langdon theme and the romantic material specifically written for this movie, it is almost impossible to sit through the whole album. Zimmer ultimately fails to provide a real musical narrative that underlines the story without seeing what is happening on screen, and the stronger ending cannot compensate for the bland underscoring – only consisting of dissonant synth textures – that is predominating the 71-minute-album’s first half.
One can only hope that Zimmer, if the producers really decide to start working on another sequel, and the film performs well at the box office – which might very well be the case considering its enormous success and immense popularity all over the world -, manages to regain his former compositional strength that characterized “The Da Vinci Code”‘s religious beauty or the exhilarating action writing of “Angels & Demons”. Meanwhile, “Inferno” will remain a major disappointment in Zimmer’s entire discography – at least, it does perfectly live up to the film’s title.
Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Additional music by Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, Richard Harvey, Michael Tuller and Paul Mounsey. Orchestrations by Oscar Senen and Joan Martorell. Album produced by Hans Zimmer.
1. Maybe Pain Can Save Us
2. Cerca Trova
3. I’m Feeling A Tad Vulnerable
4. Seek And Find
7. Via Dolorosa #12 Apartment 3C
9. Remove Langdon
10. Doing Nothing Terrifies Me
11. A Minute To Midnight
12. The Cistern
13. Beauty Awakens The Soul To Act
15. The Logic Of Tyrants
16. Life Must Have Its Mysteries
17. Our Own Hell On Earth
Album available on Sony Classical.