The Mind Buggles – How Hans Zimmer killed Film Scores


One-time sideman of musical nuisance Trevor Horn’s The Buggles, Hans Zimmer is now a by-word for Hollywood movie scores and is credited with revolutionising the art-form, a feat achieved by using modern technology and synthesizers alongside more traditional instrumentation and arrangements. I can scarcely think of anything less necessary.

There used to be two particularly well-trodden paths to becoming a soundtrack composer; as a trained classical musician or as someone versed in jazz or stage arrangements. You’ll note that neither of those includes cynically crafted plastic pop. Some of the strongest electronic scores, whether they be Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner or any of John Carpenter’s masterpieces exude an otherworldly charm and an often sinister edge. Attempts to humanise them or make them more familiar is to entirely miss the point.

A film’s score should accentuate, intrigue, to evoke and provoke feelings and emotions, and add to the viewers’ transportation to other realms; Zimmer’s techniques achieve anything but. Zimmer had previously worked in advertising, a world as cold and calculated as the use of sound in films has now become itself – a constant desire from the studios to ‘give the people what they want’, to fill ‘gaps’ at all costs, to bombard the ears until the audience is it battered into submission.

So redundant is artistry and skill in the industry, that ‘think-tanks’ are run by the great man to explain how to be just like him. A conveyor belt of Zimmer-a-likes does indeed exist and are easy to look for when you know the signs.

• The booming fog-horn workout for the cinema’s speakers aka The Inception effect. Now copied to tooth-grinding regularity in both the trailer and the film.

• Fill the gaps at all costs! Clearly paid by the minute, endless suites and cues are completed to squeeze in at any frowned-upon moment, spliced in to give you a heads-up as to who the baddie is. How many times do you hear Tubular Bells in The Exorcist? Twice – briefly. How many times don’t you hear Hans on a film he works on – much harder to answer.

• Obey. Always. The studio will always know best. You must always be present during daily rushes and ‘compose’ on the hoof to fill whatever bizarre whim they conjure up. The fact they don’t know anything at all about music shouldn’t trouble you.

• If you hit upon something that works, repeat it as often as you can, no-one will notice.

• Remember, fear is represented by deafening ‘honks’; love by sweeping, electronically choreographed strings; humour by computerised flutes; there will be nothing sexually charged or challenging.

There are still great composers out there but how many have the guts and the bank account to defy convention and follow their instincts? Interestingly, Zimmer has largely been overlooked by The Academy but the majors couldn’t care less. His soft, fuzzy, flabby interchangeable themes are perfect comfort food for already fat-headed audiences but fret not, there’s always a gap for seconds.